Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sermon for second mid-week Lent service

Mid-Lent 2
                                                                                                Gen 7:1-5, 11-18;
8:6-18; 9:8-13

            It took place so quickly – so unexpectedly – that it was really hard to believe that it actually had happened.  When I was about seven years old my family visited Chattanooga, TN.  It will probably not surprise you to hear that we stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo – the Terminal Station in Chattanooga that had been converted into a hotel.
            There was a restaurant in the station and passenger cars on the platform tracks that had been converted into hotel rooms.  There was also a new hotel complex that had been built on the grounds complete with an indoor swimming pool and café dining area next to the pool.
            One day during the stay, my mom was at the pool with my brother and me.  Matthew was about three years old at the time.  He didn’t know how to swim and really was rather afraid of the water.  He would sit down on the steps at the shallow end of the pool and just splash.
            Needless to say we went to the swimming pool several times during our visit.  And then one day – with absolutely no warning – Matthew got up ran around to the deep end of the pool and jumped in.  The boy who couldn’t swim; the boy who was basically afraid of the water at that point in his young life, suddenly ran around to the deep end of the pool, jumped in – and sank.  I was shocked. My mom was shocked.  It all happened so fast, I don’t remember whether she actually began to get up to rescue him.  The one thing I remember is that suddenly off to my left I saw a man who had been eating in the café area bolt out of the restaurant and fully clothed he dove head first into the deep end of the pool to rescue my brother.
            It was a traumatic experience – probably most of all for my mom.  At that impressionable age I remember thinking that my brother could have died – that he could have drowned.  I think it was the first time that it really dawned on me that water could be dangerous – that it could be deadly.
            The deadly character of water is of course the focus of our text tonight as God sends a flood to destroy the world – to wipe out every living thing.  In the flood we see the extent to which the holy God is offended and grieved by sin.  Yet we also see how he loves and cares for those who are faithful to him. And in the flood we see how God works through water to put sin to death and to give new life.
            Genesis chapter three narrates the Fall as Adam and Eve disobey God and sin initially enters into the world.  And then as we read on we see sin rippling out into life.  The very next thing we read about is the first murder as Cain kills Abel in chapter four.  Cain is banished and then Adam and Eve have another son – Seth.
Now when Adam was created we are told that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Yet with the birth of Seth we learn things have changed dramatically.  In chapter five we are told that Adam fathered a son “in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”  Created for perfect fellowship with God, humanity had lost the image of God. And the results were disastrous.  In the chapter before our text we hear, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” 
God saw this, and we learn that the “LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  If you want to get some insight into how profoundly sin has changed things, consider these words.  When God finishes his creation he looks upon it and sees that it is “very good.” Yet now that sin has entered into his creation, we are told that God regrets that he made man in the first place. 
And so because of this the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  Now in one sense, there really isn’t anything surprising about this outcome since God had said to Adam and Eve that because of their sin they would die. 
            Yet in God’s intention to wipe out all sinners we begin to gain insight into how profoundly the holy God is offended by sin – including ours.  We often hear it said that “God hates sin but loves the sinner.”  However, this is not true.  Instead, God hates sins … and he hates the sinner.  The psalmist writes, “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers, you destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
            This knowledge needs to frame the way we view our own sin, especially during this season of Lent. Every Sunday we confess, “We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment.”  With these words we confess that we are sinners who sin and therefore we deserve nothing but God’s hatred – God’s wrath.
            God is holy and just in destroying sinners who sin. But he is also gracious and merciful.  We learn in Genesis chapter six that Noah found favor in God’s eyes.  He is described as “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” and we are told that “Noah walked with God.”  This is not the claim that Noah was perfect.  Instead it is the Old Testament talking about faith.
            God saw that Noah was righteous before him – that he alone walked by faith as he recognized God as the Creator and sought to live according to his will.  And in his grace and mercy God acted to save Noah and the animals of his creation.  He told Noah to build an ark and to gather into it two of each animal.  This means of deliverance was itself was itself a demonstration of Noah’s faith.  As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
            And then God sent the water.  God sent water that brought death. St. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death.  The sinfulness of humanity received God’s wrath in the flood and all except Noah and his family in the ark were killed by it.  The animals of creation suffered as well because of humanity’s sin, just as they have since the first sin of Adam and Eve.  Yet through Noah’s faithful act of building the ark they were not wiped out. There remained animals to continue life on the earth.
            In tonight’s text we see God using the flood to kill all human beings and animals, and yet we also see that in the midst of the flood he acts to save.  God is wrathful against sin, and yet God is also loving and merciful.  This tension that we see in the flood is the same one that we are preparing to observe during Holy Week.  Jesus goes to the cross in order to receive God’s wrath against sin – our sin.  Sin does bring death as Jesus takes our place as a sinner and dies for us. Yet in that very event God shows himself to be loving and merciful because the death of Jesus becomes the means by which we are forgiven so that we will not die eternally.
            During the season of Lent, we are making our way towards the first celebration of the resurrection – the Vigil of Easter. This service focuses upon how through Holy Baptism we have shared in the saving death of Jesus Christ; and also on how through baptism we have received the life of the risen One.
            Tonight’s Scripture reading that deals with the Flood is read in that service because the New Testament explicitly links the flood and baptism.  The apostle Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”
            Peter tells us that the water of the flood which brought death to sinners, also carried Noah and his family to safety in the ark as they were spared.  The flood became an event that killed sin and yet brought salvation to Noah. And then Peter adds, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
            The water of Holy Baptism has not has not merely cleansed you of dirt.  Instead, like the flood it has killed your sin in the death of Jesus Christ.  Like the flood, baptism has brought you death, for Jesus’ saving death has become yours.  However the water of the flood was not only about death. It also was the means that carried Noah, his family and the animals in the ark to safety.  And so because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your baptism has brought you to safety – to knowledge that your sins are forgiven and you will share in Jesus Christ’s resurrection on the Last Day.
            Lent is a season that confront us in our sin.  Like the text about the flood, it forces us to grapple with the way our sin sets God against us in his wrath. But Lent is also a season that in its movement towards the Vigil of Easter returns us to our baptism.  It brings us back to the fact that baptism now saves us because it gives us a share in the saving benefits of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

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