Updated: Jul 31, 2022
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18; Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
The Rev. Cameron Partridge
March 13, 2022
Good morning, St. Aidan’s. This morning we make our way further into the season of Lent, further into the space of wilderness peculiar to this season of the Church Year. Last week our readings helped usher us into this space, as we heard the story of Jesus’ movement outward from the scene of his baptism into the desert where he was tempted for forty days and forty nights. Again and again, he was prompted to seize power in some way, to claim a kind of mastery in a situation that exposed him to hunger and danger, but he refused. He chose a different path. Deacon Margaret shared with us last week that Jesus’ way through these challenges might well prompt us to wonder how he did it, how he garnered the strength to overcome this situation. But this year what struck her in dwelling with this passage was not how Jesus overcame or “conquered” anything but rather the journey itself. Jesus’ passage into the wilderness and the difficulties he encountered there invite us to consciously embrace this moment as a wilderness time, to recognize own journeying in the midst of it. In this second week of Lent, acknowledging that we have been in a wilderness time for almost two years now, carrying layers upon layers of loss and uncertainty, our readings invite us to actively seek the presence of God with us. God is present in the midst of the journey, showing up in sometimes startling, deeply connected ways.
In our first reading God makes a covenant with Abram, famously promising him both numerous progeny and land in which to dwell. Previously, in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, God had sent him out: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). So much uncertainty! Go, leave, even though you do not know the way, and I will show you. God had further said, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:2). Making their way out into a journey filled with danger and ambiguity, Abram, Sarai and their household were given a promise of blessing—that they would both receive and become blessing along the way. Now, several chapters later, God reiterates and deepens the promise, appearing to Abram again and telling him not to be afraid. Nothing about Abram’s circumstances suggest how God’s promise could possibly come true, yet when God points him to the night sky and tells him that his descendants would become a kind of galaxy, Abram believes him (Gen 15:1-6). What can it look like to believe something so seemingly preposterous in the midst of so much uncertainty? I don’t imagine sudden zeal and certitude. I imagine more a sense of release, as if something settled in Abram. He let this tremendous journey fall into the hands of the living God, a God of unbounded possibility and mystery. God then sealed a covenant with Abram, meeting him in the midst of his terror, passing through the arranged halves of split animals as a torch of blazing fire in the darkness (Gen 15:9-12, 17-18). Their fates were now sacrificially bound, and that divine torch would accompany Abram’s descendants through all manner of incoming danger.
Our Psalm also gives dramatic voice to both the need for and the presence of God in the midst of trouble. All along the journey, danger emerges. How to survive as enemies circle round about? Where is God? Right here: “For in the day of trouble you will keep me safe in your shelter; you will hide me in the secrecy of your dwelling and set me high upon a rock” (Ps 27:7). God is present in a protective way, we hear. But God also urges the Psalmist to actively seek God in the midst of trouble. I love this line: “You speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, O God, will I seek” (Ps 27:11). Seek the face of the living God, the God who overwhelms the senses and cannot be seen in God’s entirety. Yet this God beyond our perception and comprehension is not remote but present, living, active, connected, longing for us to seek the divine face. Think of the faces of your most beloved people, their eyes, their smiles. Think how your love of them, and of them for you, beats in your very heart. From that same space of abiding love, God invites us intimately, in the midst of our journey, “seek my face.”
That spirit of closeness continues in a striking image in our gospel passage from Luke. The context is a deeply challenging one in which Jesus is engaging with the Pharisees who seem to be seeking to help him avoid the dangers of Herod. Jesus refers to Herod as “that fox” and indicates that he, Jesus, is not about to be derailed (Luke 13:31-33). He is about his business and making his way toward that “exodon” he will accomplish at Jerusalem, as we heard in Luke’s Transfiguration passage two weeks ago. Jesus then cries out to and for Jerusalem and refers to himself as akin to a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks under her wings. Like the voice of God in our Psalm, Jesus longs to gather his community, all of us, intimately to himself, to brood like the Spirit hovering lovingly and creatively over the deep, as our collect evoked. We dwelt with this image in our Creation season as well when we used a trial Eucharistic Prayer originally released in the 1980s.
As I was sitting with this image, I found myself reminded as well of our adult formation series from Advent, “Shards of Light: Advent Saints.” In one of our conversations centered on the journey of Juan Diego, Elaina LeGault shared with us a quotation of the story in which he encounters Mary the Mother of Jesus, whom he had actually been trying to avoid at this point in the story. He was dealing with a family emergency and really was not in a place to spearhead her request to get the bishop to build a church. But Mary could not be avoided. She met him on the road and in deep compassion said, “Listen and keep in your heart, my youngest son, that there is nothing for you to fear, nothing to afflict you. Let neither your face nor your heart be worried.” She continued, “Are you not in my shadow, under my protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in my crossed arms?” I love the story of Juan Diego, of all of us, prompted to recognize how in the midst of our fear we are already enfolded in holy, divine love, already cradled in arms so much larger and capacious than we can imagine.
When I was a young person, newly moved to college thousands of miles from home, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the newness and uncertainty of my life in that moment. I was safe, to be sure, but I was aware of much that remained to be uncovered and undergone on the road ahead of me, and I deeply missed my family and my home here in the Bay Area. I can recall praying about this, seeking to center and ground myself in God as I made my way forward. And as I did so an image came to me in my prayer: it was of the hills of the Bay Area. I envisioned them clearly with their dramatic topography, the way they overlap one another and create deep, shady, Bay Laurel scented canyons—just like San Bruno Mountain where I am so privileged to live now. In my prayer the hills called out to me as a space of rest, of restoration, of life and comfort, meeting me where I was and inviting me to stop, to lie down, to seek God’s face, to know myself enfolded in the divine mantle, the hills as divine mantle, to be gathered creatively under Christ’s brooding wings.
Dear friends, in this time of uncertainty, in this Lenten wilderness, amid pandemic and particularly mindful of the war in Ukraine, God accompanies us on the difficult journey. God meets us exactly where we are, as we carry our layers of loss in this season. God invites us – all of us around the world, in the midst of so much challenge – to seek God’s face in all manner of forms, to allow ourselves to rest in the arms of God. God calls us to release ourselves, in the faithful manner of Abram, into God’s brooding, creative presence, drawing us toward life and promise we can only begin to imagine. May we open ourselves to that call in this difficult and holy desert.
 John S. Kselman, “Genesis” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary, (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 92-93  Luke’s Transfiguration passage (9:28-36) depicted Jesus, Moses and Elijah discussing “the exodon” – translated by the NRSV as ‘departure’ – “that [Jesus] was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” As Fred Craddock comments on today’s passage: “The three days are, of course, symbolic of death and resurrection, which, in God’s purpose, are to be accomplished at Jerusalem.” “Luke” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary, (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 945.  Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church (New York: Church Publishing, 2009), 88.  “He yearned to draw all the world to himself, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, yet we would not. We were heedless of his call to walk in love.” Supplemental Liturgical Texts: Prayer Book Studies 30 (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1989), 69-75.  The title of our series was inspired by chapter five of Stephanie Spellers’ book, The Church Cracked Open (New York: Church Publishing, 2021).  From chapter five of the text of the Nican Mopohua (“Thus It Is Told”), originally written in Nahuatl, telling the revelation of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A translation of this text is available online here: https://pages.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/nahuatl/nican/nican5.html