A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

There is probably not a better known or better loved image of Jesus than the one he gives us himself today when he says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” When I read this passage the week before last a memory buried in me for at least 60 years came into view. I remembered walking down the hallway of the Sunday-school wing of the church my family went to. I was on the way to our Sunday-school room. The walls of the classroom were painted canary yellow. The room sort of permanently had the smell of kids in it, which was a mixture of milk and construction paper and that white paste glue that I remember a kid in our class ate one Sunday. There was a hand-lettered sign on the door that read ‘Little Lambs Room.’ Just below the sign on the door was a big picture of Jesus with a lamb flung across his shoulders.

How do memories like that stay in us after – in my case – 60 years of accumulating memories of the good, the bad, and the truly awful? I don’t know, but there it was suddenly: Jesus, our Good Shepherd on the door of the ‘Little Lambs Room’; and yes, with the faint whiff of white paste glue, construction paper and milk along for the ride with that memory.

This image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is one of the first things we teach children in the Church: whether that church is a Pentecostal church in Guatemala, or a Methodist church in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or old time Lutherans in Sweden, or a non-denominational charismatic church in Kyoto, or a Roman Catholic parish in Mumbi, or an Orthodox community in Azerbaijan or Damascus, Syria, or right here told to your children by Amelia McDaniel or Brantley Holmes. All of us learn as soon as we can the thing that if you forget everything else (or even learn everything else) remember first that you are lamb of his flock, a sheep of his fold, he knows you by name, you can hear his voice calling you and come running when you hear it, he will find you when you get lost, he will watch over you and care for you. And in his company is the love that shakes the universe and changes this world. These are some of the first things we want to teach our children about who Jesus is and how he shows us that God is just like this too.

It’s also true that this ‘Little Lamb’s Room’ of my memory is a highly idealized image of Jesus and probably especially of ourselves – spotless, little fresh lambs that we all are. But, of course, also aren’t. I can’t be the only one here whose children were beautiful little lambs, yes, of course – especially in my heavily edited, airbrushed memory. But mine at least were also wild animals, feral, unreasonable, and also, somehow always sticky and dirty even moments after a bath.

We are the Lord’s lambs. But things change. We grow and learn about the kind of world we live in, and we learn about the world that lives inside us too. That the world out there is a dangerous, uncertain place is not news to children however much we try to shelter them. They know. Things go wrong: a pet gets hit by a car, someone makes fun of you for no reason, you make fun of someone else for no reason, someone gets sick and doesn’t get better, notes come from schools about active shooter drills. It’s hard. Things go wrong. Things get confusing. We get lost.

But this story of the Good Shepherd can help us know, little by little, that goodness abides, that we are not alone, that forgiveness can be given and received, that life can begin again and go on, and that whatever happens, hope is always worth having.

Which may have been as much as the first followers of Jesus could piece together as they tried to understand the world they found themselves in the days following Jesus’s death on the cross. Because first one, then another, then another heard his voice calling them still. Unmistakably, it was him. It was his voice. Which is all sheep really need: the sound of their shepherd’s voice. For all the things that can rightly be said about sheep (and maybe us too) – that they’re terribly not bright sometimes, that they tend to be short-sighted and reactionary, that they can follow their nose from the next batch of green grass to the next and the next till suddenly they finally look up and think, ‘uh oh, where am I?’, for being prone to panic and run headlong in the wrong direction, for on their own not really having what it takes to fend for themselves. For all of that, they are really good at one thing. Unlike cattle that you have to get behind and scream and holler and crack a whip and force them to go forward, sheep will follow their shepherd wherever they go. If you tried to get behind them and push them forward, they would just run around your and get behind you and stand there. And stay put till their shepherd goes. Because he is their shepherd.

Jesus says, I am not a hired hand who’s just in it for the paycheck or who will be literally unfindable if the going gets rough. In fact, there’s nothing, not even death – not his and not ours – that can separate him from his flock. So, with all of our shortcomings and flaws, with our inability at any given moment to know our right hand from our left, with our tendency to panic and head in the wrong direction, with our sins both grave and great, and simple and common, grace remains to hear his voice and come behind to follow where he leads us.

I have to admit, I hesitated to use my memory of the Little Lambs Room for this sermon. Because, well, it’s too sentimental, too rosy and too unrealistic. But what is not mere sentiment or fantasy is the longing to hear his voice clearly, speaking into our truest selves, and to come behind him with the flock and follow where he leads, and know that we are his, here and wherever his flock are gathered to hear him say, ‘I am the Good Shepherd,’ and hear our own lamb’s hearts say, ‘and I am yours.’ Amen.


A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

And he said to them…You are witnesses of these things.

Several months ago, my dear husband, told me he had a great idea for a trip. Now, Steve is a fantastic trip planner. It’s honestly one of his favorite pastimes and he’s planned incredible trips in the past for us.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Evansville, Indiana,” he said.

If anyone of you are from Evansville, please do not mistake my initial face of utter disgust personally. I’m from Lebanon, Tennessee. I’ve got no room to talk.

But seriously y’all. Evansville, Indiana.

Of course, this trip was part of a larger plan. To see the eclipse and to be in the path of totality. And the backend of the trip was to be spent visiting some of the bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. It would be a good trip.

So last Sunday night we flew into Louisville and headed west. We decided to head further west on Monday morning to Harmonie State Park in New Harmony, Indiana. Smack in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve seen partial eclipses before, and they are really fascinating. But Steve was right, to see the total eclipse was more than fascinating, it was thrilling and humbling and awe inspiring.

Although we were in a large park and not standing in a crowd, we were close enough to others to hear the collective gasp of people nearby as the moon slid right in front of the sun.

The birds did not silence where we were, but there was a hush and the temperature dropped. For nearly four whole minutes we stood there dumbstruck.

And I did tear up for reasons I really couldn’t explain. I felt awe and wonder, but also something else. I wouldn’t call it fear but something more like bewilderment, a sense of being out of place. Disjointed somehow.

As we headed to New Harmony that morning, I did a quick Google search. Turns out New Harmony was started as a Rappite Community. Rappites were German Lutherans who moved to America for religious freedom first settling in Pennsylvania and then headed to the banks of the Wabash River. They believed that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Their community lasted there only about 10 years before they sold it to another utopian group, the Owenites. The Owenites were more interested in educational and social equity. They established the first free public library and first kindergarten in the United States during the 1820s. Their community didn’t last long either.

In the days leading up to the eclipse I had read and heard stories about people predicting doom and gloom. People saying that the eclipse was a sign from God about how terrible we are and how we better get right with Jesus; some folks even pointing fingers at just who should be ashamed of themselves, who was to blame. And I’d read the snipy replies to these claims.

As we headed back towards Louisville I wondered about those folks and how it must have felt when things didn’t turn out the way they had expected. I wondered about the people who were sure that that the eclipse was bringing the rapture were feeling as the sun was just continuing on in its course. I wondered what the Rappites had thought as they packed up and headed back east when the world had just continued on its course when they’d expected something different, too. And I was reminded of the disciples confused and scared, huddled up together wondering how the world could keep turning, how the sun had just continued on with their Lord and savior gone.

On Tuesday morning we got up bright and early to begin our tour of the distilleries near Frankfort. At breakfast we met Mark, our server at the hotel. He was kind and asked us what had brought us to Louisville. When we explained that we had come to see the eclipse he gave a beautiful smile.
He said he hadn’t gone outside to see it, he’d been working. But he’d seen it on TV.

“Isn’t God amazing?” he asked us. “Just think, we are so small, and God is so big, and He gave us this beautiful place.”

Isn’t God amazing? Mark hadn’t seen the eclipse firsthand, but he knew what was important to him about it.

Mark bore witness to the goodness of God while he poured some delicious coffee.

You are witnesses of these things.

That’s what Jesus said to the disciples when he stood there in a room with them. They were scared spitless. Thought they were seeing a ghost. Things had not worked out the way they had expected at all.

But Jesus assured them he was right there with them, Peace be with you. He was there, all of him, body intact. He even asked them for a snack which is about as human as you can get.

Jesus tells the disciples that they had been there, there when he had been teaching them what was going to happen, how it was written in the scriptures how God had acted in this world to bring forgiveness to all nations. They had been there with him, and they were there with him at that very moment, every bit of him.

Peace be with you. Jesus assures us that there is peace in following him. But that peace is not to be mistaken for comfort or safety. By living as one of us, with flesh and bones and a mind and a heart as one who dreams dreams – all of it – Jesus lifted up this human life of ours, showing us to be worthy and sacred and beloved to God. By his death and resurrection Jesus makes clear that we are worthy of, capable of transformation on this side of the Kingdom and the next as well.

The peace of Christ comes to us in all times and places, in the midst of sorrow and danger and elation and joy.

The peace of Christ can come to us even when we still have doubt and fear, even when things haven’t worked out the way we had expected, when we are both in awe and disjointed.

Jesus stood there amongst his friends, assuring them that even in the middle of their confusion and doubt, even in the middle of a mess, assuring them that in that room their lives were transformed through his love into lives of witnessing how love can and will overcome.

You are witnesses of these things Jesus tells them.

We are witnesses to this too. Heirs to this story through the very lives of the disciples. They chose not to live in the safety of a locked room, but they left there and began to tell the story, they lived lives in witness to the redeeming love of Christ that brings a peace that passes all understanding.

And the call is the same to us today. To bear witness to the redeeming work of God in this world not to find comfort or safety or certainty for ourselves but to live in the peace of Christ’s love. The peace of Christ carries us in this life and continues on with us onto the next.

Isn’t it amazing? God is so big, and I am so small. We live in a world transformed by the peace of Christ.

We are witnesses of these things.

Amelia McDaniel

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that those who believe in him may live.

That one piece of scripture may be the most well-known passage globally. Billboards, stickers, coffee mugs, T-shirts, signs at football games, tattoos. You name an object and John 3:16 has most likely been emblazoned on it.

But the verse just ahead of it harkens back to Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness…

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Moses and the serpent stick, as I call it. Not a widely familiar story.

Have any of you as a kid gone on a long car trip? Or have you been the parent in the car for a long car trip? Maybe you have lovely memories of idyllic scenery, group singing and delicious snacks. I can recall some happy time spent the far far back of our station wagon, which had roughly more square feet than my first apartment. Lounging around on pillows with my feet in the air.

But mostly I would tell you that long car trips meant pain and suffering to me as a kid in which I complained for a good 90% of the trip. And I suppose as the Lord’s gift to my mother, this pattern repeated once I became the captain of family trips.

The Israelites were on the most miserable of long trips. A trip made more miserable because they had no idea where they were headed. At least at the end of our long trips there is the promise of a welcoming friend or family member, a clean bed. They had none of these certainties. And they were afraid. And they murmured. Their fear turned into anger, and they complained to the management, a lot.

There are five murmuring stories in Numbers. This is the last one of them. Prior to this the Israelites had spoken to the management about bitter water and the Lord instructed Moses about how to sweeten it. Then they were hungry, so the Lord sent down manna. But then they were thirsty again and God told Moses to strike a rock and they were provided with fresh water. But then they wanted meat, manna was boring. So, God sent quails to them.

Does this pattern feel familiar to any experiences you may have with children?

And just like my mother who had just about enough of me, God gets fed up with their complaining, really fed up. And he sends venomous snakes who bite them and if bitten, they die.

Then the people do something different. Something I certainly never did during the course of a car trip with my parents. They repent.

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” And Moses graciously, and I really mean graciously because they have not been easy at all, prays for his people.

God tells him to make a bronze serpent and place it on a stick. When the people are bitten, if they look up at it they will live. And it worked.

I can’t make the part about God telling Moses to make something that seems a lot like an idol any less weird. It just is. Although it does not appear to be idolized here, it eventually had some kind of power ascribed to it. They carried that thing around for a long time. It was still in Jerusalem centuries later. The serpent stick appears in 2 Kings when Hezekiah demands it be destroyed.

But this odd story is precisely what John harkens back to in today’s Gospel.

Jesus in this passage is speaking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus, the Pharisee and leader, who comes to Jesus in the night trying to figure out just what is going on with Jesus. And before Nicodemus can even ask Jesus any questions Jesus just lets loose.

Have you ever been in a conversation, and you say one thing and then all of the sudden the person you are talking to starts in on a dissertation about something you have no idea what he’s talking about? That’s kind of what happens here to Nicodemus.

And what Jesus says to Nicodemus has been taken and, as I see it, has made into an idol, made into some kind of gatekeeping passage about who is in and who is out in the Kingdom of God. As if just gazing up at a John 3:16 billboard, as the snake bitten Israelites looked up at the serpent stick, will save us.

Whoever believes. Believing in Jesus is not a nice thing to just think about. Believing in Jesus means acting in the world as Jesus would have us act. Jesus is inviting Nicodemus into a life of belief in him. A life that although filled with hope can lead one straight out into the wilderness where things are hard and uncertain.

In the last few gospel readings this Lent believing in Jesus means…

  • not storing up treasures on earth
  • repenting because the kingdom of God has come near
  • picking up our cross and carrying it
  • Losing our lives for the sake of the gospel
  • flipping the tables, challenging those whose business exploits others

I don’t know about you, but I’ve not managed to do those things well in the last three weeks of Lent or for the other 51 years and some odd weeks of my life.

Believing in Jesus means that we are to do the things He told us to do…

  • Be as merciful as the Good Samaritan
  • Love our enemies
  • Forgive those who trespass against us
  • Give without expectation
  • If someone sues you for your shirt, throw in your jacket, too, without hesitation
  • Don’t worry about tomorrow
  • Reconcile, live in peace with one another
  • Humble ourselves and get down and wash the feet of others
  • Love others the way that Jesus loves us

These actions are BELIEVING in Jesus. These actions push back the darkness. These actions reveal the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Who among us lives each and every day in a way that reflects the wideness of his mercy and the wonders of his love? I mean really, fully. I myself spend a lot of time complaining to the management rather than living into Jesus’ way of love.

Nicodemus gets beaten up in lots of interpretations because he is cast as the bad guy who just can’t understand who Jesus is. He does not have a John 3:16 T-shirt or bumper sticker by the end of this conversation with Jesus. He goes away into the night.

Nicodemus does appear again in the Gospel of John. And his story deserves to be told every time he comes up in the lectionary. Because he is extraordinary. Nicodemus’ last appearance is at the foot of the cross.

At the foot of the cross where not one of the disciples who went around telling people to believe in Jesus are. Not one of them.

But Nicodemus is. He’s there and with Joseph of Arimathea he collects Jesus’s dead body and cares for him. They took down the body of Jesus and wrapped him in linen and laid him in the tomb.

Does Nicodemus fully understand who Jesus is at that point? Does it matter? Or does his belief lead him to act the way Jesus would want, with mercy, courage, and love?

But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. 

For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Saved through him, by living as Jesus teaches us to live.

This is the invitation that Jesus gives to Nicodemus; this is the invitation Jesus gives to us.

We want to be disciples who follow Jesus, and we can be. But we can also be like the disciples who abandon Jesus at the cross.

We are also the Israelites in the desert, murmuring and able to return to God and repent because we are constantly in need of God’s grace.

I think we are called to be like Nicodemus too, ready to show up in mercy and courage and love even if maybe we don’t fully understand yet what being a believer means.

Lent is a time to remember to live like Jesus wants us to, not only with our lips but in our lives. To admit the ways our lives do not align with what believing in Jesus looks like. To admit our murmurings and recognize the inestimable grace that God offers to all of God’s creation. To look to the cross, lifted up, as our hope of new life and as our call to Love as Jesus loves.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that those who believe in him may live.

Amelia McDaniel

A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

One of the great themes of the season of Lent is discipleship. Discipleship is one of those “churchy” words that sometimes no one bothers to explain, and you’d rather not ask about because you think you’re already supposed to know what it means. At its simplest, discipleship just means learning from someone who knows how to do something that you don’t know how to do but you’d like to. It’s like being an apprentice to a plumber or taking piano lessons from someone who knows how to play and how to teach, or even being a young resident under the wing of an accomplished cardiac surgeon. Being a disciple just means putting yourself under the direction of someone who knows what they’re doing and who is willing to teach you how to do it too.

Being a disciple also means trusting your teacher. I took piano lessons as a kid for eight or nine years. Part of being a disciple to my teacher Mrs. Holland meant trusting her when she said that playing those scales, over and over again, hour after boring hour, month after month, year after year, would be the way that one day I could play a Beethoven sonata that would bring beauty and truth into the world. Those were her words – “beauty and truth.” I trusted her, so I kept playing scales over and over even when I wasn’t quite sure it would work or if I’d ever get there. But Mrs. Holland said I would, and I trusted her. Eventually, after years, I found that I could make music too.

Being a disciple of Jesus in some ways is no different. He knows what it is to live with one heart with God. He sees the world with the same heart that God does. He knows the power of the eternal love that shakes the universe. He knows what it looks like to live as God’s child in this world and is willing to teach us. One of the scales we’re supposed to practice is summed up in his words “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” These are words that will come up again and again in his instruction to his disciples – like scales he wants us to play over and over till we come to his beauty and truth.

As a young man, I loved those words about losing your life to gain it. They sounded to me like a trumpet call to live a heroic life on a solitary quest like Icarus to steal fire from the gods. Of course, you know that didn’t end well for Icarus. He flew too near the sun and crashed. It’s like Fred Craddock, the great teacher of preachers, says: we think the call to lose your life for Jesus is something you do in one dramatic, fell swoop. Like slamming $1,000 on the table and giving it all for Jesus. What Jesus is calling us too, more likely, is to take that thousand dollars down to the bank and turn it all into quarters that we pay out a 25-cents act of mercy here, a 50-cents act of love there, another time, 25 cents worth of faith, practicing the scales of Jesus holy life.

In the mid-1990s I served at St. Andrew’s on Oregon Hill. That’s a neighborhood on the other side of the expressway from VCU. We had two services on Sunday mornings, one at 8 a.m. and one at 10 a.m. On a good Sunday, there were 15 or so people for the early service seated in a nave that seats as many as New St. Mary’s. One of the people who was there every Sunday at the early service was Mrs. Florence McMullen – a character from my life who’s come up more than once. Mrs. McMullen (who at the time was about 82 years old) was an Oregon Hill girl who grew up on the Hill around the First World War and into the 1920s when it was a neat, tidy neighborhood for those working at the Tredegar Iron Works. Something tells me that she ended up marrying a banker and moving out into the much nicer neighborhoods to the west. Still, she was baptized in St. Andrew’s, went to the school, was confirmed, married and buried from there. She was there every Sunday, her whole life, basically – from the day she was carried in as a baby till the day she was carried out after she’d died.

Mrs. McMullen always came to church put together – do you know what I mean? The outfits she wore were smashing, perfectly cut, her hair exquisitely coiffed, make-up on point, fully accessorized, all of it. She wouldn’t dream of going out, certainly of coming to church, if she wasn’t perfectly put together. I’d been told that she was one of the best givers to the church and a woman of significant capacity, as they say. What was unsaid was “Keep her happy!” She always greeted me formally after church, saying simply, “Good morning, Mr. May.”

In some ways, she was a real mystery to me, and to others too. She was there at church at the early service every Sunday. But that was it really. She came and left. One of her matronly peers who’d grown up in that church too thought that after she’d married and moved off the Hill, she’d gotten too big for her britches and looked down on her humble beginnings. I called her once to see if she’d like for me to come by for a visit and she said, simply, “No.”

One Sunday morning at the early service, I was in the pulpit preaching to the flock of 10 or 12 in that vast space. I saw a man come in from the back, staggering around a little. I saw him and the usher in conversation and heard the man say a little too loudly, “I’m here for church, that OK with you?” He found a seat and sat down. A little while later, he stood up and started shouting at me, with really colorful language. All the words. I saw Mrs. McMullen in her pew. It looked like she was grimacing at his awful language and how unseemly it all was. I’d better do something, I thought. So, I climbed down from the pulpit and walked down the aisle to the man. I said, “Sir, you are welcomed to be here, but you have got to hush, OK?” He said he would, apologized, and sat down. I went back to the pulpit and was trying to pick up where I’d left off. Before I knew it, the man was back on his feet cussing a blue streak at me. Mrs. McMullen sat there grimacing, shaking her head. I had to put a stop to this. So, I climbed back down, went to the man and said, “You gotta get out of here, that’s enough” or something like that and he got up and walked out of the church cussing as he went.

After church, I went up to Mrs. McMullen, not waiting for her to greet me as she was leaving as usual. I said, “Mrs. McMullen, I am so sorry for that man and his awful language. It probably felt scary and I’m so sorry for that. We’ll be sure to get the ushers to be a little better in handling these things. Really, I’m so sorry. You looked upset.”

Mrs. McMullen looked at me and said, “I wasn’t upset. I was praying for that poor man. David, this is God’s church. That man has every right to be here too, don’t you think?”

That was 25 cents from her of grace, paid out by a disciple for love, with the hope that I could lose a part of myself, my life that it was long past time to lose.

She shook my hand and said, “I’ll see you next Sunday.”

What I heard and what I still hear from that is Jesus saying, clearly, “Follow me.” For his disciples that is the scale we practice more than any other. Follow me, especially when we’ve been following something that it’s long past time to lose. Trust that. Trust him. We disciples of Jesus practice those scales through which – please God, some day – he will show forth his own beauty and truth. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.

I know most of you have heard me talk about living in Louisiana, because I talk about it all the time. Especially around this time of year.

I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in June of 2005. My son Jed was born in July. I can’t tell you how miserable I was. I was so hot and I was surprised as a southerner that I was experiencing culture shock. But Louisiana is a place unto itself. Then at the end of August, when Jed was just about six weeks old, I turned on the TV and saw that Katrina was on the way. The children and I left and went home to Nashville. We ended up having to be gone for nearly a month. Although Baton Rouge was spared from the storm the entire region was in disarray and there was no guarantee that I would be able to get gas once I hit Mississippi because oil production had been shut down in the Gulf.

When I returned to Baton Rouge the town had doubled in size. Nearly 250,000 people from the New Orleans area, which was just a little more than an hour east, had come to shelter in hotels and rentals and with family. There was nowhere else for them to go because New Orleans was uninhabitable, and it remained so for quite some time.

Just five years later in 2010 a freak storm stopped over Nashville, Tennessee, my hometown, and dumped so much water the Cumberland River and all its tributaries boiled over in a flood that took the lives of 11 Nashvillians and destroyed or damaged over 11,000 homes and businesses including the Grand Ole Opry. My home parish of St. George’s lost two dear parishioners, Mr. and Mrs. Rutledge, who got swept away from their car a stone’s throw from church where they were headed that Sunday morning.

I tell you this because I do not come to the story of Noah and the flood as if it is a sweet story we tell children. Try telling this story to a classroom full of children who know exactly what a flood that covers everything is because they have seen it with their own eyes. I never could do it. It’s been 18 years since Katrina and I still struggle with this story. How does such a story fit with the Kingdom of God?

Why did God cover the earth with water? Why would He do such a thing? The people of Israel wrote down this story that had been told for so many years while they were in exile in Babylon, themselves wondering why, why God would let them be in such a state.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and the earth was filled with violence.  Genesis 6:11

That’s how the people in Babylon told the story.

The earlier tradition of the story reads like this, The Lord saw 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.  Genesis 6:5-6

That is what God’s people remembered there in exile. That God was sorry that He had ever created humankind because the thoughts of their hearts were so absent of Him, because the earth of filled with violence. We people broke the Lord’s heart. But the story does not end in brokenness but hope.

God found hope in one family, the family of Noah. He spared Noah and his wife and his sons and their wives and two of every kind of animal after calling upon him to build an ark to house them all to ride out the waters.

God remembered Noah and all the wild and domestic animals after 40 days and nights floating out in the waters. And God sent a wind to blow over the earth and the waters subsided. And all the inhabitants of the ark stepped out onto dry land again.

This is where the passage we hear today picks up…

As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, as many as came out of the ark.

Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

And God as a sign of this first Covenant sets his bow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant between him and all creation.

I think we just often think, oh the beautiful rainbow. But the people living in exile in Babylon would have heard something very different. The bow and arrow was the most deadly weapon of the age.  God turned this weapon upside down. And every time God saw the bow, he would remember His promise. Never again.

God required nothing of Noah and his family or any of creation in this promise. Nothing. God knew that Noah, just like the rest of humankind, still had a heart that could be evil. Just a few verses later in the scripture Noah is drunk and naked.

But God didn’t wipe out all of creation and start anew. God changed how he was going to handle us humans and he decided that love and mercy were the way.

We broke God’s heart and instead of getting rid of humankind, instead of scraping all of what God had made and called good, God chose mercy and love.

God laid down the power of destruction against us. God promised steadfast love to humankind who will inevitably never be able to live up to such a love.

Just a few weeks ago I was talking with the children about how God heals the brokenhearted. It was the responsorial psalm for the day. They had wonderful ideas about what it meant to be broken hearted and the group was popping with things to share.

Harrison, who is the dear 4-year-old who was baptized just last week, shot up his hand. “I know, Amelia it’s like this…”

And he raised his hands above his head.

“It’s like in church when the priest says Jesus took bread and he broke it. And he did that for us. Because he loves us.”

It’s like this.

We break God’s heart.

God breaks his bow and promises to love us, just as we are.

And in time God sends Jesus.

Jesus who breaks his body in love for us.

Jesus who breaks the bondage of our sin.

And we are broken open, if we let ourselves be, to hope in Christ and the hope of the Kingdom of God in our very midst.

I never set foot in New Orleans before the flood. In late February 2006 we loaded up Wyly, my daughter who was three, and Jed, who was a whole seven months old, and headed in for Mardi Gras.  The people of New Orleans were determined to go forward with the celebration that is one of the defining marks of them as a people.

As we drove in there wasn’t a roof that wasn’t dotted or completely covered in blue tarp. Plywood covered windows.  Mounds of debris lay everywhere. There were piles, huge piles of flooded out cars stacked one atop the other, beneath the underpasses. The spray paint signals made by rescuers indicating that they had been in the building still on so many doorways.

We parked and loaded up Wyly in the wagon and I tucked Jed into his carrier on my chest. I had no idea what to expect. What I found as we rounded the corner and stepped onto St. Charles was a sight I will never forget. People everywhere, children, families from every walk of life. There in joy to celebrate. Strangers came up and oohed and aahed at my babies. Music, so much music, from the parade, from people playing boom boxes in the neutral ground, which is how New Orleanians refer to what we call the median. Children perched on their dads’ shoulders shouting, “Throw me something, mister!” as the floats rolled by with people in fantastic costumes throwing prizes. People coming up and hanging beads around my little girl’s neck. “Here you go, baby.”

I fell in love with New Orleans that day. A place so broken, a people so broken, so heartbroken, filled with so much hope.

In Lent we are asked to turn ourselves in all our brokenness toward God, surrendering to God’s love and mercy and to let that love change us as God himself changed. We are asked to fix our hearts, souls, and minds on the promise of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brings.

If you asked me about the times that I’ve glimpsed what the Kingdom of God might be like, I’d mostly likely tell you first about that day on St. Charles.

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.

Amelia McDaniel