Word of the Week

Promises in the Night Lent Sermon Series

I Will Remember You: Genesis 9: 8-17 with Mark 14:10-21

Can you remember the last time you got forgotten, left out of something you should have been included in or felt altogether betrayed by someone you trusted?Anyone experience such this week? There can be no more lonely feeling when someone acts without concern for your feelings, especially in a public forum.

And, if we were to take time this morning and share such stories, all of our tales would be different. But, there would be one thing in common and that is, we all have "I was not remembered" stories. Somehow being mistreated by those who love us most happens to be part of what it means to be human-- a world where all is not as it should be.

And, certainly Jesus-- as we examine his life as it was lived here on earth-- 100% identifies with us in his shared humanity. Though he was called, "Emmanuel, God with us," Jesus was not a man immune from some of life's deepest pains of betrayal.  He certainly knew what it was like to feel left out.

In the gospel lesson we heard read at the beginning of the service this morning, taken from Mark 14, we read of one such moment in Jesus' life when he experienced a great loss. And it is in the moment  of our text that we begin to see Jesus' dark night of the soul unfold.

For three years of learning, of traveling and of serving alongside of him, Jesus particularly chose each companion for the journey. No choice was random. No choice was made without care. No choice came from Jesus simply picking just anybody he saw when he woke up one morning.  No, there was a greater plan. Each disciple came to the super 12 dream team with just the right gifts for the tasks at hand. And most of all, when Jesus called each, he loved each one. He loved them so much that he desired to take the time to invest in their lives in a deep way.  In particular, with the disciple, Judas, Jesus trusted him enough to make him the chair of the finance committee-- a great responsibility.

And it would be Judas, a leader among the group,who went to the chief priests and promised to help plot Jesus' death. (And we all know that dreadful things can happen when money and power begin to mix). No loyalty. No remorse. No gratitude for all that Jesus had done for him. Simply, Judas, a close friend would betray him. Therefore, Jesus' last supper with his followers, a meal that we remember and celebrate to this day, would become tainted by Jesus' words of, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me-- one who is eating with me."

Hear this: Jesus did not even get his last supper in peace-- even death row prisoners get better than this! Judas-- not a naysayer in the crowd, not a haughty religious teacher, not even a Roman solider, but one of Jesus' beloved sitting around his supper table turned against him. Betrayal ran deep. It was a dark night. It was a very dark night indeed for Jesus.

Over the course of the next couple Sundays throughout the season of Lent, we're going to sit with Jesus in some of these very dark moments. We'll do this to see what we all can uncover about the "nights" in our lives too. 

We began this conversation, if you were able to make it, almost two weeks ago at our Ash Wednesday service. We began by sitting in the darkness. Realizing that as we turned out the lights and sat in the pitch dark, past sun down, that even in a sanctuary with little natural light-- there was still light. Even if light was faint or seemingly small-- light was still with us.

With this metaphor as a guide for us today and for the next couple of weeks, let's ask ourselves, as we sit with Jesus in this moment of betrayal, is there any hope for us in such similar experiences? Or are there times in our lives when we are simply screwed and without hope at all?

Using our Old Testament lesson as our "promise text" for today, let's uncover how in the most desperate of life-destroying places, we serve a God who says to us always, "I will remember you."

What we get as we dive into the lection taken from Genesis 9, is the happy ending of a story which I believe most of us know.  When I say, Noah you say, "ark?" Right? If we spend any time in church as children, the Noah story is one that we most certainly learn if not from popular culture or even the recent movie, Evan Almighty.

In the "kids version" of this Bible tale, we learn that God loved Noah and though he was going to send a flood to destroy the whole world, Noah and family would receive protection.  Not only was Noah's family saved, but 2 by 2 of every living creature. For their salvation, they all piled into the ark the length of several football fields that Noah and his sons had built for this grand adventure of faith. It's a sweet story about God's love for those who love him back. The end, right?

Well, the more you and I really dig into this text, the more, I can imagine that you'd say like me that Noah is no Bible story for kids. It's no Bible story that is all about the beautiful murals that we paint on church nurseries. Genesis 6-8 are chapters of the Bible that we should actually place age limit on before teaching it. For within, it's a pretty scary tale of divine anger, abuse, destruction and eventually of new beginnings-- if we can stomach it long enough to get to the end.

And this is the real story: for much as creation began with God's desire to "make man in God's own image" and to be in relationship with a beloved creation called man and woman-- things did not go as planned in those early years of the earth. God wasn't very happy. No, God was not happy at all.

No need to watch soap operas, for in fact, Genesis 3 through 6, gives you all the juicy drama you need of creation not exactly respecting their Creator. Man began to hate woman. Woman began to hate man. Sons became jealous of one another and lives were taken in anger.  Everyone on the earth began to do what was right in their own eyes. God's grand plan of peace, harmony and love all was awry. You could say in fact, that God felt betrayed. What God expected from humanity, what God longed for in humanity simply was not.

And, so we see God becoming angry-- a view of God that we often don't like to admit or even talk about is there-- saying to Noah in Genesis 6:13, "I am going to put end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them."

Yes, we read of a very direct God who wants creation gone. It was not a game. No, not a game at all. We hear words of regret that creation happened at all by our Creator."What a mess has come of my world! Why did I need humanity in the first place?" God says. Scary words, if you ask me.

And, so the flood waters come and they come. And, after the 40 days and nights of rain, we learn that only Noah, his family and the ark full of animals is left on the earth.  But this is the grace: the flood becomes the re-creation moment for God to get the do-over.  God is up for trying again.

Theologian Elizabeth Webb writes this about the state of things after the flood waters begin to reside, saying this: "All of creation is given a new beginning, a new opportunity to live in the harmony that God intended. Note, however, that this new beginning is also a continuation; God does not create new beings, but begins anew with a remnant of the beings created in the beginning."

And these are the new beginning words scripture tells us came from God in verse 8 of Genesis chapter 9, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals and everything animal of the earth with you. . . . I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

And so an agreement between two parties (God and humanity) for  God not do something ever again is established.  We call this agreement a covenant. And, while there will be other covenant giving moments as the story of scripture goes with folks like Abraham, it is important to note here how unique and special this particular covenant was. And, not for the obvious reasons of this covenant coming with a sign-- a rainbow in the sky-- but because of what was asked of humanity in this covenant making story.

And the answer is nothing. God asks man and woman to do nothing in return as this covenant was made. God will do all the work. It's not a conditional covenant, an "if/ then" promise that we will see later on in the history of the nation of Israel, but with Noah and all of us-- it is an eternal covenant. The "I will never send a flood to destroy the earth again" promise is a statement that God is making and says will be kept forever. Forever.

Hear this again, only God has a responsibility. Only God.  Which is a another way of God saying to all of us, "Ok, human beings, in my effort to be in relationship with you in the future, I am not going to go the route of total destruction again. I am going to work with you. I am going to be with you. And no matter how many different ways I have to try and no matter how suborned and disobedient you become toward me, I am going to keep at it. I am going to keep pursing you. Why? Because I love you. And, I won't let you go."

Several weeks ago, as several of you might know from reading my blog, I sat glued to the television set for four hours as singer Whitney Houston's funeral went on and on. In this "world goes to church" sort of experience CNN broadcasted the entire service without commercial interruption. As the memorial came to a close as a family friend, Marvin Winans, offered a homily. Though I struggled to follow his train of thoughts at points, one message of he offered mourners has stuck with me ever since. In referring to some words of the Apostle Paul when he writes that God shall supply all of our needs according to God's riches and glory in Christ Jesus-- Pastor Winans says, God is telling you today, just as he told Whitney over and over in her life, "I've got this." "I've got this and so you don't have to worry about the rest." Just trust me. "I've got this."

And, I think in many ways, this is what God was saying to all humanity in the covenant making of the rainbow-- "I've got this. I promise you. I will stay in relationship with you my beloved children no matter what." Every time you look up at the sky and see a rainbow, know that "I've got this."

What balm, then this is to our weary selves who are sitting in the dark, crawling in the dark, wandering in the dark if God had lost God's mind-- like I'm sure Noah and family felt as they de-boarded the ark that day. That to us, that to all of us, God promises this eternal good: "I will be in relationship with you. I will remember you, no matter what."

It's hard to accept such a light into the dark parts of our lives, isn't it? Because it is rare if ever that we receive such a gift of a promise kept that we are remembered, that we are loved,  that we are seen  even when it feels that everyone else has tossed us away and thrown us aside. Even our most beloved friends and family sometimes turn their backs on us. If it happened to Jesus, it most certainly will happen to us.

But, "I will remember you" is the promise that God offers us today-- a promise as bright as a radiant rainbow on an afternoon of summer rain. It's a promise that no matter how abandoned we feel, no matter how dead our most important dreams seem, and no matter how dense the fog is around us that we couldn't possibly even stand without help-- God will remember us.

God will guide us to light. And, no we are not going to have to stay in the darkness forever. For we serve a God made known through Jesus Christ-- who too once cried out from the cross, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" and rose to life on the third day.

And, what a gift to our Lent waiting in the dark this year. Because if you know anything about the dark nights of betrayal-- often it is at these low points of our own lives that we can't even fathom moving an inch. But, we need not worry. God is with us and says what? "I will remember you."

Today we have the opportunity to eat of this supper that the Lord persevered through-- even as it was that night for Jesus that a friend became an enemy-- and eat of the bread and drink of the cup, that our Lord drank. For we are remembered forevermore.

Let us taste and see that the Lord is good as we go to the table.