A Sermon by Lay Leader Kate Chenier for Lent 2, 17 Feb 2008
Today's readings are not as difficult as the lessons than I usually get - I especially like the Gospel reading, encompassing as it does that most famous of quotations; John 3:16.¬† Back when I ran a coffee shop, I had a customer, a street person with long hair and a beard, who would come in with a handful of coins and buy one cup of tea.¬† Then he would sit in the window seat and read his Bible.¬† He wore the same shirt every day, and in big letters on the front, it said: John 3:16.¬† I overheard two of my employees talking one day, and one of them was saying, "John 3:16 hasn't been in today".¬† I came up behind them and said, "You do know what that is, right?"¬† They said, no, and so I launched into, "For God so loved the world that he gave His only-begotten son..." and got blank stares in return.
John 3:16 is often said to be the essence of the Gospels in one sentence.¬† It is God's promise to the world.¬† I think one of the threads in these readings is promises.¬† But I also think there's more to it than that, I think it's also that promises are a two way street.¬† Let's see if I can elaborate.
Some of you know one of the RCMP members, Kevin, who plunged from his garage deck at home recently and hit the floor below, cracking some ribs and bruising himself badly.¬† He and Matt were having a conversation at work last week, about fraud and false pretences, and Kevin said to Matt, "Well, it's like if you asked me to shingle your roof and I said I would, so you paid me up front and I didn't do it."
Matt replied, "No, dude, I'd never ask you to shingle my roof". And I'm pretty sure I knew what he was thinking.¬†
In the Genesis passage, a homeland is promised to Abram and his people.¬† How many times have we heard that phrase?¬† The Promised Land.¬† It is all things to all people.¬† The land of milk and honey.¬† All Abram has to do is pick up stakes and go.¬† Remember, he's seventy-five years old.¬† But he goes, with all his followers and family. Romans says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."¬† It was not so much that he went, or that he believed, but that he put the two together and he went BECAUSE he believed what God told him.
I think that sometimes people get this round their necks.¬† They get tangled up in the idea that God only wants us to believe in His existence.¬† I don't think that's right.¬† I think the leap of faith that is made is that we believe not only in God Himself, but in the things that He says.¬† Just as Matt would not want to believe that Kevin could shingle his roof without breaking his neck, we need to be able to believe that God can do what He promises.¬† Romans says, "It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace."
In essence, although this is a simplification, nothing that we do or say makes a difference, for we are not justified by works, we are justified by faith.¬† What we have to do in the meantime is to behave as if we expect the promises of God will be fulfilled.
CS Lewis explains: "You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, exactly what God does and what man does when God and man are working together.¬† And, of course, we begin by thinking it is like two men working together, so that you could say, 'He did this bit and I did that.'¬† But this way of thinking breaks down.¬† God is not like that.¬† He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it.¬† In the attempt to express it different Churches say different things.¬† But you will find that even those who express it differently, Churches say different things.¬† But you will find that even those who insist most strongly on the importance of good actions tell you you need Faith; and even those who insist most strongly on
Faith tell you to do good actions."¬† And he finishes up by saying, "At any rate, that is as far as I can go."
It is not enough just to believe.¬† Like Abram, who later became Abraham, we have to hear, trust, and follow.¬†¬† It's a bit like getting married, this being a Christian.¬† Everyone makes certain promises at the beginning, and then finds the ways to make those promises and keep them meaningful, in the big wild world of the future.¬† In this time of Lent, as we try to listen to the ways God would like us make new starts, be it new lands, new lives, wherever we are compelled ‚Äď¬† as the passage from John tells us of those who are born of the Spirit - "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes".¬†¬† I find myself wondering what more I can do to let God work through me.¬† Maybe it is a question of being more willing to assume my part of the promise ‚Äď being the one who
hears and trusts and follows, wherever I am led.¬†
¬†Sometimes, and I know that I've talked of this with many of you here, I look around and I think, how did I end up here?¬† What brought me to be standing in front of a congregation in the Arctic, learning how to be a lay-reader and saying all my inside thoughts out loud?¬† Truthfully I couldn't tell you.¬† I remember saying to Miguel one morning, over coffee, "There's a job in Cambridge Bay I could apply for", and us looking at the map, sitting in our carport on a rainy day on Vancouver Island, and him saying "Are you out of your mind?"
And maybe I am.¬† Maybe the bits I don't understand, all the strange coincidences that¬†made us end up here, (because I didn't get that initial job that I¬†applied for, but we ended up here anyway) Maybe¬†those¬†are the bits that are more God than me.¬† And as I stand here, as it says in the hymn, I'm Standing on the Promises of God.