Worship Start Time: 10:30am
Preaching: Rev. Erin Klassen
Co-Presiding: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Promises, Promises - Lent I
The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.
Come and explore the season of Lent.
Promises, Promises: Lent I – Jesus in the Wilderness
February 18, 2018
Rev. Erin Klassen
There are these really cool parallels between our Scripture readings for today. The action that happens in the sky, a bow in clouds, the heavens parting and a dove descending. A dove in both stories, even. The desolation and the isolation of 40 days, inside the ark and in the wilderness. The difference being that we meet Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry, and find Noah at the end of his.
In fact, it would seem that we’ve missed pretty much the whole story of Noah, arriving just in time for the final chapter. Which makes me ask, what happened? I mean, we know what happened, in a broad sense of the story. Noah built an ark, gathered in the animals two by two, and then it rained for 40 days and nights. After the water began to subside, Noah sent the dove out and on its second trip, it returned with an olive branch in its beak, indicating that it was safe to leave the ark.
But, as the Rev. Casey Fitzgerald tells us, to enter into this story at this point, the covenant at the end, robs us of the fullness of the story. The question that I am left with is:
How did we get to this point?
Genesis 6 reads,
YHWH saw the great wickedness of the people of the earth, that the thoughts in their hearts fashioned nothing but evil. YHWH was sorry that humankind had been created on earth; it pained God’s heart. YHWH said, “I will wipe this human race that I have created from the face of the earth—not only the humans, but also the animals, the reptiles, and the birds of the heavens. I am sorry I ever made them.”
But Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH.
verses 5-8, from The Inclusive Bible
Seriously, how bad was it?
Was it as bad as our country’s colonial roots, and inherent and insidious racism being put on trial, on display?
Was it as bad as children being shot while attending school?
Was it as bad as country’s turning their backs on their neighbours, and closing their borders to refugees?
In relation to the scripture, Rev. Fitzgerald asks how we can experience the gift that is the grace of God, without bearing witness to the heartbreak of God? I would argue that we are living in the midst of that heartbreak.
And so we can see the desire, the appeal, the reasoning behind wiping everything out and starting over. But even in all the frustration and disappointment, heartbreak and anger, when God looked at the world, at Noah, God saw something worth redeeming.
Not only that, God saw that destruction was not the answer. Here’s an interesting point with this story, it is not humanity that is transformed, but God’s own heart. In all of the messiness and the mistakes, God sees that death is not the answer. Separation, distance, destruction, those are not the answers. So, in setting God’s bow in the clouds, that instrument of war and destruction is pointed away from humanity, from all the earth forever. The reminder of the bow is that God will not lift up such violence again. God’s way will forever be different. The covenant is made.
Which leads us to a lot of questions.
Namely, how can God let something like this (insert tragedy here) happen?
Yesterday, I saw an awful meme pop up in my digital feed - a message from a ‘concerned student’ asking why God allows violence in schools, ‘God’ responds “I’m not allowed in schools.” As if God is some petulant deity that must be appeased lest innocent children be allowed to suffer in order to prove a point.
The Rev. Jennie Chrien calls this toxic theology of the highest order. It is falsehood, it is blasphemy, and it is contrary to the Gospel.
The Gospel that tells us that God came to us in a form that we can recognize, the person of Jesus, and walked alongside us on this journey. When we see Jesus baptized, and blessed, declared beloved, and then sent out into the wilderness, we wonder where God is in that. Jesus’ temptation points to one of our greatest temptations, to think that God is not present.
God is present. Always. Unstoppably.
And God’s heart breaks. Just as ours do. Over and over again.
Alongside us, our God is filled with regret and remorse, sadness, frustration, and anger.
And as much as we want to “burn it all down” - racism, toxic masculinity, greed, our idolatry of things at the expense of life itself.
God reminds us with the rainbow that that is not the answer.
The answer comes in the form of Christ. God in a relationship, with us.
Elizabeth Webb tells us, “That bow in the clouds is the sign of God's promise that whatever else God does to seek our restoration, destruction is off the table. An implication of this promise is that God will try everything else. God will seek us and seek us, despite or perhaps because of God's knowledge of every sin, every grief, and every shame that veils our vision of God's reality and of our own as God's creatures. Whatever dwells in our hearts that keeps us from hearing the harmony of all life in God's care, God will not give up on loving us into restoration.”
This is our task as well.
To feel the heartbreak, and truly acknowledge our brokenness.
Then, to see as God does, that we are worth redeeming, and continue to work toward restoration and reconciliation.
This is our ministry.
Just as Jesus took up John’s message. So must we.
After his time in the wilderness, after his cousin’s arrest, Jesus appeared in Galilee, saying:
This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!
We are called to believe the good news. Not have an opinion. Not pick a side or a hashtag.
But to trust. To radically and unequivocally turn our lives around, basing them on the good news - God is present. In our lives, and in our world. God promises to be with us and for us, often, in spite us. God shows up for us, again and again. Because God desires a relationship with us.
So, while it certainly feels like all is lost and we are already in the wilderness, my friends. God is here too.
As we enter into this Lenten season, we live in the gap between the world as it is and the world as God intended it to be. As we take this time to prepare, 40 days of journeying toward the cross, we know that is not the end of the story. The mistakes, the mess, the brokenness, the grief, is heartbreaking, yes. But from God’s heartbreak comes transformation, and ultimately redemption.
Let us journey with God.
Let us grieve and mourn with God.
Let us take to heart the promise: never again.
Let us live into our call as beloved, those created in the image of God, and do whatever it takes to restore our relationships with God, with each other, and with the world.
So, that we too can say: This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand!
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