February 22, 2015
First Sunday in Lent
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The Noah story is famously offered as wallpaper, and toys, and a collection of cuddly animals for children in Sunday Schools around the world. But the story is not meant for children. On the one hand, it is a horrific story about the near total destruction of the earth. Noah and his family see all that they knew, all whom they loved, all that they had ever seen in their lifetimes destroyed by the waters of the flood.
To gloss over the horror also means ignoring the later portions of the story where after they arrive again on dry land, Noah plants a vineyard, grows and harvests grapes, builds a winepress, makes some hooch, and gets wasted. Whatever we may think of drunkenness, Noah’s response to so much devastation is perhaps understandable.
But on the other side of this devastation is a covenant – a new relationship with God.
There are two kinds of covenants in the Old Testament: conditional and unconditional. Later, when God makes a covenant with Abraham, it will be conditional. God will lay out God’s part in the covenant, and Abraham and his family’s part in the covenant. And if Abraham and his descendants keep their part, God will keep God’s part.
And when Moses and the Israelites have escaped Pharaoh’s armies through the Red Sea, and Moses and God are upon the mountain, God makes another conditional covenant:
Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.
…if you obey my voice and keep my covenant…
The Israelites have an important part to play in the covenant of God, and God will sustain it, God says, as long as they do their part.
But with Noah, the covenant is not just with people, but all living things. And it is an unconditional covenant. There is nothing to be done by humanity or creation, because God takes upon God’s self the care of the world, that God will never again destroy the world. The rainbow in the sky is to remind God, because God has taken it upon God’s self to care for us.
Alongside the covenants that lay out the responsibilities for both sides, like a contract does, there are these unconditional covenants. Covenants in which God declares God’s love regardless of our side of the equation. Moments when God expresses God’s own desire to care for us, even when we are pretty messed up.
Casual friendships and business partnerships are often based on this for that. I do my part and you do your part and we all get along. But deep relationship knows that while it is good to offer acts of kindness in return for help and care, the love that sustains us is beyond just being about the rules and the quid pro quo and scorekeeping and such things.
Fast forward to John the Baptizer preaching repentance. Repentance is necessary to restore right relationship when the rules or expectations or covenant has been broken. And John does not simply preach when it is safe or convenient. He preaches to the powers that be when they have stepped out of line as well. And this gets him arrested.
Jesus has been baptized, has gone into the desert, has faced the temptations and has prevailed. Mark does not list the temptations the way Matthew and Luke do. If we want to figure out how he is tempted, we need to go to the other Gospels.
What Mark is moving to is the fact that with the arrest of John, the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News.
The world has never been good at following the rules. Even the most upright and holy among us has broken the rules. All have fallen short, as Paul says.
But the love of God is about more than the rules. The love of God is about more than living up to expectations. The love of God is far deeper than scorekeeping.
A church member recently forwarded to me a devotional by Richard Rohr, in part because he quotes Walter Brueggemann. But it was the words he wrote right after the quotation that got my attention:
God is always breaking God’s own rules to get to this person, to change this situation, to transform this event. If you are honest about the text, this should be clear. You do realize, I hope, that every time God forgives, God is breaking God’s own rules, and saying relationship with YOU matters more than God being right! I would base my life on that assertion.
Just so. The time has been fulfilled and Jesus will now show that God is willing to live among us, hurt alongside us, and even suffer and die at our hands to be in relationship with us.
Thanks be to God. Amen