Sermon for Sunday, February 22, 2015
At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death. The Genesis reading is part of the flood story, which wiped out all humankind save Noah’s family. The lesson from 1 Peter speaks of Christ suffering for sins, and how he was “put to death in the flesh.” And this morning’s Gospel lesson introduces the personification of sin himself, Satan, who tempts Jesus in the wilderness. At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death. But if I look more closely at this morning’s readings I begin to see that today’s readings are not so much about sin and death as they are about redemption and life.
When I look more closely, the Genesis reading is not so much about the destruction of human life as it is a story about a god who makes covenants. God wants to be in relationship with us; God is willing to make a commitment and put himself out there for us. When I look more closely at 1 Peter, I see the assurance that God “now saves you” in the waters of Baptism. And although Satan does figure in the Gospel lesson, yet Jesus still proclaims there is good news: “Repent, and believe in the good news.”
At first glance, the world we live in might look to be about sin and death. We need but open the paper to see another report of an ISIS beheading, to see pictures of war in Ukraine, to hear of dozens killed by a suicide bomber in the Middle East, or to hear of yet another instance of the mistreatment of minorities here in the United States. We live in a broken and fallen world, and everywhere we look we see sin and death. But Lent offers us the opportunity to look more closely.
Yes, Lent offers us the opportunity to see and be honest about the ways we have fallen – the world and ourselves. Yes, Lent helps us see the need for Christ’s redemption – in the world and in ourselves. But Lent also invites us to see God at work in the world around us, working to reconcile it to God’s self. Lent invites us to see how God is here making a covenant with Noah, even though the rest of humanity may seem depraved and godless. Lent invites us to see how God is here working to save us now, even as “Christ… was put to death in the flesh.” Lent invites us to see how, even though we may be in the wilderness tempted by Satan, yet Jesus is here, too, and he has good news for us. In spite of everything we see that is broken in this world, yet God is present among us, yet God is at work among us, always laboring to restore this world back to God. Because God loves us.
Lent, then, is an invitation to see God’s redemption in the midst of a fallen and broken world. Yes, we see everywhere the consequences of sin, but Lent also invites us to see even in the midst of sin and death – perhaps especially in the midst of sin and death – signs of God’s presence, of God’s love for us, of God’s laboring to restore us to God’s self. Even in the midst of sin and death – maybe especially in the midst of sin and death. For it is sin and death from which God came to redeem us, and it is resurrection and life that God wishes to give us.
I am going to leave us with the story of a saint who has been on my mind recently, a story about a man living surrounded by death, and who yet was able to forgive and keep his eyes open to God’s love and redemption. Perhaps you’ve heard of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest who died at Auschwitz. (Maybe he’s on my mind because of the recent 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’ liberation, or maybe perhaps because the cruelty of his death is reminiscent of so much of the cruelty that has been in the news lately.) Kolbe was arrested because his friary in Poland both sheltered Jews and also published a newspaper expressing anti-Nazi sentiments. He had been a prisoner at Auschwitz for only about six weeks when, as punishment for the escape of three prisoners, the camp commander chose ten men at random to be starved to death in an underground bunker. When one of the men cried out, “My wife! My children!” Kolbe volunteered to take his place. A janitor at the camp reported that in the bunker Kolbe yet continued to minister as a priest, leading the men in prayer, and that whenever the guards opened the door to check on them, Kolbe was either standing or kneeling in the middle of the room, calmly facing whoever entered. Kolbe was the last of the ten left alive, and – because the guards wanted the bunker emptied – was given a lethal injection, from which he died. Pope John Paul ll called Kolbe “the patron saint of our difficult century,” and Kolbe’s is one of 20 statues commemorating 20th century martyrs above the main doors of Westminster Abbey.
I hope that this Lent, we might remember to look for signs of God’s redeeming work, here, in this very world, now, at this very moment. For – in spite of how things may seem – God is at work here, offering forgiveness, loving, inviting us to return to God and live.