220313 Lent 2C
March 13, 2022
Sermon: Faithfulness and Resolve in Time of the Four (or This is Not a Sermon)
Rev. Kristian Wold
Friends, I don’t have a sermon for you this morning. I just couldn’t write one.
It’s because my mind is filled with distractions, my heart with fears, my soul with doubt, and my body with weariness. I’m tired.
It's two years since COVID-19 exploded into the world, upending our lives in so many ways. Two years of precautions, deprivations, turmoil, and anxiety. You don’t just suddenly lift all restrictions and turn that off as if it never happened. COVID-19, though thankfully receding right now, is still with us.
There is senseless war in Ukraine, instigated by a tyrant with no regard for anything but his own aggrandizement. Millions have fled the bombardments and fighting. Millions. I stand appalled at the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding. And I know that for some of you at Hope, this event brings back personal memories of flight from another war of aggression, sponsored by another demagogue eighty years ago.
Death seemed far, but now it is very close—from the war, by the pandemic, and also now personally as some of us come to grips with its nearness in our own lives.
So that’s three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse now abroad: the white horse of pestilence, the red horse of war, and the pale horse of death. Will the black horse of famine be far behind? Already inflation is rising as the war disrupts the flow of oil. We feel that when we go to fill our cars with gas or buy groceries. Other parts of the world are going to feel it soon and acutely when the wheat harvest that normally comes from Ukraine isn’t there.
And then there’s climate change, still a present reality, the gate through with the four horsemen enter the world stage.
I find myself “doom scrolling” each morning, wondering if this is the day I will hear that a nuclear weapon has been used for the first time since 1945.
How can I preach a sermon when such fear and doubt about the very survival of our species abounds? What good can I say?
I guess I feel a bit like Abram right now. Vulnerable, uncertain, and in doubt. He once heard the voice of the Lord and was excited and motivated by the promise: land, peace, freedom, blessing. He did what the Lord asked and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. But when we encounter him at the beginning of our story today it’s been years since he’s heard anything from God. He’s had his ups and downs, lived through wars and conflicts, and most importantly has no child. How is any blessing supposed to come to him? Is God even there? If someone asked him to preach a sermon at this moment, what would he say?
It's exactly into this moment that God comes in a double vision. In the first part Abram looks to the night sky and counts the stars – they will be the number of his descendants. In the second part he witnesses a mysterious ritual of blood, fire, and smoke; this is God’s guarantee of the promise of blessing. So, against all the appearances of the moment, God promises descendants and land, which is symbolic of security, safety, wellbeing, abundance, and blessing. The strange ritual of sacrificing the animals, laying out the bloody parts of their bodies, and passing among the gore is an ancient treaty-making ritual. It means, “So may it be done to me if I don’t fulfill the terms of our agreement.” But here it’s only God, in the form of the smoking fire pot and flaming torch, that passes through the carnage. I will be faithful to this covenant, says God, and so may it be done to me if I am not. The blessing will be fulfilled. God will be faithful—through the midst of any carnage or catastrophe that human beings can create.
So I guess that’s a sermon of good news—not from me but from God’s Word.
God is faithful and intent on working blessing, even when the horsemen of the apocalypse rage across the earth.
“Jesus, Jesus, you better get away from here because your life is in danger! Herod wants to kill you! The horsemen are raging! You’d better stay safe and leave.” These friends of Jesus were well-intentioned enough, I’m sure. They said the sensible thing, urging Jesus to do what they would do, what I would do too. Stay safe. Flee from potential harm.
But the God of Abram, the God of the covenant, never fled from danger, harm, betrayal, or suffering through all the centuries of history with God’s people. They were oppressed in Egypt, they grumbled against Moses, they suffered defeat after defeat by enemies in the promised land. They practiced idolatry and violence in the time of the Judges. They betrayed God’s values of justice and mercy in the time of the prophets. They relied on political alliances instead of trusting in God’s providence. They killed the prophets that were sent to them. But God was faithful. God never left. God continued to work out the promise of blessing. And so would Jesus.
“You tell that fox for me that I’m staying put. I’ve got work to do and I’m doing it. Today, tomorrow, and the third day. I’m not going anywhere.” Jesus is resolute. He promises to be faithful no matter what. He’s got work to do that all the raging power of the tyrant Herod cannot even begin to touch. And what’s that? Casting out demons. Healing. Tenderly gathering the weak and vulnerable together for protection.
I guess that’s another sermon for you and me from God’s Word.
On this Lenten journey toward the cross (because that is where Jesus is going, as he knows) – this Lenten journey that feels so vivid and particular this year, surrounded as we are by pestilence, war, famine, and death – a cross our world is bearing – Jesus is faithful. He is present. And he continues his work of healing. We can be gathered by him under his wings of love and mercy, if we choose. He doesn’t promise us safety as the world thinks of it—invulnerability to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”—but he promises us peace for the moment, courage for the day, strength to meet the challenges, and even joy in the companionship of others on the journey, others gathered under his wings.
Amidst the threats we have to our wellbeing, and the fears we have in our world, may we remember the faithfulness of God. May we choose, always, the shelter of Jesus’ wings. And may we, with him, be agents of healing in our broken world—today, tomorrow, and on the third day to finish our work.
… Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God, amen.
Image Credit: Apocalipico by Mauricio García Vega (at Wikimedia Commons)