Sermon at The Episcopal Church in Okatie
The First Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2018
Do you remember when Paul Harvey was telling his stories and his famous line that would inevitably come at the end after a poignant pause: “Now you know the end of the story?” We begin Lent each year secure in the truth of the end of the story – Jesus is risen from the dead! We travel through Lent held by the promise of Easter.
Similarly, the promise of God as revealed in Genesis today points to the consistent and clear intent of God to create life. It points to the hope of new life to be known now, while on this earth, as well as for all eternity. We see it fulfilled in the gift and promise of Jesus’ resurrection. Note that the promise of covenant relationship made by God in this account is not just to Noah, but it is extended to all living creatures for all time. The outward and visible sign of God’s promise in this account is that of the rainbow.
I Peter makes it clear that for Christians the covenant sign, prefigured in Genesis, is that of baptism, revealing the truth that we are God’s beloved. You know the promise in the words of the baptismal liturgy, words of great assurance and hope. I text them to my own children on every baptismal anniversary: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Forever! Occasionally they will tell me that it brings tears to their eyes as they are reminded of this promise.
Yet, we have a problem. It is no more clear than when we experience the heartbreak and tragedy, one more time, of events like what unfolded in Parkland, Florida, this past week. It tests our trust in these promises and can be our own kind of wilderness, In times not unlike our own, the letter of I Peter is an exhortation to the Christians of that day to hold fast to their confidence in Christ. They were asked to do so in the midst of the danger of their own social alienation and the violence they regularly encountered. Although Peter assures them, and us, that all evil has been conquered, it continues to play itself out in horrible and tragic ways around us. Wilderness for sure. So what to do?
As a child I was taught never to pray for something for which I was not willing to be a part of the answer. So it is one thing to pray for the end of violence, the end of hunger, the end of the assault on the creation that God loves. The age old question, however, is what am I, as a person of faith, going to do about it? Yes, pray, but also act! And never let anyone tell you that religion and politics don’t mix. Any religion worth anything will always have political implications. Remember, it was the Roman government that executed Jesus. Perhaps you will recall the adage about being faithful people: “Don’t be so heavenly directed that you are of no earthly good.”
All the disciplines of Lent to which we were invited on Ash Wednesday, the self-examination, the reading of scripture, the self-denials, are all to be born of our gratitude. They are not directed to a morbid beating of the breast, but are to be an act of thanksgiving for the promises of God that we are seeking to live into while we have our time on this planet. They are to take shape in the life we live.
Furthermore, Christians do not trivialize sin or temptation. We all know that the discipline of Lent is more than giving up Godiva dark chocolate. Is that what Jesus died for? Of course not. The struggle is deeper than that. Much deeper. There is a battle we wage in the wilderness of our own heart, and there is the battle waged in the wilderness with the principalities and powers of this world—those of greed, power, empire, and the continual assault of lies perpetrated that tempt us to forget whom God says we are. It was true for Jesus and it is true for us.
We too easily forget that we are persons of Jesus, claimed by him through our baptism, inheritors all, of the covenant promises. Your mission and ministry, is to live out of that truth. The storms will come. They have come and will continue to come. The cross of Jesus remains at the center of our faith, after all. Yet perhaps it is not lost on you that rainbows often arrive after a storm. That’s easy to say right now as the people of Florida are living Good Friday all too explicitly. Yet we know that new life comes after apparent defeat.
Our call is to continue to stand with one another in our grief, in our pain, in our despair, even when hopelessness threatens to overwhelm us. We bear each other’s burdens to offer solace, comfort and healing. This is what God did in Jesus as he walked among us. We even dare, when the appropriate time comes, to be a reminder for one another of the covenant promise that darkness will not overcome us, truth will win out over every falsehood, and life wins over death.
We live now knowing the end of the story. Jesus is Risen. Hold the alleluias for the moment, although I won’t blame you if you say them in your heart. Now lets go out into the world in word and example to be the people who God says we are: loved, restored, forgiven, made knew, for the sake of the whole world. Perhaps, secure in God’s promise, we can be brave enough to act on what we believe.
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.