March 9, 2003
Today we begin the season of Lent, which is the 40-day period starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on the day before Easter.† The season of Lent means different things to different people.† Some of us understand Lent in its traditional way as the time when we fast or give up something.† Others of us understand Lent from a more contemporary point of view as a time to take on something that is self-giving and self-sacrificing.† Certainly these different understandings and ways to observe Lent are indeed faithful, but neither fully grasps the depth of what is meant by this time of Lenton devotion and discipleship.†
††††††††† The fuller understanding of Lent is that it is a time of disciplined and devoted self-examination, a time when we engage more deeply and more honestly our spirituality and faithfulness, a time when we really ask the tough questions of ourselves, questions such as:
Am I truly growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ?†
Am I fully offering my time, my gifts of the Spirit, and my possessions to Godís mission in the world?†
Am I living in true human relationships with my family, my spouse, my children, and with others?†
Am I engaged in devotional acts such as prayer or Bible study?†
Am I consistent in attending worship, in witnessing to others, in serving and worshipping God in all that I do, in all that I say, in all that I am?
††††††††† For us, then, Lent is a time for contemplation and consideration of who we are, and most importantly of what we can become.† It is a time when we confront directly and honestly the very condition in which we find ourselves in and then look beyond ourselves to the One who brings the promise of reconciliation, renewal, and hope, to the One who offers us endless possibilities and potential as Godís people.
††††††††† Yet, we must be cautious during this time.† We cannot allow this time of disciplined and devoted self-examination lead us toward a kind of spiritual arrogance or give us a false sense of spiritual security.† This is not an opportunity for us to prove to God, ourselves, or anyone else how religious, spiritual, or even Christian we are or can be.† Nor is this a time for us to earn and build up brownie points so that our names donít get erased from pages of the book of life.†
Lent is not about earning salvation, itís about remembering the acts and promises of God in human history, and then, and only then, learning how we are to respond to God in faithful obedience.† And so, for the next 40 days we will go on a journey, a spiritual journey, a spiritual journey that begins with us reflecting upon our disobedience and rebellion against God and ends with the fruits of our penitence, a life of redemption and renewal, and a faith that is transformed and directed by Godís abundant grace.
††††††††† Our first step on this journey takes us back to the beginning of human history, to a story we have known from our childhood, a story we have passed on to our children, and our grandchildren, the story of Noah and the ark.† If I were to ask you to tell me about the story of Noah and the ark, what would you say?† You would probably tell me how God told Noah to build the ark, how Noah gathered two of every kind of creature on the earth, one male and one female, how it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and that when the rain stopped, Noah send out a dove, which returned with an olive leaf in its beak as proof that the waters were receding, and then you would probably tell me about the sign of Godís promise of the rainbow.†
If you were to tell me all of this, you would certainly be correct, but you would have given me the childrenís book version.† But our text for today reminds us that if we only remember the childrenís book version, then we will have missed a much deeper and much more important part of the story.† We must never forget why God sent the flood.† Humanity had become rebellious, corrupt, violent, and wicked to the point that God was so sorry that he made humanity that it made his heart grieve.† And so the flood waters came, destroying every living and breathing creature on the earth, except for the lone survivors on the ark.†
††††††††† However we decide to interpret the story of Noah and the ark, we must not allow ourselves to lighten or gloss over the reasons for this catastrophic event, nor the dreadful consequences of Godís divine judgment upon humanity, but we also must not then allow ourselves to miss the absolute good news of this story.†
This story, my friends, is not about us, but about God.† This story isnít about what has been lost, but about what has been found.† Itís not about human destruction, but about Godís restoration.† Itís not about what has ended, but about what God begins again.† Itís not about our change toward God, but about Godís change toward us and for us.†
††††††††† Through the cleansing waters of the flood emerges a re-newed commitment of God, a commitment proclaimed in the divine covenant that encircles, not only humankind, but all of creation, that never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earthÖnever again.† It is Godís covenant that establishes a new relationship with creation, and the bow, which has historically symbolized warfare and death, is now withdrawn and hung on the mantle of the clouds as a sign of remembrance, not as a sign for us, but as a sign for God.† It is God who initiates, it is God who establishes, it is God who promises, and it is God who will remember, regardless of what people say or do.
††††††††† On this first Sunday in Lent, as we move to the table to celebrate the Lordís Supper, let us never forget the proclamation of the divine words, ďNever again.Ē† Let these words be the confirmation and affirmation of Godís intention for us, in our life of faith and discipleship.† Let the promise of these words revealed in Jesus Christ, be for us a renewing and liberating power that carries us, not just for the next 40 days, but to that final day, when we too will be finally and fully redeemed, restored, and risen.† Amen.† †††††