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the sermon for

the Second Sunday in Lent

25 February 2018

Genesis 17:1-7 , Genesis 17:15-16
Start to finish, salvation is god!

02252018It's been a few years, since I found the leaflet under my wiper blade. Four pages . A little bigger than a business card. Texas flag on the cover. A red– not yellow - rose. And a Winchester rifle. The title: How to Get to Heaven from Texas! At the time, I figured I, already, knew what was in it. But, I saved that handout, anyway, to look at it later. That Fall, that little leaflet became the focus of another round of FaithTalks. Not because it was so unique, but because it was so stereotypically, so unimaginatively American. This little leaflet describes popular American religion, going back to the revivals that swept across the colonies before we were a nation.

Four spiritual laws so simple, so plain, anyone will get it...

1) realize you're a sinner,
2) realize there's a penalty for sin,
3) realize Jesus paid the penalty,
and 4) repent of your sin and receive Jesus as your Savior!

Realize! Realize! Realize! Repent! Receive! One command after another after another! From be3ginning to end, from start to finish, faith, believing, here in the United States, is a matter of obeying! Doing what god commands!

That's why so many groups across America disagree with or don't understand when we baptize babies. Because faith, for them, is about commandments and obedience, not about promise and trusting that promise. For us, salvation is something that god begins and it's something that god – and god alone – completes! How to Get to Heaven in four easy steps. For us, god doesn't do only so much, god doesn't go only so far, and the rest god leaves up to us. God does it all!

The reason I dragged out that leaflet, this week, was because when I first read the passage from Genesis, about god's covenant with Abraham, with Sarah, I was struck by the contrast, by the contradiction. Listen, again, to that First Reading.. I'll use only subjects and verbs to simplify it.

The LORD appeared... The LORD said...

I will make... and I will make... and I will make...

and, again, I will make... and I will establish...

I will bless... and I will give... and I will bless...

It's god! It's god alone who does anything! Not Abram or Abraham! Not Sarah, not Sarai! The covenant is, simply, one promise after another after another! All made by god! God speaks! Abraham and Sarah say not one word!

There's no deal made! No bargain struck! No compromises! In fact, there's no middle ground, at all! God is the only one doing or saying anything! In the entire nine verses, Abraham does only one thing. He falls on his face! Overwhelmed! Overcome! Overawed! That little booklet, on the other hand – How to Get to Heaven – is all about us! We do everything! God does nothing! We realize and we realize and we realize! And then, we repent and pray and receive!

According to th8is p8iece of scripture, though, it's all god and nothing's left up to us! No coöperating! No lending a hand! That's how, why, we baptize babies! It's all god and they have to do, nothing they can do! There's only one commitment, only one promise, one vow, that matters. And that's the one god makes! The one god makes to each! The one god makes to every!

Faith just isn't obeying god's commands. It's believing in god's promises! Trusting them! Taking god at god's word! Staking our life on that word, not just once... or twice... but again and again, over and over! Like I said, no bargains! Not deals! No handshakes! Not signing on the bottom line! There's only the promise! The promise spoken by god! And all we can do is fall on our faces.

The LORD appeared... The LORD said...

I will make... and I will make... and I will make...

and, again, I will make... and I will establish...

I will bless... and I will give... and I will bless...

And I'll do it simply because I said I will! Because I promised!

But then, that's what love does. Love doesn't hesitate. Love doesn't hold back. But love denies itself and picks up its cross! Love suffers and breaks and bleeds! Love is crucified and dies. Love is buried and descends! Love does for us what we were unable, unwilling, to do for ourselves! God did it! God does it, still! Because that's what love does! God isn't the spectator in this drama! God isn't the audience! We are! We're the ones sitting and waiting and watching as god acts! It's always god! God and god alone!

Popular religious, though, continually makes it all about us. But, of course, that's how it's always been. God says, "I" and we say, "me". In the garden. On the ark. Across the wilderness. Into the promised land. Across the generations. Throughout the generations. And each time, every time, god has raised up a person, a people, to speak gospel, one more time! Calling the church, calling creation, back to it's roots. A person like Luther! A people... well, a people like us!

We believe we are captive, in bondage, and cannot free ourselves. We believe that by our own understanding, by our own strength, we believe in or come to Christ. And so, Je3sus comes to us! Comes to us and sets us free! Free to believe! And free to love! To love just like him!

The LORD appeared... That's how the story began. And the LORD continues to come! Even here! Even now! Come in a handful of water! Come in a pinch, in a touch, of bread! Come in a thimble of wine! Come even in those sitting around us! Comes to them in us! Come to us in them! How do you get to heaven from Texas. Bottom line, my friends, is that you don't. You can't. Heaven comes to us! The word became flesh and the word still becomes flesh and dwells among us! That's what love does. It dwells among us and it never leaves! No ifs! No ands! No buts!

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the sermon for

the First Sunday in Lent

18 February 2018

Genesis 9:8-17
God saves! End of sentence.

02182018Well, here we are, again. Sitting together, on a Sunday morning, reading a passage of scripture, and turning it into one more mural for a nursery wall. A month ago, it was Jonah and the whale. Originally, the story was of a man furious, seething, that god didn't hate his enemies like he hated them! But the story hit too close to home. Too realistic. Too challenging. So we changed it! We cut out two verses from the rest of the story, focused our attention on them, and transformed them into a fairy tale, into a nursery rhyme! A man is swallowed by a whale and the same man is spewed out by the same whale. The Word of the Lord; thanks be to god!

This morning, it's Noah's turn. We do the same thing. Scripturally speaking, the story of the Great Flood and of Noah's Ark is pretty dark, pretty sinister. More like Russell Crowe's portrayal than the Precious Moments alternative. But it makes us uncomfortable, uneasy. And so we change it. Into a cartoon. A coloring page. Bright! Colorful! And then we name preschools after it! Animal shelters! We sell Noah's ark toys and Noah's ark wallpaper and Noah's ark sheets and pillow cases. We tame the story. We domesticate it. We destroy it... with sweetness and adorability.

Truth is, there's, probably, no other story in the entire bible as brutal and as violent as this one. Think about it. In the beginning, god creates a paradise. A man and a woman together in a place where they have everything they could ever need, anything they could possibly want. And then, something happens. Something goes terribly wrong. And it all changes. First, there's the fruit of the tree. Then, Abel and Cain. Creation crumbles before god's very eyes. And human beings were to blame.

"The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." The solution? Blot them out! Human beings! Animals! Creeping things! Birds of the air! All of it! Wipe them off the face of the earth and start all over, again, somewhere else! God was sick and tired of the whole thing! His first instinct? Destroy! Obliterate! Annihilate! "For the LORD was sorry the he had ever made it!"

Every one and every thing, that is, but Noah! Noah was different! Noah found favor! God would wipe it all out but him... and his wife... and his sons... and their wives... and a pair of every creature... But everyone else... everything else... god would erase! Thus, the ark, and the animals, and the rain, and the flood. After the waters began to subside, the ark came to rest on the mountaintop and the doors were opened and the creatures were all back on solid ground.

God looked around them. At the destruction. At the devastation. At the meaninglessness and the emptiness of it all. And god was filled with sorrow and regret. And god repented. God changed god's mind. And god said to Noah and to his wife and to their sons and to their son's wives... In fact, god said to that little group of survivors standing together atop the mountain, Genesis, chapter nine, verse eleven! "I'm sorry. I'm sorry and I promise never to do that, again." That small band isolated on the mountaintop, looks out over the desolation, over a creation decimated by wrath. And god facing that brave new world of god's own making, is filled with regret, filled with remorse, god repents! God repents! God's mind is changed! And god says, Genesis, chapter nine, verse eleven! "I'm sorry!" God says it to Noah and to his sons and to Noah's wife and to his sons' wives. Indeed, says it to all creation! "Never. Never again."

The wrath accomplished nothing. The rage made no difference whatsoever. So, next time, rather than flood us back to the Stone Age, god would... God would what? God would forgive? God would show mercy? God would turn the other? God would go the extra? God would do unto? No matter how bad it gets, god will never, again, crumple us up and toss us aside! That's what the rainbow is about! It's god saying, one more time, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry and I promise never to do it, again. From now on, my response – my only response – to your humanness, to your brokenness, to your inability, will be grace! Charity! Love! "I will act," says god, "only out of pure, father, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of your own, at all!"

Of course, if you notice, the people in the story don't change. They remain nothing more than people. Still wicked! Not in the sense of being fiendish and brutal, but in the sense of not loving god or neighbor! And every inclination is still evil. Not in the sense of being malicious and cruel, but in the sense of looking out only for their own interests. But god will not destroy. Not by water. Not by fire. Not by ice. Instead, god will only rescue and redeem and deliver! God will change us, transform us, by god's mercy and by god's grace! Not because we're just so doggone adorable. But because that is what god has promised to do! Save us! Salvage us! Recycle, repurpose, reuse! And the rainbow is the sign, the symbol, the souvenir!

The gospel doesn't begin with a once upon a time. It begins with a confession. We are in bondage, captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned. We sin. In thought, in word, in deed. By what we've done and by what we do. By what we've left – and by what we leave – undone. We have not, do not, will not love. You or anybody. It begins with a confession. And it ends not with a happily ever after, but with a cross. With a cross, a grave, and new beginning that lies beyond. In the mercy – the mercy and grace – of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, all our sins – past, present, future – all our sins are forgiven! And the story of Noah and the Flood? Of his family and of creation? It's no different. It, too, begins with a confession. And there, on the back side of the rainbow, it ends with a promise. As god says to us... as god says to all creation... "Never again! Never again! Cross my heart and hope to die!"

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