February 18, 2018 – Lent 1 B
8God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Our society and our world are built on promises. Our politicians make promises. Our doctors make promises. Our police officers, soldiers, teachers, farmers, bankers, nurses, and our children make promises. Even our currency is built on promises – when I write a check, I promise that the money will be there when you go to deposit it. When we make an appointment, it’s a promise to be there.
As a sign that we’re serious about our promises, we usually do something to show it. Maybe that’s something as complicated collateral on a loan or as simple as a handshake and a head nod. The bigger the promise, though, the bigger and more public the gesture becomes. And when promises are broken, there are consequences. Sometimes the consequence is fairly mild, like a late fee on a library book, but sometimes the consequence is more than we can bear – the breakdown of a family, the loss of a home, or the loss of a job. Sometimes, these promises are broken by accident. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten something that I just forgot to write down. Sometimes, they’re broken on purpose.
We, as people, have made promises to each other. As Christians, as citizens, and members of this congregation, we have made promises. And sometimes those promises force us to recognize that this life together, that this dependence on each other, is not always easy. It forces us to put the lives of others ahead of our own comforts. If we’re serious about keeping promises, we have to be willing to work for it.
Last week, as some of you probably already know, there was another school shooting. According to Snopes, a website of professional truth finders, this is the 7th school shooting during the school day of this short year and this time is happened in Parkland, FL. 17 people are dead and there are countless families who are reeling from this experience. 3 of the 10 deadliest shooting in American history have happened in the last 5 months. And if that doesn’t shake us up, if that doesn’t bother us, then we have lost our humanity. We’ve made promises (“never again”, “never forget”), yet it seems that we’ve not been able to follow through with them. And I don’t know the problem is. Each of us probably has our own theory about why this happens, but whether you believe that the problem is mental health, guns, the breakdown of the family, or anything else, we have made a promise to try to address it. We mourn for the families who have been directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy. We pray for those who have died, that they knew they were beloved, valued, and beautiful children of God. We pause for a moment to recognize mortality and death and evil (“remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”). But then we get to work. Because we’ve made promises.
In the midst of broken promises of every kind, it’s easy to lose hope, resign ourselves to the idea that this is just how the world works, that we are powerless against evil, and act as though we are essentially in this alone. At least, that’s what I began to feel as I read about Parkland. But then we read our Genesis reading, in which we see God making a promise. God has promised, made a covenant (or a contract) with Noah, that God’s love will continue for humanity and all of creation. Never again, God says, will the whole earth be destroyed. Never again will wrath overtake love, mercy, and justice. And, when the clouds threaten to drown us, or when the news threatens to destroy us, this is what we rely on.
We break our promises, it’s true, and we do it for a number of reasons. But God does not. God’s promises are sure and trustworthy. We can see this, throughout the fabric of history, that God has been delivering on promises throughout creation. The covenants of God are fulfilled, and they are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This man, this wandering rabbi in the Palestine 2000 years ago, shows us what those promises look like lived out. In place of vengeance, Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword. In place of business as usual, Jesus drives out the profiteers from the Temple. Instead of cursing those who killed him, he instead invokes God’s forgiveness. This is the promise of God seen in flesh and blood. Love, mercy, and grace have overtaken wrath until, finally, even death itself has been swallowed up in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In a world of broken promises, it is easy to become hopeless and complacent. Yet, God has not given up hope. After the Flood, God places a sign in the clouds, the very clouds which threaten to flood the world again. And notice that it’s not just a reminder to us, it’s also a reminder to God. This brings us hope that God’s promises will not be broken. As Peter writes in our second reading, the promise for you, as a baptized child of God, is that has claimed you as a daughter and son, that Christ’s new life is your new life, and that you, like Jesus, have been called “beloved.” As beloved, baptized people of God, you have been given the promise that shall never be broken – you belong, you are valued, you are enough.
Living in the light of these promises, we go out to be a part of the fulfillment of God’s promises for all of humanity and all of creation. You are called “beloved”, promised a place in the Kingdom, and then you are sent to help make that Kingdom a reality on earth. We participate in the promise-keeping of our loving, relentless Creator. We use our gifts, our skills, our talents to be a part of this reality, that God loved the world so much that Jesus would die rather than see it destroyed by the sin that affects us all. This is radical grace and love, the kind that leaves us dumbstruck and confused, the kind that gives us hope that the light is still shining in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
I hope you know, by this point, that I love you all and I know that this may rub people wrong. But because I care for you and for the rest of creation, I am called to speak these hard words. I know that this may sound like a political sermon, but I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. The gospel, the good news of Christ, is political. It is not, however, partisan. There is no one party or politician who has all the answers, which is why we need each other. We need each other to make a difference, to follow through on the promises we’ve made, and to be a part of God’s fulfilling of those promises to others.
As I reflect on Parkland, I’m struck by a deep sense of grief and sadness. But as I reflect on Christ, I’m struck by a deep sense of resolve and hope. If we are ever going to keep these promises we’ve made to our fellow human, it is through Christ’s life. If we are ever going to see the end of evil and death, it is through Christ’s death. If we are ever going to see God’s hand in world, I think it’s time we rolled up our sleeves and find a way to participate. You are loved, so go love. You have been given a promise, a promise that will be fulfilled, so go keep the promises we’ve made. You are a child of God, so let’s go protect other children. Amen.