God promises everlasting love and graciousness, even knowing that we will betray such trust, because such cross-shaped love God has can save you and all creation.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday in Lent, year B
Texts: Mark 8:31-38; Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 (with references to other readings from the Hebrew Scriptures assigned to this year’s Lenten lectionary)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Most of us have heard and perhaps even said that common aphorism. We don’t like to be tricked, let down, betrayed. It makes us feel foolish to have trusted. We know it happens, but this little saying tells us that if we let the same person do it more than once, we only have ourselves to blame for our humiliation.
So what does it mean that the Scriptures say that the Holy and Triune God not only keeps trusting after even two times of betrayal, rejection, abandonment, but into the millions and billions of times?
According to the Bible, God apparently has no limit to the amount of trust God puts in you, in me, in all people, and apparently no limit to the amount of times God will endure our inconstancy and failure, our betrayal and trickery.
This Lent we’ll see God’s relentless trust five times.
Each week we hear a covenant God makes with humans, a solemn promise to love and care for them, and each promise God makes is everlasting, forever. Last week it was God’s covenant with Noah; this week, a covenant with Abraham and Sarah; the next two weeks the covenant with God’s people at Sinai, and on the Fifth Sunday in Lent the new covenant God promises in Jeremiah 31.
You’d think that any recipient of such a covenant with God would gratefully live up to it, faithfully serve and follow God’s ways, joyfully try to be worthy of God’s trust.
You’d be wrong.
Every single covenant God makes with humans, they abandon, break, avoid, discard.
Noah hears God’s promise never to destroy the earth again, and this good man immediately gets drunk on new wine and exposes himself to his adult children. Abraham is repeatedly promised that he will receive land, many descendants through his wife Sarah, and will bless the world. But this good man twice passed his wife off as his sister when he felt threatened by a ruler, in hopes that the ruler would sleep with her without having Abraham killed as her husband.
We heard God’s covenant with David this past Advent season. David, Israel’s greatest king, is promised that his line will rule over Israel forever. Does David, in gratitude for such blessing, live a holy and pure life? No, he wickedly rapes his neighbor, gets her pregnant, and has her husband killed in battle.
The covenant with God’s people at Sinai is given by the God who just rescued them from centuries of slavery and now has graciously given them a law to guide their lives and keep them whole. So they faithfully and gratefully serve God, right? No, they complain about the food and drink in the desert, about God’s chosen leader, about God’s care for them. They worship a golden calf!
Seriously, doesn’t God ever get embarrassed at making covenants with unworthy people who betray and abandon them all the time?
Even the new covenant God promises through Jeremiah is one we trample.
Explicitly given because humans have broken every previous covenant God made with them, this one will be written on our hearts, a covenant of God’s forgiveness and forgetting. This is fulfilled in God’s coming in person in Jesus to write God’s love on our hearts and call us to love of God and neighbor.
Surely humanity would respond to such trust, such love, by welcoming God’s Son with open arms, repenting of our sinfulness, and following God’s ways?
Of course not. We humiliated God’s Son with a public torture and execution, and even more hurtfully, with betrayal and rejection by his close friends. We continue the humiliation to this day in our embarrassed unwillingness to follow his way of love.
But, you say, doesn’t Jesus finally say “Enough!” in today’s Gospel?
“If you’re ashamed of me and my words,” he says, “I’ll be ashamed of you when I come in the glory of God with all the angels.” Maybe Jesus – the face of the Triune God for us and the creation – reveals here that God has finally had enough of our untrustworthiness.
Maybe . . . if Jesus’ actions matched his words. They do not. Only weeks later Peter forgets the harsh rebuke he received today and abandons Jesus in his time of need. Whatever motivated Peter, fear or shame, his denial of Jesus – which Jesus himself witnessed – is precisely what Jesus says he will repay by being ashamed of anyone who does what Peter did.
But what Jesus actually does is go to the cross and bear, as God-with-us, all the humiliation humanity could dump on God, all the pain, rejection, betrayal. Christ brought God’s life into the deepest, degrading shame possible, and died. Then he rose from the dead, and that very day he sought out Peter and the others in forgiveness and love. Jesus wasn’t ashamed of them in retaliation. Jesus welcomed them back.
That’s the shameless love God has for you, for all people, and for the creation.
There’s no limit to the humiliation and rejection and betrayal God will endure for the sake of bringing all creation back into God’s life. Covenant after covenant God makes, covenant after covenant people break, and still God comes back for more.
Even for you. After all, in Baptism, God made one of God’s classic everlasting covenants of love and grace with you, with no point where God says you’ve failed one too many times, been untrustworthy once too often.
That’s the cross the Triune God is willing to bear again and again in hopes of bringing the creation back into harmony and justice and love, as God intended.
Because that kind of love empowers you and all it touches to love in the same way.
To take up the same cross. Call it self-giving, sacrificial, vulnerable, shameless, but as the reality that God’s love for you is such love sinks into you, it transforms you into someone who can love shamelessly, sacrificially, vulnerably, selflessly. And as more and more are so transformed, the whole creation starts healing.
Don’t think you can do it? Worried that you’ll let God down? You’re probably right. But God’s used to it. That’s why God always adds the words “forever” to God’s promises. So you know they are always yours, no matter what. And so you can realize that God’s shameless love is always transforming you into someone worthy of God’s everlasting trust.
In the name of Jesus. Amen