St John’s. . . Past Sermons
                Episcopal Church

Feb. 26, 2012    First Sunday in Lent                                    Listen to audio (Sermon 02_26_12 Lent I 2012.mp3)

Yesterday I was driving into New Haven to visit a parishioner at the hospital and the sky was incredibly beautiful. It was still cloudy, but the sun was breaking through, and there were beams of light shooting down through the clouds. While there was no actual rainbow, it reminded me of the end of the Noah story, which we heard this morning. It’s a story many of us know well, though some of the younger ones in our gathering may not know it quite as well. So, I hope that you adults will indulge me for a few minutes as I retell the story of Noah and the ark to the younger kids to catch them up to speed.

When I used to teach Sunday School, we used a curriculum called “Godly Play.” I loved the language that Jerome Berryman used to describe the Noah story. He talks about how things had gone very wrong with the people and that God decided to wash everything clean again. But to wash everything clean and to start over required some time to get ready. God finds a very good family – the Noah family. There is a mom and a dad and they have three boys and their three boys have wives. And God tells this family to build a huge boat called an ark. And so the family builds. And as soon as the ark is built, the animals come out from the four corners of the world to come onto the boat. They come two by two and enter the boat. The Noah family all gets onto the boat and it rains. And at first, it is like any other rain that you and I have seen. But after a while, the puddles begin to run together, creating one big lake and then one big ocean. And the boat begins to lift off of the ground. Forty days and nights, it rains and rains and rains. And finally, the rain stops.  Noah sends a dove out a few times to look for dry land. The time that the dove does not return, Noah knows that there is dry land again and he takes the boat there. The animals go out to the four corners of the new and clean world. And the Noah family praises God. God sends a rainbow as a sign that there will never be a flood as great as this one again. The rainbow is a promise to find another way to wash the people clean.

A very long time later – thousands of years later – a baby was born and His name was Jesus. And you and I know that this baby grew up to be something unexpected – He was the Son of God who came here to teach us the right ways to live and how to listen to God. In addition, He taught us a new way of being washed clean – something called baptism. Have any of you kids ever seen a baptism before? Can you tell me what it looks like? Yes! It is a baby or a child or an adult who gets water poured on their heads. And that water is special holy water that doesn’t just wash the outside of their bodies, but washes away the things on the inside that need to be made clean, too. Baptism is very special in that way.

Today we have our first Sunday in Lent. At home, we have been talking a bit about it and I have been trying to find a way to explain what Lent is to my own boys. We know that it is a season of the church and that it leads up to Easter. And our stories this morning on our first Sunday of Lent tell us that part of Lent is about being washed clean. It is about remembering that we were baptized and washed clean.  It is about reminding us to clean out all of the things that have been holding us down. But just what is it that we need to be cleaned from?

Many of you know that I worked at an Episcopal School for 10 years. When I was there, I found that I didn’t like to use the word “sin” with the kids. Some of them had no idea what it meant. Some of them came from traditions where it meant something very different from what I was talking about. So, when I talked to them I found instead that we could all understand the word “burden.” A burden is something that weighs someone down. It can be something physical – like “It is a burden to carry these heavy rocks.” Or it can be something on the inside that bothers us and therefore keeps us from truly listening to God. In Lent, we’re invited to find those things that weigh us down and keep us from God. We’re invited to find a way to become washed clean of our burdens.

Now burdens can come from a lot of places. People give us burdens all of the time. Sometimes they don’t mean to – it’s the offhand comment that someone says, making us feel uncomfortable. Or it could be an accidental injury. And sometimes these burdens are more intentional. I always think of junior high as the quintessential time for intentional burdens. Those are the comments and the actions that are done intending for us to feel bad. And like many physical injuries those kinds of burdens stay with us – they scar us and take a long time to heal. Sometimes we never truly heal from those burdens. 

I think that even more difficult are those burdens that we cause others; the times when we ignore someone in need, the times when we can tease too much or even be mean. It’s funny. I can still remember times when I had done something to someone – said the completely wrong thing or, when trying to be funny, really hurt someone’s feelings. When I think about those things, they still weigh me down. I still carry them around, not having found some way to wash them away. I might not always be paying attention to them, but they surface. Like an old injury flaring up right before a thunderstorm, those old hurts return to remind me of where I have gone wrong.

Equally as hard are not just the things that we have done to others, but the things that we have forgotten to do. I am mindful of the Lord’s Prayer right now. In it, we ask forgiveness for “our trespasses” or “our sins,” but I remember learning that there is a better translation for this word. The best translation for that word is our “oughts.” It should read something like “Forgive us our oughts as we forgive those who ought us.” Obviously, it doesn’t make for proper English, but it helps frame things. We are asking forgiveness not just for what we have done to others, but for the things that we haven’t done that we ought to have done. And we promise to forgive those who have not done things they ought to have done to us. Recently someone had asked me to write a letter for them that was important to them. And I had agreed to do it.  Well the due date of the letter came at a time when things in my life were changing quite a bit and it completely slipped my mind until it was too late.  While I certainly wrote a letter of apology and hoped that the person understood – or at least forgave – it is a burden that I have been carrying around with me and I’m not sure yet how to wash it away. 

Finally, there are the burdens that just are.  They are things that we cannot change.  Life is full of these.  They are often things that we need to accept or adapt to.  They are the things like losing power for a week because of a hurricane or things like illness and injury.  I know some people who, when they get a cold or a virus, they immediately start trying to figure out who gave it to them!  And while blaming the illness on another can make us feel a little better – or at least somehow trick us into believing that next time we can avoid getting sick – the truth is that there are things that just happen through no one’s fault.  And these things become part of our burdens. 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy‑laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Lent is the time we are invited to let go of our burdens and to learn from the one who was burdenless.  Amen.

129 Ledge Hill Rd.  Guilford, CT 06437   203-457-1094

Sermons by

The Reverend Maureen Peitler-Lederman