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Worship for February 21, 2020
What has this almost full year of pandemic taught you about your fellow human beings? We’re a lovely bunch, aren’t we. I mean, sure, you can look at the commitment of the exhausted, burned out, worn out, weary health care workers who, for so long, and often thanklessly, put themselves and their families at risk tending to the sick – The sick who way too often denied they could possibly have covid 19. I know about someone who still, only recently released from the hospital, who came close to dying, who is still on oxygen, insists to his wife that he must have picked up some virus at the bar where he went to watch the Ravens’ last game of the season. But no way is it covid 19! And then look at our teachers – you can see by the exhaustion in their eyes just how committed they are to teaching our kids under every circumstance the world can throw at them.
But this past year has revealed just how unlovely we can be – Apparently the lessons of the 1918 Spanish Flu didn’t stick – Just like then, it’s not enough that we’re scared we’ll get sick and death will come to our doorstep - We’re divided us against them; skeptical of vaccines; angry at people who won’t wear a mask; living in constant fear of scarcity. The Washington Post had an article about how vaccine envy is a real thing – And I admit it’s reared its super-ugly head in my heart a time or two and I had to take a few deep breaths to remind myself it’s all okay – we have a vaccine, it will eventually be available to everyone, people who are skeptical will get more comfortable with it. We will come out of this.
Which brings us to poor Noah, trapped for a year – A YEAR! – with an “unnamed wife, two rotten sons and their rotten wives,” and all the animals we love to cuddle but more importantly, the animals we do everything we can to avoid – Hello, mosquito! Fire ants! Snakes! Lions! Today’s passage comes after all of that, when Noah truly is on his way out of this. He can see the light at the end of the tunnel, just like we can.
And, after all God’s great creation has been systematically destroyed just as it had been created – this is what he hears: Promises from God. All I can think is after the year poor Noah had, God better repeat that promise over and over! As Wayne read the passage, did the repetitiveness of the word “covenant” strike you? It shows up 7 times. In 10 verses. Apparently God is serious about this. Serious to repeat this promise several times in several different ways, once in the third person!
What has a year in an overcrowded ark, sequestered, not quarantined, but that’s just a matter of semantics, taught Noah? Other than perhaps trapped on the ark with family is too much togetherness, just like trapped alone would have been too much isolation. Because the flood had washed so much away – Not just for Noah and his family, but apparently also for God.
Noah and his family, and everything they knew about how to live their lives: so much had been undone by that year. And in many ways it’s like we’re in the same boat as Noah. So much has been washed away: How we function as a society. How we move about our days. How we interact. Habits of gathering and running errands. This year has revealed what we’ve taken for granted, made us reassess what we thought we couldn’t live without, what we truly need, what we truly miss and don’t want to live without.
And like I said, I think the flood washed some things away for God as well – In a way, the flood helped the Lord see human beings more clearly, and to reassess what it means to be Creator and Maker of all. Look at how
one-sided God’s covenant. All we hear about is God promising over and over and over again to never give up on creation, on us, again. We hear squat about what we’re supposed to do – I thought covenants took two parties – Like wedding vows, you know? I promise, you promise. But instead, we have God’s promises, with no response required of us. God’s promises, regardless of what we do, or don’t do. How faithful or trusting or kind we are. In a very real sense, in the realest sense, God is saying, “Doesn’t matter. I am here, and nothing you do or say, no matter how ugly you get, will make me leave.”
Which is a good message for these days, as we’re seeing what the flood of this year has revealed about how ugly we can be and how ugly our history. We need God’s promise of grace hold us tightly like a huge warm blanket of a safety net so we can courageously take a look at what’s been revealed in this pandemic time, then start praying about how to move more deeply into the life God holds out to us.
So what does such grace matter as we live through the beginning of the end of pandemic time, into post-pandemic life? What will we do with what we’ve learned, what’s been revealed, what we’ve seen? About how fragile we human beings are? How fragile the systems we’ve put in place? How punishing those systems are to the many while making the few very, very wealthy and powerful?
In this pandemic year of isolation, with so much being washed away – Including blinders we had about who we are and who we were as a people,
a group of retired women in the church read and discussed- in Zoom, of course - Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste: The origins of our discontents.” And the book was like a flood washing away illusions of our own American History, what we’ve known, we thought we knew, what we’ve been taught as truth. This book explores how it isn’t so much racism that’s the problem, as the unspoken caste system that has organized our society from the beginning. These women shared what it was like to have some of the gaps in their knowledge about our American history filled in by Isabel Wilkerson. Listen to what some of them had to say about reading this book:
We’ll be hearing from them throughout the Lenten Season, one, because they want to share what they’ve experienced and learned – in fact, they feel passionate about it – and two, because as Diane pointed out, it is Lent. We’re still in that daggone ark – and trust me I would like to use stronger language than that.
But we’ve got God’s promises. And we’re taking a look all around us, hopefully with clearer eyes than we had a year ago, gazing at what has been revealed, like Noah, surveying what’s before us now.
In talking with parents and teachers, I’ve heard such frustration about what has felt to them like a knee-jerk reaction to re-open schools and make teachers, whether they’ve been able to get vaccinated or not – go back to the classroom, and have kids there as well – It’s as though there was a plan that got upended and tossed because of the emotion around We’ve just got to give parents the option to send their kids back NOW!
And it’s frightening in the “Did no one think this through?” way – not the, “Okay, I know we need to move ahead, and that’s scary, but at least I can trust it was well-thought out and my concerns were heard” way.
And of course, being me, I can’t help but think about how to move forward as a church. Especially for all of us who like to have a plan and know the plan, and trust that someone has given some clear thought and taken some time with how to step into the new reality.
I want to be discerning and thoughtful and prayerful as a church as we think about this time of transition – Open to what we’re called to do differently and what we’re called to do the same, and what does it mean to be a faithful church in the very murky post-pandemic future? Now that we are seeing things that were invisible to us before, how shall we respond? What can we do? What does faith look like when we realize parts of the house we’ve inherited is crumbling?
We couldn’t really do any better than head into this Lenten season, looking clearly at the ashes – Ashes, dust, dirt, topsoil that God breathed into life – Into us! Into being! That same breath that re-birthed all creation post-flood. Ashes and grace. Let’s mix some metaphors here – We’re looking at ashes, even while the pandemic fires are still burning. We’re looking at flood waters just beginning – just barely noticeably – to recede. And we need that promise from God – And we, being the fragile forgetful frightened human beings that we are, we need God to repeat that message over and over and over again. And maybe another 13,258 times. And maybe we can try to remember it with every breath we take – every breath of Holy Spirit. Let’s step into this new wilderness together, as we look ahead to a time when we can all slowly emerge from the boat to see what we’re called to do now. Ashes and grace, God and each other, the Spirit’s breath holding us all together.
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