Benediction Online

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Remembering our Salvation History

We have just heard the broad sweep of our salvation history. There are other readings we might have included but the small sample we have just heard told us that God made the earth and all living beings, and that God was pleased with the result. God created us in his own image so we too are creative and intelligent and powerful. What went wrong is not spelled out for us but we know the way the story goes – we were given free-will and we chose not to nurture our relationship with God but to use our abilities to increase our own powers. This rapidly led to a violent society and soon God was minded just to end the whole experiment.

But she couldn’t help mentioning this to Noah and even though he lived somewhere not very different from the middle of Arizona, he went ahead and built a houseboat. This houseboat sheltered people and animals when the great flood came and in the final analysis God wasn’t able to wipe out this wondrous creation but gave humanity another chance and even promised never to set out to destroy things again.

Fast forward to Abraham who is called by God to leave the city of Ur in Mesopotamia and travel to Canaan. Once there he wants to start a family and leave a heritage but it seems that his wife Sarah is barren so he fathers a son by a servant woman but then God amazes him by promising him a son who will enable him to have as many descendants as the stars. Isaac is born, the son of Abraham and Sarah’s old age. But then Abraham becomes convinced that he must sacrifice Isaac and takes him off on a journey intending to do so. But God steps in and stops the child sacrifice – providing instead a ram to be killed.

This is the first time that we see God providing the sheep for the sacrifice – we’ll meet it again in the language around Jesus. Here the sudden appearance of the ram suggests that this new God whom Abraham and his family were discovering was doing things differently and abolishing local practices of human sacrifice.

A couple of generations later,  Abraham’s descendents, now the sons of Jacob, find themselves going to Egypt to get food where they are welcomed by the brother they sold into slavery. This is a similar story to that of Jesus – a man betrayed by those close to him who finds a new life and then forgives and welcomes his betrayers. I am not suggesting that this is intended to be a story about Jesus, but rather that we can see definite themes that develop about how God relates to humans and what kind of behavior is rewarded.

Unfortunately, it’s not long before these foreigners become unwelcome in Egypt and they are taken into slavery. You will remember the story about the burning bush and how the God who they learn to call Yahweh calls Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. So that’s where our second reading comes in – they successfully make it out of Egypt after the plagues and pass through the Red or Reed Sea. And we have a quick glimpse of one of the women who was a religious leader – Miriam leads the dancing and singing of victory.

The metaphor of passing through water recurs as a symbol of our release from bondage and entry into the promised land – of course we see it in human birth where the waters breaking signify that the time has come to leave the womb for the new life of the outside world – but we also see the Israelites after their forty years wandering passing through the waters of the Jordan. This has come into our own imagery as the waters of baptism through which we pass as a sign that we are enrolled in the reign of God and are members of Christ’s body.

The Exodus is the formative event in Jewish religious history. There is no objective evidence that it happened like the Bible says it did, but it is one of the strongest pictures of how God works with his people – hearing their prayers, leading them out of bondage and into safety, in fact into abundance. Of course it wasn’t just a straight line from deliverance to abundance. As I have already mentioned the Hebrews got to wander around the desert near Sinai for forty years – or at least a very long time - during which they developed laws and organization and turned from being a motley crew into a recognizable people. I don’t need to remind you that Jesus also had a period of spiritual formation in the desert for forty days as we have been remembering during Lent, but you may not know that the apostle Paul also went into the desert for three years before he began his ministry.

So the Hebrews made it into the Promised Land. Things didn’t go so well for them in the long-term and despite judges and then kings who led them against their enemies, and prophets who called them back to God, reminding them that they were expected to live to a high moral standard as well as keep the ritual laws and customs – despite all this Judah and Israel were overcome by powerful enemies and the people dispersed, some into exile
in Babylon. But they never forgot the covenant made by God to his beloved David the king, that he would never forsake David’s descendants – that come what may he was their God and they were his people.

It was probably in Babylon that the reading we heard from Isaiah was written. Now God is not limited to a column of fire by night and smoke by day, nor is she limited to dwelling in a temple, but God is available to everyone not just the Israelites. At the end of the reading we have a reminder of the Creation story - God creates through her word – “my word that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

And then our final reading was that great vision of Ezekiel where the valley of dry dead bones comes to life – the breath or spirit of God is breathed upon them and they are given resurrection life. And that final promise, “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Jesus was a Jew and his ministry and teaching has to be understood in that context, so tonight, on this most holy of nights we remember that these stories are also our stories. Jesus was the fulfillment of this history – he is the next installment – the one who makes it possible for the dry bones to be reborn, the one who accomplishes the purpose of the Creator.

And what is the purpose of the Creator?

That humanity will once again walk with God in the garden in the cool of the evening. But this time it will be because we want to, not because it’s the only reality we know. God longs to draw us, and with us the whole of creation back into right relationship with the Trinity. And that right relationship is a dance of praise and joy and thanksgiving.

But there is a way to go before that is the true reality for all of creation, and we are called to be the ones who work to fulfill God’s purpose. We are the ones who are called to accept God’s spirit and to put flesh on the bones of the reign of God. We are the ones who are called to be the church and as the church to live out the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, the head of the church and the author of our salvation.

And our baptism is the sign that we have accepted that calling, that we have stepped up to the plate and are ready and willing to keep the story going, to continue to create, again and again to leave bondage behind and pass through the waters into Christ’s new life, to accept the sacrifice that in an astonishing twist God offers to us, to seek the Lord and his amazingly unconditional love so that we may be reborn and with us the whole of Creation may be raised again to new life.

That is why we are here tonight.


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