Relent

Homily for the Cathedral Church of All Saints, Halifax, Novas Scotia

Preached on 18 February 2018 on the First Sunday of Lent, Year B

Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15

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In the Name of One God: + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It seems that when we journey through Lent, we can spend so much time on the issues of what we are going to give up. I wonder if this sometimes gets in the way of remembering where we are going. If we forget where we are going, we become more like the world and less like the people that God calls us to be.

Lent reminds us that the journey involves both how we live and what we do as members of a community that follows the Way of Jesus. Notice that, embedded within the word community, is the word unity. We find our unity in God, the One who is our ultimate destination.

Before Constantine, Lent was a period of fasting and final preparations for those being received into the community of believers by baptism and confirmation. Those preparing for the Christian life did so within the unity of the community. After the legalization of Christianity by the Edict of Milan in 313, all Jesus followers could then publicly join in the annual season of Lent. They did so by relenting to God during a period of deep reflection and prayer, penance and reconciliation. And, Lent reminds us that, through God’s eyes, all are redeemable.

By fasting and repenting, we intentionally turn away from the ways of the world to the ways of God. We relent to God. We focus on that space within us that is designed to be God’s dwelling place. And, we renew our own commitment to God and the Church.

Needlework by Sacristan Maureen Yeats
The high altar at The Cathedral Church of All Saints, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Lent, 2018. Needlework by Sacristan Maureen Yeatts.

We do so here in this Cathedral, in unity with this community. We do so alongside thoseamong us who are now preparing for baptism and confirmation. They will be received into our community at the first service of Easter, the Easter Vigil that will take place Saturday, March 31.

So, the Season of Lent is a time that reminds us that when we follow Christ, we relent to God’s will for our lives and God’s will for the world. We turn away from our own ways.

Does it sound like I’m repeating myself? Good! I am. I don’t think that it can be said often enough, and so I am going to say it again. Lent is a period within the Church where we are reminded to live our lives relenting to God’s desire for relationship with us. We are reminded to relent to God’s desire for our restoration. We find our restoration in unity through community in the name of Christ in the Church.

How do we know that God desires a relationship with us? How do we know that God cares about restoring us? Today’s reading from Genesis gives us a clue.

God’s sign, the bow set in the clouds, is God’s signature on the bottom line of God’s covenantal, God’s contract with every living creature. “I will never destroy future generations of living creatures …the waters shall never again destroy all flesh,” says God.

Notice the unity that includes all living creatures in the community of God’s creation. “I will never destroy living creatures.” These words from God are words of love and of life.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that God’s covenant following the great flood is a turning point. Noah and his family were saved by water. We are saved through water. Now God is flooding us with God’s fidelity God’s faithfulness. It is God’s faithfulness that is the antidote to the world’s craziness. God is inviting you and me to a life of sanity within the world’s insanity. Brueggemann continues that “we are [now] flooded with the gifts of neighborliness…we are now flooded with peaceful possibility…we are [now] flooded with fruitfulness…”[1]

How does knowing God’s faithfulness make a difference to you? Last Sunday afternoon in our Brown Bag Lunch Conversation about being community being part of a unity of believers someone said: “I find myself wondering how people function in the world without a relationship with God — without faith, without hope.”

This comment came as folks began to share moments in their own lives when God made all of the difference to them when they knew that they were not alone when they knew that they were cared for and loved beyond their wildest imaginations in their particular moments of human vulnerability. That was Sunday.

Then, Ash Wednesday came. As I was preparing to come here for the evening service, I first learned of the tragedy that was unfolding at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And, as I was leaving here the details began to emerge from that awful situation. It occurred to me, that what happened in Florida is an extreme example of how people function in the world without a relationship with God. God’s invitation to us, as Brueggemann suggests, is an invitation to a life of sanity within the world’s insanity. This life of sanity in God is our deepest truth.

In today’s Gospel, we hear how the life of Jesus bears witness to this truth. Notice how the same waters that once destroyed most living creatures have now become the waters of baptism that name Christ as God’s own beloved. Yet, even God’s beloved son was driven to the desert to be a witness for God in the midst of the insanity of this world.

I know this to be true first hand. I learned it the hard way. It was when I was a child that I sensed God’s call to ordained ministry. And, I promised God that I would do this. Yet, as I grew up, this call and promise really didn’t make much sense. The world’s insanity told me all sorts of things about myself that were contrary to our Baptismal promises. And, what I was told gave me alI kinds of excuses for not making good on my promise. Eventually, however, I exhausted myself with these excuses and the world’s falsehoods. My promise caught up with me. When I finally relented and fully entered the process in the Church that I am now in, I discovered the deepest truths and the sanity of the message of God that I am sharing with you today.

Up to two and a half years ago, I didn’t know that my journey toward, God-willing, ordination, would bring me to Canada. Canada wasn’t even on my mind. But, when I heard and responded to go where the relationship would take me, even when it didn’t make sense from the world’s point of view…well, this is how I’ve come to be before you today.

We need to be honest with one another. The honest truth is this. We don’t really know all of the places that our relationship with God may take us. But, I can tell you this. As our Lenten journey will show, God is our ultimate destination.

What I most want you to take away today is this. Like Jesus, you, too are God’s beloved. God is well pleased with you. This does not mean that you will avoid the world’s insanity. But, I believe it means what God promises. God did not create you to destroy you. God is with you. God loves you. God acts beside and within you.

May we all be encouraged by these deep, deep truths. May we relent God this Lent, praying together: Holy One, you who hate nothing that you have made, hold us to the hope of Your covenant to all of creation – unity within community –  that, immersed in Your faithfulness, we may ever wander through this life certain that You are our source and our destination. Amen.

[1]     Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Louisville: WJK, 2017), 16-17.