Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9,1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
Rainbows do not make me think of Lent – especially after receiving a Valentine’s Day card in the mail from our granddaughter Clara. She decorated the envelope with rainbow and heart stickers. Yet, on this first Sunday in Lent, today’s passage from Genesis includes God saying to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
The rainbow is a symbol of the covenant God makes with Noah and every living creature on the earth. In the bible there are at least seven different covenants. Some of are in the form of promises of what God will do or not do for us. Some; however, require something of us. They are made in the form of a treaty. God’s promises to us will be fulfilled, IF we remain faithful to God.
To Noah, God promises to never again destroy all life on the earth by flood. God promises to make Abraham the father of a great nation. These are promises not tied to anything. The covenant with Moses; however, requires the people of Israel to follow the Ten Commandments. God lead them to into the Promised Land, if the people follow these commandments. If the people do not follow God’s commandments, there will be consequence.
The story of Noah and the ark is the source for a wonderful children’s song, Rise and Shine, sung complete with hand gestures. I’m sure most of you know it. After the Lord tells Noah “there’s gonna be a floody, floody,” he builds an “arky, arky,” and the animals come by “twosies twosies.” Most all of us could sing this from memory – and we might even remember the hand gestures. After it rains for forty days and the sun dries up the land, the song finishes with:
So, rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Children of the Lord
It’s a fun song to sing. In addition to learning this song, our children played with a Noah’s ark set; Clara now gets to play with that ark and its pairs of animals.
The song, the toys, and the rainbow gloss over the most difficult part of this story: the flood. Floods are devastating and are responsible for many deaths. Most us do not blame the victims for the flood. But in this story, God floods the earth because of human sin.
The flood challenges our image of God as loving and compassionate – slow to anger and quick to forgive. Today’s passage from Genesis may hint at the questions this raises about the nature of God, but it leaves out the troubled beginning of the story; it begins with the happy ending – or at least it suggests a happy ending. God promises to never again destroy the earth – by a flood, and the rainbow is a sign of this promise.
Some people read stories like this in the Old Testament, and then skip ahead to New Testament. They prefer the God of the New Testament. The lesson from 1st Peter; however, brings up the story of Noah. To fully appreciate the New Testament, we must sometimes wrestle with these stories.
The various covenants in the bible change over time and hint to the people of Israel developing a more mature relationship with God. Their understanding and appreciation of God and God’s will for them evolves. This is true for us as well. What people did attribute, and sometimes still do attribute to God as a punishment for our sins: floods, tornados, earthquakes, pandemics, and winter storms – are now understood as acts of nature. Our beliefs about the nature of God are what determine how we explain these tragedies.
The Old Testaments stories, such as the story of Noah and the flood, are told by people attempting to make sense of a great flood. If we then remove the belief that God punished the people for their sins, we can read the story and listen for the lesson it offers us. God calls Noah to do something that makes no sense to others. He answers God’s call and does what God wants. Noah endures the ridicule of others for building the ark. Yet, Noah is responsible for saving God’s creation.
Some may suggest the lesson here is we must do what God commands or suffer the consequences. This reflects an understanding of God’s nature as jealous and full of wrath. I understand this story to be about faith and perseverance.
Our relationship with God has been evolving and maturing since the beginning of time. Attributing pain and suffering to God as punishment – or warnings to stop sinning, are, I believe a failure on our part to grow into a deeper relationship with God.
Lent is about growing, and it is no coincidence Lent is forty days long (not counting Sundays). After Jesus was baptized, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” and he remained there for forty days. In the desert Mark says simply, Jesus is tormented by Satan. Matthew and Luke say that Jesus is tempted by what were tempted with – to put himself first, to put his wants and desires ahead of what God wants us to do.
After being tempted, Jesus returns and proclaims the good news, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” His proclamation is not a threat to repent or experience the wrath of God, it is a declaration that God’s kingdom is near – prepare to meet your creator.
Preparing to meet our creator can be frightening if we understand God’s nature as jealous and full of wrath – but it is joyous if we understand God to be full of love and compassion and quick to forgive. This Lent, I plan on reflecting on God’s gifts of love and compassion. With God’s help I will repent and rejoice that God’s kingdom has come near. To repent means simply to change direction – or focus. My wilderness experience this Lent is to work through my feelings and shift more of my focus from the events in my life these past few months, to the angels who have been caring for me, members of this parish and my family, who share the love and compassion of God with me.
Lent is an appropriate time for me to do this work – and it does take work to shift our focus from ourselves to God. By doing this work, I know that I will be able to experience the nearness of God’s kingdom and grow in faith. I know this because I understand God to be full of love and compassion. I know this because of you share God’s love with me and all who suffer or grieve.
Where might the wilderness lead you this Lent? Who are the angels caring for you? Turn to them for help and you will find God is with you.
Let us pray.
God of love and compassion, we humbly pray for you to guide us through the wilderness into a more mature and trusting relationship with you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.