The First Sunday of Lent – February 22, 2015
Two of the great fears we have lived with since ancient times: the fear of flood – of the water rising up to our necks, and still farther, until there is no place to go, no place to take refuge above that which would drown us; and the fear of wilderness – of being lost and unprotected, exposed to the elements, the wild beasts, to whatever is out there.
Think of the tone of those news reports during Hurricane Katrina, and more recently, Hurricane Sandy. The chaos, as the waves hit the shoreline and destroyed it. I still remember, this many years later, the front-page photo of a section of highway outside of Slidell, Louisiana, that I had driven less than a year before. The highway was still there, but in pieces – broken apart, in segments.
And think of the news stories of all those children and teenagers last summer, who had fled their lives in Honduras and other countries, walking through the desert to get to the United States. Think of those stories of their being lost, of being exposed to coyotes who would do them harm, of being thirsty, and hungry, of not knowing where to go, or where they would go once they made it – if they made it – across the border, to what they hoped was safety.
These two great fears find a foothold in the stories from our scripture today. In Genesis, the flood has already happened. God, the powerful creator of all that exists, is fed up with all that exists. So he destroys it. Almost. And this is totally in keeping with ancient understandings of who and what God is. The people who would have set these texts down were inheritors of the belief that God is both just and all-powerful. So when creation disappoints the divine heart, “the one who created all things and stands as judge over all things, is entitled to destroy all things.” The unusual thing here is the “almost” – and what comes next. Because God does not destroy all creation. Instead, God practices restraint rather than annihilation, places limits on the divine power. Noah and his family and all those two by two by two by two of the species they have collected – they live. Not only that, but God makes a promise with all those people and all the creation that lives, and all those who will come after, that God will not destroy again.
In Mark’s gospel, just as soon as Jesus comes up out of the waters (which have not drowned him), the heavens split open, and a dove descends, and a voice says, “You are my son, the beloved.” And then immediately the Spirit (the Spirit?) pushes Jesus out into the wilderness, the desert, for forty days. There, Jesus is tempted by the devil. And, it says, there are wild beasts.
These are two fearful moments, carved into our memory as a people: the chaos, as those waters rise; the vulnerability of exposure in the wild.
And two promises, as well: not that there wouldn’t be chaos or exposure in our lives and in the life we share (spoiler alert: there have been, and there will be). But instead the promise that God would not destroy us; and the promise that there is no place where we will go – not desert, not wilderness – where God has not already gone, and goes with us still.
Today we welcome six confirmands, together with your mentors, to step forward and receive the prayers of this community, and to receive the inherited prayers of who we are as Church. It’s fitting that these are the stories and the promises we hear today: that chaos will come, and that God will not destroy; that we will wander in desert places, and that God travels with us there.
Today and in these months ahead we will ask you to remember who you are as baptized people, and to remind us as well. We will ask you to continue the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, which, as Bp. Lee says, really means we will ask you to come to church; because none of us can do this on our own. We will ask you to join us in lives of service, remembering Jesus’ call to feed people who are hungry, to shelter people who don’t have homes to live in. And we will ask you to wonder about and explore the gifts that God has given you as the unique people God has created you to be, asking how you will use those gifts generously to make this world more loving and kind.
In the Episcopal Church and in other traditions, confirmation has sometimes been treated as graduation from church. I ask you to look at it a different way. I ask you to see this process as something much more than a rite of passage. Instead, I charge you to take your place in this church you belong to, this church that belongs to you. Because, as I say from time to time, life is short, and we do not have too much time. Because there’s too much at stake in your life, in the life we share, and in the life of this world we inherit.
Because God’s promises are steadfast – that God will not destroy, that God is present when we feel lost. And still, the chaos is real; still, the wilderness is dangerous. Our President met this week with leaders from around the world. They’re floundering as they try to stop terrorists who want to destroy, who want to bring about the end of this world. The chaos is real. And our news is filled to the point we almost don’t notice it anymore with stories of refugees who are wandering in desert wilderness toward what they hope but don’t know will be safety – in the US, in Italy, in Germany, in Turkey, in Jordan…in so many other places that I can’t keep track. That wilderness is dangerous.
And we need you. We need us. We need faithful people who come together and pray for a world that knows chaos and danger, and trusts in a God whose promise is bigger than those, and steadfast. We need faithful people who feed each other, who offer shelter and refuge. We need faithful people with the muscle and grit and resilience and practice to share their gifts generously, making this world something more than it would be without us.
This is the promise of your baptism. Not that you or we would be insulated in some kind of divine bubble wrap that protects us from chaos and danger. We haven’t been, you won’t be. The promise of baptism is that God is bigger. The promise is that we have each other, and that we will lean in, together. The promise is that God is faithful to the covenant God has established with us, and with those who came before, and with all those who will follow – that finally, God will not destroy…that there is no place, finally, where God is not.
 David Lose. “Genesis 9: Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2, David Brown and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 29.