First Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2011

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Second Sunday in Easter, Year A May 1, 2011 Second Sunday of Easter, Year A Acts 2:14a, 22-32, I Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
Easter Sunday April 24, 2011 Easter Day, 2011 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18
Good Friday April 22, 2011 Good Friday John 18:1-19:42
Maundy Thursday, April 21, 2011 April 21, 2011 Maundy Thursday 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011 April 17, 2011 Palm Sunday Mathew 27
Fifth Sunday in Lent – Raising of Lazarus April 10, 2011 Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45
Fourth Sunday in Lent April 3, 2011 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A John 9:1-41; Psalm 23
Second Sunday in Lent, Year A March 20, 2011 Second Sunday in Lent, Year A Genesis 12: 1-4a; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3: 1-17, Psalm 121
First Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2011 March 13, 2011 First Sunday in Lent, Year A Matthew 4:1-11, Romans 5:12-19, Romans 8:18-25
Ash Wednesday Sermon March 9, 2011 Ash Wednesday Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Last Sunday After Epiphany March 6, 2011 Last Sunday after Epiphany Matthew 17:1-9
Don’t Worry About Tomorrow February 27, 2011 Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 49:8-16a; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Choose Life February 13, 2011 Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
We are the Salt of the Earth February 6, 2011 Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Matthew 5:13-20, Isaiah 58:1-12
Shalom January 30, 2011 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Matthew 5:1-12

 

First Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2011

Sermon Date:March 13, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11, Romans 5:12-19, Romans 8:18-25

Liturgy Calendar: First Sunday in Lent, Year A


Last Friday afternoon in Japan, the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s recorded history struck 230 miles northeast of Tokyo.

A gigantic and ferocious tsunami thirty three feet high followed. 

Now comes news of the possible meltdown of one of the world’s largest nuclear reactors.

Untold numbers of people are dead and missing. 

As we mourn at the tragic loss of life in Japan, we are left wondering.

Was such a destructive act of nature God’s will, or as the insurance companies call natural disasters, “an act of God?

Are such tragic events part of God’s divine plan?

In light of what we know about God, how are we, as Christians to respond to tragedies, not only of this magnitude, but to the personal tragedies that haunt us throughout our lives on this earth?

And what are we to believe about God?

According to the prophet Ezekiel, in Chapter 18, verse 2, God says “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone.  Turn, then, and live.” 

James Wallace, a Catholic theologian and preacher, and one of the readers for my master’s thesis, makes the point that in the face of natural disasters of this magnitude, and I would add, to our own  tragedies, our first task as the body of Christ is to lament and to mourn for the human suffering that disasters cause, in solidarity with those who are suffering through the loss of relatives, material goods, and the loss of certainty. 

But we can’t lament and mourn forever.

How then do we turn and live, even when we face desperation and weariness and uncertainty and death in our own lives? 

How do we trust in God, knowing that destruction and death are ongoing parts of life on this earth?

Wallace suggests that a period of mourning needs to be followed by remembering our story–“remembering what God has done in the past, trusting that God is with us now in the present, and living in a hope rooted in God’s promise to be faithful in the future” (84, Wallace, All Your Waves Swept Over Me)

The same God that created the earth’s shifting teutonic plates  is the God that went before the Israelites “as a cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night.” 

The same God that created the raging ocean is the God that leads us beside the still waters, restores our souls, who goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death. 

The same God that gave us the intricate beauty of the creation all around us in addition to everything we need to live through the abundance of creation, is the one who gave us the free gift that we hear about in Romans today, the free gift “in the grace of one man, Jesus Christ,” and this free gift is for everyone.

This is Jesus, the one we see hanging on the cross, having commended his spirit to God.  “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” 

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise to be faithful in the future.

As Paul tells us, “one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” 

Life—even in the face of death.

As I’ve said before, we live in a time of now, and not yet.  None of us has been completed, and all of creation awaits its ultimate fulfillment. 

In Romans, Chapter 8, Paul describes this waiting time.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

“For the creation waits with eager longing…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the glory of the children of God.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now….just as we groan inwardly while we wait for adoption the redemption of our bodies.

“ For in hope we are saved.”

Hope.

Hope travels with us, like a bird on the wing, through this season of Lent. 

Even as we hear the words “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” as ashes are imposed on our foreheads at the beginning of this season,

And we know that ash can be death dealing—think of all those people entombed in ash at Pompeii–

We also know that ash is a fertile material, from which new life springs up, that crops grow well in soil that contains ash. 

So we find ourselves hoping that even in the death and destruction of this present time, new life will come.

Nancy de Flon says that people who survive incredibly harrowing circumstances are the ones who go through the ordeal with an attitude of hope.

Debbie Kiley and her shipmate Brad Cavanagh, who along with three others whose yacht sank in a hurricane, survived five days on the high seas in a dinghy by “disciplining themselves into a positive mental attitude,” while their three companions “succumbed to derangement and eventually to sharks.” 

The two who survived had hope. 

Aron Ralston’s arm became trapped by a falling rock as he was hiking through canyons in Utah.   He hadn’t told anyone where he was going to be, and so he knew that no one would come to rescue him. 

After several days, he realized that his arm was rotting because of lack of circulation, so he made the decision to cut off his arm, in hope of saving his life.  He managed to survive. 

He had hope. 

We hope even in less dramatic circumstances.

As we make conscious choices to die to ourselves a little more every day,

to let God burn away the obsessions that keep us hopeless, and keep us from worshiping  God, and from being in right relationships with one another

we hope that the ash that falls around us and the ash is created within us will be fertile,

the ash in which the new life that God promises us can spring up, full of hope, abundant and full of fruit that will feed others.   

Jesus experienced an earthquake in his soul on that mountain as he was being tempted by the devil, an earthquake that the devil implied would stop only if Jesus would put himself and his own glory first.

But Jesus knew better.  The earthquake stopped and the devil vanished when Jesus said,

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Jesus did just that for the rest of his life.  He served only God by preaching the Good news, loving and healing and curing all of those

who hurt, bringing people into a new life of wholeness that they never could have imagined on their own.

Jesus lived a life of hope, based on his belief in God’s promises to us.

This life of service is the one we are called to—to be the healing hands of Jesus, the voice of hope to our hurting brothers and sisters, even those halfway around the world.

For his service and his obedience to God, Jesus died on a cross. 

But we know the end of the story. 

Hope.

Resurrection. 

Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, we Christians believe that

God will raise us, and all of creation up, into new life. “

As we hear in the great book of Revelation,

there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”  (Hart, 104)

This is God’s promise to us. 

And so even in our sorrow, even in our brokenness, even in our pettiness, even as creation groans around us, we worship our

unfathomable God, who loves us enough to have lived and died as one of us

In thanksgiving, we live obedient lives of service,

And we hope that from the ashes of our lives,

new life will grow. 

Amen.

 

Resources

The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami?  David Bentley Hart.

Two essays in All your Waves Swept over Me:  Looking for God in Natural Disasters, edited by Nancy de Flon and James A. Wallace, CSsR—“Preaching in the Face of Natural Disasters,” by James Wallace, and “Looking at Nature ‘From Both Sides Now’” by Nancy de Flon. 

 

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