February 25, 2024 – Second Sunday in Lent

Speaker: Drew Brislin

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30;  Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

The Rev. Drew Brislin

As we continue to make our way on this pilgrim journey in this season of Lent, this season of preparation, I think it is important that we not only be willing to offer others grace but also be willing to offer that same grace to ourselves. I remember the moment that I made the conscious decision to make my relationship with God a focus in my life. Sometimes it seems like it was yesterday. I was sitting on a bench on the Fairhope Pier contemplating where I was in my life. Where was I vocationally, relationally, and most importantly spiritually. I think it is important to reflect on hinge points in our lives like these. I can more clearly see how as a child I remember going to Sunday School and I had never, not believed. I think I just let life and my own wants and desires kind of wedge themselves in between my relationship with God. I still attended services with my grandparents from time to time in Tuscaloosa. I often attended Christmas and Easter services, but I just never made my relationship with God a focal point in my later high school days or in college. I can now see how this trend continued as a young professional as I embarked on my early working career as well. It would require mistakes mostly born out of immaturity and a sort of I’m at my wits end mentality to finally get my attention. As I thought about our collect for today, I could not help but think about this time in my life. Our collect this morning for the Second Sunday in Lent is one that brings this aspect of Lent into sharp focus for us this week. It reminds us that our God is merciful and gracious to all who have gone astray and petitions God to bring those with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace his Son, who along with the Holy Spirit will live and reign as one God for ever and ever.

Our collect this morning is drawn from some of our most ancient liturgies dating to the first couple of centuries. It was originally a bidding to pray for heretics and schismatics that they may be delivered from their errors and recalled to the catholic and apostolic church. In our more modern Sunday context, this separation has come to refer more to those who have abandoned or maybe just drifted away from the practice of one’s Christian faith. It also links our actions in Lent to one of the Solemn Collects prayed on Good Friday that reads….

Merciful God, creator of all the peoples of the earth and lover of souls: Have compassion on all who do not know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; let your Gospel be preached with grace and power to those who have not heard it; turn the hearts of those who resist it; and bring home to your fold those who have gone astray; that there may be one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The prayers known as collects draw this name as they were often said at the end of a litany or some other popular prayer where the priest would sum up or collect the petitions that the people had just made. They follow a distinct form of first addressing God (O God) and then naming an attribute of God (whose glory it is always to have mercy). They then subsequently make a petition of God (Be gracious to all who have gone astray from thy ways,) followed by a reason for asking (and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ thy Son) and close with a conclusion (who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen). They give a distinctive tone to the Eucharist. Our Collect for today gives us this tone of reconciliation that we are drawn to in our Invitation to a Holy Lent where we are reminded that this season is a time for those who have been separated from the body of the faithful. As our Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us that those who have been separated are reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the church and we are all reminded of the message of pardon and absolution that is taught to us within Jesus’ Gospels. Our collect this morning seems to reinforce for us the message received in our Gospel reading this morning as Jesus reminds us that sometimes we set our minds on human things rather than divine things and that if we are to become like Jesus, we must be willing to take up our own cross and follow him. Sometimes we must be at our wits end before we are willing to bear that cross though. But it is right there in that fire of uncertainty that God so often reaches out his hand seeking to draw us back into the fold.

As I sat on that pier looking out over the bay I began to pray. In reflection it seems like it was more a conversation. I had made some career moves based on one money and secondly because I thought I had been passed over for a promotion. Again, two things that I have learned really never make you happy. I was struggling to find my place in the world. Until I was ready to release my perceived sense of control and invite God into the middle of my mess, I would not be able to find that peace that would surpass all understanding. I told God that if he would help me figure things out that I would make him a priority in my life. Now, I know it doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t wheel and deal with us. But I think what I was doing was saying, at least to myself that I wanted to make God a more central part of my life. I would eventually move back to Tuscaloosa. I found a job that brought me joy and I started attending a church with some close friends. I began to become involved in that church. A couple of years later I would meet Allison who would bring a fullness to my life that I never knew that I could experience, and she would bring me to the Episcopal Church. We all make mistakes or reflect on our lives and wonder what would have happened if I had made different decisions. It is easy to play the ‘What if?’ game. I think the reality is that even those missed opportunities or wrong turns are just part of the journey when we keep God at the center of this pilgrimage of life that we are on. It is when we get away from God that we get off the path. This Lent we are being called to remember that we are created in God’s image and made for relationship with him. Our collect this morning is reminding us that God is gracious to all who have gone astray. Understanding ourselves is all about understanding our place in Holy Fellowship with Him and with each other. I pray that you are taking time in this season of preparation to take a breath and reflect on these divine relationships in your lives.