Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22
Sermon: New Beginnings
There are several seasons of the Christian year, and they can easily be explained by a simple metaphor, which is the butterfly.
Before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it lives a life of eating.
That is the Christmas season for most of us.
We feast, we enjoy, and fatten ourselves up on Christmas cookies and feelings of generosity and good will.
When 2018 arrived, we began to think about the year ahead.
And like caterpillars who molt several times before they go into a cocoon, many of us are shedding bad habits of the past, maybe even shedding few pounds gained over the holidays.
And now, we arrive at the season of Lent, the chrysalis stage for the caterpillar.
When caterpillars are ready for this stage, hang upside down from a twig or a leaf and they spin a silky cocoon or molt into a shiny chrysalis.
And then for 10-14 days, they grow and transform. The chrysalis stage is not a time of rest. The caterpillar grows wings and antenna, its mouth changes, and ultimately, it prepares itself to break free.
When it’s ready to emerge, it struggles, pushing fluid out of its abdomen and into its wings, which ultimately, allows it to break out of the chrysalis and fly.
If you break a butterfly out of the chrysalis and try to “help” it be free, it will perish.
The struggle is the only way the butterfly develops the strength and body structure to survive its new form.
So like the transformation of the butterfly, Lent, for us, is a time of struggle and transformation in which we prepare ourselves to emerge at Easter in the light of the resurrection.
In order to prepare ourselves for that day when we all break free and emerge into the reality of the resurrection, we must struggle, with ourselves, with the reality of change, and with all that comes with saying goodbye to the past.
Part of that struggle for me, this Lent, is the simple fact that we’re using the Revised Common Lectionary.
That means that the texts we read this season will not be selected by me or by the worship team, but by a committee across several different Christian groups, several mainline churches, who agree to preach on the same texts.
That means that if you have a relative that’s Presbyterian or Lutheran or Methodist or Episocapian or Roman Catholic in the United States or Canada, there’s a good chance that if they go to church this morning, they’ll hear these same scriptures we did.
Which is beautiful, in a way.
And yet, the lectionary challenges us with its seemingly poor choices of texts, including texts that push back against some of our core beliefs.
Working with it can challenges all of us to struggle with texts that we wouldn’t ordinarily choose to read or go to for inspiration.
The text from 1 Peter this morning is particularly difficult.
And so we fight. And we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and like the caterpillar, we may be transformed in the process.
Unfortunately, we don’t have time this morning to unpack these texts as much as I would like. The text from 1 Peter in particular has lots of room for mistranslation
So in the interest of time, I’m going to ask you to trust me, and if you want to dive deeper into these texts, I invite you to come to Bible study at 11AM on Tuesdays or to make an appointment with me to talk more about the questions these texts raise about the nature of God, the sacraments, suffering, and the cross itself.
You may very well come to different conclusions, but because we have so many folks who have heard these texts preached in ways that are hurtful, let me offer you some quick reassurance.
These texts do NOT say that if you’re not baptized, you’re going to hell.
In fact, the text doesn’t mention hell at all.
They do NOT say that…baptism is an exclusive club.
They do NOT say that…there will never be another natural disaster.
They do NOT say that…God planned for Jesus to suffer and die or that Jesus died for our sins and therefore, sinning is just fine.
Those are what the texts do NOT say.
What they DO say is that change is an integral part of the human experience, change requires struggle, and God is our partner in transformation.
Change is, unfortunately, not a promise that things will get better.
And change is not something we all readily embrace!
Frankly, many of us would be happy to stay in that caterpillar lifestyle.
It seems quite nice, crawling around, being cute and eating plants all day.
If caterpillars were as sentient as human beings, and they were somehow able to choose how their bodies changed with time, I imagine that many of them would choose not to enter that scary and vulnerable chrysalis stage that requires so much struggle.
We’ve all been through tough changes in our lives, and we know that change is NOT always welcome.
And even when it IS welcome. Even when change is something that everyone says is good for us or that we know rationally is the right thing to do, even then, change can be a struggle.
Some of you may be struggling at this very moment with the new seat arrangement.
For Lent, the worship team and I decided that it was good to turn toward each other.
And this small change is a simple metaphor for the re-orientation we undertake at Lent.
If you’re experiencing some discomfort around the change, that’s okay.
I’m having to adjust my preaching a bit to see all of you. We’re in this together.
The seats alone are a good reminder that change, even the smallest of changes, can be disorienting.
I recently had another disorienting experience related to change – I got a new glasses prescription.
When I got my new lenses, I was so excited, because at the doctor’s office, when the optometrist put these lenses in front of my eyes, everything was so much more crisp and clean.
And yet when I first put on these new lenses in the mail, my eyes struggled to adjust.
I even looked up my order to make sure I’d gotten the right prescription.
Because everything seemed a little fuzzy and distorted.
I read up on it, which took a little bit longer than planned given how distorted my vision felt at times, and
Apparently, it can take between 2 days and 2 weeks for your eyes to adjust to a new prescription.
Which seems ridiculous to me.
These glasses are better than my old ones.
They’re the right ones for my eyes.
And now that I’ve adjusted to them, everything is brighter and cleaner and crisper than it was before.
But at the beginning, my mind and body rejected them as distorted and wrong.
And that was just a small change in an eyeglasses prescription.
So can we offer ourselves some grace, maybe, when it comes to the struggle we face when adapting to changes in our lives.
Think about poor Noah, whose friends and home were washed away in a flood.
Other than the animals and those 7 other people that were on the boat with him, there was nothing left in the world that he could recognize as familiar.
Like the little caterpillar that hangs from the branch of a tree, Noah’s world was literally turned upside down.
Our lives can feel like that as well sometimes.
When we move, when we begin or end a relationship, when we experience crises of health, when lose someone we love, or when we transition from one phase of life to another, it can certainly feel like a Noah experience sometimes.
Like we’re on a boat in the middle of a vast ocean, drifting with no sign of land or stability in sight.
And yet we know from this story in Genesis that God has promised us that God will never wipe away everything in our world again.
The rainbow is a symbol of that promise.
It may take a while for us to find our footing again. And recognize that rainbow in the sky. So again, I invite us to have some grace for ourselves. It took me several days to adjust to new eyeglasses. If you’re dealing with a change that’s more significant that THAT, give yourself some grace.
We WILL find our way to solid ground.
But it may take a while.
Even coming to church, for those of us who are newer to this community, can take some time to adjust to.
The author of 1 Peter says that the flood was actually foreshadowing for the sacrament of baptism, which for us, is a sign of welcome into this community.
For us, at Church of the Good Shepherd, baptism, for most people, is not about washing away our sin or vaccinating us against hell.
It’s a symbol of God’s grace as well as a promise from the community that they will love us and nurture us as a member of God’s family. In case of children, it’s very much about the church community’s promises to love that child, raise them to value God’s love, and a promise to support the parents as they teach their child about God and about faith.
Joining the church as an adult can be a similar experience. We sing this song, which we’ll sing later in the service in honor of <names removed for privacy>, who are undertaking a transition of their as they move to be closer to family.
The song begins with one voice – I am one voice and I am singing. Then 2. We are two voices, we are singing, and then everyone stands and joins together, we are God’s people, we are singing…we are not alone.
What the stories of the flood and baptism have in common is not just the symbolism of water, and not just the idea of a fresh start and an opportunity for new life.
What they have in common is the promise from God and from the community that we will be supported as we struggle, transform and begin our lives anew.
The metaphor of the caterpillar falls apart at this point.
Because the caterpillar struggles alone.
WE struggle in community. We’re in the chrysalis process together.
All of us are in the process of change, whether it’s as small as adjusting to a new eyeglasses prescription or as dramatic as moving across the country, we are all in the process of changing and growing and transforming our lives.
And more often than not, that process requires some struggle.
The promise of God in both of our texts today is that unlike the caterpillar, we have God and each other to nurture us along that journey.
We are God’s people, and we are not alone.