First Sundayin Lent Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Lent 1 B March 8, 2009 Textweek

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

When I heard the gospel just now - ‘and he was there with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him’ – I thought what a delightful place to be. It’s actually got a real upside to it if you think about it, actually being there with the wild beasts but being waited on by angels - just sounded quite delightful – hearing it differently .

I thought we’d just have a quick look at the overall readings for Lent, just so that we’ve got some idea of where we’re going as we go through the Sundays of Lent. The Old Testament readings each Sunday through Lent will be focusing on covenant, the covenant between God and humanity, and as we hear these ancient texts on covenant, we see that they move towards fuller appreciation of that relationship, the relationship between humanity and divinity, and they also have a movement towards a fuller life, which is the promise of the covenant. So as we go through Lent, we explore the covenants with Noah, Abraham and Moses, and then on the fifth Sunday of Lent we hear, ‘The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant.’

The New Testament readings as we go through Lent, begin with today’s reading from 1 Peter and then we get selections from Paul’s letters –we hear from Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Hebrews. In the New Testament readings, the covenant or the divine relationship is then explored, explained and underlined in terms of living. What was spoken by God in the Old Testament is grounded predominantly by Paul into the present life of the church.

The gospels throughout Lent walk us through episodes of Christ’s journey towards Easter - the wilderness, then a foretelling of what is to come, the cleansing of the temple, some teaching on power of grace, and then when we get to the fifth Sunday we hear, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ It’s quite a journey, once we can find the rhythm and the movement; and that journey is then further enacted in the liturgy of Holy Week, and in particular in the three days of Easter when we begin on Maundy Thursday and continue through to celebrate the coming of light on Easter Sunday.

So that’s the journey or the movement that we’ll be taken through in the Sunday readings, and we start today with the Flood narrative, which is a story of creation and a story of re-creation. It is much more than a story about the saving of Noah, his wife their sons and their wives. What’s revealed is the revelation of Easter, a covenant relationship, as it says in verse 11, ‘with all flesh’, a relationship with all flesh. Later on we’re going to hear ‘and the word became flesh’. A covenant with all future generations, so it’s speaking of a covenant and relationship - the whole narrative has a future orientation, which of itself in our culture here is very much counter-cultural. The story of the Flood is not a kick-start to past glory, it’s not a stimulus package to get creation back on track. Rather it is a movement into a new future: re-creation. The flood waters, like the waters at the beginning of the creation story in chapter 1 of Genesis, are the waters of chaos, the waters of uncreation. This covenant claims the power of creation and establishes that power with all flesh. The primal rainbow, weapon of the gods of thunder – the rainbow was the weapon that was used to fire the arrows of lightening. In this story, it is claimed as ‘my bow’ and a sign of the divine covenant.

Peter in the second reading draws a parallel between the covenant with Noah, the story of the Flood and the dying and rising of Christ. And he does that with a stated purpose, in verse 8, ‘To bring you to God’. Peter, who holds the authority of the church, glimpses the movement that we seek during Lent. From the ancient text he sees through today into tomorrow. Now, his glimpse is still couched in simplistic terms and within the confines of his flat-earth cosmology. He does, however, make a very important connection between the waters of baptism and the flood waters, and that connection takes us into the gospel narrative.

In the gospel narrative, the flood narrative is reversed, it is turned upside down. Now we have Christ rising, coming up out of the water, and this time the heavens again are torn apart, but not with the floodwaters, but with the Spirit descending like a dove. So in the Genesis story of the Flood, the heavens, the dwelling place of the Divine, is ripped open and the floodwaters, the waters of uncreation pour in. When we hear of Jesus’ baptism, he rises from the water, heavens are again torn open, but this time the Spirit descends and we hear the voice of God.

The promise of tomorrow, the promise of a new creation, what we see in the gospel is not more of the same, again it’s a new direction, it’s a re orientation, it’s putting what was, together in a new way. All three levels of government in this country and their leaders, Barnett at State level, Rudd at Federal level and Obama at policy level, all three have not read or understood this movement, the movement of a new creation. It’s a movement that comes from ‘Repent’, from turning toward and turning to creation and the creator. And the spirit that descended at the baptism of Jesus (in verse 12), ‘drove him out into the wilderness’. And it drove him out for forty days, which holds many echoes throughout the Old Testament. Forty days is the time Israel spent in the wandering in the desert looking for the Promised Land’ it’s the time of the testing of Moses, it’s the time Elijah spent on Mt Sinai. This is the time that Jesus wrestles with the revelation of his baptism.

It’s forty days; it is our time in Lent. In that wilderness Christ seeks to see more clearly exactly the same as that which Peter glimpsed. And he comes to the place at the end of that forty days that we also seek - a place where ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near’, where we have understood the word ‘repent’, and where we live the word ‘believe’.

Lent gives us a call; it draws us and drives us into the same contemplation that we read of in the gospel. As we journey though Lent may we also move towards fulfilment, may we move closer to the Kingdom of God and into a new repented way of being. The journey of Lent can take us to a place where we can, and we do, believe.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris