Listen to the sermon from Sunday, February 18, 2018, titled “Covenant People” by the Rev. Sarah Macias.
Have you ever taken a house apart and put it back together? That is what Rodney and I have been up to since we were here with you last. And if you don’t have an architect who can double as a marriage therapist, I do not recommend it.
We bought a farm. A place where we plan to spend the rest of our days. When we bought it, there was a one-bedroom structure on the place. An old house – built in 1859 but a shack now. It was the land that we bought though because the house wasn’t worth anything.
We could have torn it down. Maybe should have. But for some strange reason we fell in love with it and we thought it might be worth salvaging.
So, really not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we began – about a year and a half ago.
With the removal of each board there were new discoveries. With the re-leveling of each beam – it’s never going to be perfectly square – we were offered the opportunity for re-assessment. It has felt like a long process. But it is one that we soon came to realize could not be rushed.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent – a brutally honest season that begins with ashes on our foreheads. Even for those who may choose not to participate in that mid-week ritual, no one avoids what the sting of ashes on our heads represents. It is a season well suited to re-assessment and reflection.
Right now, we’re early in this year’s Lenten journey. It can feel like a long road. But at least we do know where we are going, right? I mean, we are the resurrection people! Don’t we qualify for the express lane? Let’s get on with it. These forty days can be so tedious.
But maybe even for the Easter people, we cannot avoid being tossed – like Jesus – into the wilderness of Lent. That is the word that Mark uses. Jesus does not go to the wilderness. The Spirit drives him out – the word could even be translated as “hurled” or “thrown” – not to the edge but into the dead center of the wilderness – for forty long days.
There are new circumstances and events every year that seem to drive us out into the wilderness – some of our choosing and others not – in our world, in our church, in our very lives. And we really do not know, nor perhaps are we expected to know at this point, where God’s call might be leading.
Maybe Lent is the season where there is no call to be somewhere else – it is not the time to hurriedly ask “are we there yet” but rather it is the time to patiently ask ourselves “are we here yet.” Where are we? Who are we?
It can be disorienting when you cannot see your destination. Let us get our bearings. There is no express lane for this journey.
Now, if there ever were a community of creatures – human and nonhuman – who would qualify for an HOV lane, it is surely the residents of the ark. This is a crowded vehicle. They do not know what they are getting into – and with the waters rising, there is now no destination in sight.
Given their new circumstances and events, this is an important forty days. Their very survival depends on how they live together in community.
Some of them must have wondered how they got there. Things had been going so well – in the beginning. In fact, those are the words that had begun their story – “in the beginning.” You see, the Noah story is considered by many to come from the same Priestly source out of which we receive the first chapter of Genesis – when all of creation is considered “very good.”
Scholars identify the different sources – calling them P or J or E – by their different styles of writing and common phrases. So that, if you wanted to play a Bible study game based on this hypothesis and read just the Priestly source in Genesis, you would move from the line that reads “and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God had rested from all the work God had done in creation” – and from there you would go to the very next line on the scroll and begin a new chapter about a man named Noah who “walked with God.”
Walking partners talk to each other – confide in one another. There have been circumstances and events since that “very good” first week of creation that have caused God to confess of a deep sense of regret over creating such a world as this.
But, it had started out so well, hadn’t it? From a formless void God’s wind had swept over the waters. There was Light and Sky and Earth and Seas. Then lights in the skies and living creatures to inhabit the skies and the waters. Followed by land creatures – that’s when we come in – except (is Paul Taylor in the house?) – cattle are mentioned before we are. Twice!
It was never perfect. There is a word for that in Hebrew but that wouldn’t have been quite right. Not perfect. But tov! Yes, that’s the word. Good. Taking a step back and seeing all of it God exclaimed that indeed “it is very good.”
Humankind are made on the same Day as the cattle but we are made in the image of God. We are co-creators – images or reflections of the one who creates order out of chaos.
But, circumstances and events of our doing have caused God to grieve – an indication that perhaps we have forgotten who we are. Instead of co-creating, we have been un-creating.
That is the term Christian Ethics professor Cynthia Moe-Lobeda uses in her book Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. She is convinced that sin and violence are “un-creating” this earth community we all call home. Could it be that the notion of being made “in the image of God” has gone to our heads and resulted in losing our minds?
Perhaps we have failed to realize the interconnected, interdependent, and thoroughly relational aspects of this good and very good creation of which we are a part. How could we have missed the timeless words of prophets such as Martin Luther King Jr. who said that, “All of us are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Professor Moe-Lobeda says “although we do not intend harm, our ways of life are killing people.” She is talking about the morality of our daily choices which affect climate change in all its shapes and forms – its impacts on the most vulnerable but ultimately on all of us. With echoes of the story read this morning, Dr, King states that, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Our very survival depends on how we live together in community.
God’s heart was grieved that we could not see this – even to the point of anger. The truth is that there are cracks in the lectionary – parts of our story that we cannot bear to see but they are there. With the unleashing of the great flood, even God acts out of character temporarily and is guilty, just this once, of un-creating.
Mercifully, it does not take long though for God to look in the mirror, reflect, and reassess. Something happened and God saw the inescapable network of mutuality called earth for what it is. The relational aspects of creation are that away because they are born from the outpouring of this inherently relational God. How could this not be? We are not just the image of God but all of the flesh of the earth has God’s DNA in it. The creatures who inhabit the skies and the waters, the land creatures – and the land itself.
What happened for God to see this? God remembered. And that is what we are called to do in our forty days. We must get our bearings, reassess the compass points of where we are and who we are, and orient ourselves in that direction.
Remembering is the first step which can also lead to re-membering. Picking up the broken pieces and seeing where reconciliation and healing might be possible. That may involve forgiveness. Usually does. Perhaps it is not that we should forgive and forget but remember and forgive.
God shows us how to do this in our story. God remembers and creates or “establishes” something new. Out in the middle of that watery wilderness, in the most radically inclusive gesture of affection possible, God becomes a covenant God and those made in the image of God become covenant people.
God is forever changed. We are forever changed – for it is an eternal covenant – not with Noah (as is commonly misunderstood) but with all flesh that is on the earth.
Covenant is a special category of relationship. Binding on both parties, it molds and maintains the identity of those who live within it – both the original mediators of the covenant and their descendants.
The Alliance of Baptists – of which UBC is affiliated – has taught me a thing or two about Covenant. As you well know, the Alliance was formed in 1987 at a critical time in Baptist life. You could say that there had been chaos over certain issues.
When new movements begin, definitions are important so a founding covenant of principles was carefully drafted as a statement of identity. That is not so unusual. What is remarkable to me is that every business meeting begins with this covenant. We pause to remember first and then we get started.
Where these principles have led has earned the Alliance a reputation for being outspoken. But as covenant people it has brought the first apology from any Baptist organization in the South for the sins of slavery. It has brought passionate support for issues including marriage equality, #Blacklivesmatter, ecological justice, gun-control reform, justice in Palestine, food justice, interfaith dialogue, and more.
And as for hiring policies, with all due respect to my sisters and brothers in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, if the Alliance committed to only an 80 percent welcome in hiring LGBTQ applicants, it would be a clear indication that we had begun un-creating.
Covenants remind us who we are – no matter where we are. There is some co-creating that the world could use, some re-membering that we are able to do, with God’s help – for the words of Desmond Tutu remind us that, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” It is a covenantal relationship in which we are bound – to God – and to all flesh that is on the earth.
This Covenant in our story today is not a Baptist Covenant – not even a Christian Covenant. It is not a nationalistic covenant for any group identified as a chosen people – because all flesh are chosen here – the creatures who inhabit the skies and the waters, the land creatures – and even the land itself.
It is so easy to forget our part of this covenant – forget who we are. God knows that. And God knows that even God needs a reminder. So, there is the rainbow – up in the sky and, in the process of walking together through a wilderness called Lent, right here in this church and in each of you.
God remembers when God steps back and looks at it the whole farm – God remembers when God steps back and looks at it you – in spite of circumstances and events – in spite of imperfections, God re-commits to this creation – to this earth.
Picks up the pieces of the shack that is falling over and creates a home. Could have – maybe should have – torn it down and started over. But for some strange reason has fallen in love with the place and actually considers it – and us – all of us – as salvageable.
This is the good and very good news of the gospel – that through the New Covenant of Jesus Christ – God has actually gotten into the boat with us – in the waters of baptism, in the ashes that began this journey, in the broken pieces of our world, our church, and our very lives – and in whatever it might be that we create together – with God’s help, as co-creators, from the pieces – because that is who we are.