2nd Sunday of Lent Year-A
Gen.12:1-4; 2 Tim.1:8-10; Matt.17:1-9
A little boy was riding with his father from New Mexico to Colorado on a fishing trip. The trip covered 250 miles, a good five hours of driving – not counting rest and restaurant stops. After about thirty miles the excited son asked his father if they were almost there. The father answered that they had a quite a ways to go.
Fifty miles later: “Now are we almost there?” asked the boy. “No,” said his father, “Not yet.” Another fifty miles later: “We must be just about there, right, Daddy?” “No,” said his father, “not yet. We have about another hundred miles to go.” Fifty miles later, the lad inquired: “Daddy, am I still going to be four years old when we get there?”
This is my introduction to the Abraham story found in today’s first reading. (Today I am not preaching on the Gospel). This old man, from whom three faiths derive – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, was a nomad, a wanderer. Not, as you know, by choice; he was summoned suddenly from his comfortable life and old, familiar neighborhood.
He was asked to leave his friends, along with everything he knew and cherished, and told to set out for the unknown, for a land he knew nothing about or how to get there or what dangers might await him on the way – and there were many. He had no MapQuest or GPS, only God’s word and God’s promise. He must have asked many times, “Are we not there yet?”
But Abraham is not the only one who is on journey not of his own choosing. Like Abraham, all of us are called again and again to leave the safe and familiar, the sound and the sane, to venture into territories unknown, uncharted and unsure. (Like Jesus telling the Apostles that they have to go down the mountain).
It starts early. As infants, we are called to leave the safety of the womb to be born into an often unfriendly world. Sooner or later we leave the cozy cocoon of home for the first day of school – remember that? Then we leave the comfortable routine of school for our first job; then we leave our mother and father, brothers and sisters, to cling to a spouse and begin a family of our own; then we leave our home town to move to where the work is, perhaps many times.
Then one day – it comes so soon! – We leave work for retirement. And then, somewhere along the line, we leave our own home for a senior citizen village or a convalescent home or hospice care; finally we leave the relative security of this world for one we do not know.
It seems that’s what life is about: we we’re always on an adventure, on a journey, whether we want to be or not. We are forever leaving and arriving, arriving and leaving. Life does not stand still. In the depths of our being, we are all nomads, all Abrahams and Sarahs, all wanderers for a time on the journey of life. With all these arrivals departures in life, the nomadic Abraham and Sarah are offered as our models for lent, and for two reasons.
First, they travelled trusting that God would sustain them. Second, they took time out along the way to entertain angels – that is, to do good deeds – and as a result, they grew in faith along the way. Let me remind you that Lent is precisely the time to look into our spiritual lives and see if we have grown in faith along the way.
It is time to pause and ask life’s profound questions: what does my life journey look like so far? Am I where I should be at this stage of my life? Am I making progress as a human being, as a saint? Have I entertained angels? And, dare we ask it: Am I holier now than I was at this time last year? Have I grown spiritually, or have I simply grown physically older but not better, or more gentle, or more forgiving, or more compassionate?
Let me tell you about a woman named Rose who captivated her fellow students from the very first day of college. Why because Rose, like Abraham and Sarah, was old, eighty-seven years old to be precise! When asked, “Why are you in college at such an age?” She said, “I always dreamed of having a college education, and now I’m getting one!” Eventually Rose became a campus icon who easily made friends wherever she went.
At the end of the semester, Rose was so popular that she was invited to speak at the football banquet. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three-by-five note cards on the floor. Frustrated and a little embarrassed, she leaned into the microphone and said, “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for lent, and this whisky is killing me!”
After the laughter died down, she said, “We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing,” and “You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.” Then, most impressively, she said, “There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by finding the opportunity in change. Growing older is mandatory; growing up is optional.”
Good wisdom. And it sounds like a fine Lenten theme, doesn’t it? Like Abraham and Sarah, Rose has reminded us that we are growing older with each tick of the clock. That, alas, is mandatory. The real challenge is whether we are growing up spiritually; that is optional.
If you want to put in terms of our story at the beginning, like the little boy, we ask, “Earthly daddy, will we still be four years old – or forty years old – or eighty years old – when we get there?” The answer, in terms of years, is “yes, of course.” Age is mandatory. If answered as Heavenly Daddy, Abba, Father – will we be spiritually grown up when we get there?” The answer, in terms of the spirit, is “It all depends.” Growth is optional. Lent is a time to exercise our options.
So our faith is a journey, a journey of joy, a journey that demands sacrifice, and a journey that leads to glory. Faith demands that we make that joyful journey from sacrifice to glory. (And that is what Jesus said to the disciples; let us go down the mountain). It demands that we separate ourselves from our own selfish desires in order to give to others.
This is the path to glory for a Christian. And it is a path full of joy. We Christians are happy because, like the disciples on the mountain of the transfiguration, we have experienced a touch of heaven, the joy of the Lord, the happiness that is to come. Faith is not just something we profess. Faith is a life that we lead. It is a life of joy, a life of sacrifice, and a life leading us to the Glory of God. Amen.