A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Sunday, March 13, 2022

By: David May, Rector


Out of the millions and millions of memories we must all have in us, there’s something miraculous about the way that some keep rising to the surface out of that ocean of experiences. Over the years, I’ve come to pay attention to the memories that – out of all those millions and millions – stay with you, that abide. We all have them. Some of them are painful, some joyously radiant, some just plain confusing. But whatever they are, the ones that stay with us, I think, are trying to tell us something about our lives. Memories that abide with us aren’t just in the past. Somehow, they’re still now.

One of mine is from a summer at the beach at Mattituck, Long Island. One morning, my dad said to me, ‘we’re going sailing this morning’. There was a little sunfish that came with the house that we could use. So, my dad dragged it to the water’s edge, put up the mast and the sail, clipped in the tiller and we pushed out onto the water through the small, lazy waves. The sail caught puffs of wind, and began to push us sideways. Then the sail swung around, and we got pushed sideways the other way. My father said, ‘oh, forgot to put in the centerboard.’ He picked up the slender, flat, smooth three-foot center board and said, ‘watch this!’ He pushed the centerboard down through the narrow slit of an opening in the cockpit and with a thunk as it locked into place, something magical happened. The little boat instantly got it’s footing, we stopped drifting sideways, the sail snapped taut with the wind, and the boat leaped ahead in a straight line. I am pretty sure we both went wow! When I think about it today, I still go wow!

Some memories like that aren’t just in the past. They’re also now, telling us something about our lives now.

The Bible is filled with stories like this, stories that out of the trillions of trillions of experiences of our whole human family are still now, still telling us something about our lives; who we are, and especially who God is.

One night, God came to Abram and spoke to him in a vision. Again. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Remember years and years before God told Abram to get up and leave his home, leave the life he knew behind him and the future he had imagined before him, and go to the place he would show him. God gave Abram a promise. And God promised to give Abram a land to be his home and a future filled with children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren as numerous as the stars and that through that great big sprawling family God was going to bless the whole world.

But that was getting to be a long time ago. Yes, God had come to him again and again over those years to say, “I promise you”. And after stops and starts with plenty of drifting sideways, God brought Abram to the land he had promised. But Abram and his wife Sarai had yet to spark the life of a baby. Which, on this night, Abram reminds God of: “behold, thou hast given me no offspring”, he says.

And that night, God brought him outside. Let’s look at this together. Look up at the heavens and count the stars if you can. I can wait with you while you count. But I’ll just tell you, the number of those stars – that’s the number of your descendants.

And something happened. Something like a centerboard thunking into place. And Abram believed him. Maybe not all the details of the promise. Thinking about his aging body and that of his wife, that probably still seemed impossible. But maybe that wasn’t the point. Standing outside under the stars, something happened, and Abram believed the One who made the promise. And they cut a solemn covenant together to mark what had happened. And the Lord himself passed through the bisected animals to seal the deal, which means that if the promise is not kept then let it be done to God what had been done to these animals. Can you imagine? Maybe you can. Because the story of Jesus includes the same promise to lay down his life for us.

Out of all the memories of the whole human family, this one abides with us – as something past, but as something now, telling us something about our lives and especially about God (who will take you outside tonight if you want to count the stars too!). We can believe the One who made the promise, even if we can’t see how it all works out clearly.

God’s promise in Jesus to redeem the world, to save us from our sins – to heal and mend and forgive its brokenness. But in the kind of world we’re living in now it seems as unlikely as the need for a nursery must’ve seemed for Abram and Sarai. Herod wasn’t the last monster prowling the earth. Jesus dismissively calls him an ‘old fox’. But he wasn’t the last ‘old fox’ we know well enough. And against an ‘old fox’, Jesus counters with a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks beneath her for safety. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t look like a fair fight. The only fight a mother hen has to put up against a fox is to fluff herself up, make room beneath herself for her chicks to hide, and hope the fox will take her but leave her chicks to live.

And isn’t that what happened? Didn’t he lay down his life for love? Which ‘old foxes’ think means they win. But love stronger than death brought a mother hen back to her chicks to show that the wounds an ‘old fox’ can inflict have no power over her, and so no power over us. That is God’s promise.

When the world goes so dark as we see it is right now, when an ‘old fox’ seems to be having his day, can we believe in the One who has promised with love stronger than death?

I have a new memory that I think will abide. Last week, I saw a video of a little Ukrainian girl named Amelia. She was in a bomb shelter huddled together with dozens of others. The story is that she was telling someone that one day she was going to be a great singer who brought love to the world. The person she was talking with said, “why don’t you begin now?” And so the little girl stepped onto a table and began to sing. She sang ‘Let it go’ from the animated film ‘Frozen’. Maybe you’ve seen this video. As I watched something happened. It was like a centerboard thunking down into the water and something like a small boat found its footing and leaped ahead in a straight line again. It was something like a promise kept, something sacred, because I promise you, the gates of hell and the ‘old foxes’ of this world cannot stand against the Life that is at the heart of all life that leapt out of that little girl.

Jesus is God’s promise to redeem the world, to save us from our sins. To heal and mend and forgive this broken world with a love that lays down its life for us. We can believe in the One who has promised. Amen.