This sermon was delivered February 18, 2018, the first Sunday of Lent. It was also delivered only 4 days after the Parkland High School Massacre.
–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian
Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? 14 But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. 15 Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. 16 Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. 17 It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.
18 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. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 20 In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21 Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.
The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals.
One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”
The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.
But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”
Brothers and sisters, welcome to Lent.
There are no flowers on the altar. There are no alleluias in the music. The season is often cold, damp, and grey. The world seems dead, and we are fasting in repentance and humility. For all appearances, we might imagine that things were grim, like the boy in the hospital.
And yet…we are alive. And because we are alive, we have hope.
This Lent, I’m going to focus on a lot of different idea, different scriptures from different places, because there is a wide diversity of emotions, concepts, and conflicts that emerge in times of repentance and reflection.
Today, I want to focus on hope. Specifically, hope in hopeless situations. Using the example of Christ, we have hope that springs eternal, because even as he was put to death, death could not constrain him. The Spirit gave him life, and so we through him and the Spirit, we are alive as well.
A World of Persecution and Darkness
We are given hope, despite the world seeming to be a place of darkness.
Especially after this week, the world seems very bleak. The murder of 17 children in a public school should be evidence enough of that. Words can’t express the pain or heartache that has been given witness by the families and classmates of those who lost loved ones this week.
But that isn’t the only darkness that exists. You know, one thing that has stuck with me is a word that a mentor of mine, Pastor Billy Watson, once gave me: Sin and evil are the most provable parts of Christian belief, because you only need to look outside your window to see it. Our world has been broken by sin, sin that we humans brought on ourselves in the beginning. Hatred, Greed, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Apathy, and worst of all Pride, have corrupted this world, and we only have ourselves to blame.
What’s worse than that is when good folks are persecuted because of the good things they do.
I might have used his story before, but it illustrates the point well. In 2014, Arnold Abbot, a 90 year old Florida man, alongside two pastors and a host of volunteers, began feeding the homeless from their neighborhood. That is, until, they were arrested. A city ordnance was enacted to ban public sharing of food in Fort Lauderdale, and Abbot along with the clergy were arrested for 60 days, and fined $500 each. For feeding the homeless. It boggles the mind how these ordnances came to pass. The only reason I have is the one Abbot himself gave: “Man’s inhumanity to man.” (source: https://www.local10.com/news/local/fort-lauderdale/police-charge-90-year-old-man-2-pastors-with-feeding-homeless-)
Now I know what you’re thinking: obviously it’s Florida that’s the problem. All joking aside, it really isn’t. There are ordnances in many more major cities like that, that instead of helping the poor, criminalize both the poor, and those who would help them.
It goes beyond the homelessness problem, too. I know many a pastor arrested because they simply joined a protest they believed in, and wanted to help out, whether it be for women’s rights, against corruption in the government, or whatever honest, good causes they believed in. They suffered because of their righteousness.
Sadly, that is what happens to good in this world. Evil naturally wants to eliminate it, because darkness cannot stand the light. The forces of wickedness will always oppose light, in every way it can, both subtly, and overtly. It will even use the tools of good, such as law and order, to enact evil. That is how evil attempts to win: to make it look like defeat is inevitable, and there is no hope.
Hope Springs Eternal From the Spirit
But of course, there is always hope, because the Spirit is always with us.
Christ was the most righteous of us all. Christ did everything so that we might see the light, understand it, and share it with the world. He healed on the Sabbath–doing good, despite those who would use the law against him so that the light would not shine.
Christ shared the light with the fishermen, the sick, the lame, the possessed and the dispossessed alike. He shared his hope with the disabled, and gave healing to the desperate. He offered forgiveness even to the most sinful among us, to the chagrin of the righteous. He turned over the tables in the temple to send a message about the corruption of his religion, an act of civil disobedience if I ever saw one. And for these good deeds, he was persecuted. More than that, he was executed.
First, he was killed by the court of public opinion. Those in power turned the people that clamored for him, supported him, and shouted hosannas to him, against him. They made him into a villain worse than an accused murderer. And then they had him hanged to death on a cross, an ignoble and shameful means of death.
And yet, despite all of that, he persevered. Three days later, he was raised from the dead, and offered to us all new life in the spirit.
Not even the worst that the evil of the world could do would keep him down. And so for us, we have that same Spirit. Nothing can keep God out. Those who do evil in the world, and seem to have extinguished all hope, can never extinguish the fire of the Spirit. Which is why you must bear the light, even in the darkness of Lent.
Resurrection is coming. Flowers will bloom. Day will dawn. The clouds will disappear. And we, through the waters of baptism will be made clean, not just from dirt and grime, but clean in the Spirit. We will be given new life. We are not doomed. They wouldn’t teach verbs and nouns to a dying boy, and Jesus would not die for a hopeless creation. We are alive in the Spirit, on fire with hope. It’s on you, now, to share that hope everywhere. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.