Redeemed and Empowered Toward Trust

The law sermon I'm not preaching is entitled "Get Back In Line."

It kind of misses the point. Jesus didn't set out to teach self-denial. The gospel reading for today begins with Jesus laying out his way of the cross, not ours. And he does in fact lay out the whole plan -- all the way out to resurrection. It isn't as though there's a dearth of messianic glory, here. But it's God who gives the glory, not God's people. And that mismatch is entirely the point.

And Peter didn't set out to illustrate that mismatch -- I think he knows it, too. But it remains true today that you cannot kill a heresy. You can only outshine it with the truth. And so you cannot defeat the Church in the errors of its ways, any more than Jesus was about to defeat the Temple establishment or Rome in the errors of theirs. It's been tried time and time again -- holy violence only begets unholy destruction and grief. God cannot vanquish sin and triumph over it in martial victory -- that sort of thing always leads to destroying good and precious creatures in the depths of their failures.

This was, in fact, the object lesson behind the covenant with Noah last week. And so God erects an eternal memorial to his promise, a sign built into the very physics of water as a reminder that the way of destruction is eternally closed. God will never again attempt to take the best of creation and start over on a clean sheet. God will always deal faithfully with creation as it is, in every unpleasant state of its life. God will always deal faithfully with you, faithful in spite of judgment passed on your good and bad deeds, because at your worst as well as your best you are a good and precious creature. God grieves over your pain and loss, and has vowed never to lose you. Your life is precious -- what, indeed, could you trade for it? How could losing your life be of any benefit?

And the irony: that for this reason Christ sets out to answer both of those questions. That God sets out to gain the whole world, and accepts the death penalty in the process. And that Jesus will permit nothing to be traded for his life, will accept nothing in exchange for being God's messiah to the end. You could not do this. It would be folly for any of us to try. And yet the end is not the death exacted by the law. The end is, "and after three days to rise again."

This is the price with which we have been redeemed, and the coin with which the price was paid. And the sign of our redemption, the sign that God has won in spite of our judgment passed on Christ, is the resurrection from the dead. As Paul explains, Jesus was handed over because of our sins, but he was raised because we are justified by God. And this is the ultimate demonstration of just how lucky we are, as people of this God and creatures of this Creator.

We've had two covenants in as many weeks of Lent, and there's a pattern in them. The covenant with Noah: God makes it, it's an eternal covenant, guaranteeing God's promise not to destroy. And to seal the covenant, God erects a sign in the heavens, an arch so brilliant neither you nor God can miss it. What does Noah have to do, or his children, or any of the surviving creatures of the earth? The blessing of new creation after the Flood comes with some caveats -- an accountability for other living things, especially for human life -- but the terms of the covenant itself are on God.

The covenant with Abraham is a bit different -- but not by that much. God still makes it, it's still an eternal covenant, it's still between God and a human being and every generation to follow. In it, God guarantees a promise to provide. But the sign for this covenant is not in the heavens, and you're not likely to see it -- though if it marks you, you'll know about it. And because of that, this covenant with Abraham has human terms to it -- but the terms are the perpetuation of the covenant among Abraham's people, in every generation, by means of making the sign of the covenant. In every other respect, the terms of the covenant are still on God.

In every respect, the destiny of the people of God belongs to God. And in much the same way, we make the sign of God's baptismal covenant with us through our generations -- though ours is still harder to see than Abraham's. And yet, because by this sign we stand in Christ, we also belong to father Abraham. And just as father Abraham was empowered to trust in God's promise, knowing that he could expect from God things he had no right to expect from the world, so are we. And as God works that trust in us, we grow ever closer to a just world.


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