Friday, February 19, 2021

February 21, 2021 - God Moves First

We are in the middle of Snowmaggedon 2021 here in Texas.  Everyone I know has been affected by the weather in some way.  They have either lost electricity or lost water or lost both.  My daughter in Fort Worth and granddaughters in Denton are in that last desperate category. The granddaughters are under a "boil water" alert which is difficult for them.  These girls are in college and they have never faced living life like they were in a developing country.  I've travelled enough in Guatemala that showering with my mouth closed is a simple request but it's a scary thought for them. We have had dependable electricity and water but for a while we worried about our septic system pipes and that was a scary time. 

In the meantime, any church that had managed to re-open in-person worship has cancelled.  If the Covid didn't get us then the weather did.  It just seems like the devil is after us to keep us from connecting with God through God's word.  So I thought I would write some thoughts down and post them to the internet to make it accessible to anyone stuck inside. I can even print this out and mail it, although I understand the weather is so bad that the mail isn't even getting delivered. 

Some day we will have whole sermons based on how people worshipped during the pandemic and weather isolations of this period of time.  Because you can't keep us from God.  This is our most basic connection.  Our umbilical connection to our mother is physical and severed at birth but our connection to God, being spiritual, is totally portable and we take it with us wherever we go and can plug into it under any circumstances.

Oh dear, I'm getting ahead of myself.  That's another sermon for another day.

Here is what we are here to talk about today.  I will be very brief.  I realize you don't want a whole big rigamarole.  You probably didn't even get dressed to read this in the comfort of your home. But I do have a little music video to celebrate at the end.  Don't worry about getting your bible out; I've got the scriptures right here for you. 

Our scriptures given to us by the Revised Common Lectionary are 

Psalm 25:1-10
Genesis 9:8-17
I Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

The RCL groups these passages by taking from each of four categories: Psalms, Hebrew Testament, Epistles, and Gospel. Sometimes the preacher will find a common theme in the way the scriptures have been grouped together. Churches, bless them, leave preachers the latitude to pick through these scriptures to find a message Christ wants to speak. And, finally, one of my mentors has told me that my job is now to "illumine the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ" through the sermon. 

OK, you can wake up now.  I apologize  if I got too geeky for a minute there.  I just thought you might like to know these things.  

So, that is my assignment today. What will we do with it?

The first things I'm going to do is focus on the Genesis and Mark passages.  Feel free to read the others if you want but it won't be on the test.

The other two will provide more than enough because they are two of the most visually exciting scenes in the bible.

In Genesis we have the classis story of the rainbow.  Let's read it together:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 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.[a] 11 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.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

         +++++++++++++++

Who doesn't love a rainbow?  And, as a lover of words, I just love it when I hear God promise Noah, "I have set my bow in the clouds..."  How many times have we seen this and whipped out our phone to snap a photo to post to the internet? We always want to share this moment with our friends.  "See what I saw?!"  Check out my good fortune!  It's almost like the rainbow was there just for you when we all know it was sent for all humanity.

But notice the word "covenant." God uses that word seven times in this passage.  And it's the first time it has ever been used because God invented this act, this relationship, this movement.  God invented the covenant.

Now, if you look up the word "covenant" in the dictionary or Google it you will get a dry definition of the word and it basically means the same thing as a promise and there's no big surprise.  But, in reality, a covenant is far more binding than just a mere promise.  If you take it seriously, a covenant is the ultimate promise.  And the way God intends covenant it is unbreakable, far more unbreakable than anything you do with your pinky fingers.  A marriage vow is a covenant-- it's made until death do you part.  That's a covenant.  That's what God intended with the rainbow....for all eternity, God intends to keep the vow God made through the rainbow. As long as rainbows exist the promise stands. 

One of the things I learned a long time ago through just sheer observation more than any class or catachism is the concept that God Moves First.  In the relationship with humanity, God always makes the first move.  

This is mostly because humanity is too clueless, too powerless, too unaware to initiate any movement in our relationship with God.  We are clearly the passive partner in the relationship.  The best we can ever do is either accept or reject God's offer of love and give thanks. 

The best we can do with a rainbow is enjoy the pretty colors and spend our lives living in constant thanks to God for God's love. Maybe whispering under our breath, "wow, I don't know what I did to deserve that pretty sight but Thanks."  or "wow, dodged a bullet on that one....again."

When we give our thanks we can remember the first people to ever see the rainbow were those to survive the flood. They were the survivors of the flood: the ones who lived, the ones God chose to save. We usually think of the rainbow as the promise God made to never again destroy the world by flood. But sometimes I like to remember the gratitude of those first survivors of the flood who were so grateful for their lives. The rainbow can remind us to be glad we are alive.

Now, let's move on to the Mark passage:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

                                  ++++++++++++++++

Here's our old friend Mark using the word "immediately" again.  Mark moves fast, doesn't he?  But he tells the story and doesn't waste a lot of words.  I like that about the guy.

And this is one of my favorite stories because something jumps out at me that a lot of people fail to notice.  This is a great lesson on Good Parenting Skills.  Did you catch it?  

Jesus' Daddy (or Mom) told him he was proud of him!  And in front of everyone!  What young person doesn't ache for that kind of approval?  What a difference that can make when you are facing life's challenges! Because.....look where Jesus went "immediately" after this pronouncement of God's love and pride.  He went straight into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for 40 days. That must have made a difference in helping Jesus stand up to the temptations to know that God claimed him, God loved him and was proud of him.  "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased."

That had to have made a difference in standing up to temptations.

But there is something else to notice about this interchange.  

God said this BEFORE Jesus went into the wilderness.  In other words, before Jesus had done anything.  Jesus didn't have to pass any kind of test to EARN God's love and approval.  Do you know what they call this, folks?

This is Grace.  Pure and simple.  

When God loves us before we do anything to earn the love, before we pass a test, that is grace.  

When God forgives us before we deserve it, before we even know what we've done wrong, before we can even apologize for it,  that is grace.  

When God sends the rainbow even though we have no power of our own, that is grace.

When Christ died on the cross for me knowing all about me, sins and all, that is grace.


Let us pray.

There are many words in our language but the only adequate one that comes to mind at the moment is Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!

Thank you for loving us before we were created.  Before we knew how much we knew we needed your love.  Before we knew how hard we would be to love. 

Help us to love each other because we still haven't figured out that part yet. 

We confess that we sin when we allow our actions to separate our lives from you.

Yet in Christ we are reassured that nothing can separate us from your love.

And we know that, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we want to do better, somewhere along the line, we know we will inevitably fail you because that is the nature of being human.  Thank you for loving us anyway. 

God, thank you for all the people who stepped forward last week when everything around us was just in a mess:  when we had a pandemic and the coldest cold we've ever seen, when the electricity went out and the water pipes froze and now they've thawed and water is going everywhere and flooding everything.  Some of us are just at our wit's end, God.  Help us.  Help!  Help! 

In Christ's holy name we pray,

Amen


And, now, for a little music to close our time together:




One last brief note:  if you are visiting from your home church, don't forget to mail in your pledge.  If you don't have a church "home" I encourage you to find one and if you want to help somebody recover from the bitter cold of last week I have just the organization for you:  Google "Presbyterian Disaster Assistance" and their page should pop up with a button somewhere on that page for donations.  I know this to be a good place to put your money.  

Go with God.  Have a safe week.

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