Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem February 21, 2021
This week we began our journey of Lent, a season where we are each invited to reflect on, care about, and grow deeper in our faith as Christians. We begin this journey by remembering that we are mortal – our time here is limited – and to ashes we will return one day. However, that is not the full story of this journey, we are also invited to “turn away from sin and return to the Gospel.” Turn away from sin – seems easy enough – right? We ask for forgiveness each month – reflect on the ways we have sinned and become broken through our actions and our inactions and are then forgiven by God every month directly before we celebrate communion. Some congregations share in this liturgy every week – some people ask for forgiveness every day. So yes, I believe we understand how to turn away from sin; but – but I wonder if it is possible to learn how to avoid sin during this time of Lent? Or at least find ways to avoid the causes of sin especially when we feel our lives are out of our control – spiraling into a broken tempest of apathy for our fellow Creations. Is there a reset button for people which will allow us to return to the Gospel – the Way of Christ – the Mission of God?
As we ponder this thought, would you pray with me?
Forgiving God, forgive us today and reveal in us ways to reset – to care for – to return our lives to Your Mission and the Gospel of Love. May the meditations on all our hearts reflect your forgiving Grace and let the words from my lips only speak of Your Truth.
And it is true, beloved, many people are feeling like our lives are out of our control today. We love our families; but the unknown duration of the isolation is creating stress. Our youth are learning; but the variances in schooling is creating anxiety. We have a vaccine; but the effectiveness and distribution is causing fear in many people’s lives. These causes are called stressors which decrease our ability to engage in situations – lovingly and therefore increase our negative reactions to one another. In other words, as stressors increase so do our sins to God through other people.
We also set aside the Gospel and the Mission of God – we set them aside because all we can do is focus on the fear, anxiety, and stress affecting our lives right now. This idea is like a computer with thirty web sites open, printing a document and infected by a slew of viruses. The computer cannot focus on the one video about LGBTQIA equality because of all the other operations it is doing and all the virus infecting it. So, that one video will start, stop, stutter, and then start again as long as you are still watching. As long as you have not gotten so frustrated with the viruses and sins in your life before throwing the whole computer out the window.
I imagine this metaphor of the computer is similar to how God witnessed the world. How She witnesses the world in the chapters before our reading from the book of Genesis – I imagine that God had become frustrated with humankind and our inability to reveal His Mission due to our wickedness and sin. The only recourse was to reset the world and throw the whole computer out the window, an event understood as the Great Flood.
Thankfully, the Great Flood is not where the story ends, and God changes Her will: promising to never reset the world again – never flood the world again with the waters – never throw the whole computer out because we have become too infected with wickedness and sin. This message does not mean we are not broken – we are. It does not mean our stressors and sins no longer keep us from God’s Mission – they do. This passage does not mean we do not need to reset our lives from time to time – for we do need that Grace in order to refocus on God’s Mission before us. What our passage means is that God will no longer throw out the whole computer for our wickedness – and the reset will no longer destroy humans or be for the whole world. This covenant – this promise of God to Noah is “everlasting” for all the generations to come.
But what is the Good News – then – the Good News which reveals the Way God has given each of us to reset our lives, to forgive us of our sins, and free us from the stressors which increase our brokenness. Who is the Good News which allows us to refocus on God’s Mission in our life?
I pray that each and every one of you already knows the answer is Christ Jesus who shows us the Way and suffered for our sins as a whole people. I believe our passage from the Gospel according to John also reveals to us the Way to reset our individual lives. For, Jesus in the middle of dinner stood up and began the practice of foot washing. Now, this practice of foot washing was common at the time. People would commonly have their servants wash a guest’s feet as a sign of hospitality before dinner. However, here in the middle of dinner – Jesus stops, disengages, and takes on the role of a servant revealing his “spirit of lowly service, “according to the theologian G. MacGregor. Think on that for a moment. In the midst of stress, anxiety, and fear – only days before he is about to be beaten and crucified – at a time where almost any human would let those stressors cause them to react negatively, or sin, to those who are causing the stressors. Jesus stops – disengages from the meal – and becomes the servant – the very spirit of lowly service to Judas who is the cause of stress, anxiety, and fear through his betrayal. In other words, Jesus resets his life-focus on the Mission of God instead of letting the stressors or sin rule him.
This Way, beloved, is the Good News of Lent. The Way Jesus teaches us to reflect on, care about, and grow deeper in our faith during the Lenten Journey. I like to call this way – our Great Reset; for, it is a great way to allow each of us to reset our individual lives and turn away from the stressors before we sin against God through our actions and inactions with other people.
However, this Good News is not simple. Yes, Jesus does it throughout the Gospels; but he is perfect, and we are perfectly created in brokenness. So no, this Good News is not simple for us humans as it requires us to be aware of the stressors affecting us, continually practice new forms of disengaging from situations, and forgive ourselves when the stressors become sins. But this Good News is needed now more than ever for our computers are becoming bogged down with stress, anxiety, and fear – so bogged down with all the stressors and sins that the part of God’s Mission we are individually called to embrace is stopping and stuttering before our eyes. It is becoming hard for many people to witness God – Christ and ourselves as servants loving one another through the Holy Spirit when all we feel is betrayal.
But this Good News is what we need – we need to stop – stop when we feel the stress – anxiety – fear rush into our hearts. Stop – when we witness an enemy on Facebook – stop when someone voices their opinion and we only hear our fear. Stop – in that breath before you react – stop, even though we are called to justice – to defend the disenfranchised – to care for all people – this week, just stop – stop before you say anything – stop and disengage. Give yourself this gift of the Great Reset to simply disengage however you can. It can be as easy as saying, “I hear you, but can we talk about this later” to not even looking on Facebook for an hour, two hours, or a day. You may find yourself disengaging from the stress by going for a walk alone, from the anxiety by watching a silly comedy, the fear by picking up your favorite hobby. However, you can disengage will provide you time to reflect on what is causing the stressor – time to care for yourself – and time to grow spiritually before you react with a sinful action or inaction. Finally, consider what God is calling you to do – before you re-engage – while on that walk or during the hour away from social media consider what is your part of God’s Mission? Who are you called to serve? How can you help the Mission, next? Then – and only then will you be ready to re-engage with whatever stressor that is affecting your life. You will be able to re-engage because the stress, anxiety, or fear will seem so much smaller than it was – small enough for you to deal with in a loving way – small enough to engage with and not risk the possibility of sinning in the process.
This Good News, though, is a journey beloved – a journey of self – reflection, care, and growth in our spiritual lives with God. One which we will not always succeed at accomplishing; but it is one practice which will help us turn away from sin – reset our lives – and return to the Gospel of Love. May your Lenten Journey be a time of self-reflection, care, and growth so we may all become closer to God. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.