A sermon delivered by Kathy Pickett, Pastor of Congregational Life, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on February 26, 2012.
Genesis 9: 8-17
Psalm 25: 1-10, 1 Peter 3: 18-22, Mark 1: 9-15
The Lenten season began this past week, with Ash Wednesday, marking the forty day journey leading Christian communities of faith towards the cross. The Huffington Post says, “This season is the most sacred and spiritually powerful season in the Christian calendar. It is an intentional period of time set aside for remembering that humankind has been created from dust, and it is to the dust we will return. The season of Lent is a time when Christians are invited to examine our faith, and deepen the commitment to live the Christian life.”
It is a time to remember our mortality, to repent of our very human nature, and be reminded that our human existence is not all about us.
The season, while it may be sacred and spiritually powerful, is not one most of us would rush to wait in line. Self examination, reflection, and willingness to sit in the dust of our own of human imperfection is not easy to do. But, it is necessary to spend some time in what might feel like the depths of water to better prepare our hearts for Easter Celebration.
The Lenten text begins in Genesis Chapter 9, but God’s journey in this creation story really begins in Genesis 6. God overwhelming realizes all of humankind is wicked to the core, and violence polluted all of the earth. Every thought and care in humankinds heart is rotten. God, who is grieved and anguished over what has become evil chaos, resolves to drown it all.
All that is, but a chosen few.
Somehow in the midst of all the corruption Noah, family, and a multitude of animals find favor in the LORD’s eyes. It is this part of the story we love to tell, but the part that begins the theological imbalance of understanding God.
Obediently Noah builds the ark, prepares it for the journey. He loads up the food as instructed, his family, and the multitude of all earthly animals. Once aboard the home-made craft, scripture says, “God shuts them in!”
Can you imagine being locked in a wooden boat filled with animals and family, having no Dramamine, (a huge issue for me), while being tossed around for forty days and nights of continued rain? Even though they were safely tucked inside they knew all of life around them was quickly being destroyed.
Typically, God in this half of the story is presented as the punisher, the great disciplinarian, angry and full of wrath. Some have grown accustomed to living under the guilt and weight of this God, but if we look really closely at the text, God is suffering, anguishing, and full of regret for the way things have gone. God’s creation has not resulted in what God has imagined and perhaps not what God desires.
This wonderful Hebrew story of faith causes me to wonder; is God’s action an outraged response to the violence of the earth, or an unimaginable act of mercy and all of creations salvation? How did these ancient authors understand God in this story? Does this story describe their theological struggle to understand the chaos of a broken hurting world and a God who is somehow in it, guiding us, holding us, who safely shuts us in? What are the possibilities that in some metaphorical way, this story represents new birth, or perhaps a baptismal ritual of God’s creation? The old ways have been washed away, behold all things are made new.
Back on dry land Noah builds an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings stirring God’s heart once again:
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that 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.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’(Genesis 9: 8-17, NRSV)
Notice what is going on here.
God is limiting God’s self. God demonstrates repentance, hanging up the bow of destruction demonstrating God’s covenant and love for all of creation. It is a Divine act of surrender and God promises to never do this again. Not only is this a sign of God’s promise for every living creature of all flesh on the earth forever, it is God’s own reminder that, God so loves the world.
John Ortberg, in his book, Love Beyond Reason, describes God as the God of second chances, the God of mulligan’s and do-over’s. He shares a story of being out on the gulf course with a group of friends who give him a mulligan, a do-over. Rather than making him track down his poorly hit golf ball and giving him a poor score, they offered him a mulligan. The friends generously said, ‘don’t worry about, let it go, we won’t write it down’.
The more he thought about a mulligan he thought about all the mulligan’s he has received in his life, from friends, his family, but most importantly the ones he has received through a relationship with Christ, God’s greatest mulligan, God’s do-over for humankind, once again.
Could it be that the Hebrew story teller is trying to get at the truth of knowing a God who wants to save us from the chaotic, flooding waters of life? A God who is just and merciful who constantly offers all of creation, including God’s self a mulligan, a do-over?
During this Lenten journey we are called to forty days and nights of remembering, reflecting, and discovering more about being in a covenant relationship with a loving, relational, God. We are called back to rediscovery of the many places in our imbalanced chaotic lives where God’s mercy and faithfulness have already recreated us, sustained us, and redeemed us. Sitting in the dust of our lives we are called to consider the unimaginable amounts of love and forgiveness God continuously offers us through God’s own weakness and vulnerability. It is a season to explore the many places of our flooded lives where we must humble ourselves and do the same.
Michael Gungor’s song, Beautiful Things, summarizes this Lenten journey well, (viewed at the end of worship, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ4yNYY1hHM):
All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things out of us
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things out of us.