Sermon–Lent 1–February 22, 2015


Lent 1—Year B

February 22, 2015

William Bradbury

Genesis 9:8-17

Psalm 25:1-9

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

My daughter in law posted a video on Facebook that she said perfectly depicts a typical day with her kids, especially with 20 month old Margaret: The video, entitled “Why moms get nothing done” begins with a mother kneeling on the floor lovingly folding her daughter’s clothes and placing them in a drawer—while behind her, the little girl is pulling out other folded clothes from another drawer and throwing them on the floor. Another scene shows the mom sweeping one part of the kitchen floor while the child is spreading around a pile of dust in another area. At the end we see the mom washing one side of a sliding glass door while the child is putting hand and mouth prints on the other side of the door. At which point the mom just hangs her head in defeat.

This is why moms get nothing done, but it is also a parable as to why God finds it hard to get anything done with creation. While God creates pristine oceans and rivers, humans are busy flooding them with chemicals and oil. While God creates air to breathe humans are busy making it unbreathable: did you see the article about how the Chinese are visiting Japan in record numbers—not to see the sites, but to breathe clean air!

When humans refuse to participate with what God is doing, when we fail to participate in the purposes of creation then creation is destroyed and humans become less human, until finally we become inhuman.

This of course is what we see on the nightly news: humans blowing up and burning up one another—some the old fashion way, with gasoline, others in the 21st century way with drones and other weapons of violence.

The story of Noah in Genesis is a Biblical version of the same thing: humankind, filled with the original blessing of God, rebels against God, refuses to participate in the purposes of creation and thus seeks to “un-god” God.

In Genesis 6 we read:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually….The earth was corrupt and filled with violence.”

Now since we know God decides to flood the earth we might assume God is like a tyrant who just pushes a button to destroy us and walks away.

But that’s not what the God of the Bible does.

Instead we are told that this “grieved God to his heart” and that God decides to draw to a close humankind’s reign of terror. God grieves, like a parent, over the sinfulness of humanity because this God feels the suffering of the people.

  God decides to start over with Noah because he appears to be faithful and obedient, someone who is interested in participating with God in fulfilling creation by being fruitful and caring for creation and one another.

After the flood it turns out that Noah is not much better than anyone else and that his descendants would rebel against God and also slip into inhumanity.

Yet, in spite of this, God says,  “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 

Notice God does not say I will never destroy you as long as you behave. No, he makes an eternal promise to stay with humanity even when we rebel.

This is the difference between a covenant and a contract: the contract god which most of us grew up with says, If we do the right things God will be gracious but if we do the wrong things God will not be gracious.

In other words grace is dependent on us.

This finally gets twisted into the modern belief of most people who think God’s grace is dependent on their faith.

Faith and repentance are seen as conditions for receiving God’s grace and love.

That’s the contract god.

 As T. F. Torrance puts it: if my weak faith is a link in the chain of God’s grace, then I am lost. See his brilliant The Mediation of Christ, page 93

But the God of the Old Testament and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a contract god, but the covenant God:

Faith and repentance and obedience are the responses to grace, not the conditions for grace.

So when Jesus says repent and believe the gospel, he is not listing the conditions we must fulfill to receive the kingdom, rather he is saying repentance and faith are the response to the fact that we are already included in the Father’s Love and Purpose.

Jesus announces the kingdom because he has come from the Father to fulfill finally God’s purposes for humanity in creation. Jesus is the one on our behalf who is faithful and obedient, non-violent and loving, creating the beloved community, participating in the love that flows between father, son, and spirit.

This is what Jesus is sent to do—but it will not be easy.

Just as it is not easy to raise a toddler, it is not easy to save the human race from itself.

God grieves for the pain we cause each other, so the loving Father sends the Son, Jesus, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: God in Christ participates in our fallen humanity, so that we might participate in his faithful humanity. It is a wondrous exchange given from the heart of God.

In today’s gospel we see the beginning of Jesus’ suffering for us. Immediately after he is affirmed as God’s beloved, the Holy Spirit DRIVES him into the wilderness to engage with Satan, the father of lies, who is continually whispering into our ears that we can’t trust god and therefore must only trust ourselves.

Matthew and Luke of course give a more detailed account of this battle in which Satan whispers into Jesus’ ear that if he were really God’s son he could take control of things himself and set the world straight without God, which of course is our temptation too.

After this encounter Jesus announces the Kingdom of God is among us and he calls us to change our mind about God and to believe in the covenant God, the loving Father, Son, and Spirit who comes to us in Jesus Christ.  As we hear in First Peter this morning: “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” 

Believe what God is doing for you and stop believing in the whispers of the Evil One.

What are you struggling with this Lent: what part of your fallen humanity is pulling you back into the abyss of self-hatred and fear so that you can’t fulfill the purposes of your creation for the healing of the world?

Maybe in Lents past, you engaged these issues head on, mano y mano, and ended up exhausted and defeated because your toddler or your job or your parent or your math homework or the voice in your head was too much for you.

This Lent don’t spend another moment beating yourself up, but believe the good news that in Jesus Christ you are at this very moment included in the eternal Covenant of God, not through your own effort or through your own faith, but through the faithfulness of Christ.