Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you
from the one who goes to great lengths to keep promises. Amen
The theme running through our readings for today
is that God keeps the promises God makes.
We know this,
we affirm it,
but sometimes, especially in the middle of hardship
it’s hard to trust this,
it’s hard to see anything other than what is right in front of us
and our prayers start to sound like our psalm for the day.
In the face of forces working actively against the psalmist they pray,
and their prayer alternates between statements of trust
almost as if making those statements will help the psalmist
believe that they are true
and acknowledging the reality of the present.
The psalmist starts off
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?”
but behind these words we sense a reason to fear
and sure enough in the very next verse
the psalmist says “when evildoers close in against me”
and goes on to describe bad things that happen in life.
Back and forth the psalm goes,
calling on the Lord’s promises
and seeking reassurance
in the midst of times of trouble
I think we’ve all prayed something like this
where we alternate between
“I know you’re great God and have made these promises”
and in the next breath crying out
“help! Bad things are happening, right now!”
and both are true at the same time.
We need reassurance when the way gets tough,
we need to vent our frustrations and fears
after all of the emotions have been expressed
the psalmist settles on the last two verses
“This I believe--that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord and be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord!”
And it’s true,
we do believe we will see the goodness of God,
and we catch glimpses of it
but that second part,
is oh so hard,
we’ve experienced that this past week
as we’ve waited and watched the waters rise
not knowing what the future will look like
for communities and families around the state,
and as much as we’ve wanted to do something,
at a certain point all that’s left to do is wait
we’re still waiting.
And the longer the wait the more assurance we need.
God keeps the promises God makes
but our time line and God’s don’t always line up
and so sometimes we question God,
and God responds with reassurance.
We see this in our first reading from Genesis
in the conversation between God and Abram
This scene is actually not the first conversation between the two
earlier when God led Abram from his home
God promised him land and descendants as numerous as grains of sand,
Abram has been faithful in his following of God thus far
but he’s getting older
and he’s not seeing the fruit of those promises,
So Abram questions God
yah you made those promises but what have you done for me lately?
looking for more details
in how this seemingly impossible promise will come true,
and God reassures him
pointing to the night sky and saying
“look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them, so shall your descendants be.”
Then the pattern repeats itself.
God repeats the promise of land to Abram
and Abram questions God
“O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
and what follows
is possibly one of the stranger passages
that we hear on a regular basis,
specific animals being cut in two,
a smoking fire pot and flaming torch
passing through the animal pieces…
What are we to make of such a scene?
We know from research scholars have done on the ancient middle-east
that though it may have been terrifying for Abram
the actual ritual would have been familiar to him
for this was the ritual of covenant or contract making.
Minus the presence of lawyers and paper and pen
this was how contracts were made,
the ritual of walking through the dismembered animals
signified an important promise.
essentially saying, “if I fail to keep my promise, may the same thing happen to me as to these animals.”
God’s promise to Abram is so important
that God “considers an experience of suffering and death” (NIB 449)
in order to convey the seriousness of the promise.
God keeps the promises God makes
we have cause to know just how far God will go to keep a promise.
In our gospel reading for today
Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem
some Pharisees come
and tell him that he shouldn’t go
because it’s dangerous.
Jesus already knows that,
Jesus already knows what is going to happen
and Jesus knows what lengths God is willing to go to keep promises
all the way to death and back again.
Jesus is the promised messiah
the one the people have longed for, for so long
but true to God’s form
the fulfillment of the promise
is beyond human conception of what it will look like.
Jesus uses the image
of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings,
that is what he longs to do
and in a way will do in his outstretched arms on the cross
but the people,
expecting a hawk or an eagle
have not been willing to come under Jesus
the mother hen’s wings,
in fact like a hawk or eagle
they will attack the mother hen
as they have attacked previous prophets.
the city of God,
is a risky place to go if you are a messenger from God
but Jesus is willing to take those risks in order to keep the promises of God.
God made a promise to Abram,
Abram questioned God
and God reassured Abram
and Abram believed the Lord.
Abram’s faith was possible
because of God’s word and previous actions,
which had all been true and faithful.
At our baptisms
God made a promise to us
that we would always be God’s,
as Paul said in our second reading,
our citizenship would be in heaven.
And some days we question that promise,
we turn to God and say
‘you promised that your kingdom would come on earth as in heaven,
Jesus said the kingdom of God has come near
and yet there are still people who are hungry
and countries at war,
And terrorists who shoot people in their place of worship
and loved ones who die,
And rising flood waters
how can your promise come true God?’
and God comes to us,
at the table
Jesus comes to us
reassuring us with his own body and blood
the new covenant shed for us
for the forgiveness of sins
Any time we gather together,
break the bread, drink the wine
Jesus is present,
renewing the promise of abundant life everlasting,
strengthening us in the midst of the waiting
Reminding us that God has kept all of God’s promises
even to the point of dying on a cross
and rising on the third day.
The life of faith is risky.
Risky because though the promises are always kept
we don’t know the particulars,
risky because people expect hawks instead of mother hens to change the world.
Yet The life of faith is secure
because it is founded in the one who keeps their promises
and no matter how often we question
No matter what life throws at us,
God is reaching out
gathering us in like a mother hen gathers her chicks
To safely in the shadow of her wings. Amen
First Sunday in Lent
1 Peter 3:18-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who found another way. Amen
Did you know that it only takes five chapters in Genesis
for God to get sick of humanity?
At the end of chapter one
God creates humans on the sixth day of creation
and by the beginning of chapter six
God is already tired of the fighting and wars and misuse of creation
and begins planning a genocidal flood
to wipe out everything and start over.
In my Lutheran Study Bible that’s seven pages, impressively fast.
But Noah found favor with God
and so God decides to put Noah and his family
and two of every animal on a big boat
- that Noah has to make-
and use them to start over.
And we know this story,
how Noah follows God’s instructions
and brings the animals into the ark two by two,
how it rains forty days and forty nights
and everything not on the ark dies,
how the ark drifts for a long time
until the water begins to recede
and the ark finally settles on top of a mountain
Noah keep sends out the dove to see if it’s safe to exit the boat,
the dove finally brings Noah an olive leaf
and then on the next expedition doesn’t come back
at which point Noah and his family
spill out of the ark and give thanks to God
and hearing their praise and worship and smelling the sacrifice that Noah makes,
God in chapter 8
realizes that destroying everything isn’t the answer
and says “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”(8:21)
And so God makes a covenant with Noah,
and we get part of that in our first reading,
but only the second part,
a covenant is an ancient legal contract
where both parties have responsibilities.
The human part of the covenant that God makes with Noah
is much like the first time around with Adam and Eve,
Noah and his family
are to go be fruitful and multiply,
fill the earth and care for it
and for God’s part
God promises not just Noah,
but all creation, all flesh,
to never again destroy the earth with a flood
and even though God will not forget this covenant
God creates a sign of the covenant,
placing God’s bow in the clouds
so that when everyone sees the bow
they will remember the covenant God made with all flesh
to never wipe out the earth again with a flood.
Now you might be wondering,
why on this first Sunday in lent
we are talking about God’s covenant with Noah.
How do Noah and rainbows
connect with Jesus being baptized and tempted in the wilderness?
In many ways the story of the flood leads to Jesus.
God has promised to never again destroy all flesh
even as God realizes that there is still evil in the hearts of humans
and that it will spill over into the rest of creation as it did the first time.
This doesn’t mean that God is giving up on humanity and all of creation,
but what making this covenant means
is that God will have to find another way of dealing with
the brokenness and violence of humanity that spills over into the rest of creation.
And Jesus is the way God ultimately finds
to bridge the gap between divine expectations
and the brokenness of humanity.
Our second reading from 1 Peter
makes the connection and summarizes what we as Christians believe
happened in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, “
Jesus resisting temptation in the wilderness
before his ministry begins
maintains his righteousness,
it marks him as someone special,
who does what no other human has done
-that is resist temptation
and it sparks the interest of the listener,
what will happen to this remarkable person?
We know what happens,
and yet God is able to work through all that
to save us.
God found another way to deal with humanity,
that way was Jesus.
but I want to be clear here,
it is not the violence and suffering
that is particularly salvific,
there’s been a lot of attempts at explaining how it worked
and all of them fall short,
in the end salvation through Jesus
is both mystery and truth,
the how is the mystery
but the truth is that God has healed the broken relationship between us and God
and set us free from the human need for violence
to live out our part of the covenant,
to take care of all creation.
And just like with Noah,
God seals this covenant,
this promise, with a sign,
where we are joined to Christ’s work
which again from 1 Peter
“now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”
God knows that we humans have a need for divine reassurance.
God was not going to forget the covenant after the flood
but humans need reassurance and reminders,
so God made the rainbow as the sign
that the promise would be remembered.
In the same way
God knows we are beloved children of God
whom Jesus saved,
but we humans often wonder,
we have doubts,
so God gave us the sign of baptism,
so that we can point to a moment in time
and name without a doubt
that God has claimed us and joined us to the work of Christ
we are God’s
and in the waters of baptism
God forgives our sins
and brings us to new life.
And this sets us free
to live contrary to the way of humanity,
to respond to violence with peace,
hurt with forgiveness,
hatred with love
and when the brokenness of the world
seems to be too much,
or we give in to temptation
or are paralyzed by inaction
water points us back to the promise
that God has made,
the forgiveness God offers
and our true identity,
beloved children of God. Amen
Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gifts us with the Holy Spirit. Amen
And just like that
the season of Christmas is over.
It concluded yesterday with the festival of Epiphany
observed on January 6th,
marking the visit of the magi from the east
and the revelation of Jesus as messiah to the gentiles.
Epiphany means manifestation,
and our task in this time after Epiphany
is to explore the many ways that God is made manifest in Jesus,
the many ways that Jesus is the revelation of God to us.
today we start with Jesus’ baptism.
As Mark tells it
Jesus goes out into the wilderness
to be baptized by John
who is clear that he is only preparing the way
for the one that will bring the Holy Spirit,
John baptizes Jesus,
dunks him in the river Jordan,
and as Jesus comes up out of the water
Mark says that the heavens are torn open
and from them the spirit descends on Jesus
and the voice of God rings out proclaiming to Jesus
“You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Now if that is not an epiphany
I don’t know what is,
and in Mark’s brief telling
several things are revealed,
first the heavens are torn open,
in the ancient concept of the universe
the heavens were where God lived,
separate from the people on earth,
at Jesus’ baptism,
that which has separated the people from God
is opened in a way that cannot be closed again
Mark uses this tiny detail
The tearing of the heavens
as foreshadowing for what will happen at the end of this story,
where when Jesus dies
the curtain in the temple that separates the holy of holies from everything else,
is torn from top to bottom
and that which has separated the people from God
is opened in a way that cannot be closed again.
At his baptism
Jesus is revealed
as the one who removes barriers between people and God.
Next the spirit descends on Jesus,
this signals that Jesus
is the one for whom John has been preparing the way.
Now the spirit is the most elusive member of the trinity
I think we often have a hard time with it,
even Mark uses similie to describe the spirit,
descending like a dove,
but what is the spirit?
I think the best definition of the spirit
is the living and active presence of God.
With the spirits’ descent
it is revealed that Jesus carries the living and active presence of God into the world.
Finally, the voice of God is heard
claiming Jesus as son,
saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
We heard in our first reading,
How in the beginning God’s spirit moved over the chaotic waters like a wind
as God began creating the world as we know it
speaking the world into being.
With these words from heaven
there can be no doubt about who Jesus is,
the Son of God.
And just like that,
God’s presence on Earth in Jesus
is made manifest,
both revealing and putting into action
the scope and direction of Jesus’ life
from this point on.
Jesus, God’s Son
will bring the living and active presence of God
to people who have been separated from God
and he will do so by breaking down the barriers that have stood in the way.
In our own baptisms
we are joined to this identity and mission.
Our baptisms are epiphanies too,
God speaks words claiming us as beloved children,
gifts us with the Holy Spirit
and promises that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God
and this happens because in our baptisms
we are joined to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Through baptism we have life in God,
through baptism Christ lives in us
through baptism the spirit lives in us
and we are charged with sharing that spirit with others,
we are called to be an epiphany to others,
to bring the living and active presence of God into the world,
tearing apart boundaries that previously separated people from God,
speaking words of love and adoption to those we encounter.
And yes, this isn’t always easy,
it is scary to tear apart boundaries,
crossing paths and walls and taboos that society says we shouldn’t,
and it’s scary to offer love to someone
unsure if they will return it
but we are able to do it
because it is the spirit of God working through us,
directing and guiding us.
This guiding by the spirit is often subtle,
a nudging in the gut that we should do this or that,
we have to practice listening for the spirit
both as individuals and as communities,
and when we hear what the spirit is saying to us
the direction it takes us is often surprising
but always life giving.
Now that the season of Christmas is over,
after we pack away all the decorations and celebrations
we are left with a gift,
the gift of the Holy Spirit
who reveals to us who we are and whose we are
and who calls us out into the world
to make manifest the living and active presence of God. Amen
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who forgives and calls us to forgive. Amen
Our lessons for today
deal with forgiveness,
this complex action that rests at the heart of Jesus’ ministry
and the way of life to which he calls his disciples.
all throughout his teachings
he has reinforced the idea
that forgiveness is key,
even to the point of teaching them to pray,
“forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.”
now Jesus and the disciples
are talking about what happens when relationships in community are broken,
earlier in the conversation
Jesus has detailed a path to reconciliation with specific steps
So now seems like a good time to clarify
once and for all
what Jesus expects
and our friend Peter jumps into the breach.
“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
by opening his mouth
Peter shows that he has missed the point,
Jesus responds “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
Forgiveness is not always a one and done thing,
it is a continual action, a process,
a way of life
and often has more to do with the one doing the forgiving
than the one being forgiven.
The best definition of forgiveness that I have come across
came from a speaker I heard when I went to Israel/ Palestine in seminary,
she was a part of a group of families
who had lost loved ones to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,
families from both sides
came together to share their grief and to work for peace,
so for this presentation there were two speakers,
a Palestinian woman whose husband had been killed by Israeli defense forces
during a random traffic stop
and an Israeli woman whose son had been killed by a Palestinian sniper
while he was on patrol as part of his monthly army service.
It was the Israeli mother
who tried to define forgiveness,
and while I’m sure it is not original to her,
I always associate it with her.
She said that for her,
her working definition of forgiveness
was giving up the right to revenge.
This definition rings true to me for a couple of reasons,
first it is from the perspective of the one who has been wronged,
and it acknowledges that in many cases
the wrong would understandably be cause to seek revenge,
the old an eye for an eye justice,
which according to Jesus
makes the whole world blind
and Revenge has a way of consuming the individual seeking it.
In the movie the Princess Bride,
the character Inigo Montoya
has spent his whole life seeking the six fingered man who killed his father.
His waking hours have been practicing sword fighting
and he knows exactly what he will say when he meets the man
“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”
In the course of the movie the six fingered man is killed
and then Inigo reflects
“I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.”
In seeking revenge
Inigo allowed the six finger man
to take his life as well as the life of his father.
Forgiveness as giving up the right to revenge
also allows space for anger,
often the words forgive and forget are paired together,
but more often
that is not possible, nor is it practical
and it is right for the one wronged to be angry.
Forgiveness does not mean that the wrong done to a person is okay,
it means that the person who has been wronged
has chosen to stop the cycle of violence,
and to move forward with their life
and this takes time,
not seven times but seventy-seven times,
committing again and again
to moving forward with life,
working for peace in community
when the one who has sinned is repentant,
relationships are able to be repaired.
Our reading from Genesis is one such example,
the scene is the culmination of a long and tumultuous relationship
between Joseph and his brothers.
Remember Joseph is the youngest brother,
the favorite Daddy’s boy
who gets the fancy coat.
His brothers are jealous
so they sell him into slavery
and fake his death to their father to cover their tracks.
Joseph ends up in Egypt
and after much hardship rises high in the ranks of advisors of the pharaoh.
When the brothers come to Egypt seeking food during a famine
Joseph recognizes them and pulls a couple of tricks on them
before revealing who he is,
forgiving his brother’s and sending them home with food.
Now we have another forgiveness scene,
Much time has passed and Jacob dies,
Now Joseph’s brothers are worried
that Joseph only forgave them
while their father was alive
and now that he is gone
he will take revenge on them,
so they plot to secure their safety,
through inventing a final wish of their father,
that Joseph forgive his brothers
and once again they fall before their brother weeping
and seeking forgiveness
Joseph’s response is remarkable
he says “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”
Over the long arc of his life
Joseph has not only given up the right to revenge
but he has been able to see how God
was able to make the best of a bad situation,
to bring good out of evil,
Joseph has made it to a place
where he and his brothers can be in relationship,
even without their father.
This didn’t happen overnight,
it took a lifetime.
When Peter asks Jesus
how many times he must forgive
he’s missing the point of forgiveness,
he’s looking to see how many boxes he must check off
to be right with God before moving on.
Jesus’ reply shows
that forgiveness is a way of life
and that God expects us to be changed
by both the giving and receiving of forgiveness.
And Jesus practices what he preaches,
making forgiveness a way of life,
constantly offering us grace and mercy,
setting us free in our relationship with God
and turning us back out to the world to forgive others,
and Jesus knows this is not easy,
that we will need some encouragement and strength along the way,
which is why at the last supper with his disciples
he promised to come to us
in bread and wine, body and blood,
forgiveness tangible in the crumbs between our teeth
and the wine sliding down our throats,
forgiveness becoming a part of who we are,
all because of the grace and mercy of God. Amen
1st Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
This was a Sunday without a manuscript. We compared and contrasted the two temptation stories (Adam and Eve, and Jesus after his baptism) and thought about how salvation is not a "return to paradise" but a journey of healing toward God's ultimate goal in Christ.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.