Saturday, March 7, 2009
Sermon Lent 2 Cross of Glory
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God's faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?(ELW)
Last week, on the first Sunday of Lent we renewed our baptismal vows. Sometimes it is good to remember how we got into this Christian life and so I am taking the promises made at our baptism as the theme for Lent. Also the Lenten readings work quite well into this baptismal covenant we have made. Today we center on “to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper.”
Our reading from Genesis is the story of Abram and Sarai, a couple who have come to know God as the only God. Abram is an old man and has no heir. Yet they are granted a child even in their old age. God promises them that their descendents will rival the stars in the skies. The covenant they make with God calls for Abram and Sarai to worship God. As a sign of their covenant, their names are changed from Abram, meaning ‘exalted father’ to Abraham meaning “father of nations”. Sarai comes from the same word for law in Hebrew. It meant that she had control of the household, but her name was changed to Sarah, which meant “princess”. She was to become the mother of the tribes of Israel. Change in the name in Hebrew culture always meant a powerful change in one’s life. One lived out the reality of one’s name. If one was named Joshua—it meant “God saves.” If you were named “scoundrel” you usually were one.
Baptism too, changes our lives, gives us our name to live out. Do you know what your name means? Mine means ‘victory’ and ‘grace.’ I don’t know that I have lived out the grace part too well but I do feel like my life is a victory. Our names are the sign of our covenant with the God who loves us and claims us as God’s own. We embrace the same covenant that Abraham and Sarah promised—to listen to God, to worship God and to live our lives respecting others and God’s creation.
This covenant is not merely some rules to obey. This covenant is a way of life with God at the center of our lives. It is a change in orientation and a giving of ourselves to love as God has loved us. Our baptismal promises call us to hear God’s word and to share in the Lord’s Supper. We are baptized into the life of Jesus who came to share with humanity the reality of God. We come to church to hear the Word and celebrate signs of God’s presence to us in Christ Jesus. These are aspects of life we really can’t get anywhere else. We can see those sacraments in other things in life but only after we have had the experience of them in the sacred setting of our faith. It is hard to see Christ in every glass of wine we drink until we have had years of sharing the wine in the liturgy of the Church. We have a hard time hearing God in the words of political leaders, our teachers, our friends and family if we have not had the practice of listen to God in the words of Scripture, the exposition of sermons and the sharing of faith.
I have told you before that I heard Alec Baldwin say that he went to church nearly every Sunday because he wanted to hear what “professional thinkers” had to say. At first, I was kind of interested in that term “professional thinker”’. But I don’t think that that is what is important about sermons and church attendance. What church attendance does for us is help us recognize God when God comes into our lives.
No, I do not believe that God only happens in church. No, I don’t think that sacraments (the outward and visible sign of God’s grace) happen only in the religious setting. Life is much too full of God’s manifestation than that. But most of the time we are not prepared to see God’s presence. Church gives us the practiced eye so that we can see Baptism in each shower and each confession or Holy Communion in each cup of coffee we share with someone we love or are striving to love. It is this practice in church that we vow at our Baptism so that we can be prepared for the coming of Christ in each moment of our lives.
We hear in today’s Gospel reading that Peter tried to get Jesus to quit talking about his death. Jesus is quite harsh. He calls him Satan—the tempter. Peter is like many of us when someone is speaking of hard things. We want to ignore the tough things in life, to discount them. It is called denial.
God does not want us to live in denial. Our faith is not designed to keep us from all the things that are painful. God’s job is not to keep us from harm. God’s covenant with is to be there when things do go wrong. Jesus understood that his journey would put him in opposition to the powers of his day. He knew his faith was what would carry him through, but it would not circumvent the eventual confrontation with the power of evil. For Jesus to have accepted Peter’s trivialization of the suffering that he was going to endure would have denied the ultimate encounter with his Father. In order for us to recognize Christ in our suffering we must be familiar with the word of God and we need to be supported by the sacraments.
At the same time we are confronting evil, we must be willing to embrace the peace with which Jesus went to the Cross. The call of a Christian is not to be defeated by evil, but to stand peacefully against the powers that would make selfishness, greed, dominance, rigidity, and death the end of human civilization. We stand against such things with the knowledge and faith that God will overcome those things in us. If we deny these confrontations, we become inured to the power of evil. Then evil can triumph. It is only through confrontation with the evil in our lives that we grow in holiness and righteousness. It is only when we triumph over it do we get any hint of what the resurrection means.
Like Jesus, we who call ourselves Christians stand trusting that God will triumph over the evil in our lives. This does not mean that we do not have to face it. The meaning of the word and sacraments of the Church is that we have accepted the support that such grace gifts us with so that we can face the events and temptations that are in our path. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The happen to the bad people too. But because we are made capable of handling them by grace, we are not defeated by them.
God covenants with us not to save us from ourselves. God has entered into a relationship with us because we are loved. We are cherished but not overly protected. God does not smother us. We must meet the tough things in our lives armed with the word and sacrament of our faith so that we too can love.
When I am threatened, I am one of those who whose first inclination is to fight rather than flee. Many, I know, are more likely to run or avoid. In either case, we are called by God by our baptism to stand—to neither fight nor flee –to stand and love.
Friday night J. and I went to hear Joan Baez, the great folk singer and peace advocate. I came home and read her biography on Google. Both her grandfathers were clergy. Her father was a nuclear physicist who refused to be a part of the atomic bomb development in the ‘40’s and who suffered from the fervor of McCarthyism in the ‘50’s. Many of Joan’s songs speak of the struggle to create peace: To stand in opposition to those who would dominate, who would coerce others. In that standing-room only theater I listened to a group of people much my own age listen to a woman who has been singing these songs for over 50 years. We cheered and applauded the songs of struggle knowing that we are not winning the battle but stood trusting that God was. She ended the evening with that whole auditorium with Amazing Grace. Thousands of voices, I would guess most of them not church goers, raised and harmonized that humble hymn of an ex-slave trader who understood that it was God who saves us from the evil of our lives. It was a prayer of hope. It was a prayer for peace. It was a recognition that it is through the cross that we come to know resurrection and it is through the cross that we will know glory. But we cannot avoid the confrontation and be faithful.
I would invite you this week to think of the temptation to take the easy path by denying the suffering in your life. I would ask you to offer to God your sorrow for diverting yourself from God’s path. I would also ask you to reflect on the times you have stood for peace, justice and love and thank the grace of the Word, Jesus Christ. This is the daily journey of our lives as a people of the Covenant. It is the stuff that glory is made of. AMEN.