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Bible Study Guide for Sunday, March 13, 2022

March 13, 2022
  • Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
  • Psalm 27
  • Philippians 3:17-4:1
  • Luke 13:31-35


Lent can send me over the edge in my spiritual practices. The seasonal theme is penitence and self-denial, and there's a certain amount of creative fun to be had in considering new ways to groan, moan, and bewail my manifold sins and shortcomings. Suddenly self-criticism can be a spiritual gift - my time to shine! Discipline becomes its own reward and my relationship with God doesn't figure much into it. Furthermore, in times like these when the horror of war is looming, penitence feeds into a desire for control. Self-reflection and fear, both spiritual and mortal, fuel each other. I start to take on disciplines to create some sense of order in my life. At least I can control how God feels about me, right?

Thankfully, the scriptures call me out of this cycle and remind me what the intent of Lenten discipline really is - it is not to simply terrify us. Instead, when we are afraid, God extends His hands out to us and assures us that He's here for us when we're ready to turn to Him. In Genesis, God has sought out Abram, and now they make the first of the great covenants to seal their partnership. "And he believed the Lord; and the Lord [or "he"] reckoned it to him as righteousness": in Hebrew, the gramatically-ambiguous second part of this sentence can be read as both God reckoning Abram's righteousness and Abram reckoning God's righteousness. It would be disingenuous to portray this covenant as Abram signing an employment contract. God never forces Abram to agree, and Abram doesn't have to bend and scrape to God. Both make a faithful commitment to stand together. Abram helps accomplish God's will for the world, and God cares for the thousands of generations to be born of Abram, all the way down to us.

So how is this story of God's assurance connected to our Lenten disciplines? Yes, God has committed to us, but we don't always hold up our end of the bargain. Paul puts it concisely: when we turn away, we are like the Philippians whose "god is the belly[...] their minds are set on earthly things". When our gaze is turned towards ourselves, our greedy drive to consume and our selfish fretting, we are unable to lift our heads and see God reaching out to us. Discipline is our calling because it brings us closer to God; it is not an end to itself or a virtue that stands alone. The discipline of Lent stands in opposition to self-will as an outward sign of inward humility before God. When we reject the god of the belly, the god of selfishness, the god of anxious overconsumption, we are making space in our lives for God to enter our hearts and give us the spiritual food we truly need to survive. Paul reminds us that we have an incredible promise of fulfillment from God in Jesus, and we live that promise out when we shake off selfishness and support each other before He comes again.

When we understand God as offering a more mutual relationship with us, penance becomes quite different from the outlandish lashings of medieval fantasy-land. Further on in Genesis, Abram's people Israel do pull away from God, and they must make penance to mend the relationship. In fact, the entire Bible is full of stories of God's people falling away and turning back. Rather than simplistic self-punishment, the people and priests make offerings of their best gifts and take time away from their labors to pray and sing to God. Healing a relationship cannot be done by rote - God knows us better than that. In fact, this healing can even involve grief and tears when we see our distance from God. Making a practice of penance and humility gives us a chance to healthily acknowledge that sadness when mistakes have been made. At its best, the penance of Lent offers spiritual healing, God's warmth for our hearts, and strength to turn away from fear by placing our faith in God.

Betsy Noecker

  • The news coming froum Europe this week gives us plenty to be worried about with threats of violence and war. Are you praying about it? Why or why not?
  • Traditional Lenten disciplines include prayer, fasting, and almsgiving/charity. What role does discipline play in your Lenten journey?
  • Abram experienced "a deep and terrifying darkness" before God sealed their covenant. When have you experienced that darkness?


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