As I prepared todays sermon the first though that struck me was we just read this Gospel a few weeks ago. The second thing that hit me was No one wants to reflect on this reading in the context of the first Sunday of lent because we just read this Gospel a few weeks ago. Many of the commentaries want to reflect upon the story of Noah which is the old testament reading for today.
Genesis 9:8-17 The Message (MSG)
8-11 Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you—birds, farm animals, wild animals—that came out of the ship with you. I’m setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth.”
12-16 God continued, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.”
17 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I’ve set up between me and everything living on the Earth.”
Reverend Kathryn Mathews who has retired after serving as the Chaplain of Armistead chapel reflects
One might think that our theme for this First Sunday in Lent would be something like "We Keep Sinning," or "Why We Need to Repent," instead of the tender claim that "God Loves Us."
Many people would look at this as a time to reflect on our brokenness or how we may have turned our back on God or all our faults. But what if we look at our relationship with God as we understand it Today?
We, the United Church of Christ, proclaim an all loving, Creator God who calls us children and knows each one of us before we are even formed in the womb. We believe in a God who walks with us in our time of despair and dances with us in our time of Joy. We believe and proclaim God Loves us. Isn’t that a great way to sum up the Lenten season? As we do our best to improve our personal relationship with God. God is always waiting for us and ready to engage us if we seek God out.
“Yes, we know that the story of Noah has a lot to do with God judging humankind and finding it wanting--very, very wanting, so much so that God decides on a do-over (would our technological culture say a "reboot"?) of creation itself, back when water and land had been separated and new life brought forth. In the larger story of Noah … God chooses one man and his family, establishing a new Adam and a fresh start for humanity (and, once again, telling humanity to "be fruitful and multiply"). God begins the story again, with this offer, this gift, of the very first covenant between God and humankind.”
The story of Noah is a horrible story. It is a story of anger, sin and destruction. Yet it is also a story of redemption. This is the story of God’s own redemption. Did you ever hear we are created in they image of God? Did you ever get so angry you just wanted to knock everything down and maybe you did but then the regret lies heavy? We often regret our own impulses and, in this case, well God kind of does just that. Right?
God sees this destruction and mess that comes out of anger and makes a promise. God makes a covenant. To never take out all living things again. God makes a covenant and that should ring a bell in a few ears, especially if you are UCC for we are a covenant people.
God makes a covenant with Noah before he gets on the Ark and ;
“God fills out that first slim covenant, going far beyond the rescue of Noah and his descendants but also ‘with every living creature…all future generations…” and even ‘between me and the Earth’ to these all, god promises an ever lasting Covenant.’ God even places the rainbow as a Divine Post-it note to remind God of the Promise. This covenant is purely God-Initiated and God Committed. Nothing is asked or demanded of Noah or the earth creatures or of the earth itself. This is Purely God’s covenantal promise.”
God late makes a covenant with Abraham and that covenant is passed on to Isaac
In exodus 2:24 hearing the cries of the enslaved Israelites God “remembered his Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and delivered them.
The story of covenant and how bad Kings and people are at keeping them are woven throughout the Hebrew writings and then when we move into the new testament well…
“the very title “testament” for the two parts of Christian scripture witnesses to the importance of the notion of covenant in our scriptural tradition. When the Hebrew bible was translated into Greek, the translators chose to translate berith (The Hebrew word for covenant) with the Greek word diattheke, which means literally “will” or Testament, to indicate that covenant is always about Gods’ initiative and will. Then when the Greek Bible was translated into Latin, diatheke became testamentum and scriptures became known as Old and New Testaments – or old and new Covenants.”
As Christians we are covenanted to God, as a congregation we are covenanted to one another, as a church we hold covenants with our local Golden gate association and with the conference and then with the denomination. Whether you realize it or not we are covenanted people, and this goes way beyond scripture. But that first and primary covenant of God to all creation, that first time when God looked back upon Gods wrath and makes a covenant never to destroy all life by a flood again truly moves me because it tells us that God can be moved and often is moved as we hear again and again throughout the scriptures.
God Loves us, God is moved for and by us
“And yet, and yet...we are especially prone, in the church, to concentrate on what we are doing or failing to do (right) in our relationship with God or, for that matter, what we are doing (or not doing) in the world. We don't focus so much on the primary actor in the long story of faith: God. (Perhaps this is because we, deep down, think that everything really is up to us?) This one episode in that story is a dramatic example of God at the center of things: God is the One who speaks, acts and, one might even say, feels. God is actually the one who "turns away" from a path (the thing we're supposed to do during Lent when we "repent") and makes a promise never again to destroy humankind and the earth with a flood.”
Even more so one thing to remember is we did not cause God to turn from this action this covenant comes from the heart of God, if you will, God makes a covenant and continues to covenant with life.
“Indeed, this week's text is about remembering and reminding, and about relationship. It is about a covenant, a promise. Apparently, even God needs to be reminded, in this case by a beautiful bow (ironically, an ancient weapon) in the sky, of a promise God makes out of tenderness and compassion.”
“So what do we learn about God--and what God is about--in this story? William Loyd Allen describes a God who is "adaptable, touched to the heart by creation, and willing to accept hurt to keep hope alive." God refuses to give up on us, Allen says, because "God's heart is touched by creation's suffering. The God declaring this covenant is not an objective judge meting out a just sentence, but a lover grieved to the heart at the beloved's violence, yet still seeking reconciliation (6:6, 8:21). Readers will find divine regret throughout this covenant, but will look in vain for anger" (Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 2). Thus, our theme: God Loves Us.”
It is with that theme of God loves us that we enter lent marked by the beginning of the New Testament, the new covenant, and we open with Jesus baptism
“In a few swift strokes of the pen Mark sets the stage for all that is to come. Our attention is focused precisely on the man Jesus and the message he brings. This clearing away of extraneous detail, this forcing our attention on Jesus is just what Lent can be about for believers who are too absorbed in their own projects to focus for themselves. Mark's opening verses invite us to re-focus in Lent.”
We are to turn our focus back to our relationship with God as it is manifested in the life, the life and sayings of Jesus. This invitation to refocus comes in Jesus own words; "repent and believe in the gospel." “We might translate these familiar words "re-focus and trust the good news." Mark leaves us in no doubt about the good news that Jesus calls upon his hearers to trust.”
Last week we were told too listen to Jesus this week Jesus is reassured by God that he is beloved and God is pleased. One commentator points out this about Marks gospel
“First it is specifically "good news about God." And that news is all about timing: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand." Both verbs (is fulfilled/is at hand) are in the perfect tense. Something has already happened and the implications of that happening are emerging in "those days," the very same days referred to in verse 9. The time is ripe, and the kingdom has come near. No wonder Mark's gospel is marked by brevity. His message is urgent -- no time to spend on unnecessary words.”
If we look and listen to Mark closely we can find ways to move away from the old concept of Easter and Lent as a time of sadness, deprivation and sorrow.
“The time before Easter has long been associated with penitent self-abnegation. That befits Jesus’ preparation for his own sacrifice, to be detailed in coming Sundays. Along the way, however, the church has sometimes extended Passion Week into six weeks of mourning and has confused surrender with easy self-deprivation (“giving up chocolate for Lent”).
Mark points us in a different direction. “The time is fulfilled” (1:15a). This time is not chronos, measured by calendar or clock. It is kairos -- a time of critical decision: not every day, but D-Day (Ezekiel 7:12; Dan 7:22; Gal 4:4; Ephesians 1:10; Revelation 1:3b). This kairos is filled to fullness: the cup has been topped up, its contents brimming to overflow. Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas: God has set the kingdom into motion, which will soon go into turbo-drive. As with Advent, so also with Lent: the suitable response is to “repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15b).”
This explains Marks urgency and brevity. The time is now, God Kindom is at hand. Jesus is reassured by Gods love and then Hurled out into the wilderness he is tempted by Satan…but we need not worry ourselves about the details at least mark doesn’t think so. He does give us a quick glimpse into the kingdom. He was with the wild beasts, now for any listener at this time with images of the garden of Eden would pop up because this is the only time man was supposedly safe among the wild beasts. Then with the added imagery that he was waited upon by angels is just top mark the awareness that this is truly a man of God. The son of God!
“Jesus’ experience in the wild, out in a boundary setting at the threshold between civilization and untamed places, is supposed to capture our imagination. Served or protected by angels, Jesus is “with the wild beasts” (Mark 1:13). Just what’s going on out there in the wilderness?
“Our answer will depend on what other biblical texts we have in view.
One perspective says that Mark evokes hopes of a restored or new creation coming into being. If the wild beasts pose no threat to Jesus, if he sleeps with his head on a lion’s back and with a Komodo dragon alongside him for warmth, then creation -- at least this outpost within it -- has been transformed. It is (again?) at peace with itself. Through Jesus, as a result of victories he will win over powers of chaos and destruction, harmony will come to earth.
may tell about a transformed creation made harmonious, or it may hold out the promise of keeping at bay all the still-dangerous elements of creation. In either case, the imagery contains a sense of reconfigured boundaries. Old rules and expectations no longer apply in the same way when Jesus is present. Other passages will confirm this with respect to religious practices (e.g., Mark 2:18-22), and Jesus’ healings will repeatedly confound our sense of what’s possible. The empty tomb in Mark 16 will make this point even more forcefully.”
Professor Matt Skinner tells us that ;
“Jesus’ focus is temporal, not spatial. That is, he announces the dawn of a new era and a new state of affairs, one in which God rules; with the expression kingdom of God he does not speak of taking people away to a new place in a far-off land. He tells those who listen that God is bringing new realities into existence; Jesus himself demonstrates what these realities look like through his actions and words.
This “reign” is about more than people’s spiritual existence. Jesus will call people to new understandings about what all of life is like. Family, society, political allegiances, economics, wellness, purity and acceptability -- no facet of life remains unaddressed.”
Jesus message and is that God loves up. And that Love calls us to a higher way of being as God’s kingdom is at hand! To this day we are still, as a people, learning and discovering what that means, how we need to treat each other and what we need to do to continue to be Gods children living in Gods love and letting that relationship of us to God be expressed in our love and care for each other and all of God’s creation.
As we set out on our Lenten journey, what lesson, and what comfort and strength, do we draw from this story? How do we see ourselves as creatures dependent on God's goodness and grace? How will we allow ourselves to be changed by the promises of God, unfolding in our lives and in the life of all creation?
This is for you to discover and answer I will warn you if you are actively seeking out that deeper relationship with God during the Lenten season. You will probably end up with more questions than answers. But often that is the way a good relationship with the loving God works. Amen.