Sunday, March 1, 2015

Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 5:1-11
Mark 8:27-38

And he asked them, But who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.

We are having some electrical work done in our house. We've been slowly replacing the old lights with LED lights. The electrician is a nice guy, affordable and so far he's done good work. The only unusual thing I've noticed is that he calls me Margaret. I'm sure it is because he remembers my name from my check, but I introduced myself to him as Peggy and I use Peggy whenever I call. The funny thing is that he never knows who I am, but when I describe my situation, he says, "Oh, hello Margaret." I'm not sure why he continues to call me Margaret; perhaps he hasn't made the connection between the two names.

It is certainly a strange combination. I've had many people ask me the question, "How is Peggy a nickname for Margaret?" I've looked it up on the internet multiple times, but the answer is not very satisfactory. The consensus is simply that the more understandable nicknames like Meg and Meggy morphed into Peg and Peggy, perhaps because they rhymed. Meggy-Peggy was possibly shortened to Peggy.

During my research I discovered this anonymously written poem. "In search from A to Z they passed, And 'Marguerita' chose at last; But thought it sound far more sweet To call the baby 'Marguerite.' When grandma saw the little pet, She called her 'darling Margaret.' Next uncle Jack and cousin Aggie Sent cup and spoon to 'little Maggie.' And grandpapa the right must beg To call the lassie 'bonnie Meg.' From 'Marguerita' down to 'Meg,' And now she's simply 'little Peg.'"

There were some who were given the name Peggy from the start; Peggy is one of the few nicknames to have a life of its own. Since Margaret is my legal name, I use it on all my official documents, including my checks. It becomes a little confusing for those to who know me as Peggy, which is why I get that question. Shakespeare wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I am the same person no matter what name I use, but sometimes names can impact our impression of people. I went through a phase in school when I wanted to be called "PJ." It lasted long enough that I made myself a bracelet in art class using that name. PJ seemed more artsy, cooler, grown up. Most of my friends and teachers went along with the phase, although the official papers would always have my name listed as "Margaret."

Names do have meaning, although most of us don't pay much attention to it. We talked about it in our Sunday school class on Sunday. Most of the members of our group had no idea what their name means. One woman looked hers up on her phone. I happened to know mine. "Margaret" means "pearl." I am not sure what that says about me, but since I was named after my father's sister, I don't think my parents even thought about the name meaning. My husband and I didn't when we named our children.

Names mean something important in the Bible. We are often told the meaning of a name which helps us to understand the personality and the purpose of the person in God's story. We see that most importantly in the naming of our Lord. Matthew writes, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us." (Matthew 1:23, ASV)

It is obvious in today's Old Testament text that something has changed with Abram and Sarai. God has given them new names. Though the names themselves are quite similar to the names they were given by their parents, their new names show at least a difference in dialects. The scriptures tell us that the new names represent their new place in God's plan. Abram became Abraham; the childless one became the one who would be the father of many nations. Sarai became Sarah; the childless one became the one who will give rise to nations.

There is more to this name change than meets our eyes, however, and it has to do with the additional letter. The letter "h" in Hebrew is "hey" and means "to reveal" or "behold." It also represents the divine breath and revelation. In other words, God has breathed new life into Abraham and Sarah; their lives were forever different because God irrevocably intertwined with them. If we take this study of the Hebrew letter even further, we discover that “hey” is a combination of two other Hebrew letters, "dalet" and "yod." "Dalet" is understood to mean "door" and represents broken humanity. "Yod" the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet means "hand" and represents the divine spark. So, in adding the "hey" to Abraham and Sarah's name, God opened their hearts, entered in and revealed His purpose for their lives. In this passage we see God offering a promise to the father and mother of many nations, but we also see Him taking hold of them and giving them everything they need to become what He planned.

His plan: that's the hardest part of this relationship with have with our God. We make plans for our lives and all too often they go astray. We map out a timeline for when we will graduate, get a job, find a mate, have children, retire and some of us even try to plan our deaths. The death part is a little harder to control, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

There's an episode from the "Big Bang Theory" where Sheldon decided that his life expectancy was too short (he would only live another sixty years, and miss out on so much.) He began his quest for old age by choosing different food, making Thursday cruciferous vegetable night rather than pizza night. Unfortunately, the bowl full of Brussels sprouts gave him gas so horrible that he thought he was going to do. He decided to take up running with Penny, but fell down the steps on the first day. Then he decided the only way to really save himself was to hid in his room with a virtual presence device out in the world. He created a robot with a video monitor that was connected to a video camera in his room. His plan posed a few problems and ultimately he realized that you can't live your life through a video screen. He has also realized, over the years, that you can't control every aspect of your life.

We try, but as we learn to trust in God we realize that He has a much better idea for our lives. He knows us better than we do. He knows us to the core of our beings. He knows our gifts because He has given them to us. He knows every step we have taken and every step we will take. He has set the path for us, and the best path we can follow is the one He has ordained. Sadly, no matter how much we trust God, we still try to go our own way, follow our own plans, do our own thing. That's when we struggle, although most of us never really learn that lesson.

Peter had a plan. Peter had great plans for Jesus. He was going to be King and save the Jews from their oppression. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he knew Jesus was the Messiah, but had it all worked out in his head how Jesus would accomplish the work of salvation. Unfortunately, his plans were not Jesus' plans. When Jesus began to speak about death and the cross, Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him. Jesus rebuked Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men." Jesus was not calling Peter Satan, but Peter was trying to make God fulfill his own plans - exactly what Satan tempts us to do every day. We saw him try to turn Jesus away from the path that God planned for Him, the path to the cross, by tempting Him in the wilderness. Here again, Satan was trying to tempt Jesus away from God's plan, and he was using Peter to do so.

Our plans don't always work out as we intend; they often go astray. The only thing we can truly trust is the fact that God's plans never fail, and the blessed life is the life lived in faith that God will fulfill His promises. When our plans seem to fail, we look to God knowing that He will not. This is what it means when Jesus says, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." This isn't a law or a rule that says we all have to do what Jesus did. It is a promise that He will be faithful in all that He has said would happen, and we should set aside our plans to trust in Him. The best laid plans often go astray, but the Word of God is true and He is faithful to all He has promised.

In Romans, Paul gives us a list of ways in which we can love, encourages us to live in the love of God. Without a doubt, none of us could do it without God's abiding love. We could not care for others, consider others first, serve the Lord if He had not first loved us. The world knows that God is supposed to stand for love, that He is love. The hard part for the world to understand is how Christians can be so unloving.

Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with sin and though we have been changed by God's love, we still fall, we still want to be in control, to be like God and do God's work in our own way. There are many reasons why we take it upon ourselves to do God's work. Sometimes we are impatient, thinking that God is taking too long. We see the sin and pain in the world and wish He would so something to make problems end. At other times, we question whether God is taking care of the matter in the right way. Our motives are not always self-centered, but we are led by our own biases and experiences. Unfortunately, our way is always imperfect because we can't see the world as God sees it.

God does not fail. He knows the right time and the right way to accomplish His plan. He knew exactly how to overcome the sin of this world. He sent Jesus exactly when we needed Him to come, to do exactly what needed to be done. We do not understand why. We can't quite grasp the need for the cross or for Christ's blood to cleanse us from our sins. It isn't up to us to decide whether or not God did things the right way. We are called to trust in Him, to believe in Jesus and to follow Jesus wherever He might lead us. Things might not be as we hope they will be, but they will be exactly as God intends as we walk in His ways and follow His path.

See, we think that we need to be in control so that we can avoid suffering and pain. And yet sometimes it is in the very suffering that God does His best work. Look at what happened on the cross: Jesus Christ died, but in His death we find true life. Paul reminds us that we grow through our suffering, which produces perseverance, which produces character and that character produces the hope that is already within us through faith in Jesus Christ. The character that comes from deep within holds on to a hope that is real and trustworthy because it comes from faith in Christ, a hope that was given through the blood of Jesus on the cross through which we are saved.

See, God opened Abraham and Sarah's hearts, revealed His purpose for their lives; He promised them greatness and took hold of them so that He could give them everything they needed to become what He planned. He does the same for us. We might not have a name change like Abram and Sarai, and our names might not mean anything like "God with us," but we are God's and He has a plan.

God had a plan for Jesus, and it wasn't what Peter expected. Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah because the Holy Spirit had revealed it to Him, but Peter's expectations were much different. We, like Peter, might rebuke God for doing things His way, thinking that we know better. The text today asks us an important question, however. Do we know who Jesus is? When He asks us the question, "Who do you say that I am?" do we have an answer? Do we know that He is the Messiah and do we know what that means? We have the advantage of hindsight; we know the rest of the story, but that does not always guarantee that we understand how God is working in our lives. We are called to lives of trust and confidence in God's plan, knowing that only He can make things work out right.

It seems impossible that a ninety-nine year old childless man might become the father of many nations. The promise is equally impossible for Sarah who was well beyond the age of child bearing. Yet, Abraham believed God and trusted that He would be faithful. Do we live with such trust? We should. Although our names have not been changed, God has breathed His "hey" into our lives, too. We have been changed as He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus, by grace, in our baptisms.

It is time to take up our cross and follow Jesus: to die and live again so that others might have life. Give the word to your neighbors. Share the Gospel with your friends; share with them the forgiveness of God. Tell them of the God that is both fearful and merciful, about the God that died so that they might live. Tell them about Jesus, so that they might be saved. Give it freely, for there is more than enough grace to go around. And do not worry about what might happen tomorrow, for God is faithful and His promises are real. He has breathed His life into your life so that you will pass it on to the world. Give glory to God and your faith will grow, even in the midst of your doubts and fears. And He will change the world.

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