A Weapon of Love, February 21

A Weapon of Love

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville UMCs; February 21, 2021

 

We worshipped outside for a while last summer, to be as safe as we could be and still be together for worship.  On the last Sunday in August in the parking lot of the Palenville church, there was a rainbow over the mountains as Regi sang for us.  It was beautiful.  We remembered this loving promise of God when we saw the rainbow. 

 

There is a picture of the Catskill UMC with a rainbow overhead which is the first picture you see when you open the Catskill UMC website.  The photo was taken by our neighbor Paul, after a storm, and it reminds us of God’s promise of love for us and for all of creation.  The promise to Noah was made a long time ago, before Abraham and Sarah, before Moses and Miriam, before King David or Queen Esther or Isaiah or Nehemiah, and well before the story we read of Jesus and John the Baptist.   But it holds, from that day to this one.  The rainbow is a sign of God’s love.  God’s response to the storm and the flood is a promise of peace.  I have set my bow in the clouds.  There were those in Noah’s time who believed the rainbow was a weapon, God’s weapon to shoot lightning bolts from heaven to earth.  God’s renunciation of violence here in the ninth chapter of Genesis is marked by God letting go of the weapon of a bow and placing it in the clouds, where it will stay, a reminder of God’s promise to never again engage in the destruction of the earth.

 

To be clear, we know what causes a rainbow.  The white light of the sun shines through the raindrops in the atmosphere and is refracted by the water into separate beams of colored light.  We can create rainbows ourselves with a glass prism functioning as the refracting agent.  Which is to say, rainbows are simply part of the physics of light.  And we trust that the physics of how light and water and earth and air work today have been constant since the earth came into being.  The rainbow after the storm in Noah’s time isn’t fundamentally different from a rainbow over the mountains after a rain shower today.  The same basic physics causes the refraction of light, whether the people could explain that or not.  But the reduction of a rainbow to the realities of the physical qualities of light doesn’t make it any less beautiful.  Nor does it make the promise of God any less wonderful.  As I read the story of the flood in these early chapters of Genesis, I see a change in God.  It’s as if God watches the horror of all those who died as the flood waters covered the earth and says, No! I will never be a part of that again!  God doesn’t hate sin any less than God did from the beginning of time, but God renounces the violence of the flood as a solution to the problem of sin.  Instead, God makes a deliberate choice, and a declaration, to solve the problems we create through connection, through encouragement and love, acknowledgement of sin and forgiveness, and ultimately, the deep love made manifest in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

 

There are theologians throughout Christian history who insist God is unchanging, but this story tells us of God changing the divine mind.  In this covenant with Noah and all living things, God transforms the rainbow from threat of destruction to a promise of love.  It is by that love that we now know God.

 

Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ temptation is short.  But we know our scriptures well enough that even in these few sentences here, we can hear the words of the tempter from Luke’s gospel – If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.  Jesus says no.  “Nope.  I don’t need you to tell me who I am.  I know who I am.  I am God’s beloved Child.  Were you not listening back there, O tempter of my soul?  Because I was listening.  I don’t need to prove anything to you.  I know who I am, and I do not belong to you.  I belong to God.”  That’s Jesus’ basic response to each of the temptations.  Luke and Matthew spell them out because they are not only words that Jesus hears.  They are words we all hear. 

 

Mocking challenges like this are real, in Jesus’ forty days, and in our own lives.  Jesus knew what is basically true about words like this.  They are not of God.  No matter what they challenge you to do, if a challenge starts with anything that sounds like, “If you think you’re so smart” or “If you really loved Jesus” or “If you’re really not afraid,” it is not a holy request.  God doesn’t talk to us like that.  God speaks in love.  God loves us where we are.  And God pushes us beyond that, calling us into life, into trust, into freedom, into healthy and holy ways of being. God may not always speak tenderly, but God always speaks truthfully, in words grounded in love and encouragement that we can do better.  God gives us a way through tough times, even tough times of our own making.  

 

We live in a culture that wants us to prove ourselves all the time.  And the standards we are challenged by are toxic.  Your job isn’t enough; your body isn’t enough.  There are magazine articles, and posts all over Facebook – Forty things no woman over 40 should wear.  Do you still have your Valentine towels out?  Are you still driving a 2013 truck?  Maybe the voices you hear the loudest aren’t from outside of you, but inside.  You hold yourself to impossible standards and you’re mean about it.  Ease up. Yes, we’re going on to perfection, but Wesley was talking about perfection in love, not in time management. 

Just as you don’t need to repost someone else’s testimony to prove you love Jesus, you don’t need to keep your basement as organized as grandpa’s in prove to yourself that you’re worthy of love.

 

Listen to Jesus’ wisdom.  You know who you are – you’re a child of God, cherished as you are.  Are there ways you might grow?  There are.  Isaiah’s words we read on Wednesday still speak. God asks clearly that we practice a fast that matters – to feed the hungry and remove the yoke of oppression, to set the prisoner free and listen to and care for those who are suffering.  God will call you into new places and new opportunities and support you as you go.  God will not mock you.

 

If you’ve learned not to listen to voices critiquing your life, excellent.  Now notice that there are other voices mocking your neighbors.  Too soft, too sensitive, too passionate, too tacky, too ready to trust, too lazy, too old, too young.  God’s voice is not in those voices.  Our neighbors are as cherished by God as we are.  The temptation is great to judge our brothers and sisters by standards created by us or by the world.   God is the judge; our call is to love. Love is communicated through acceptance, welcome, forgiveness, and accountability. 

 

Jesus stood strong against the tempter because he knew deep down who he was and whose he was.  The Holy Spirit blessing he received at his baptism was a reminder.  God reminds us of divine love regularly – in the word of scripture, in the sacrament at the table and at the font, in the blessing of forgiveness, and in signs of sustenance and promise.  Remember the rainbow.  Remember God’s renunciation of violence and vow of love.  Remember that you are beloved, created to be loved and to give it, in all that you do.  It’s that love that will change the world.  Amen.

Genesis 9:8-17

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I 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.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I 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. 16When 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.’ 17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

 

 

 

 

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

O my God, in you I trust;

     do not let me be put to shame;

do not let my enemies exult over me.

Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;

let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me,

     for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord,

     and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth

     or my transgressions;

according to your steadfast love remember me,

     for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;

     therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love

     and faithfulness, for those who keep

       his covenant and his decrees.

1 Peter 3:18-22

18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21And baptism, which this prefigured, 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, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

 

Mark 1:9-15

The Baptism of Jesus

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

The Temptation of Jesus

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

 

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