Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2021

Sergio Rodriguez, Vicar

“Jesus, our technicolor Grace Coat: Lent as our restoration, not privation”

Text: I have set my bow in the clouds…and when the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant…and the waters again shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Gen 9:13-15)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who was in the wilderness with wild beasts and angels ministering to him. Amen.

Amid the rattling of frozen water pipes, the hiss of natural gas, and the sirens of emergency response vehicles, I wondered as I sat my frigid recliner if this artic storm encapsulated the Lenten season; if perhaps the penitential like Pandemic season really needed another penitential like storm. The Spirit traded the harsh heat of the wilderness with the bitter cold and the bitter loneliness of this pandemic time. Instead of being surrounded by wild beasts or angels in ministering, many of us had the company of hungry cats, pampered pooches, and loved ones opening their doors and cupboards. After this forty-day-like week, I could not help but turn to the wise and heartwarming sentiment of Pastor Larson concerning the central feature of our ancient discipline of Lent: “I’ve decided that I’ve given up Lent for Lent because it has been Lent since Last March and not even Jesus wants a redundant Lent…because Lent is dependence on only one thing: grace y’all.” In other words, our forty-day journey that is Lent is a journey in, through and towards grace. For Lent is our restoration and not deprivation. Lent is God’s grace y’all and a grace that intends to endow the world with a type of grace that restores our relationship with God, with each other, every living creature and the earth we stand upon.

When God established his covenant with Noah, his family and the living creatures in the ark, God intended to restore the cosmic order through Noah by putting an end to the deluge; bringing to completion their own forty days, their Lent. Earlier on in the Noah story, God relented of having made humanity and every living thing on account of the widespread evil abounding. The one who made all creatures great and small vowed to blot out from the earth everything he created but preserve only a small remnant; Noah and his wife, their sons Ham, Shem and Japheth and their wives and a small portion of creation in an ark. God favored Noah and promised to establish a covenant with him, his family and creation after the waters of the deluge had brought about intended destruction. So Noah and his family made they ark and went into isolation to endure the forty day and forty night long deluge; a kind of Lenten/social distancing program.

After such a time, God sent forth his recreating spirit to still the chaos of the waters, to re-create anew humanity and every living creature. Upon leaving their self-isolation, God blessed them with fecundity and care; their offspring together with the whole of creation would never again be subject to such a totalizing destruction. To make this promise sure, God set forth a fabulous sign in the heavens as a sign of grace; the type of grace that restores the cosmic order of our lives. “I have set my bow in the clouds….and when the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant…and the waters again shall never become a flood to destroy all flesh.” I wonder if God is seeing that bow now in the clouds of this time, in the torrential downpour that is this pandemic time and artic storm. That promise of God is a promise that God will be true to Godself as our creator, that the chaotic and powerful forces of nature and human intervention will not overwhelm us. For we all stand within the technicolor rays of God’s covenant with Noah, his family and every living thing so that we may radiate outwards towards an environment in need of restoration.

If we stand under such a technicolor sign and radiate God’s grace outward towards the world as our Lenten discipline, then one must wonder the degree to which one refracts such a dazzling grace to the world around us. As a part of my campus ministry and Scriptural Reasoning group, I dialogue with Jewish and Moslem folks often and often we discuss what it means to live out our identity as children of Abraham or in this case children of Noah. Recently as I pondered such a question, I came across an article by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about leadership and righteousness. Rabbi Sacks argued that Noah, as a righteous man, lived into God’s promised covenant by building the ark and saving his family. But such actions, Rabbi Sack’s espoused, did not make his a leader or rather participate in the type of live that brings about restoration. He left the increasing wicked world without any effort to impact it before or during the deluge. Its like a story that the Hassidic sages told when it came to refracting God’s covenant in the world. When frigid temperatures abound, you and your loved ones have two options when it comes to heating yourself: A) you can find a fur coat and wear it. We call this the Tzaddik im Peltz option (a righteous person in a fur coat), Noah was this type of a person or B) you can forgo the fur coat and instead divert your efforts into building a fire for all. In other words, when we build proverbial fires for the world around us, provide water for those with busted pipes, warm shelter for friends and family, advocate for a reliable energy gird, we refract such grace through our bodies, for our bodies, and for the least of these.

When Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit itself magnified God’s grace through Jesus; preparing him for his ministry, for his bitter sufferings and death and resurrection. The spirit drove him into the wilderness not to have a debate on food, or power or wealth but to refract God’s restorative grace for all in the wilderness; for you, for me, for the least of these, for endangered species, for delicate ecosystems. When Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by Satan, Jesus was facing head on all the forces that submerge our world in a deluge of chaos, inequity, and deprivation. When Mark notes that the wild beasts with Jesus and angels were ministering to him, we see the technicolor rays of a world made right again; the wild beasts and angels stand under the sign of the rainbow, the sign that we need to be assured of our own standing in the wilderness. Jesus returns to Galilee radiating the technicolor grace of God in his proclamation; Be Restored to God and Trust in the good news of God’s nearness to us. Through this proclamation, God our creator comes through the person of Jesus to empower us to be like the angels; ministers to and with the least of these, the very land groaning in anticipation for the consummation of all things. For we are surrounded by angels, we unawares, all around us; helpers and ministers to all; firefighters and EMTs, Fast food workers and grocery story stockers, plumbers and electricians, neighbors with cheese and fireplaces.

When I think upon these angels unawares and think upon their technicolor radiance, I find myself turning to the words of Rev. Fred Rogers as a way of understanding Lent as an attentiveness to the restorative grace of God refracted through helpers; “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” We will always find helpers, and there are many helpers in our midst here today for they are refracting the sign of God’s promise to us through Noah and Christ; albeit faintly if only you may perceive and understand. These forty days of Lent, from the wilderness of this time to the rays of the resurrection morn is a time for the stillness of the earth after the rain is gone, cloud loom over the horizon, ground moist with water, storm past, the arc of the rainbow overhead; signaling life, healing, forgiveness, grace. Amen.