A reflection on the Sunday bible readings



SUNDAY 28 February 2021 

Genesis 17.1-7 and 15-16

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’


Mark 8.31-end

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’



Mark records the call of Jesus to ‘Take up your Cross’.  Today I want to offer some thoughts on why the following of Jesus can seem so hard, so potentially painful?


Most of us can call to mind people we know who seem absorbed with their own opinions, their own feelings, their own wants, and their own significance in the grand scheme of things.  But we need to remind ourselves that that is a tendency that we tend to identify most readily in others. It’s very difficult to see our own selfishness. To a greater or lesser extent most of us think that we are the centre of the universe…And we can’t all be right!


It is clear that a fundamental change is needed in our perception of ourselves. And the kind of fundamental change I’m talking about comes in our Old Testament reading, in the long story of Abram and Sarai, and their relationship with God.


Abram and Sarai have already been called by God away from everything that was familiar to them. In obedience, they have travelled many miles. They have gone into Egypt to escape a famine. They have escaped the unwanted attentions of the Pharaoh. They have acquired flocks and herds. There have been family squabbles about territory. They have been caught up in inter-tribal fighting. Through it all, in spite of the assurances of God, that “I will make you into a great nation…” they have remained childless, barren.


Abram thinks, possibly God has messed up? Made a mistake?  So Abram tries to get round what he clearly sees as God’s failure to deliver on his promise by having a child with Sarai’s maidservant. Abram is now 99 years old. God appears to him again. And again promising that he will be the father of many nations. AND HERE IS THE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE!


Abram is to change his name. And he is to change his wife’s name. This is something hugely significant in his culture! In Hebrew culture a name was crucially important. It revealed something about you, some characteristic about your birth, or a hope for your future. For Abram and Sarai…quite simply those names of the past do not now reflect God’s plan.

It is as if they are now to be different people.


The name Abram meant ‘exalted ancestor’. Abraham, on the other hand means…. Father of Multitudes. The word Sarai meant ‘my princess’ with the emphasis on her belonging to her own kinsfolk. By a change of name God indicates that she is now part of a wider family

Sarah simply means Princess.


From now on Abraham will, in obedience to God… as it says in verse 1 “Walk before me and be blameless.” This is about a future, not about the past.


Now this fundamental change will need to be marked in some way. As ever with the set readings from the Lectionary, it is interesting to see the bits that are missed out. In this case, the bit that is missed out (verses 8 to 14) is the demand that God makes of Abram! The covenant that Abram is to keep, his side of the bargain, if you like! You, and all generations after you are to undergo circumcision. The covenant, established by God, is to be owned, or validated by its recipients. The men will bear the sign of it in their own flesh, and that will carry a measure of pain.


That acceptance of pain as part of a radical, fundamental change, is emphasised in our Gospel reading too. This Gospel reading (Mark 8:31-38) comes mid-point in the Gospel of Mark. It is the turning point from which the journey of Jesus become focused away from his home territory of Galilee and on Jerusalem and what lies ahead. And Jesus knows it is not going to be easy.


Not surprising that the disciples find it hard to accept! Peter has just made his great confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Mk 8:29).  But Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ next words shows that he cannot bear the true nature of what he has himself confessed. He wants a Messiah who does not go the way of the cross (vv. 32-33). Jesus then turns to the crowd and begins to teach that the nature of true discipleship is one of self-denial. verse 34… “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”


Now, you don’t need me to remind you that in some parts of the world… to become a Christian means persecution, torture, death. Thankfully, not in our country.  At the moment.

So how do we in our culture, in our society, act in obedience to Jesus. How do we obey this command to take up our cross, and follow Him?


We begin by recognising as clearly as we are able, that God’s gift of salvation is entirely of his own giving. We do not (indeed, could never) earn it. But it is not without the need of response from us. That response must be that we acknowledge that some fundamental change in attitude and behaviour are needed.

Joining with church worship on Sunday, that’s great, but it doesn’t make you a follower of Christ! Coming to church on Sunday just makes you into a person who comes to church on Sunday!


To be a follower of Christ means to have made a deliberate choice…A conscious choice… to accept the way of self-denial. To be a follower of Christ, each one of us must take up the cross… And it is YOUR cross… your very own cross, for we each will have our own distinctive way of being selfish and self-centred!


So this week, a very practical suggestion…a challenge!

Be brave enough this week, to give some thought to the ways that you might, just might be…. selfish and self-centred! I believe, if we do that, that God will reveal to us ways that we can make some changes. Ways of getting beyond our own selfishness and disciplining ourselves, sometimes in small ways, to move the centre of our universe away from ourselves and over to God.


May our prayer be…

“Jesus our brother, you followed the necessary path and were broken on our behalf. May we not refuse to embrace the cost of following you, that in losing ourselves for your sake, we may be brought to new life. Amen

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