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February 18, 2024

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 9:8-17

Psalm 25:1-10

1 Peter3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

 

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 grace and peace to you

 from the one who moves with us through water to new life. Amen

 

This Lent we are spending time

 with stories of wilderness wandering and coming home

 as we remember Jesus’ last days

moving with him and the disciples

through the story to the cross and the grave

 and ultimately to the new life of Easter morning.

 

On Ash Wednesday

we heard God call us home to the heart of God

 through the transforming of our own hearts.

 

Today we have stories of transitions

moving from the end of a wilderness time to a new home,

and moving from an old life into a wilderness time

 and out of the wilderness into the next phase of life.

 

And all of these transitions are marked by water,

 in fact many of the major life transitions

 we hear about in the Bible

 seem to have water as a component.

 

We still have water as a sign of new life and transition.

 We enter the community of the body of Christ

through the waters of baptism,

and at important times and transitions

we return to the font to affirm our faith

gifted to us at our baptisms

 and recall the promises of God. 

 

Just because life is new

doesn’t mean it is easy.

 

In fact, that’s probably why water

is such a powerful symbol of transition

 because water is both necessary for life

and can easily take life away.

We see this paradox in the story from our first reading.

The part of the story we heard

was of God welcoming Noah and his family to their new home.

 But prior to our reading

they had just spent a long time with a lot of water,

 water which God used to wipe out all flesh on earth

except those on the Ark.

 

Those on the Ark just spent a long time faced with the dangerous reality of water,

 not only the forty days and forty nights of the storm

 but also another one hundred and fifty days

while the waters subsided and the ark came to rest on the mountains,

 and after that it took another forty days

before Noah worked up the courage to even open the window of the ark

 and then a couple more weeks

before the dove he sends out comes back with a new olive leaf,

 

 and then one more week

just to make sure

the water was really gone

 before setting foot outside of the ark. 

 

And then the first thing Noah does

 is to build an altar and make a sacrifice to God-

the God who saved Noah yes,

but also just wiped out everything else on earth,

 

Noah is treading carefully.

And we hear that “when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘ I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”

 

and having made this resolve

God sets out to reassure Noah and his family

 that it is safe to move forward.

 “Be fruitful and multiply”

God tells them with a blessing and command

and then makes covenant with Noah

to never destroy all flesh by the waters of a flood,

 

 and as we heard God makes a sign,

both for God and for Noah,

 when clouds come over the earth,

clouds that bring rain,

and a bow appears

 God and Noah will remember this covenant,

 this promise of no more worldwide floods.

 

Water that has been used to destroy

 is also used to create the sign of the promise.

 

And it’s a good thing that God has come to this realization about humanity

 and made this covenant

because the first thing that Noah

 does with his new life post Ark

is to prove that even he, the most righteous of humans,

 is fatally flawed.

 

Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine, gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent,

and when Noah finds out that his son Ham has treated him with disrespect

 during the time he was out

 while his other sons covered him up and took care of him,

 Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan,

 

 and just like that the peoples of earth are divided against one another.

How easily we repeat the mistakes of the past,

 even with a fresh start,

 how quickly we need to return to the promises made to us by God.

 

This is especially true if the new life we are entering is a wilderness time.

We see this in our gospel,

John has been proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins

 and people are coming to mark a new start to life with this baptism.

 

Jesus comes to the waters and is baptized by John,

 the next phase in his life is about to start

, and as he comes up out of the waters

the heavens are torn,

the spirit of God comes down,

and the voice of God blesses Jesus.

 

And then Jesus is driven from the waters of promise and blessing

by that same spirit out into the wilderness

 where he is tempted by Satan and surrounded by wild beasts.

 

But the promises of God are with Jesus in this time,

and at the end of the time angels wait on Jesus

and armed with the blessing of God

and the knowledge that he has faced temptation and resisted,

Jesus is prepared to start his ministry,

 

 he goes to Galilee and begins proclaiming the good news of God saying

 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

Just because the news is good, doesn’t make it easy.

The very act of repenting

means admitting we were wrong about something

 (often a painful experience)

 and committing to change our ways

(often a difficult experience).

 

 It means saying goodbye to our old selves

 and hello to new life.

 It is in a way

an experience of dying and being reborn

and we wouldn’t be able to go through it

without the promises and guidance of God.

 

The promise

that like with water

death and life are inextricably linked together

 and that God will be with us

in the death and in the life,

 

and that with God,

 with Christ,

 death is always followed by new life.

 

 This is a way of life we must practice,

 that is what wilderness wandering time is for

this is why each year we return to the season of Lent

to practice living faithfully and in hope during the difficult times

so that when we face our own wilderness times

whether as individuals or communities

we enter them armed with the blessing of God

and the knowledge that we have practiced and prepared for such a moment.

 

 and even then as we saw with Noah

 it is easy to fall back on old habits,

 

and when we do,

Jesus brings us back to water,

to remind us that in our baptisms

 we were made dead to sin and alive to Christ,

and promised that nothing could ever separate us from the love of God,

 not even ourselves.

 

 And then Jesus brings us to the table

where we will always have a place,

and welcomes us home

feeds us,

 forgives us,

 and reminds us of the promises of God,

 

then sends us back out

 to proclaim the good news,

 to baptize and teach others,

 to new life. Amen

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