Genesis 9:8-17, I Peter 3:18-22
March 5, 2006
Here we are at the first Sunday in Lent. I’d like to do just a little bit of a reminder as we begin this most important season. First of all, Lent is a 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. But some of you might be quick to notice (if you’re the counting type) that there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter!
That’s because there are! Does anybody know why? Because Lent doesn’t include the Sundays! That’s why we liturgy “buffs” refer to these Sundays as the Sundays IN advent. They are IN this time period, but they are not part OF Lent. That’s why we say the Sundays before Christmas are the Sunday’s OF Advent. Do you see the difference?
That’s not very inspiring, I know. But it is because of the nature of this celebration. Lent is a time of “somber introspection.” It is a time when we look seriously at our lives and try to see ourselves as God sees us. And that’s not easy! We’re used to seeing ourselves only as we see us! Well, Lent is a time when we try to see where we have failed and where we need to do better. And in all that, the early Church Fathers wanted the Sundays in Lent to retain their feeling of celebration and joy. Hence the difference in days.
So the real part of Lent is what we do the rest of the week during this time. It is a time when we think about our failings. It is a time when we take an honest look at ourselves. It is a time we used to think about things like “The Seven Deadly Sins.” I doubt we could even name all of them any more. (Envy, gluttony, sloth, Sleepy, Dopey, Grumpy, and Bashful.)
Lent is also a time – and this is even more important – when we think about our relationship with God and strive to draw closer. This is a time when we think about all that the Lord has done for us, and how he wants to share all of our lives. It is a time when we remember the “joy of our salvation” as David put it. And I know we should be doing such things all the time. But this is a time when the Church has chosen to focus on such things. And I think that’s good.
I remember a friend of mine from my juggling club in Kansas City. His name was Vinny. (No really it was!) One evening, in the midst of “throwing stuff around,” we got talking about Church kinds of things. And Vinny was part of an evangelical, independent, non-denominational, (etc, etc…) Church. And at one point I remember him asking, “Oh, do you do the ‘Lent’ thing?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well, we don’t.” And I knew he had a great Church, but I felt sorry for them in a way. I think it’s a shame to lose such rich traditions in the Church, especially ones that help us to see how important God’s grace is in our lives.
That’s what we’re being told here in both Genesis and the end of the story of Noah, and in I Peter who told us about Christ who brought us to God through his work on earth. In Genesis we are told about God’s promise never to wipe out the world in a flood again. In that case the water represented the cataclysm and God’s wrath. And the rainbow was the sign of the covenant of God. That was a powerful image for the people of that time, as well as the people of Jesus’ time.
Have you ever been on a ship out on the ocean, or at least out of sight of land? What was that like? Was it calm, or were there clouds, rain, wind, and waves? Is the ocean, is water, not a powerful force? Think of the people in New Orleans. Recall the images of the tsunami in Asia. Think of the disciples in that boat on the sea of Galilee. And can we even begin to imagine the great flood?! Going “Through the waters” was a metaphor for going through adversity in this life. There is powerful imagery there. And there is powerful imagery in that story of Jesus calming the sea. “Who is this,” they asked, “that even the winds and waves obey him?” “Who is this,” they asked, “that even the storms and adversity of life are calmed by his hand?”
In the New Testament lesson, Peter refers to the waters of in terms of our Baptism, through which we have been given what he calls a “clear conscience.” I like reading Peter. To him, these images of water were very real. He had spent his life on the sea of Galilee, a sea on which the worst of storms can come up almost without warning. Peter’s writing has more of an edge to it. He’s a fisherman. He’s a bit grittier! He’s a more simple, down to earth man. He’s more “earthy” in his approach. Whereas Paul is sophisticated, educated, and he strives to be all things to all people. Where Paul is more diplomatic, Peter is more rough hewn!
So Peter tells how Noah was saved through the water by building a boat – something Peter could relate to. Then he related that to baptism, which I think comes easily to mind when we think of water. But I want us to see that there’s more here than just baptism. For sometimes we are tempted to see Baptism only as the cleansing of our sins. It is more. It is a sign of our “clear conscience” before God, yes. But it’s also a part of God’s new covenant.
There are various covenants in the Lenten readings this year. Today we have this one with Noah. But there are others coming. Baptism is the sign of our covenant with God. When we celebrate this sacrament in a few minutes, I’m going to raise the cup and recall Jesus’ words that the cup is the sign of the New Covenant sealed in his blood. Like the people of old who received the sign of the rainbow, and the tablets, and the new names, we are people of the covenant, too. This is the covenant we read about in verse 18. “For Christ also died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
That’s the covenant. But we can’t even leave it at that. Because that would seem only to be a contract – which I know a covenant is in the simplest sense. But the second half of that verse is what it leads to. “Being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” That’s what the covenant of Christ does for us. We too are put to death and we too are made alive in the spirit! Through whatever comes our way in this life, through whatever adversity we face, through whatever tumultuous waters we may have to sail, still we are made alive in Christ through the spirit! That’s the nature of our covenant. The circumstances of life do not affect our spirit.
I know that’s not easy to remember when we are going through the waters. That’s why we have this place. That’s why we have each other. The Church is many things. But one of the things it needs to be is a safe harbor! It needs to be a haven from the storms of life, from the hurtful ways of the world around us. It needs to be a place where we can know – and sometimes remind each other – and sometimes come to be reminded – of our life in the spirit, the life which is our benefit through the covenant with God through Christ.
In this life, we are often sailing the rough seas. But together we are reaching out and pulling in those who have fallen overboard. We are leading each other through the waters, and we are sharing in that safety and the joy of God, despite the storms. Let that be one of the things about which we think seriously this Lenten season.
Lord, in our lives and in our fellowship together, may we grow in the sense of safe harbor here in this place. Forgive us when we bring the same turmoil of the world outside here into this place. Help us to grow in our ability to uphold one another in the life in the spirit that we have been given, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray, Amen.