Friday, February 20, 2015

Lent 1 B February 22, 2015

This Lent’s Old Testament readings are about covenants – this week Noah, then Abraham, then Moses and the Ten Commandments.  There are divine covenants and human covenants.  Some of us may live in property covered by deed covenants restricting what we can do including who we can sell to.

          This came up in 1986 when William Rehnquist was nominated to be Chief Justice. Rehnquist was born October 1, 1924 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a grandson of Swedish immigrants. He and died September 3, 2005 as Chief Justice. In 1961 he bought a house in Phoenix, Arizona, with a 1929 deed covenant that it could be sold only to persons of the white race.  The US Supreme Court in a 1948 case from St. Louis, Shelley vs Kraemer, had ruled that such deed covenants could not be enforced at law. Rehnquist moved to Washington in 1969 and bought a summer house in Vermont which had a 1933 deed covenant forbidding sale to anyone of “the Hebrew race.” Justice Rehnquist successfully argued that he did not know of these property covenants and had never agreed to them.

From 1912 on Asheville had a city ordinance restricting where what were then called “colored people” could live. Such deed covenant and other restrictions are fear-based, intended to preserve our neighbors’ property values at the cost of our liberty.

          The Bible has a number of covenants between God and man. God’s covenants seek to restrict human behavior, but not for reasons of fear, rather for reasons of love. God who made us loves us; he sent his son Jesus to set us free from sin and death, to give us a new and abundant life, a life in which we are free to love God and love our neighbors, and love ourselves.

          The story of Noah in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 combines accounts written down over a period of 500 years from about 1000 BC (David) until after the return from exile in Babylon.  Today’s reading includes God’s promise, “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”  The covenant with Noah repeats God’s command recorded in Genesis 1:28, “be fruitful and multiply.” In Genesis 1:29 God gives vegetables and fruit for man to eat. Noah’s covenant adds animal flesh, but human life is sacred. We are all made in God’s image, and God calls us to protect and support one another. The sign of this covenant with Noah, and “with every living creature” is the rainbow.

          Many cultures have flood stories. A large asteroid seems to have struck in the Indian Ocean between India and Arabia about 2900 B.C. -  about the time we find writing worldwide.  The stories have in common the flood as a supernatural punishment for wrongdoing, the saving of a few people, and a fresh start for human culture. Our flood story includes God’s promise, God’s agreement, God’s covenant with us.

          Today’s Epistle tells us the terms of our new covenant in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. As Noah was saved by the flood, so baptism in water saves us by joining our lives to the life of Jesus. We are drowned in water and raised to new life in Jesus. Jesus makes us part of his resurrected body. He guides and directs our conscience by his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and power.

          In his 40 days of temptation after his baptism, Jesus relied on the truth and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I pray that this Lent – and in all our lives – we also may rely on that same truth and power given us in God’s new covenant in Jesus.

          The covenant on land was restrictive, based on fear. God’s new covenant is with God’s own people and gives new life in Jesus. Thanks be to God!   

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Last Epiphany B February 14, 2015

          Three points: (1) St. Valentine, (2)  Trans-figuration in the life of the church and the life of Jesus, and (3) transfiguration in our spiritual lives.

          First, in the florists, candy, and greeting card calendar today is St. Valentine’s day.  Valentine comes from the Latin word valens – worthy, strong, powerful. Valentine was a popular name in late antiquity. Three St. Valentines are associated with Rome and with February 14.  St. Valentine is connected with human love is in late medieval romance literature including Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 1300’s.  Another connection with human love may come from the weather.  Asheville and the Mediterranean are on the same parallel. The worst of winter is over.  We have time for weddings before the prohibition of Lent. 

Second, in the church calendar this Last Sunday after Epiphany is one of the turning points in the church year.  The church year is an ellipse around the fixed date of Christmas and the movable date of Easter. Next Wednesday Ash Wednesday, then 40 days plus Sundays of Lent, Easter April 5, then 50 days including Sundays of celebration until Pentecost, then 6 months until Advent and Christmas.  In the 1960’s a revision of the Roman Catholic calendar assigned the Transfiguration gospel to the Sunday before Lent, replacing three Sundays of Pre-Lent (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquegesima). Pre-Lent began about 550 with prayer that God would spare Rome a spring raid by the Lombards. Once Charlemagne defeated the Lombards in 775 people began to celebrate in Carnivals.  

           The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had been baptized by John and tempted. He preached and healed, called the disciples and taught them about God’s coming kingdom. The disciples, sent out with power and authority to preach and heal, came back rejoicing. Jesus saw they were ready to enter more fully into their calling. So one day when they were alone he asked them, “Who do men say that I am?” They told them the many things they had heard people say about him. Then Jesus asked them a question each one of us has to answer for ourselves, “And who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ of God.” Jesus told them plainly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and on the 3rd day be raised.” They didn’t understand. Even Peter rebuked Jesus, “God forbid Lord; this shall never happen to you.” Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan.” 

          Then Jesus was called up the mountain, and as he was praying his appearance changed and even his clothing became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared, Moses through whom God had given the Law, the sign of the covenant, and Elijah the first of the prophets through whom God had called Israel back to the glory of obedience, prophets through whom God had worked many miracles.  Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his death and resurrection God way to establish his kingdom through his church forever.

          From the cloud came the voice of God, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”  On Sinai God spoke in thunder and lightning to the people of Israel. On the same mountain he spoke to Elijah in the still small voice. We are not told what tone of voice God used at the Transfiguration, but the disciples heard and obeyed.  From the Transfiguration Jesus’ face was resolutely set toward Jerusalem, toward death and resurrection. The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry.  

          Jesus’ death on the cross sets us free from the power of sin. Jesus’ resurrection is our assurance of new life. In baptism we are made members of the body of Christ and by the same Holy Spirit who  came on the disciples at Pentecost we are given power to lead transfigured lives.

          In Genesis we learn that we are made in the image of God. But God’s image is marred by our willful separation from God. We inherit from our first ancestors the desire to be like God. The story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent is a parable of our wanting to be like God, and of the bad consequences when we want to do it our way.  Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to be like God in his way. 

          Lent can be a time when we can focus our spiritual attention on showing God’s image in us.  The Transfiguration can be a turning point in our lives as it was in the life of Jesus and his disciples, as it is remembered in the church year.  Let me end with some questions.

What are your turning points? Have you come to the place in your life where you are ready to make, or to make again, your own covenant with Jesus, where you are ready to receive the love Jesus has for you and commit your life to him in the fellowship of Jesus’ body the church?  We all have to do that once, and then repeat as needed.          
Have you received his love and committed your life to Jesus and now feel the call to move to new and hard and active trust in his forgiveness and new life? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to turn loose and trust to his love?

          The penitential season of Lent offers us opportunity for worship, fellowship, and study so we may grow in our new life in Christ. Jesus and his disciples turned at the Transfiguration to death and resurrection.  May God grant us grace to turn and turn again to him in worship, love, and service.