1st Sunday of Lent Year B ‘18
Genesis 9:1-17/Mark 1:9-15
18 February, 2018
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Welcome to Lent, 2018. It occurs to me that this season of Lent offers some powerful opportunities to grow as followers of Christ. Now, this may seem like a rabbit trail, I promise it isn’t. Yesterday Sarah, Allen, and I attended the annual diocesan vestry retreat. It was a great opportunity to learn and grown as leaders. The afternoon small group session asked an important question: “How are we living out our Baptismal Covenant as a Christian Community?” What a great question for Lent! We were given a series of questions to discuss as we worked to answer the question. One of the first was this: “Do we know deep in our hearts where we have come from? That’s a good place to start, isn’t it? How can we know where we are going if we don’t know where we are coming from? I’d like to propose a simple answer here. Listen to what we say week by week when we respond to God’s word with the Nicene Creed. We confess that God is the “maker of heaven and earth, of all this is, seen and unseen”. We come from God. To read Genesis is to hear that God created us and called us good. We learn that God created us free and respects that freedom. But there’s more, God loves us so much that even when we mess up, and we do, God continues to care for us at least as much as a mother cares for her child. Which brings me to our lesson from the Old Testament. What we heard today holds God’s Covenant with Noah, and through Noah with all humankind. Keep in mind, please, that the passage we read today comes at the end of the flood narrative. Maybe it helps to know a bit about what led up to the flood. You remember, life in the Garden was good, first man and first woman were free to eat of anything they wanted. Well, anything they wanted with one exception. God said they should not eat the fruit of that one tree that gave the knowledge of good and evil. If they ate of it they would die. But first man and first woman did eat from that tree. And God did not kill them. But they were put out of the garden. In fact, God laid a curse on them, life would be much harder from now on. Then, having come into the good creation, evil spread through the world. Imagine God’s disappointment, God’s despair. Eventually it got so bad that God just wanted to just start over. He chose one righteous man, Noah, and his family, told them how to survive, and then unleashed that great flood. It was the undoing of creation, a return to the waters of chaos. A close reading of the text reveals that the flood was ultimately a failure, no amount of water could wash away human sin. This would be a pretty hopeless story if we were to focus only on humankind. If, instead, we focus on God though, hope is restored. The flood didn’t change the nature of humanity, instead, that failure of a flood changed God. God repented the desire to destroy creation and put in place a covenant with humankind. The really remarkable thing is that this covenant has no conditions. God’s bow is set in the sky to remind God of the everlasting covenant between God and all creation. God will never again destroy the earth. Where do we come from? We come from God who called us forth in goodness and who supports us in loving-kindness all the days of our lives. Even when we turn away, even when we break God’s heart. God holds us. I want to call your attention here to the word “covenant”. In the Old Testament the word, largely, refers to mutual agreements between persons. The parties to a “covenant” are willing and equal partners in a contract that forms a relationship. But, we are not equal partners with God. Neither were our distant faith ancestors, Noah in this case. This covenant is a new creation, God takes on the obligation not to destroy but to uphold the world. And humankind is under no obligation at all. We are left with this remarkable hope in God’s loving kindness. We are left with the possibility of freely responding to God, working to recreate the goodness that God so longs for in creation. Did you notice? Our second lesson, from 1 Peter, reminds us that the waters of the flood point to the waters of baptism. Through baptism we are “buried with Christ in his death” and “share in his resurrection”, we are “reborn by the Holy Spirit” and “marked as Christ’s own forever”. How interesting, our Gospel lesson today tells the story of Jesus’ baptism. Did it sound familiar? We heard it just 6 weeks ago on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. I can only assume it’s a very important story. Notice how the story unfolds from the point of Jesus’ baptism, through his temptation, and into his ministry. Jesus’s journey is a whole lot like ours. In fact, that’s one of the big “take aways” here. Jesus’ humanity is what makes everything that follows so powerful. We don’t follow a dying and rising to new life god, and there are lots of those out there in the varieties of religious expression. We follow a dying and rising human man who, although just like us, reveals God’s nature in terms we can both understand and relate to. So, the story of how Jesus reveals God for us, begins with his baptism. Imagine the power of the moment, it is marked by that voice from heaven declaring: “You are my Son the beloved…” It continues as the Spirit drives him into the wilderness to be tempted. Any good first century person would hear the symbolism. Jesus goes into the wilderness with the wild beasts. Jesus’ temptation is clearly part of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. This is a demonic setting and yet, the angels minister to Jesus. Equipped with the power of the Spirit Jesus’ faces temptation and, by God’s grace, he emerges victorious. He steps out to proclaim the good news of God, God has come near, God is with us. Here is the promise, here is our hope. We too have been baptized, we too have that gift of God’s Holy Spirit. For sure, that Spirit is not something that will magically prevent our encounters with evil. We still are tempted to turn away from God, make our own decisions, follow our own desires. We are not changed materially by the water of Baptism. But, and this is huge, God is always with us. God stands right there with us in all our times of trial. In fact, God can even use those terrible times to strengthen and prepare us, to help us to live more fully as God desires. Yes, we have that promise that someday God will “wipe away all tears”, meanwhile we know that God brings new life, new hope, even from the ashes of our suffering. We can live with joy and wonder in all creation as we faithfully follow Jesus in this imperfect life. But what does it mean to be faithful, how do we know what God wants us to do? Look back at the Baptismal Covenant. The last three clauses hold our marching orders in question form. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” And we reply to each, “I will, with God’s help.” (BCP p.305) This is what it means to live faithfully. Our ministry is spelled out for us, it looks a whole lot like Jesus’ ministry. And we have, just as Jesus did, that gift of the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us. God is with us. Certainly, our specific tasks are dependent on who and where we are, they reflect the context of our particular lives. All we need to do is look around, look for a point of need, look at what brings us joy. It’s at that intersection of the world’s need and our deep joy that our ministry is found. And God is always with us. Always. Let me propose a question for this Lent and beyond. I wonder: “How are you living out your Baptismal Covenant in this Christian Community?” Amen.