2/18/2018 First Sunday in Lent The text is Genesis 9:8-17.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is the year of the winter Olympics and while I haven’t watched many of the events, I have caught a few. Unlike past years, the U.S. team isn’t at the top of the standings. Sure, there have been some golden moments for the team, but there have been an usual number of wide turns, falls and just plain less than stellar performances. People are putting their all into it, but the results just aren’t showing it. And if you are a fan of the U.S.A. team, then there are times when you just want to turn off the TV and go to bed.
I am sure that there are many times when our Lord has felt that way about us as God watched his perfect creation go awry because of the less than stellar performance of people like us. With two bites of a forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve traded in the peaceful and contented life in the Garden of Eden and challenged the God who loved them into being. They turned their backs on God all for the chance to become more God-like, more independent from their creator, more “knowledgeable.” They even tried to hide in their sin, as if they could hide what they did from God. They lied and they blamed anyone and anything other than themselves for what they did. They failed to take responsibility. And, did the next generation of humankind learn from these mistakes? NO – the generation turned out even worse, as sibling rivalry ends with Cain killing his brother Abel.
By the time we get to only the 6th chapter of the very first book in the Bible, the picture is complete. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
It doesn’t take long for humanity to mess things up. Only 9 pages into a Bible, with 1,621 pages to go before the end of Revelation, the damage is so severe that God wants to wash his hands of people like us. God is of a heart to wipe away all that he created in order to wash sin from the face of the earth. And so, he sends the flood.
According to the Bible, for 40-days and 40-nights, it rains and water covers the face of the earth. In the cleansing waters of the flood, God could have wiped out humanity. God has every reason to do so. But, God, in his mercy, has a change of heart and instead of wiping out all of creation and starting over again, he chooses to save what he considers to be the cream of the crop – a righteous man who listens to him, and this man’s family, along with two of every living creature. God, in spite of his anger and his feelings of hopelessness over the state of human kind chooses not to abandon his creation. Despair does not have the last word. The one who sends the floodwaters also draws them back. So there is a deluge, but there is also a rainbow and a new covenantal vow in the aftermath.
I don’t know about you, but I like to think of the rains of the flood as God shedding tears for the whole earth. As a frustrated parent, God cries his heart out in his anger rather than shaking the foundations of the earth until life is no more. In the end, with all the tears shed, God wipes his eyes dry with the towel of the rainbow and sets it upon the earth. With this, God’s anger is gone and he accepts us for what we are – a good creation that has gone astray. In the end, God decides that taking life will not bring the redemption that he is seeking for the world he created. It is only in giving life, God’s very own life – even on a cross – that redemption can be accomplished.
And so God’s efforts move into a new direction. God chooses to work with flawed and sinful people to usher in his kingdom and to show his will, for even a righteous man like Noah is not without sin. Yes, God still gets angry and frustrated. Yes, God still despairs over the condition of the earth and the behavior of his people. Yes, God still sits in the judgment seat and can wipe out everyone in the bat of an eyelash. But, God is now ready to begin a new redemptive process, one which demands nothing from us and everything from God. So, God makes a new covenant, sealed with a rainbow, and begins preparing the world for his son.
My friends, there is nothing we can do in order to receive God’s mercy. He offers it freely. And, yet salvation does not eliminate judgment. Judgment and salvation are the bookends that must be maintained opposite one another in order to make the story of Noah and the new rainbow covenant stand up. The flood reminds us of the horror of humankind left to its own devices. It shows us the despair and destruction we bring as we live as a law unto ourselves, as we live apart from God’s intentions in creating us.
In the rainbow, we see God’s true colors and our Lord offers a covenant of hope to protect us from the judgment we bring upon ourselves. That covenant ultimately leads to Jesus, God’s only begotten son, who will die to wash away our sin, who will take our judgment upon himself, who will cleanse us and give us new life. The redemption which begins in the waters of the flood is brought to its fullness in the flowing blood of Christ. And in this, God pays the heavy price for accepting us as we are, as sinful as we may be, all out of his love for that which he created.
And, what of the forty days and forty nights? Instead of this period being a time of destruction, it has become for us a time of cleansing. It is a time period to re-center hearts and minds and souls on God. It is a time of rebirth and repentance, a time of renewal and strengthening a relationship with God. Noah and his family endured the 40-day period, the same period of time that Jesus spent many years later wandering in the wilderness in order to prepare himself for his ministry. And it is the same time period that we have each year in Lent in order to help us refocus on lives on the Lord of our salvation.
May we remember the 40-days that end with a rainbow as we journey through the 40-days of lent. May we use our time wisely for renewal, repentance and giving thanks. For, God has chosen to accept us as we are and willingly died for us so that we might have life in him.
Lenten blessings to all of you, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.