Sermon Lent 1 – Mar 1, 2009

March 9, 2009 at 6:43 am Leave a comment

Texts for the day

It’s important, isn’t it,
to be able to read the signs.
A stop sign, for example.
Any child learns at an early age that an eight-sided red sign means
“stop and look before proceeding.”
Likewise, they learn when dealing with other people
that a clenched fist means one thing,
and open hands mean another.
They learn that a smile is a good thing.
But don’t drink something that has a mean, green Mr. Yuk on it.
Signs are everywhere.
“This is safe, this is not.”
This sign means peace, this sign means war.
A meeting with another person that ends with a handshake or a hug
is a lot better than one that does not.
When a man and a woman are married,
they often exchange signs of the covenant they have made with each other.
The rings they wear are physical, tangible, enduring signs
of what they have promised each other.
The man and the woman wear them,
proclaiming not only to themselves and to each other
but to the entire world
that someone has made a covenant with them,
someone has made promises to be faithful and loyal to them.
What are signs?
They are shorthand communication.
A vessel at sea flying an American flag upside down
is indicating distress.
A car with its flashers on is sending a message of warning and caution.
A referee who puts both his hands in the air
is signaling that a touchdown has been scored.
A person with open hands indicates that he comes with peaceful intention.
God uses signs too.
Now I’m not a person who looks for signs from God everywhere
for direction in my life.
Even if God is sending me those signs,
I don’t know whether I would be smart enough to read them.
If I want direction, I might read Proverbs or the Sermon on the Mount
and apply my admittedly limited intelligence
to discerning the best route forward.
But God uses signs too.
He uses signs to confirm and ratify relationships.
He uses signs to indicate the covenant he makes with people.
The sign of the rainbow after the storm
was the sign of peace from God to his creatures.
For forty days and forty nights
the storm raged, the waters flowed,
a righteous God infuriated by the rebellion of humanity,
appalled at the injustice perpetrated in the world,
choked out life no matter how high the ground,
because that life had become corrupt.
Before you get too upset with God for doing this,
before you get too righteously indignant,
haven’t you sometimes wondered whether it might or might not be a good idea
to just start over?
Hearing about the fat cats getting fatter
and the weak being oppressed,
the lies and the back-room deals
and the children being used as political pawns,
the rape and abuse of the people and the people’s planet,
if you’ve thought, even once, “I don’t know why God doesn’t just wrap it up,”
then you understand the plight of God,
looking upon the world he had made,
looking upon the people whom he had formed from the clay of the earth
and knowing that there was no help for them,
there was no way that he could make the place fit for habitation again
short of destroying them all.
But the flood is not the sign of God to us.
Not the angry cloud, nor the flash of lightning.
I always chuckle a little bit at the jokes
which involve God zapping particularly egregious sinners
with a lightning bolt.
But I worry about them.
Often people who joke about a lightning bolt striking them
for doing something bad
really do think that that’s what God does to bad sinners.
When a lightning bolt doesn’t strike them,
they think that either what they’ve done isn’t so bad,
or that there isn’t a God up there to zap them.
But what if that’s not God’s sign at all?
What if he does not threaten sinners with a war-like symbol,
but wants to open up his heart to us?
You see, the lightning bolt is not a symbol for the God of Israel,
but of Zeus, the Greek father of the gods,
secure in his power and making covenant with no one.
The God of Israel uses a sign not of war but of peace.
After the flood, the creatures who are left,
who have by the mercy of God been carried through the waters,
see a sign that God loves his creatures,
that he cannot utterly destroy them;
no matter what a mess they make of his world,
no matter how far they run from him,
he will not make an end short of a good end to this story.
He sets his bow in the clouds,
as a sign to himself and to humanity
that all storms end, all wrath ceases,
and that peace must prevail.
God makes a covenant with humanity
that he is not a God who zaps with lightning bolts
but a God who comes in peace,
a God who comes with open hands,
even if it means that when he comes with open hands
we nail those open hands to a wooden cross.
Jesus is the sign from God of God’s covenant with us,
and when he is baptized in the river Jordan,
he transforms our baptism into the sign of our adoption into him.
The God who detests evil but loves his creatures even more
sends his Son into the world in the likeness of a creature,
so that his frail human creatures may become like his Son,
children of God.
When we look to our baptism,
we have a sign with much significance –
a flood that drowns our sins,
a bath that washes our spirits clean,
a new birth into an inheritance that is not our own by nature,
but is ours by grace.
Like Jesus, we are called into a life of struggle,
not just for Lent but for a lifetime,
a life in which many powers would tempt us to believe that we are not God’s children,
that God will not provide for us,
that the life of service is the life of a loser,
and that certainly we must make it on our own if we are to make it at all.
But like Jesus, we may trust in the sign God our Father gives us.
We may trust that God has made the water of baptism
the sign of the word he speaks to us,
“You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.”
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Sermon Ash Wednesday 2009 Sermon 4 Lent – March 22, 2009

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