Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Nailing the Gun to the Wall

Message preached February 26, 2012
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Genesis 9:8-17 and Romans 5:6-11  

Order of Worship               listen to the audio  (mp3)

Have any of you resolved to give up something for Lent? If so, are you willing to share what that might be? Don’t worry, it’s not like making a wish when you blow out the candles on a birthday cake. Sharing what you’ve resolved won’t keep it from coming true. (dialog a bit around what folks might share)  … Growing up in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood, I remember something my Dad told me when I was young. “Peter,” he said, “if anything is worth giving up, it should be for more than just the few weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter.” It made sense at the time.

In the Christian year, Lent is a season of preparation, a time for “repentance,” which literally means “to turn,” as in “turning from sin and turning toward God.”  Don’t get me wrong, there is real value in the discipline of “turning from” something we enjoy, “fasting” from it for a season, that we might discover new insight about God, about ourselves, and about our faith (or lack thereof). We may even come to appreciate even more what we have given up for that season, which may be healthy for things that are good for us, but not so great when it comes to those vices that do us damage. To be honest, I’ve never quite understood the whole “Mardi Gras” mentality, where all hell breaks loose in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Is this supposed to prepare the way for all heaven to break loose on Easter?

During this season of Lent, we are invited to ponder the implications of our decision to be God’s people in Christ. It’s sort of like what happens when two persons fall in love and decide to marry. What follows is a time of second thoughts, as they together (and individually) think through the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts, nitty-gritty realities of living out their covenant with each other. There are things that may need to change if marriage between these two individuals is to work. Anyone who thinks they can remain the same person after saying “I do” that they were before is either naive or a fool headed toward disaster. Love demands a “turning from” all others and a “turning toward” just this one person. Such “turning” involves change. This is just as true in the years that follow a wedding, as it is in the days leading up to it. “I do” is not a once and for all statement. It needs to be reiterated throughout the “for better, for worse” times.

The same holds in our covenant with God. Lent is a season of second thoughts, as we ponder anew what it means for us as a church to be, as the apostle Paul put it, the “bride of Christ,” and what that in turn means for each one of us, individually, as disciples. It’s not merely a matter of giving up something for a season, but of turning from what gets in the way of our relationship with God. If something needs to be given up on Ash Wednesday, it probably should stay “given up” after Easter, wouldn’t you say? After all, a Covenant is long term, whether it be marriage or baptism. We’re not just in it for a season, we’re in it for life - through joy and pain, come hell or high water. Now I confess, as a recently divorced person, that what I just said is both painful and true. The marriage covenant is not a seasonal affair. It is still, in my eyes, a lifetime commitment - through joy and pain, come hell or high water.

Speaking of “high water,” this morning’s Old Testament scripture relates one of the many Covenants God makes in the Bible. The story of Noah is probably one of the more familiar ones in this book of books. It begins with grief. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen 6:5‑6)

According to the Bible, God is not some impersonal, unfeeling entity which pervades the universe.  God was so affected by what he saw that he decided to return to the drawing board, to wipe clean the slate, to wash it and start all over again. It was all a big mistake. Then he saw Noah. But for this one righteous, blameless man who walked with God, all of creation would have been wiped from the face of the earth. Sometimes all it takes is one person who refuses to participate in the “system,” to stand up to its corruption and violence - one person for God to use in saving the world. That was the case with Noah.

And God told Noah to build an ark. You know the story: 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits, whatever a “cubit” is; the animals marching in two by two; God shutting the doors and unleashing the heavens to drown the earth for one hundred and fifty days; the waters slowly abating until the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat; the raven then the dove sent out in search of dry land, the latter returning with a freshly plucked olive leaf on its second flight; the doors finally being opened and all the pent-up animals released (might we add “fresh air at last!”). You know the story.

  In the aftermath of the flood, Noah built an altar to the Lord, and made an offering. “And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor,” the Bible says, “the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.’” (Gen. 8:21)   Never again. The stench of human evil had earlier moved God to tears, and the Almighty responded to this corruption and violence ... with violence, if you will. God’s wrath.

However, the pleasing aroma of Noah’s offering after the flood also touched the heart of God, and God promised “Never again.” That “never again” is part of the Covenant God made with Noah and all of Creation, the scripture read earlier.  “I establish my covenant with you,” God said, “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.”  (Gen 9:11)

And God set his bow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant. A rain-bow. Don’t be misled, though, into seeing in this rain-bow a cutesy symbol. The bow spoken of in scripture is just that, a military instrument used to fling arrows at an enemy. After the flood, God took it off his shoulder, so to speak, and placed it in the sky, lethal side facing up, not down. If you will, God nailed the gun to the wall. Notice, also, that while the rainbow is a sign in the sky for us to see - it is placed there as a self-reminder for God. “When the bow is in the clouds,” God promised, “I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  (Gen 9:16)

This is what we might call an unconditional covenant. God did not say, “if you refrain from violence from now on, I will nail my gun to the wall.” Instead, he took that action unilaterally. In nailing the gun to the wall, God promised not to use ultimate force or power any more to compel and control people and creation to do his will. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Old Testament after the time of Noah is filled with all sorts of violence, some of it attributed to God. Passover, the upcoming Jewish celebration which our Easter parallels, is a remembrance of how God’s angel of death “passed over” the children of Israel and took the life of Egypt’s firstborn, thus causing Pharaoh to release God’s people from slavery. Yes, the Old Testament is filled with violence. Still, in the Covenant made with Noah and all of Creation, God put a limit on himself. “Never again!” The One who could blot out everything promised, from now on, not to do so. There must be a better way!

In Jesus, we believe, is found God’s better way. Instead of responding to humankind’s continued wickedness with another flood, taking his bow down from the clouds and returning violence for corruption and violence, God sent his Son who died for our sin. In so doing, God made a new Covenant. Juxtapose, then, these two symbols. In one, God’s “gun” is nailed to the wall. In the other, God’s Son is nailed to the cross, taking upon himself the corruption and violence of humankind. The apostle Paul wrote that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us...” that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son...” (Rom. 5:8, 10). All it took was just one “person.” In Christ, the waters of the flood give way to the waters of baptism. In following Jesus, God’s better way, we are called to “nail our gun to the wall,” and to become ambassadors of God’s reconciliation and peace.

Nailing our gun to the wall... As I said earlier, Lent is a season for second thoughts, a time to examine the implications of our covenant with God through Jesus Christ. Is there something you need to give up, and not just for these few weeks leading up to Easter, something which stands in the way of your relationship with God? What might your “gun” be, your “bow” to be set in the clouds (or “nailed to the wall”) as a self-reminder? Are there ways in which you try to force others to do your will, either through “pushing your weight around” in obvious ways, or through subtle manipulation? That’s how our world operates, you know. Kill or be killed. Do unto others before they do unto you. Get what’s coming to you, no matter the cost. That’s how the “system” works.

Some of us may struggle with an inner violence, whether it is aimed toward others or toward ourselves, that needs to be recognized, confessed, and released... How might you symbolize what you need to turn from? What “gun,” what “bow” could you use as a reminder to yourself, that “never again,” with God’s help in Christ will you resort to it?  Now, that “God’s help” part is important, because we’re sore tempted to take up the sword and use it, against not only our enemies but even against those we most love. The hardest violence to deal with, after all, is the domestic variety. “Put down your sword,” Jesus still says. And the Holy Spirit and our brothers and sisters in the faith are there to help remember and keep that “bow in the clouds.”

Sometimes all it takes is just one person who refuses to participate in how the “system,” the “world” operates - one person to stand up to its corruption and violence - one person who nails their gun to the wall - one person for God to use in saving the world, or their neighborhood, or their family...    Remember Noah.

(para traducir a español, presione la bandera de España)


©2012 Peter L. Haynes   (revised from 1997 and 2000)
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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