1 Peter 3:18-22
“I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
These words were spoken in churches around the world on Ash Wednesday, marking the first of forty days of Lent. This season of penitence and preparation sets us to the work of intentionally taking on spiritual disciplines, such as study of scripture so that we might come to know better the stories of our faith tradition, and what they have to teach us about God.
Another is to that of an additional prayer practice, such as the one our rector has called us to, in observance of the deep need for a place to pray and be prayed over in these times of uncertainty.
During the season of Lent the church also invites us to the discipline of fasting. Some do this by giving up a favorite food or denying oneself of an indulgence that one has a tendency to give themselves over to in excess.
The purpose behind each of these practices is to be about the work of drawing ourselves nearer to God, so that we might discover new ways of showing forth thankfulness for the gift of our own lives and of God’s love for his creation. Our lectionary texts for today point us to this important awareness.
This is exemplified first through the telling of the conclusion of the story of Noah, and the great flood. A terrifying text for some, this story ends with the promise of a covenant; an agreement between God and humankind that proclaims that such an act of vengeance will never be done again with the intention of the near total destruction of all creation.
Faithfulness, follow through and the fulfillment of that promise are the deeper truths that this story offers to those seeking a greater understanding of God.
Noah was faithful in his execution of the crazy, outrageous, unexpected and difficult thing that he was called to do – “Build a boat, you’re gonna need it.”
God followed through on the threat that he made to a people who turned their back on their creator, and the symbol of water washes those sins (and sinners) away.
Finally the story concludes with an offering of a covenant from God to his creation – one that promised not retaliation, but reconciliation, forgiveness, and the opportunity for a fresh start, even in the face of the most divisive actions on the part of the people.
In our Gospel text we find ourselves next to John the Baptist and Jesus surrounded by the waters of baptism. In that moment the presence of the Holy Spirit is described as descending like the appearance of a dove and the voice of God declares, “You are my Son the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The beginning of Jesus’ ministry has been marked by water, and the Holy Spirit. Following in this example, this is a symbolic and sacramental act that we too utilize to mark our call to community as members and ministers in our faith community.
As we explore scripture together, as we seek to understand the meaning of these stories in our contemporary context, our invitation is to know, not only the meaning behind them for the first communities who passed them on from one generation to the next, but also to allow ourselves to hear God’s promise to us through the ages.
God is creative. God is present. God offers the gift of washing away that which is old and dead, and allows new life to come into being in our communities and in ourselves. Now is the time to let God give that gift to you. Now is the time to let go of those parts of ourselves, those excesses that we grip so tightly, let them pass away, so that the cleansing waters of the gift of forgiveness and new life may wash over you.
The dusty, dirty, gritty ashes that marked our foreheads on Wednesday are reminders of our finiteness as members of the human family. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust [your body] shall return.” In our baptismal covenant, in our agreement with God and the community of faith, and the faithful departed who have gone before us, we remember the mark of the cross made with water, and oil and the Holy Spirit – that proclaims the new life that awaits us when we let the old pass away; new life in our way of being, as we live and move and have our being this world – in the here and now – in the way we interact with one another and the way we respond to the needs of our neighbors, and new life when this bodily form passes away, and we enter into the eternal peace which we shall truly come to know in God.
Lent is our season of preparation. Lenten disciplines are our invitation to let the old pass away, so that we might have room for the new to be born in our hearts. Clear away the clutter. Let go of those things, those indulgences, those practices that we put into play in order to fulfill our need to be loved. Let the abundance of God’s love take hold of you, as you take the time to draw near, to listen and to learn where God is calling you this day.
Are you being called to action? Are you being called to respond to a need in your community? Are you being called to de-clutter your life so that when the time comes, something new may be born there, or something that once was may be resurrected?
You were called to this community, to this faith, to this practice by virtue of your baptism. Use this season of Lent to draw yourself closer to the heart of God, so that you might come to know that which God has in store for the world through you. Prepare yourselves. For the beloved Son of God was sent to this world to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near, and there is good news to hear. Amen.
Delivered by The Rev. Mary Catherine Enockson
Sunday, March 1, 2009
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour