Miraculous God, with words you control the cosmos. We ask you to speak over these offerings we present to you today and will them to multiply. Let us wisely use them to produce good fruit for all of creation. Amen.
1 Peter 3:18-22
Noah’s story is a strange one. I usually hear it in one of two ways. The first way is the cute animal ark story. In this, a zoo of animals ride a boat with little smiling Noah under a rainbow. You see it on nursery walls and stitched on baby blankets. Aww – giraffes and lions and zebras! It’s the story we sung for our children’s chat today.
The other way I hear Noah’s tale is as an awful story about God’s wrath and how terrible the Old Testament is. In this version, one day, God lost God’s temper, and so in a fit of rage, drowned every man, woman, child and even all the animals. Then God felt bad, and so like any successful abuser, lured God’s victims back with gifts and apologies until God lost God’s anger again in a generation or two.
Both of these versions of the Noah story the Bible doesn’t contain. The one handed to us to much more nuanced, and can’t be summarized neatly into either a story of wrath or of cuteness.
The story begins with how the world has gotten worse and worse. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banned from the perfect garden. Then their son Cain murdered his brother Abel. And Cain’s son murdered another man. And chaos and violence and rape spread across the face of the earth as humans did.
Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Humans had become evil, all the time. The following verse reads, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”
It doesn’t read that God was wrathful and angry. Not that God wanted to punish humanity. But rather, God regretted. God was sorry. God’s heart was heavy and troubled. God was sad. Not angry.
Genesis 6:13-14a – “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark.” God sought out the man who still honored God, who was not 100% evil, and before the evil could overcome him and his family, God told this guy God’s plan to save the world from absolute evil. God will make a new creation… but will save humanity, imperfect as it is, and give it a fresh slate to try again.
Genesis 6:17b-19: “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Everything will die, and the evil will be washed away. But the seed of life that is still good – Noah’s family, these animals – will be released back into the world to cover it with goodness instead of evil. And a covenant — a promise — will be made. God says God will make the covenant, but does not tell Noah at this time what it will be.
So Noah builds the ark. And God God’s self seals him and the animals and Noah’s family into the ark (Genesis 7:16b). And we’re told that for 40 days it rained; and for 150 days the world was flooded. And still longer it took until the waters were down enough that Noah was able to leave the ark. Remember he send out a dove, and it comes back without anything. Noah knows there is no where to land, nothing growing. Later the dove is sent out and it comes with an olive branch – a sign today of peace! – and lastly the dove is released and it doesn’t come back. It has gone on to live in the recreated world.
And God tells Noah to leave the ark then, Genesis 8:17 “Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” Does that sound familiar? In the Creation stories, God tells the world to do the same: be fruitful and multiply. Here, in this new creation, God tells them the same.
Then Noah makes an altar, and thanks God. God smells the cooking meat on the altar and says, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
In other words – God knows we’re sinful. From childhood we start lying, harming ourselves and harming each other. God knows this – but accepts it. God will not destroy the world because of the sin of humanity. Whenever God intervenes again, it will be in a different way. God will recreate and redeem us from evil — the evils of our own hearts even — in a different way.
God tells Noah that we may eat all plants and all animals now – but that God will demand an accounting of our lives. And will demand an accounting of our animals’ lives. How have we treated one another? How have we been stewards of the earth and siblings to each other?
Noah’s ark story ends with God’s rainbow and God saying, Genesis 9:12-16 “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
I’ve heard it said before that the rain bow is like a bow — what you use with an arrow. And when a bow is hung up, like a rain bow, it is a sign of peace. God’s bow – God’s violence – is hung up. A new way of dealing with evil on earth will have to be used, now.
I’ve also heard of rainbows being like a bridge, connecting heaven and earth. It symbolizes how we affect one another. What happens in heaven changes things on earth, and what happens on earth changes things in heaven. God promises to keep that in mind, and to be with us working together.
In our communion, we ask God to make God’s church — which is all of us — a rainbow of hope in an uncertain world. When there are clouds, and doubts, and flooding rains… we are the rainbow that says this will not last forever. There is still hope. Even in the most violent, most awful, most terrifying situations… what is will not always be. We can keep hope.
We know humanity needed saved again. And again and again. And God intercedes in and finds new ways to address the evil.
Consider Moses. Just like Noah, water is used to save Moses from evil, but the water doesn’t cover the earth. But just like Noah, Moses is saved by an ark. (That’s the word used for his little basket!) And like Noah, Moses is given a new covenant… this one not sealed with a rainbow but written on stone tablets and seal with blood of an animal and put in — here’s that word again! — an ark. This ark is to carry the tablets and be the movable house for God.
And consider Jesus. Like Noah, and like Moses, water plays a major part in Jesus’ life. The water of baptism. The water turned into wine. The water Jesus stills and walks upon. There is no ark in Jesus’ story, and Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as an ark… but he is, in a way. He is protecting, carrying, humanity from evil and into the newest creation of God. Jesus does tell us the newest covenant is sealed not with stones or animals or rainbows – but with Jesus’ own blood: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
When God saves us from evil the next time around, we are saved through the covenant in Jesus, and sealed with the water of baptism and Holy Spirit.
The first letter of Peter writes to the struggling persecuted church to remember their baptisms. It’s not a bath for dirt. It does not make you stop sinning. It is an appeal to God to remember our covenant, and an appeal to us to remember our covenant. We are one people, many persons, but one people – belonging to one God. And it is together we’re all going to make it. Even those people who died in Noah’s days, says Peter, after disobeying God all their lives, even they – although dead – are offered to repent, apologize, and return to God through Christ.
In other words, says Peter, there’s hope. Even for the dead, there is hope of new life, new creation, new reconciliation and relationship with each other and with God. This is the covenant of Christ. A covenant of hope.
You don’t hope for things you have. You hope for what you don’t have. You don’t hope for sun on a day that is sunny. You hope for sun on rainy days. Rainbows of hope are visible only with storm clouds. Christ’s resurrection hope is only possible if Christ has died, and if we, too, physically die.
The hope is that the story of Noah doesn’t end with an ark. It continues. It ends with a rainbow, a promise, a new covenant.
The hope of Christ is that the tomb is empty. This symbol – a cross – is not just a reminder of our mortality, and of Christ’s death – but it is an EMPTY cross. Nobody hangs here. This is a cross of hope. There is more. The story continues. There is a resurrection.
And we need this hope, now. Our country is deeply divided. We’re told by our Federal Agents that this division, which has always been there, was exacerbated by another country.
The evil inclinations of our hearts were always there. The inclinations to distrust one another, to fear one another, to HATE one another. Those inclinations were incited, and we fell for it with glee. With glee, people passed on hate messages. With glee, we heard only the news we wanted to hear. With glee, we believed only what we wanted to believe. And with glee, we turned our own neighbors, our own brothers and sisters, into our enemies.
Lent is a time of making amends. A time of reflecting on our own sins, and building bridges – rainbows of hope – connecting ourselves to each other.
Lent is a time to reflect – what messages are we sharing? Are we seeking common ground and seeking the common good, or are we focusing on our differences, and focusing on just assisting ourselves?
Lent is a time to pray for forgiveness. A time to remember who we have issue with, and seek them out, to offer the olive branch of peace.
Jesus told us that a house divided soon falls in on itself.
Rebuild your house.
Rebuild your burned bridges.
The storm is happening, but we can be the rainbow of hope in this uncertain world.
In the beginning — there was God.
Silent and deep. Empty and a void. A cosmos of nothing. No time, no space, no dimensions but God.
And God made wind. Motion. Energy.
And God spoke. Noise. Vibrations.
And then there was LIGHT.
Particles moving, vibrating, so much that they put off energy into new forms – combine into new forms – produce light.
And then God got real fancy – water and land, plants and fish, birds and animals. And finally – God’s own image: humankind.
At one time, I saw the evolution of life on earth drawn as a spiral. For a long time, the spiral has only one or two lines. Just bacteria in water. Just microorganisms in water. But then those lines begin to branch off. God gets fancy. Plants and fish, dinosaurs and animals, birds and mammals, and the spiral’s thickness went from just a hair to as much room as the page would allow. It went from a single kind of life, to more life than we can ever count. It went from God’s first creation on Earth to this very moment, where God is now recreating alongside God’s own image: us.
And, although so much time has passed, our charge has not changed. We were placed in dominion over the earth, and to subdue.
It’s a terrible way these words have been used in English. Misused. Abused. In our recent human history, dominion over the earth, and subduing it, has been permission to mold the earth however we want, use animals however we want, and use whatever resources in whatever way we want. This has even extended to other cultures and peoples.
God never meant us to take these holy words and use them as a weapon against God’s beautiful creation.
In ancient Hebrew, the original language used here, subdue is kabash. It does mean subdue, enslave, even molest or rape. However – you can only use it when the other party is already hostile. So it is a victory term, a way of overcoming something that is already set against you. Micah uses the same word to describe what God does to our sins. Our hostile sins confront God, but God subdues them and brings us to life. Our hostile world confronts us, but we’re called to subdue it and bring it to produce good fruit. It’s like… a blight on your crops. It’s hostile. It’s causing death. When you subdue it, you bring about life.
Subduing is not supposed to be about enslaving other people, animals, or any part of the earth. Nor molesting, ruining. It is about taking what is harmful and actively set against God, and God’s creation, and having victory over that.
… I think, often, it is we, ourselves, in need of being subdued. Often, we ourselves, are what are destroying God’s creation, each other, and bringing about death rather than life.
It’s kinda like Jesus said… we need to get the plank out of our own eye before we can get the dust mote out of someone else’s.
… The next word we have abused is dominion, the ancient Hebrew word radah. So often we hear this in English as dominate! As to rule and rule with an iron fist and iron will and at the edge of sharp iron!
That’s not the kind of kingship, rulership, queenship, God likes.
God tells us that the good rulers deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. They have pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence they redeems the needy’s lives; and precious is their blood in His sight.
God is a ruler like this. We are precious to God. God wants us to rule like this, and in the Bible chastises those who do not heal the sick, seek the lost, brought back the exiled, bound up the injured, and strengthened the weak. God chastises those who do not help the least! Power, says God, is to be used to empower others.
So the Genesis passage shows us God subduing chaos, and having dominion over the world. God defeats death and brings forth life. Then God helps the life flourish.
And we are charged to do the same.
I think Rev. Christopher Brown of the First Presbyterian Church of Berthoud, Colorado reinterprets these verses clearly in their original meaning. He writes them as: “Be fruitful and have children, filling the earth with your life so that you can have power to fight against everything in it that leads to death. Rule with care and fairness over the natural world, over the myriads of My beautiful creatures – from tropical fish to soaring eagles to dogs and cats – every creature that is a part of this living world.” ((https://christopherbrown.wordpress.com/2009/01/03/genesis-128-to-subdue-and-have-dominion-over-creation/))
Rule with care. Fight against the powers of death.
Did not Christ give us the same example of ruling with care and fighting against the powers of death?
In out Mathew reading, the risen Christ, who has subdued death, gives last directions to his disciples. He says: “All authority in heaven on earth has been given to me.” Christ is the one with dominion. And he chooses to rule as God wishes us to: by using that power to empower others. Jesus then empowers his disciples telling them to go all over the world sharing the Good News of reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, a new life with God, and the greatest commandment: to love God, and to love one another.
And then, Jesus tells us, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
From the beginning, God is with us subduing evil and using God’s dominion to empower us. To the end of the age, says Christ, our God: known to us as the creator, the Son, and the Spirit — is with us, subduing evil, and using God’s power to empower us.
So that from the beginning of our lives until at last we rest with Christ, we subdue and have dominion over the earth. We fight evil and use our power to give power to others.
We take the void, the nothingness, the chaos – and speak, work, create and bring forth life.
We take our place alongside our ruling God and co-create with God.
We take each other, tenderly, in hand and help each other subdue our own evils, and have dominion – have power – over our lives.
Remember the meaning of subdue – to defeat that which destroys life. And dominion – to use power to empower others.
In the beginning, writes Genesis.
In the beginning, write John.
Genesis tells us God -spoke- and created all.
John tells us the Word was with God and through the Word all was created.
In Genesis, God is a Gardener. God makes a peaceful garden and places people in it – but people must flee in it tears when they disobey God.
In John, Jesus is mistaken as a gardener. People have fled to this sorrowful garden in tears. Mary leaves it with joy to obey God.
In Exodus to Moses- God says God is the I AM! In John, Jesus repeatedly says “I AM.”
John 6: 35, 48 I am the bread of life
John 8: 12, 9:5 I am the light of the world
John 10:9 I am the door
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd
John 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life
John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life
John 15:1 I am the true vine
And, John 8: 58 “Before Abraham was, I am”
In this garden, humanity and the Great I AM meet once again. In this graveyard, new life springs forth. In this place of sorrow – unexpected joy is found.
“Resurrection is nothing short of re-creation. That the burial and resurrection of Jesus take place in a garden underscores the Fourth Gospel’s unrelenting commitment to holding the divine and the human together. Death is the reality of life, but resurrection points to the reality of abundant life.” (Karoline Lewis)
The Great I AM wants to recreate with us; wants to begin again; wants to restore our relationship.
Our scriptures, our faith, our God is all about restoring relationships. Today, we read the story of Mary and Jesus meeting, but we also know that this is also a story about humanity and God meeting and beginning again. This time, instead of leaving the garden in anger with each other, humanity and God leave the garden ready to work together.
Now this is all heady – so let’s bring it down to what that really means: it means living into God’s reign now. It means being Christ-like now. It means living that ever-renewing, abundant life now.
You see, people come to Jesus through personal encounters. 1 on 1. It’s 1 on 1 conversation that brings the Samaritan woman to understand Jesus as the Messiah. 1 on 1 debate for Nicodemus at night. 1 on 1 for Zaccheus in the tree. Doubting Thomas will stop doubting when he personally touches Jesus. Saul will turn from persecuting Christians when he personally meets Jesus. It is the personal encounter with Phillip and his faith that converts the Ethiopian man; and it is personal encounters with the disciples – the apostles, the women, all those who witness – that bring the faith in Jesus’ way from a small following of middle eastern men and women to a world religion.
How did you end up here, today? I bet someone personally told you about their faith, and you had a relationship with that someone – a mother, a father, grandparent, good friend, spouse – very, very few people (if any!) come to Christ through scripture alone. This is a faith of relationships. Of personal encounters.
Today – Mary is the first to have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ. And she shares this encounter.
Would you be here today if Mary hadn’t left the garden to tell the Good News?
The Garden of Eden was large, but it wasn’t the entire world. We have a new mission – to spread the Good News everywhere. To plant God’s garden everywhere. You and I are co-gardeners, co-creators, with God. We are tasked with feeding, clothing, and caring for one another. We are tasked with gardening the world – caring for its plants and animals, waters and skies. We are tasked with carrying hope into hopeless situations and responding with love in hateful situations. We are called – by name – to rise from our graves and live the abundant life God offers to us now.
The I AM told the prophet: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Out of everlasting Love, God abides with us. Out of everlasting Love, God builds again. Out of everlasting Love, God bids us to go from the garden and take the good news to all peoples – for all peoples are the children of the great I AM.
I AM is Risen! I AM abides with us. I AM will come again!
Christ is Risen!
Go out and share this beautiful news like a spring flower with all peoples! Amen!
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
The Emperor is in a bind. The Christians are fighting each other tooth and nail. Some love the Ecumenical Council that was held a few years ago, and some hate it. Christianity is becoming so diverse its not even one religion any more. If the Emperor can’t unite his people, how is he ever going to stand up against the outside invaders and other religions? How is he ever going to deal with Christians when they can’t agree who represents them? So the Emperor calls for another council – and says Christians — you need to come together.
So they come to chat — all the different bishops and priests and representatives of the different churches. And they ARE super diverse. They speak different languages, they follow different religious leaders, and they come from different cultures.
But they come, and they come with their big questions:
Was Jesus divine?
Was Jesus human?
Was Joseph Jesus’ biological father?
Was Mary a young maid or a virgin?
Was Jesus God?
Picture the room of five hundred plus people!
So over here, there are followers of Arius or Ebious, and they argue Jesus was all human, and not divine. He was either adopted by God at his baptism, or at his incarnation, or after his death, and given the powers of God through the Spirit. They state Jesus was definitely NOT God. I mean, if Jesus was God – why then did it seem Jesus didn’t always know everything? And who was controlling the world while Jesus was on Earth?
Some in this group concede Jesus became divine from the Spirit — and others say he did not. He was always mortal, like us, but so pure God favored him.
Now a days, some of this thinking is still found in some Asian churches and in Islam.
Across from those who said Jesus was all human, there sat the Docetists, and Marcions. They believe the complete opposite and say Jesus was all divine, not human. They argue God cannot suffer, cannot change, and cannot be corrupted. Therefore, Jesus – as God – could not suffer, change, be tempted by sin, be corrupted with human flesh, or even die. What we witnessed was just an illusion meant to teach us.
Similar to them are the Monophysites who argue what was human in Jesus was absorbed by divinity, leaving just a shell of humanity on the outside but all divinity on the inside.
Marcion went so far as to say the greatest God didn’t make this world, because this world is fallen and flesh is so bad. There were intermediaries… such as the Word… lesser gods who did the work.
The Gnostics nodded, and agreed with Marcion. This world is fallen and needs to be escaped. We need to become purer and escape to the heavenly world. Jesus, who only appeared to be human, was from this heavenly world to teach us the secret knowledge of how to ascend.
Sitting near the Docetists was the Apollianarist. They agree Jesus was divine. Yet they said for Jesus to be divine, he couldn’t be corrupted with sin. Sin is the opposite of God. What is sinful? For the Apollinarist it wasn’t human flesh that makes a person sinful, but a human soul. All souls are born with Sin. Therefore, they think that although Jesus was a mortal with a human body, his soul was the Word. His soul was divine and not a human soul.
Nestor wasn’t happy with this all divine or all human arguments. He said Jesus was BOTH human AND divine. He said Jesus was clearly the Word made flesh, but also a human. These two natures — divine Word and common human — were together in Jesus but not mingled. You see, it takes the power of God to forgive Sin, and Jesus forgave Sin. But also it takes God meeting humanity on our terms – as human – because we can’t meet God as gods. So Jesus had to be both all human and all divine.
Of course, then others began to say ‘Nestor! You’re arguing Jesus was divided within himself!’
So along came some who argued these natures comingled into something new: like how red and blue make purple. Divine and human comingled into a new being called Christ.
And along came Modalist. Why do we have to define what part of Jesus was God and what part wasn’t? There is only one God, but we experience this one God in different aspects or modes. It appears God is made of three people: Father, Son and Spirit, but in actuality, this is just an appearance, not a reality. Much like a person can put on a new hat for a new job, but is still the same person. God can act as Creator, or as Sustainer, or as Redeemer, but God doesn’t actually have three persons who make up one.
Trinitarians shake her head at the Modalists and say, no no – you’ve got it close but wrong. God doesn’t put on new hats and stop being the old hat. God is three persons, but unified as one God. God is Father/Mother/Parent who creates, Son/Jesus/Christ who redeems, and Spirit/Ghost who sustains. All of these simultaneously. Word-God was incarnate, while Spirit-God remained active in the world and Father-God is who Word-God prayed to. Otherwise, wouldn’t have Jesus just prayed to himself?
Therefore, God the Father is not God the Son nor God the Spirit. But any of the three and all three together are God the Godhead.
If that, or anything I just said, is incredibly hard to get your head around… you’re SO not alone. Not at all.
Many pastors, Christians, and theologians simply say “God is a mystery.” This isn’t a cop out. This isn’t being lazy. This is admitting that after thousands of years and tankers of ink and forests of trees… no one is able to wholly explain God. We’ve tried. We’re still trying. But in the end… God is a Holy Mystery.
In this church, we use Trinitarian formula. We sing the Gloria Patri of “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” But, when we get down to thinking hard about our theology, and studying what we say and do, often we are Modalists. And sometimes, we’re Gnostic. And sometimes, we’re other of these groups.
Officially – Trinitarians was decided as the true way of understanding God at this Emperor’s council of Chalcedon… however, not every church agreed. And some churches that agreed moved towards other teachings.
You see, for two thousand years we’ve been arguing over these, trying to understand, and trying to explain how we experience God. Each time someone begins to get their finger on it, someone else comes along with a different experience of God.
So, when we can say God is a Mystery, even after we’ve tried and tried and tried to figure God out, we affirm that God is greater, more awesome, more complex than we creations are able to fathom. We praise God by saying: we’ve learned all we can, we’re still learning, and yet you still give us more.
Today’s scripture reminds us that Jesus told us there’s way more to this world and reality and Jesus and the Spirit and God than we can bear. But generation by generation, we are being led in our walk with our Mysterious God and coming to know the Truths God has woven into God’s beautiful creation.
Those Truths are often hard to explain and describe. The Ancient Israelites tried to preserve some of the Truths of their understand of who God is with the Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastics, Song of Songs, and so forth.
The ancient Israelites imagine wisdom as a lady. She stands at the center of downtown, where first and main meet; she is on every channel and newspaper; she stands on the street corners and she rings you up; she is said to be speaking and crying out everything to EVERY person.
Wisdom cannot be silenced, contained, or locked away. She must cry out.
And what does wisdom say?
“Holy God created me. Holy God used me in setting up the earth. God used wisdom in making the heavens and the soils. God used wisdom in making the mountains and the seas. When God used wisdom to set the order of the world, I was there – dancing with joy – and God danced with delight too – what delight is this creation and the human race!”
The ancient Israelites didn’t know God as hating this world and thinking that creation and flesh are fallen and bad. They wouldn’t agree with the later Gnostics. They knew God to take great delight in Creation.
This was in direct contradiction to some of the other creation stories from the people around the ancient Israelites. Some of those stories included gods battling and dying, the world being the destroyed body of an evil god, or gods not really liking, sometimes hating, humans.
The ancient Israelites experienced God differently. We can experience God who loves us through their recorded wisdom.
Our Scriptural creation story says from the very first spark that ignited our sun, to the barren rocks that pulled towards each other to form our earth, a wise and loving hand has been present. A wise and loving hand guided the formation of water, and a wise mind set to motion the systems of rain and evaporation. God danced with delight – the Proverbs say – danced with delightful wisdom when God moved atom to atom, cell to cell, and started the processes of LIFE itself. In the creativity among us, in the wealth of life, in the species that continue to evolve and change, out God delights and loves and wisely intercedes.
My Scriptural understanding of God says that those theologies, those understandings of God as remote, not involved, or even hating us, are shortsighted. God is not far away. God is not inaccessible. God is not pretending to be among us. God doesn’t pretend to love or pretend to know what it’s like to be human.
God IS love. God BECAME human. God’s new world is among us closer every day.
… but yet… other people, other good Christians and wise theologians, experience God differently.
That is a marvel for me: religion, the journey, the walk and education with God is NEVER over. Each time I read a page, understand a single bit of God, I turn the page and find a whole new story.
Every moment, every day, every person is carrying a unique story of God.
Wisdom is embracing these stories, and laughing with joy at the diversity of God – the Mystery of God – who invites us on this walk, teaches us along the way, and always, always has more to offer.
So it’s sort of like God gives us insight, and Truth, and wisdom… but yet God is always more. God also gives us faith, and mystery, and encourages us to be curious and to be humble in our knowledge. We need other people’s perspectives!
So… this Trinity Sunday… let us Praise God! The source of both our faith and learning! Amen.
Darkness… nothingness… emptiness… silence…
There is a void, no form, and the spirit, the wind, the voice of God hovers over the face of the deep darkness.
And then suddenly, God SPEAKS. “Let there be light!”
And there is light – stars, burning blazing suns, glistening comets, churning atoms and vibrant energy — and God sees this light, and it is called good.
God speaks more, and more — land and water, birds and bees, trees and fish, bugs and animals, you and me — God speaks us into existence. God’s word is life.
In the beginning, the word of God, the voice of God, the intention of God always exists with God — and is God — and God creates all things into being by speaking. God’s speech and action are one and the same. When God speaks, life happens.
And this word, which is the truth of God, and which all things gain their breath of life, and which deeds and intentions, actions and word are one and the same — this incredible word became flesh and lived among us.
The word of God, God’s voice, became the man we call Jesus.
This light, the very light of God, was gifted to all who are the children of God.
The Gospel of John takes us to the Nativity Scene in such a cosmic route. He reminds us of Genesis, and how the speech and deed of God started everything, and the speech and deed of God continues everything. The speech and deed of God, writes John, is present in Jesus.
When Jesus speaks, his words change reality. When Jesus does something, his deeds speak loudly of who God is.
This concept of speech and deed being one and the same isn’t as heady as you might imagine. Think about this: when is a person ‘married?’ Maybe from the moment they said “I Do?” Those words change reality. These performance utterances CHANGE the world just with the speech.
“I name you John.”
“You are under arrest.”
“I dedicate this example to St. Michael’s.”
“Court is now in session.”
Reality before and after these words is different. The words change things.
Some of the most powerful words God ever spoke were through the mouth of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Go. You are forgiven.” and in doing so, forgave sins against God.
“This is the blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In speaking such, he made it so.
In speaking forgiveness, forgiveness happened. In speaking a new covenant, a new promise was made.
John writes to us that this power to change reality we, too, possess. We can use our words, our deeds and intentions, to say “I forgive you of your debts against me,” and make it true. We can forgive as we are forgiven. We can love as we are loved. We can be a light to the world because the light of the world has come.
John goes to such lengths to explain how Jesus truly is the incarnate word of God – truly is God’s breath, Word, wisdom, truth put into a human body.
This is a very, very important concept in our religion. It is a huge point of difference between ourselves and our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters.
We preach, and believe, that God God’s self was in Jesus.
That is why we say Jesus is Emmanuel – God With Us. That is why we say God chose to share our common lot. God became human. It is why we say God truly understands what it is to be human… because, in Jesus, God was human.
God experienced being born.
God experienced the frustration and joy of siblings, cousins, relatives.
Those awkward teenage years.
God knows what it is to hunger and thirst, to be in pain, to be lonely. God knows what it is to be joyful, to be surprised, to be loved.
God knows what it is like to be you and me.
The incarnation of the Word of God is also why we say God came to us… rather than we went to God.
None of us can choose to be divine.
But God chose to come to us.
We are now already chosen. Already loved. Already forgiven. Already a child of God. It’s nothing we can choose, but a gift given to us. A precious, precious gift.
And all we can do is decide how to respond to this gift.
Joy? Hope? Love? Peace?
Awe? Stunned silence? Tears?
Perhaps something beyond words.
When we share communion today, listen to the words that are used. Listen to how words shape our reality, shape our response to God’s gift. Listen and say the words yourself.
Our Lord is God’s Word. And God’s word is a lamp unto our feet. A guide. A way to respond to the gift of God’s abiding, God-with-us, love. Amen.
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Our Psalmist asks — who are we that God would care for us?
James Taylor paraphrased our Psalm today into common English. He wrote,
“My God, my God,
how wonderful you are!
There is nothing like you in the whole earth.
I look up to the skies, and I see you there;
Babies and infants open their mouths,
and I hear them cry your name.
Compared to you, our weapons, our bombs,
our power to destroy,
dwindle into insignificance.
On a starry night, with your glory splashed across the skies,
I gaze into your infinite universe, and I wonder:
Who am I?
Why do I matter?
Why do you care about mere mortals?
We humans are less than specks of dust in your universe.
We have existed less than a second in the great clock of creation.
Yet you choose us as your partners.
You share the secrets of the universe with us;
you give us a special place in your household;
you trust us to look after the earth, on your behalf—
not just the sheep and oxen,
but also the wolves that prey on our domestic animals;
the birds, the plants, and even creatures we have never seen
in the depths of the sea.
My God, my God! How amazing you are.”
Sometimes, I wonder the same things the Psalmist and Taylor do –
Who am I?
Why do I matter?
Why do you, God, care about mere mortals?
If we’re raised thinking humans are de facto rulers over the earth, this question doesn’t really bother us. Who are we? We’re humans – that’s what! Rulers. We have dominion.
But if you stop and think about it… like the author of Hebrews does… we humans don’t actually have dominion over the earth.
Hurricanes ruin our homes and take lives.
Floods take our crops and homes and lives.
Wild fires, tornadoes, bitterly cold winters — even the melting ice caps — we influence a lot, but actually having dominion? Actually having full control?
No. We’re powerful, but not all powerful in the least.
None of us can stop the sun from rising or death from coming. We are mortal.
Our mortality really strikes home when I look at a time-line of the Earth. If earth was a 24 hour day, life began here around 4 in the morning. It’s not until 2 in the afternoon cells develop. Seaweed shows up around 8:30, land plants at 9:52. Dinosaurs begin to roam the Earth around 10:56 pm. Mammals around 11:39. The very last minute and a half — 11:58:43– humans appear. My own life of 28 years is .0000268 seconds on this 24 hour clock. Over ten thousand times than a blink of an eye which is .3 of a second. On this scale, even the pyramids are young. Stonehenge was made a blink ago. One blink ago people learned how to grow crops for the very first time and to make pots out of clay.
We humans, on the scale of this earth, are mere hundreds of seconds. Dinosaurs are minutes. God spent hours and hours on rocks! Hours and hours on making the moon! We… aren’t even a blink yet.
… and our planet it young. Our planet isn’t a blink to the universe.
… Who are we, that God — God who has spent more time than we can wrap our heads around on ROCKS — on planets we’ll never see and stars that were born, lived, and died before life even existed on earth — who are we that we matter to God who created all of this?!
How can the Psalmist say we’re in control of all of this?
The authors of Hebrew is looking at the world about 60 years after Jesus died. He sees a world much like our own – waiting on Jesus’ return, continue on as it always has, bad stuff still happening, people still sinning, and a whole lot of stuff outside of human control. We cannot even control the results of our actions! How often has a good intention caused really bad consequences?
Yet our psalm says God made us in charge of all of this; and in Genesis we’re told we’re stewards of the Earth… but the author of Hebrews argues we clearly aren’t in charge. There’s so, so much that happens we’d rather not happens. I mean, if I were in charge, there’d be no more cancer, there’d be peace among all the nations, and no one would have too much or too little.
So the Hebrews author argues the mortal who was made lower than the angels for a little while who will be in full charge in the future is Jesus. Clearly he was mortal, argues the author of Hebrews, for Jesus suffered and died. People are still alive – very elderly at this point – but when Timothy or whoever writes this, there are still people alive who remember Jesus dying. They were kids then, but they remember.
So Jesus was mortal. Yet clearly he was also more than mortal, since Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory, and a exact imprint of who God is, and sustains us with his powerful word.
Why a mortal? Why not send Jesus as an angel, or a spirit? Why a lowly mortal? Who are we that God would have God’s own spirit and image in our tiny little fragile frame?
Neither author in today’s reading – the author of Hebrews or the Psalmist—answers why us. Instead, they end in praise that we are the children of God. We never earned this, but we can respond to it.
We don’t have full control over all of the world. We do not yet see the master plan, the reason God notices and made we tiny, tiny humans.
What we do see is Jesus.
And in Jesus, we see God.
And we see that God made all things, sustains all things, and loves all things.
We see we all have one creator, one parent, one source whom we all come from.
The rocks and trees, the fish and birds, the distant galaxies and stars and moon — even the angels and our beloved Jesus… we all have one Father.
Or mother, or parent, or grandmother, or grandfather, or whatever human term you use to think of the one who loves you the most like a parent loves a child: a perfect love, a deep love, a love that only God contains but which we try to explain in human terms.
How limited we are to explain our encounter with God. We are babes. Infants. And yet, God listens. Listens and loves.
How befitting is this passage on World Communion Sunday. Today we affirm we share a single faith with Christians everywhere. Those who have passed, and those who are yet to be, those who are here and those who are scattered about the world.
We all have one sacrament. We are a community. We commune together. We all have one God we know through Jesus. We all share one Holy Spirit. Let us come in humbleness, in joy, in great worship and love to this holy meal with our God, our Sovereign, and our brother Jesus, and all our brothers and sisters around the world. Amen.
Given to St. Michael’s United Church of Christ 10-4-15