March 1, 2009

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
Mark 1:9-15

Remembering is hard, isn’t it? I could give you numerous examples of things I forgot just during the last week… like when I forgot my church keys sitting on the desk in my office when I went home for the night, when I called a church member, didn’t find them home, and forgot to try again before the end of the afternoon, or when Gwen asked me the last name of another church member, and I had to scan through the directory before I could remember it.

These are just little things from my week, and perhaps you could make a similar list of failed remembrances from your week too. Forgetting things can be frustrating, and it can make us feel pretty bad about ourselves. It’s not uncommon to hear people scolding themselves for forgetting things — when we forget the birthday or anniversary of a loved one, when we miss an appointment because we just didn’t remember about it, or when we can’t recall the name of a new or an old friend.

I’ll never forget the story that I heard from another minister about the time she forgot a graveside funeral service. It was a terrible experience of failing to remember — and one she would never forget, and certainly never repeat!

Even though I haven’t forgotten such an important commitment, just the thought that I too could make such a mistake has encouraged me to use a number of tools for remembering. Every appointment, meeting, program, and commitment gets written in my daytimer. Sometimes I notice people giving me funny looks when they say, “See you at the meeting on Tuesday” and I respond, “What meeting is that?” Whatever meeting it is, it’s in my book, but it’s not necessarily in my brain.

I also make lists. I make one almost every week with programs to plan, calls or visits to make, sermons to write, and more. It’s no guarantee that I won’t forget something (like, for example, if I forget to put it on the list) but it’s a pretty helpful tool for remembering.

I was at a breathing workshop for singers yesterday afternoon, and we were working on vowel sounds. I guess we kept forgetting to make the right shape with our mouths when we got to a word with an “oooo” sound. So the instructor said, “Whenever you get to an ooo, put up your hands like this (hands in ooo shape) to remind you of the shape your mouth should be in. It felt a little silly, but it worked! It was a good tool for remembering.

Remembering is a major theme in our scripture readings today — and the tool for remembering is, of course, the rainbow. It’s interesting, if you pay close attention to the Genesis text, you’ll notice that the rainbow is God’s tool for remembering.

God says, “When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

Could God possibly need a tool for remembering the covenant? It seems strange to think that God could forget God’s promise of grace and forgiveness to us. In the story of the flood, God destroys all living creatures (except a few good ones) because of how terribly evil the people have become. But at the end of the story, God seems to come to terms with the fact that humans are not going to be perfect. We are always going to make mistakes, turn away from God at times, and do evil things. But God promises — God covenants — to be merciful, not to destroy us.

In Psalm 25, the psalmist is begging God to remember God’s mercy — God’s forgiveness. And he’s asking God NOT to remember his transgressions and the sins of his youth. “Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord” he begs — as if God could forget to be merciful! Even though the psalmist is asking God to remember, I wonder whether it’s the psalmist who has forgotten God’s promise. Maybe the rainbow is not so much to remind God, but to remind us humans of God’s promise.

Now if, whenever it started to rain, we got worried that God was going to flood the world and wipe out humanity because of all the terrible things that we are doing today… then, when the sun shone through the rain and a rainbow formed, we would look at it and remember God’s promise and relax — and maybe try a little harder to live God’s way.

But like the psalmist, we need that reminder at other times — not only when it’s raining — but when we’ve done things that we regret, when we’ve failed or forgotten to do the good that God calls us to do… or maybe when we get to the season of Lent and take a good hard look at our lives, and our priorities, and our values, and the way we spend our time, our energy, and our money… when we examine ourselves, and find ourselves lacking. It makes me want to paint a big huge rainbow on the church wall — not to remind God — but to remind us of the promise and covenant that God has made with us.

On the first Sunday of Lent, we always get the story of Jesus out in the wilderness for the Gospel text. As Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the wilderness, we are encouraged to use the 40 days of Lent for personal examination, for prayer, for scripture reading, and for drawing near to God.

Though we often focus on the fact that we get to know what God is like by looking at Jesus, Jesus’ life also shows us what it is to be fully human and to live in relationship with God. Jesus’ time in the wilderness can direct our Lenten journey with God.

But the story we heard this morning doesn’t just focus on Jesus’ time in the wilderness. It begins with Jesus going out to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. We heard, “And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'” The next sentence tells us that the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness. And the one after that briefly tells us about his experience out there.

Without much detail, what is clear is that it was a difficult time for Jesus. It included temptation, and maybe danger, and maybe fear. But we also hear that during that difficult time, “the angels waited on him.” As you probably remember from Christmas sermons, “angels” can also be translated as “messengers”. Who were the messengers that served Jesus, that encouraged him, that helped him through that time? We don’t really know.

But I wonder if they were the memory of that voice from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” That was the message that Jesus had heard so clearly from God at his baptism. Perhaps the angels simply brought that message to mind over and over, and waited until Jesus was ready to embrace his identity and start proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.

Like Jesus, we are not left alone to struggle through our wilderness times. Lent is a good time to confront the demons in our lives, to face our temptations and our failures, to acknowledge our failures and perhaps our hesitancy to fully commit our lives to serving and following God. But when we do that, we must remember the angels. We must remember the rainbow. We must remember that God has not abandoned us, that God promises to love and forgive us, no matter how far we have moved away from fulfilling our side of the covenant.

Like Jesus did, let us remember our baptism — our identity as God’s beloved daughters and sons. If we need tools for remembering, God has given us some great ones. We have the scriptures — to tell us about God’s promise, to remind us about the rainbow. We have the community of faith (the church) — to welcome us home, whether we’ve been gone a long time, or whether we’re here for the first time. And today, we have the celebration of Holy Communion. As we break the bread and share the cup, we remember Jesus — his life, his love, his death and resurrection. We remember that we are all invited and welcome at his table, because we are the beloved children of God.

I have no doubt that God will remember God’s mercy and love for us. As we gather at the table today, may we remember it also. Amen.