“God Remembers”


Lent 1

February 22, 2015

 

Text: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

         

          Our lesson this morning from Genesis is the tail end of the story of Noah’s Ark. The flood has subsided, the ark has landed on Mount Ararat, Noah and his family and the animals have left the ark, and Noah has made a sacrifice to the Lord in thanksgiving for safe deliverance from the flood.

          In the aftermath of the Flood, God made a covenant, an agreement, with Noah. God promised Noah that never again would he destroy the earth with a flood. As a sign of that covenant, God gave the rainbow. God said that any time there were clouds, and the rainbow appeared in the clouds, God would remember his promise to Noah and his descendants and all the living creatures of the earth not to destroy the earth with a flood again. Now God surely realized that the Flood would not ultimately be successful in eradicating human wickedness, that Noah’s descendants would eventually go right back to doing the very things that were being done before the flood that God didn’t like. Yet God here promises that even when the repeat performance of human sin happened, there would not be a repeat performance of the Great Flood. The rainbow would serve as a sign to humanity that God remembers and keeps his promises.

          In our Gospel lesson we read about Jesus being baptized, the descent of God’s Spirit on him like a dove, and God’s claim of Jesus as his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased. Then immediately Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan for forty days. Mark’s version, which we read today, doesn’t go into much detail about the nature of the temptation itself, unlike Matthew and Luke. It only says that Jesus was among the wild beasts, and that angels took care of him. God remembered Jesus in the wilderness. God remembers all who belong to him and comes to their assistance.

          Our psalm today is one in which the psalmist expresses trust in God, asks God for deliverance from enemies who would put those who trust in God to shame, and asks God to teach his ways. The psalmist also prays: “Lord, remember your compassion and faithful love—they are forever! But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing. Remember me only according to your faithful love for the sake of your goodness, Lord.” Now the psalmist prays this, not out of a desperate begging for mercy, but because of God’s character. As it is written in Psalm 103: “God knows our frame; he remembers we are dust.” God remembers us with compassion, even when we have failed him.

          And then we have our lesson from 1 Peter, reminding us that Christ suffered and died, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. Peter also mentions that in the Spirit Christ went to preach to the spirits in prison who had been disobedient back in Noah’s time and had perished in the Flood. Even after all that time, God remembered them with compassion. Even then God would not give up on them. And surely God remembers all people in that way. Surely God does not give up on us, either, no matter how many times we have refused to listen to him or acknowledge him, turned away from him, ignored him, or defied him.

          It is in that light that I believe we need to understand the message Jesus preached when he returned from the wilderness: “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” Jesus preached a message of repentance. “Repent” means more than just feeling sorry for your sins. It means turning away from sin and turning to God. Now for many people that word “repent” conjures up images of a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher warning people to turn away from their sins to avoid the fires of hell. I find it interesting that here Jesus did not threaten people with perdition. Instead, Jesus called people to repent because in his ministry God’s kingdom, God’s rule, God’s reign on earth was arriving in their midst. Jesus invited people to turn to God so they would be able to receive the good news he was proclaiming. God had remembered his people, and was bringing forth salvation in Jesus. Peter tells us much the same thing when he wrote, “Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God.” Jesus’ primary message was not “turn or burn”. It was “turn so that you can live in the presence of God.”

          Even in our sin and disobedience, God remembers us with forgiveness and compassion. Now this is not to minimize the seriousness of our sin and disobedience. To forgive someone is not to say that what the person did is OK. In reality, to forgive someone means that something wrong was in fact done, but we’re not going to hold it against them anymore. To say we are sinners is to say we have done wrong. It is to say that we have not lived up to what God has intended for our lives, and that we have done harm to others. Yet God remembers us with compassion and forgiveness. God understands our weakness and imperfection. God remembers we are dust. God does not hold our sin against us. Because of this, we are invited to repent, to turn away from our sin and turn to God, trusting in his kindness and mercy, and seeking his strength and guidance as we move forward with our lives. We do so with the assurance that even though we continue to fail, even though we continue to get some things wrong, even though we do harm even at times when that was not our intent, God remembers us and continues inviting us into deeper relationship with him.

          So as we begin Lent, the season of penitence that we use to prepare for the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation, let us be reassured that God indeed remembers us with compassion and forgiveness. Let our response be to turn our hearts and lives away from our sin and toward a deeper relationship with him as we seek to follow Jesus.

                                                                   Amen.

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