Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jesus calls us to repent and believe in the good news

Jesus calls us to repent and believe in the good news

Remember the Night Rainbow...

My aunt Virginia used to leave a whimsical small book by the lamp on the bedside table for her guests. If you were visiting her, just finished with exams, or recovering from surgery, or all-night travel, or just a long day, it was comforting.

The book was entitled, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow ... 

As I read it, as I turned the pages, I found whimsy - and a sense of peace. You could be - anything.

It was okay.

When we see the fierce wild scenes of the gospels, of Genesis, of the Psalms, and of the early church, we might well tremble. Their world is no less full of challenge than ours.

And yet, beyond it, beyond the simple struggles of the day, there was a hope, and a peace, in the engendering flood of creation and the irresistible pull of the grace of the gospel.

Jesus is real. God is good.

Our God is loving, steadfast, merciful, compassionate, and kind. Beyond the senseless cruelties of existence, inflicted on us in a world where there is sin as well as grace, there is a purpose and a mercy.

What does it mean to live under the mercy of God? For that is where we are. We are under the mercy – under the rainbow – living under an arc of the covenant of grace.

Noah receives the promise of God, a one-way covenant, that God will never again destroy his creation with a flood. God promises this to Noah, his family, and – all living creatures – for all of time. All creation lives under the mercy of God.

There is no assumption that God has no choice in the matter. God creates; God destroys – or may; God chooses to make peace with the world. God is merciful and compassionate; steadfast love is in the nature of God. The essential nature of God is expressed in this covenant promise – a gift, requiring no response, not even acknowledgment, from Noah.

Psalm 25 is a psalm of lament – but it is again a confession of the nature of God as merciful and compassionate. The love of God is everlasting. All the psalmist asks is, teach me your ways, show me your paths. Not even ‘so that’ – just please let me obey.

1 Peter teaches about suffering – in the context of the creedal formula, almost. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary – and made subject to all the ills that flesh is heir to; Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to hell; he rose again – and ascended to heaven, where he reigns with irresistible grace.

God waited patiently in the days of Noah – and eight persons were saved through water – somehow the cleansing of the flood preserved them.

And then Jesus – Jesus receives baptism, the dove descends – proclaiming him Beloved, Son; the Spirit immediately drives him out into the wilderness where he is tempted, lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him; then he begins to proclaim the Kingdom.

The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is immanent: existing within or inherent in, and extending into, all parts of the created world; it is liminal: belonging to the point of conscious awareness below which something cannot be experienced or felt. It is emergent: it is appearing, arising, occurring, developing, coming into being – for the first time in its fullness, the reign of God is becoming real, more real than anything else.

And so – the gift to Noah, the first covenant between God and creation, is made more real than ever before. God will not punish – not only not punish, but redeem; God will not destroy – not only not destroy, but remake; God will not be angry – not only not angry but loving and kind. God will reveal mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness at the core of Being.

Being, at its core in the heart of God, merciful, compassionate, wise, and loving, is kind.

But what a terrible kindness it can be. From this moment forward Jesus will be on the path of downward mobility, every step he takes bringing him closer to his fate; a world- baffling road he trod, not to kingship or elevation above humankind, but identification with the way of all flesh at its most humbling. Jesus will take on all our sins – as the letter of Peter reminds us – and in the cross will be his glory. Then only – but with inevitable majesty – the resurrection comes.

Show me your ways, O Lord: 
 and teach me your paths.
Lead me in the ways of your truth, and teach me: 
 for you are the God of my salvation.

We pray this; we recite it, anyway; it is in the response to the first lesson of 1 Lent.

What are we asking for? We are asking to join Jesus on his pilgrimage. It is a long road, farther than Santiago from France. It is a hard road; harder than the Oregon Trail. It is a weary road, sometimes; sometimes a joyous way; it is a path through the wilderness – through desert places; and we have sometimes only the solace of fierce landscapes to comfort us on the way; but it leads us – he leads us – beside quiet refreshing waters, and he is with us – his staff only there to guide and protect us. It is a way that leads to joy.

What kind of joy is this? What kind of kingdom is this? What kind of land is this, the land of promise, the way of salvation, the joy of the presence of God? It is the way of life.

Ever been in a flood? Ever squished around in a rainstorm, waded waist-deep in floodwaters, crossed a river with a current so strong that it pushed you aside and down?

The engendering flood of creation, of the new creation in Christ, is an irresistible movement of living water. What Noah knew, cleansing as it was, complete as it was and terrifying, was only a foretaste, a shadow, of the creative energy released in the baptism of Christ. What it brings into existence is the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God.

What was from the beginning, what was from before the beginning, was the will of God for the world: that it would become a place of joy, of peace, of happiness, of completion.

This is what we are striving for this Lent – this is what we are stripping away the non-essentials for: to reveal what is underneath, what underlies all our smaller causes and comforts and efforts and excesses; the knowledge of our dependence on, and our living under the mercy of, God.

Nothing else matters, nothing else can get in the way; our God reigns, and our God loves, and our God holds us in the palm of his hand.

May the peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God. Amen.