A sermon for the First Sunday of Lent, 2018
Noah bore a huge responsibility, when you think about it. To hear the story told, he held in his protection the future of all flesh: every living creature on the earth.
Noah did not save them. How long could he have lasted, on his overblown boat, without the repentance of God and the relenting of the rain and the chaotic waters that threatened to eat up creation? Noah was literally in the same boat as every other creature on earth, completely dependent upon the whim of God, and the will of God’s mercy. His responsibility lay not in his power, but in his solidarity with every living thing left orphaned, widowed, undone by the sudden storm. His saving grace was not his own, but the compassion and covenant offered, eventually, by God.
But without Noah’s faithful intervention, how many more lives would have perished? What future would the lions have, or the doves? His obedience to God landed him with the responsibility and the privilege of caring for all of God’s living creatures, all flesh.
On this first Sunday of Lent, only a few days into the dry, dusty wilderness, what is the responsibility that our obedience places upon us? I think we know, even if we do not want to face it. We cannot save them all, we cry, and yet, with Noah, the onus is on us to build an Ark for the protection of all flesh, for the future of all of God’s children, so that they have a future.
We come together this morning in the wake of yet another mass shooting, yet again targeting children and the adults dedicated to them at their school. We hear a familiar litany of lamentable warning signs in the background: repeated trauma, and the recent wound of sudden loss. disaffection, disconnection, intimate partner abuse, White supremacy, and that death machine, the AR-15. The sins of hatred and self-aggrandizement, the philosophical and physical diminishment of the value of others, the denial and desecration of God’s image in another, a neighbour, even a lover, which explodes into massacre, a campaign against all flesh.
And what is our responsibility, in obedience to our covenant with God? Where is our Ark? How do we stay afloat in a sea of sin when we know, we know that we have, we do, pollute the waters ourselves, at least from time to time?
Is it hypocrisy to rail against domestic violence (which is a term that I hate, since violence is anything but domesticated, tame, or civilized, all the more so when we wield it cynically against those whom we claim to love best); is it hypocrisy, then, to rail against domestic violence when we know that it happens here, too, in the household of God, in the family of the church? Each of us knows, from our own extended family networks, the prevalence of such abuse. One in four men, and one in three women report some kind of abuse from within their relationships. How do we repent of our own sin and simultaneously condemn the sins of others?
Is it a denial of reality to demand a reduction of gun violence, a restriction of access to high-powered weapons, to weapons that efficiently and effectively enable the sins of disaffection, desecration, to spray themselves across wide areas and increase the reach of death? What is our responsibility, where is our Ark, to save all flesh from the flood of violence that too often overwhelms us?
I wish I had easy answers. I wish that the gospel were all sunshine and rainbows, and happily ever after. It doesn’t seem to work that way. The story of Noah falls within the first ten chapters of the first book of a Bible which continues to tell the story of God’s covenants with creation for more than nine hundred more chapters, sixty-five more books. At the end, we are told, in the world to come, there will be no more sorrow or sighing, no more nightmares, only the light and peace of God’s countenance. But it is a long journey from here to there.
Here is the good news, for those of us still in the struggle: Jesus has overcome temptation, and gone ahead of us, healing, restoring, repairing, resurrecting. He continues to bear the weight of our sin, our shame, our struggle, and he does not leave us alone in our sorrow, but to all who truly turn to him, he offers a way forward: the way of repentance.
The way of repentance is one of hard labour. The building of Arks is not an insignificant undertaking. Can you imagine even just the food provisions that Noah needed to lay in, in order to feed all flesh? He must have had to restrict his own stores, even those set aside for his own sons, in order to provide for the rest. He had to dismantle his own house and rebuild it into something that had room for all flesh. And then, he had to find a way for all flesh to live in harmony for heaven knew how long, eschewing any kind of violence or vengeance within the household of floating domesticity. No easy measure, no short cuts to salvation there.
If we are to build an Ark for our times, in our own landscape, our own sea of sin, we will need together to repent of the sins of disaffection and desecration; to repent actively, explicitly, and unequivocally of our racism; to repent explicitly, actively, and unrequitedly of our violence, domesticated or wild; to repent actively, explicitly, and incrementally of our addiction to personal arsenals, the temptation to arm ourselves against our own beloved neighbours, and especially the arming of the vulnerable, the violent, the very young, the very angry, and the very sad against themselves and others.
The explicit rejection of racism means that we white people need to do our own work to understand and undo the scaffold of white supremacy. Our recoiling from domestic violence might mean having the courage to walk with a friend in need of help and advice. The active repentance of our society’s gun violence may involve putting our prayers into action, repeating our demands for change and for safety not only to God, but to our legislators. We may differ wildly on what must change, but we might at least agree that a teen-aged orphan with a track record for trouble should not be buying a high-powered rifle. Perhaps we can start there.
Just before the passage that we read this morning, setting the bow in the sky as a sign of the covenant of mercy between God and all flesh, God tells Noah that since humanity was made in God’s image, God will require a reckoning for our lifeblood. God considers violence against any one of us violence against God’s own self. When we bruise one another, we bruise God. In return, God will protect us as closely and as fiercely as God would protect God’s own heart.
If we are to take Lent seriously, as a season of repentance, we must be active, explicit, constructive, and courageous as we take up tools to build an Ark; as we take our responsibilities seriously, in obedience to God, to stand in covenanted relationship with God and all flesh, all whom God has sent us to share in God’s mercy. God knows how hard we find it to stay afloat. But God has promised, to Noah, through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, in the new covenant consecrated by Christ in his own flesh and blood, that God will not let us down, not let us drown.
Let us pray:
O Christ, who has led the way through death so that we might find life; who has rescued even the disobedient from their prison of sin; who has redeemed unrighteous by your righteousness: give us hearts of true repentance, that we might find ourselves restored by your grace to right relationship with God and with one another, loving God with our whole selves, and all flesh as though it were our neighbour, through the mercy of God’s covenant. Amen
Featured image: Lightning. Public domain, via wikicommons