Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15 Oremus Bible Browser

Walk the forty days knowing yourself to be a child of the divine

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The prayers that we used post-Christmas included the line, ‘Pray that we may look to the heavens to find the true star of Christmas’- pray that we may look to the heavens to find the true star of Christmas. In today’s first reading our attention is called to the heavens once more, this time to see the sign of the rainbow. There are still many Christians and many in fact who will attend church today, who believe that the flood was an actual event, an event that was occasioned by God, and today’s reading therefore can be preached as a sign of God’s mercy and faithfulness. To do this you need to do one of those theological jumps and pretend that in the verses before that wasn’t the God that just wiped out the whole of creation - the God of mercy and faithfulness. And it’s good to be reminded at this point, at the beginning of our Lent journey, that the word of God is not an historical event, it is not incarnated or incarcerated in history. The word of God never was, nor will be, an event, for it lives and seeks life - the word of God forever seeks life. It is therefore forever, in process.

And on the first Sunday of Lent the initial reading, I think gives us a Lenten umbrella. Verse 16: ‘remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ This is not a Christian umbrella, nor is it our umbrella; it is for every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. The word of God, the divine voice of creation, is therefore addressed to all. The divine voice of creation is a process fully inclusive - it does not recognise the boundaries of faith, of nation, of class, colour, gender, sexuality, politics; it does not recognise and is not held by any boundaries. The only distinction or discernment is in the adjective ‘living’: ‘Every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth’. The word of God is addressed to, and so can be heard by, the leaven in the lump, the living of all flesh that is on the earth.

We begin Lent hearing the divine voice declare an everlasting covenant. In verse 11: ‘Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth’. In the Old Testament world-view the flood was symbolic of the chaos, the flood was symbolic of the uncreation. At the very beginning the symbolism that we use or that we are given to express the process of creation is the separation, the heavens and the earth, the boundary between the waters and the dry land. The flood narrative is then, if you like, a reversal of that creative process. It’s as if the forces of creation are not quite enough to draw life out of the uncreated, and so the deluge, the chaos, the uncreated, comes back in and floods the creation. The force of creation is the divine word unfolding in the direction of life, and the sign of the rainbow therefore, is a link between heaven and earth that is made visible and real, the link between divinity and humanity made visible and made real. Lent gives us a time of reorientation towards life: not long life, not retirement planning, not wealth, not health, but Life with a capital ‘L’, life in its fullness, in its creativity, in its giving of itself to the whole, life lived in the Divine and in-lived by the Divine.

The reading from 1 Peter explores or explains this process of covenant. In verse 18: ‘For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit’. ‘In order to bring you to God’: in order to bring you to God, in order to draw humanity into the fullness of divinity. He suffered for sins - we’re now into the New Testament paradigm - and the idea of sins is the equivalent of the idea of flood in the Old Testament. Suffered for sins, felt the pain of chaos, of the force of the uncreation, was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. There is a reorientation there. We can actually live this text, find this text and feel this text within ourselves in the present day. Turn on the news, feel the pain of the chaos, leave the news on for more than two minutes, discover the force of uncreation - that which is actively, actively engaged in unloving the earth. ‘Was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit’: do a simple start-of-Lent stock-take, work out how much time you spend alive in the spirit and how much time you spend dead in the flesh. Just two columns - ‘dead in the flesh’, ‘alive in the spirit’. Trawling the shopping malls - which column will it go under? Watching those banal TV series - which column will it go under? That show, waiting to see which one of the fat ones is going to get knocked off - alive in the spirit, dead in the flesh?

Mark now takes this a stage further and takes the Old Testament, the New Testament reading and gives it to us as Gospel, as a truth of life. In verse 9: Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan. Now we have baptism as the parallel to flood, the idea of water, the symbolism, is still with us. And the interesting thing in just those few words, ‘Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan’, is that the activity of Christ, what in churchy terms is ‘the mission’ and ‘the ministry’ of Jesus, was initiated by human hands. Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan - the divine activity is initiated with human hands. And as he was coming up out of the water - as he rose above the flood water, above the chaos, above the uncreated, as he was coming up out of the water, rising beyond sin - so the heavens tore apart. The Spirit descended, the divine force of creation: all Love and that which gives life, met. And a voice came from heaven - this is the voice of creation that creates each and every moment - a voice came from heaven and a relationship was established: ‘You are my child, that which I love, and with you I find pleasure’ - life in all its fullness.

What we then find after that wonderful loving relationship with the Divine is made real and spoken, in verse 12, ‘The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness’. When humanity embraces the Divine, when we are held in the red-rainbow embrace of God’s divine love, we no longer find the world we inhabit an acceptable place to be. And I think it is that point which frightens most of us and that ensures that many of us will always and forever keep our fingers in our ears, in case, just in case, we hear that divine word speaking to us: ‘You are my child, that which I love, and with you I find pleasure’ - life in all its fullness. When we hear that spoken and addressed to us the fear is that we too will find this world, our world, an unacceptable place to be. We withdraw or rather we recoil, from the force of worldly gravity, we recoil from that which floods our life, that which drowns our spirit.

But this leads to verse 15: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, repent and believe in the good news.’ ‘The time is fulfilled’, once again, is not an event to be located in history: the word of God lives, is in process. The time is fulfilled, is in the fullness of time, when we find our own fullness. And when we find our fullness, we will find ourselves close to the Divine - the kingdom of God has come near. We will find ourselves in the living presence of the Divine and we will repent, not in some bizarre ritual of confession, talking about naughty things that we did, but rather a reorientation of life, of ourselves, of our being, of every word and every action; a reorientation from death, which most of us still think is inevitable, a reorientation from that paradigm into the paradigm of life, where death actually is of no consequence. And therefore aligned, aligned with the Holy, we enter into that divine covenant, we find ourselves in that rainbow embrace.

Forty days of Lent: as we journey together, let us keep a focus on being baptised, seek to be baptised this Lent, each and every day. Contemplate initiating divine activity with your own hands. John the Baptist again: his import is not as a figure in the past but rather as an icon to us, that with our hands we can bring life to the divine activity. And listen, listen for the word of God, for if you hear it, if you hear it, the place from which you will hear it is the leaven in the lump, it will be from the place of life within your own world. Just as in the whole world there is living flesh and dying flesh, there is the created, the creation and the uncreated, so too we will find the same in ourselves.

Listen for the divine word to find that place in yourself where there is life, life seeking life. And walk the forty days knowing yourself to be a child of the Divine.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek First Sunday in Lent