In the name of God, source of all being, eternal Word, and Holy Spirit.
Sometimes we hear through news reports that a disaster has occurred on the far side of the ocean – or the far side of town.
We try to make sense of it. We pray. We seek personal connections.
Was my colleague in Christchurch hurt? Yes.
Are my son’s friends in Japan okay? Yes.
A plane goes down in northern Iraq.
And a nephew was on board.
We mourn them. We are torn by the loss.
What will we do now? How can we help each other?
And we begin to remember them – or learn about them – and reclaim a fuller sense of their lives – and of God’s abundant love.
For God does not ever intentionally will somebody harm.
For the Lord will not reject for ever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. (Lamentations 3:31-33)
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
What we have is our presence with each other and with God – and the continuing comforting presence, felt yet or not yet, of the One who gave his Son to be with us as one of us, sharing our human flesh and fate that we might be taken up ourselves into the divine life.
When that day comes we will not be less ourselves, we will be more ourselves: We will not be absorbed into nonentity – but God will complete in us his work beyond imagining – bringing us at last into the fullness of life – that we when we stand together at the Last Day will know each other fully at last, as we gaze together into the face of Christ, and hear him say,
Welcome home, good brother, good sister – good daughter, good son – good mother, good father, good uncle or aunt - good servant of my kingdom, and God’s own beloved child.
The prophet Isaiah writes (25:6-10a):
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him,
so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
At that banquet table – to which we are all invited – we too will be at home.
So why not, then, knowing what awaits us – the heavenly banquet in the kingdom of God – why not give up everything but life in God?
In Lent it is tempting to rely on giving up – or taking on – some little thing. Giving up broccoli, learning to love opera.
Something – something not shaming but satisfying – maybe even gratifying: is that what we want to do with our Lent, our season’s sojourn in the wilderness?
And yet we know, if we do not deceive ourselves, that we’d be settling for something less than we were made for – for we are made as children of heaven, as beloved as sons and daughters, as glorious as the stars in the sky – and whatever we do, small or great, is good – very good – when it leads us homeward to God.
When it leads us to rely on God and on God only, when we trust God, when we worship God – when we show in how we treat others the goodness of the Lord we know and of his Creation – it is good; and so we love God, heart, soul, mind, and strength, and God alone do we serve. In God alone we find our strength and our salvation.
Salvation is not only rescue from sorrow; it is the positive gift of the fullness of life, made complete in Christ, that awaits us as we are shaped at last into the image of Christ, into becoming fully ourselves.
Somewhere on a bookshelf I have had an old paperback – Shooting Stars – photographs (from Rolling Stone) of musicians from the 60s and 70s. There is a picture of a rock star slumped against the wall in a border control entry station. He is dressed like Elvis but he is an alien. (He’s British.) Above him over his head – his head with those cool sunglasses hiding his eyes – is an official poster, which reads, “Patience, please. A drug-free America comes first.”
It might well say, today, “Security comes first.”
Security is our first consideration at times of trouble. Am I okay? Are you all right? Is my family safe?
And we begin to ask, what can I do to protect myself? What can they do to keep this from happening again? Where can I find security?
John baptized Jesus, and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove: “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
As Israel had passed through the Red Sea waters and emerged on the other side into the wilderness of Sinai, there to discover what it really meant to be God's people, so Jesus passed through the waters of baptism at the Jordan River and then went forward into the desert, where it began to be revealed what being God's son meant.
Jesus walked out into the wilderness alone – and there was nothing there; nothing but temptation, it looked like. Nothing to rely on. No safety, no security, unless –
Then the Tempter comes.
If you are the Son, make these stones into bread. Show me a magic trick. Take care of yourself. You can do it – on your own!
If you are the Son of God, if you are his dearly Beloved, prove it! Throw yourself down – and prove God loves you – by doing something foolish, even contemptuous of his love.
Or tell you what – I’ll give you a deal. You can have all this: all the kingdoms of the world, glowing with majesty – even Rome itself can be yours all yours – and all you have to do? All you have to do is bow down and worship me.
Herod was ready to bow down to you – you know he was. But those foolish wise people – they got in the way. And they did it first.
Jesus is the Son, the Beloved; he needs nothing else. And in the fullness of the knowledge of the love of God, he replies:
Human beings live by the word of God. Do not tempt the Lord. Worship God and him only.
In other words, now hear this: the first and greatest commandment is this: Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind, all thy soul and all thy spirit, and with all thy strength. That is where true security lies.
Could the second be like unto it?
You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Can everything – all the words of the Law and the Prophets – depend on this? Can we count on these words? What if we are dying? What if –
And yet – we may follow in the footsteps of Israel in the wilderness, of David in the hidden fortress up in the hills, of Elijah in the cave mouth on the mountain, of Jesus in the desert – and facing the Tempter say,
Begone: for I love the living God and him only will I serve.
I put my trust – my life – in the hands of the One who created all things, who redeems all from sin, and brings us to the fullness, the completion, of our lives – in the one ultimately safe place, the love of God.
And that is the invitation of Lent, and the meaning of Baptism. Why not give up everything but life in God?
Why not give your faith to the One who has already given his all?
What must we do to be saved?
Believe – in the one true and living God who created all things.
As our savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say, Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.