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Lent 1 February 18, 2018 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
LENT 1 Year B
Genesis 9:8-17; Ps. 25:1-9; I Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, February 18, 2018
The Rev. Janet Campbell
Ever since the Spirit of God
moved over the waters of chaos
and brought the world into being,
God has been writing a story,
a story of an achingly beautiful creation,
a garden of peace and delight,
rivers and streams and waterfalls and oceans,
animals, birds, insects, fish,
          in great variety
          for fascination and enjoyment,
and plants of every kind
          for beauty and for food . . .
All placed in the care, the stewardship,
of the human creatures
God made from the dust of the earth,
made for lives of freedom and love,
companionship and joy,
one in love with their Creator.
A beautiful, peaceable kingdom.

But as happens to many an author,
God’s characters
took on a life of their own
and ran amok with the plot.
By the time of Noah,
the earth had become
so corrupted
by human negligence, wickedness and violence
that God decided to start over.
Noah and his family
and two of every living creature
would be the seeds of a new beginning,
a new planting,
a new garden.
And so
God returned the earth
to the watery chaos out of which God had brought it,
washing away all that was evil.
In the eight persons
and the two of every living creature
who passed through
          the waters of the flood,
the human race and
the birds and animals and insects were saved,
          but at what suffering, what cost?

For aside from the
ark-full of creatures
every other living thing
on the face of the earth perished.
And God’s heart must have broken.
For it’s God’s nature
to create,
not destroy.
And so
God promised
never again
to take such a drastic measure . . .
never again to wash away
all life from the earth,
never again,
never again.
When the waters receded,
the people and the animals
and every living thing
spread out from the ark
          over the face of the earth,
flourishing and filling it with life.

just as before,
the human characters,
not satisfied with what God had given them,
took over God’s story,
re-writing it according to their own selfish desires.
But God kept the promise God had made.
Never again did God send a flood
to wash the earth clean.
God would find another way
to restore God’s beautiful creation.
In a quite different
          drastic measure,
God came into the world,
God’s own self,
          in Jesus,
the author
becoming one of the characters,
born into the story
          just as we are.
He was baptized in the
waters of the Jordan River,
tempted in the wilderness,
and returned
proclaiming the nearness
          of the kingdom of God.

We were his own,
he came to us,
and we rejected him.
He took on
all that was going awry in us,
carried our sin
through heartbreak and suffering
          to the cross
and with him into death.
And by his resurrection
          defeated sin and death.
He was the firstborn
          of God’s new creation.
Ever after,
the followers of Jesus
are born into that new creation
by a ritual death,
a drowning
in the waters of chaos,
the waters of creation,
the waters over which
          the Spirit of God still moves . . .
the waters of baptism
through which we pass
          into a deepening life with God.

If this sounds like a children’s story,
what can I say . . .
I was once a children’s book editor . . .
but it is a children’s story
for we are God’s children,
and the story is ours,
a coming of age story,
the story of a loving God
and a beautiful people
          made in God’s image . . .
but infected by a fatal desire
to be the authors of our own lives,
to write the story ourselves
and make of it what we prefer,
          without reference to God.
Lent is the season
of reminding ourselves
          that just doesn’t work . . .
the season
of confronting
          the mess we’ve made
of the story
                   God is trying to write . . .
the hurt and damage we’ve done
          to ourselves, each other, the creation.

We can’t un-write our sins,
but we can repent of them,
turn away from them,
find our way back to God
          and God’s forgiveness,
place ourselves and our lives
          once more into the hands
                   of the author of all creation,
                   the author of our salvation.
And grow up
          into the story.
Lent is the church’s springtime,
the time of refreshment and renewal,
for the greening of our spirits
          as the greening of the earth begins.
One of our parishioners
said she was thinking of Lent this year
as Spring Training . . .
a time of intentional
shaping and toning and disciplining
our spiritual muscles
          for the work of the kingdom . . .

of paying attention
to spiritual practices
          that re-form and strengthen us
                   and grow us up,
so that, as the Lent preface
          for the Eucharistic prayer says,
“Fervent in prayer and in works of mercy
and renewed by God’s Word and Sacraments
we may grow toward the fullness of grace
          that God has prepared for us.”               
                                                          (2nd proper preface for Lent, BCP p. 379)
Grow in grace
that we may better fulfill
          the vocation God intends for us –
to be co-authors with God
                   of the new creation.
That we might have the humility to pray,
“Show me your ways, O God,
and teach me your paths,
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
          guide me in doing right.”
This, of course,
is what Jesus came to do . . .
show us the way
          to the Kingdom,
and give us the strength and courage
          to walk it.

Our Lenten spring training
takes us to our annual appointment
with Holy Week,
when we enter
into the story of Jesus
          as he entered into ours.
The story that unfolds
in the liturgy
of the Triduum,
the Sacred Three Days:
          Maundy Thursday,
          Good Friday,
          Holy Saturday.
In word and ritual action and sacrament
we walk with Jesus
the meaning
          of our baptism
into his death and resurrection:
service, self-offering, sacrifice . . .
daily dying to the old life
and daily rising,
          a new creation in the risen Christ,
coming finally to
the waters of the Great Vigil of Easter,
waters of chaos,
waters of creation,
waters over which
          the Spirit of God still hovers
waters of baptism
and baptismal renewal.
Lent’s time of repentance and return,
the ritual actions of the great liturgy
          of Holy Week’s Sacred Three Days
the celebration of the Easter feast . . .
This is how
we put ourselves
into the hands
of the author of the story
the story of our
God’s work in us
is of course not limited to
or controlled by
the Church’s calendar.
But there is ageless wisdom,
emotional, psychological, spiritual . . .
in the rhythm of the seasons of the Church year . . .
God’s wisdom.
Ageless wisdom . . .
emotional, psychological, spiritual . . .
in the words and actions of our liturgy . . .
God’s wisdom.
Ageless wisdom  . . .
emotional, psychological, spiritual . . .
in the communal nature of Lent,
knowing we are in this season together,
bound together throughout these weeks
          of spring training
by the shared experience and practice
of our Sunday mornings,
by the Word proclaimed and sung, the prayers, the meal . . .    
Today, at the 10:30 liturgy,
we were going
to enroll members of our community
who are preparing to celebrate
the Sacraments of Initiation in Easter.
But due to snowy roads,
sudden work schedule changes,
the flu,
and the vagaries of human existence,
we need to postpone
their enrollment until next Sunday.
As we will pray with and for them
each Sunday
through Lent and into Easter
we are reminded by their journey
          of our own,
of God’s loving call to each of us
to open to renewal
          and transformation of life.

Even though our liturgical practice
each year
is essentially the same . . .
the rites in the Book of Common Prayer . . .
every Holy Week is different . . .
unique to that year, these people, this moment,
these needs, that situation, this struggle,
this compelling concern.
There is ageless wisdom
in this adventure story
that God is writing . . .
the greatest adventure there is . . .
the adventure of a lifetime
in which we get to participate every year . .
life ever transforming with the risen Christ . .
May we not miss our appointment.
And to make sure
we don’t miss it,
let us now be reminded
of exactly when it is:

[Reading of the Proclamation Scroll of 2018)
In the Year of Our Lord 2018
Palm Sunday,
when we commemorate
       the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem
              will be March 25
Maundy Thursday,
when we commemorate
       the institution of the Lord’s Supper
              will be March 29
Good Friday,
when we commemorate
       the Lord’s passion and death
              will be March 30
Great Vigil of Easter,
when we celebrate that great liturgy
of darkness and light,
       fire and water,
       dying and rising,
       and the first Eucharist of Easter,
              will be Holy Saturday evening, March 31

Easter Day,
that great festival day,
the Day of Resurrection,
       will be April 1   (no fooling!)
Holy Week. God is calling us
to the adventure of a lifetime!
In the words of the ancient Church:
Be there . . . or . . . be square!