Texts: Genesis 9, Mark 1

This week, we enter the holy and sacred time of Lent. This time of Lent is really a time of blessing – a gift from God that pulls us out of our normal, everyday lives and thrusts us into God’s life.

The very idea of being blessed means being set apart and declared holy, sacred, and worthy. Now, our first scripture from today – the story of Noah and his family certainly fits this bill. Noah found favor with God, and his family was blessed through the calling to build an arc. Now, if you will remember, the story goes that the world was full of sin and wickedness, immorality and violence. And God was fed up with the whole thing.

So our Creator went to Noah and asked him to build a boat – a ship large enough to hold his family and one of every kind of animal. And when the boat was completed, the skies opened up and it began to rain.

God blessed and saved Noah and his family through the flood, but every other person on the earth – all of them sinners – were swept away in the waters. For forty days and forty nights, the rains fell and Noah and his wife and children were absolutely alone in the world.

And then one day, the waters began to recede. Eventually, the boat settled on dry ground and Noah and his family came out of the boat and the scriptures tell us that God looked around and realized what he had done.

We often forget when we come to this part of the story that the entire earth’s population had perished. We forget when we come to this part of the story that the animals and the plants and every living thing on earth that was NOT on Noah’s Arc were now dead. We forget of the devastating force of flood waters, until we go through them ourselves.

God looked around at all the destruction and God made a promise – right there and then. “Never again will I send a flood to destroy the earth and everything that lives on it. No, I’m going to put my rainbow in the clouds, so that whenever the storm clouds start to gather and you see that bow – I will remember the promise that I have made to you today.”

This part of the story – where God changes God’s mind is really hard for some people to understand. We don’t like the idea that God acts one way and then turns around and feels bad about it. We like to think of our God as unchanging and dependable!

But I want to tell you that I don’t think this is story is about God changing his mind at all. As I have studied this story in Genesis, I learned that many other cultures and religions in the world have had a flood story. American Indians, the Ancient Greeks, Sumerian and Babylonian traditions, among many others, tell of waters being sent by the gods to flood the earth. Many of these also have a hero who is warned of the coming waters and who preserves the heritage of the people.

So it’s not surprising that the Hebrew tradition, our tradition, has a flood story, too. What is surprising is that when it is all said and done – our scriptures tell us that God is merciful, that destruction is NOT how God is going to save the creation.

It’s almost as if our Hebrew ancestors took all of the familiar stories of the people around them about the flood and they retold it with a new ending. Our God, the God that we follow has made a covenant – a promise – with us. It’s almost as if they were saying that the God we follow never would have sent a flood in the first place.

And the only reason I say that is because from the very first chapter of Genesis to the very last chapter in Revelation, the message that is conveyed in the Bible is that God loves us and wants us to be redeemed.

This week, some of us gathered together for Ash Wednesday services and as we put the mark of the cross on our foreheads, we were admitting our sin, our mortality and our finite natures. We are all sinners. We are all made of the dust of the earth. And there is nothing that any of us can do to crawl up from the ground and make ourselves righteous.

If we had lived in the days of Noah, it would have been all of us who were destroyed by those flood waters. If we followed the gods of the Babylonians, or the Greeks, or the gods of this world who demand performance and success – we would all be worthy of nothing less than destruction.

But you know what? We don’t follow the gods of this world… we follow the God of the Universe.

And that great, amazing and powerful God looks down upon us, specks of dust though we are, sinners one and all, and God loves us. Scriptures tell us that our God reached down to the earth and took a lump of clay and formed us in his image. Our God breathed his very life into humanity. Our God is a merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Our God made a covenant with Noah that never again would all flesh be destroyed by the waters of a flood because Our God desires not the death of a sinner but a repentant heart.

Our God choses to restore creation not by wiping the slate clean, but by taking on human flesh and being born among us.

Yes we are all dust, we are all human and mortal and full of failings. But Christ came into our midst to show us a better way.

Our gospel for today tells us that the way of Christ begins with a repentant heart. Through the waters of baptism, the sins of our past are washed away and we are filled with the Holy Spirit that strengthens us for the future. Our lives of dust are filled with the blessing of new life. God speaks to each one of us – You are my child, and I love you.

And then, God refuses to let us return to our old lives. Immediately after Jesus comes up from the waters of his own baptism, Mark tells us that the Spirit drove him to the wilderness.

God doesn’t want us to go back to our old ways, but wants to teach us how to really live. And so God blesses us with times like these, times set apart.

When we remember the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, we read in Mark that he was not there alone. There may have been wild animals surrounding him, and yes there was temptation by the Satan, but Mark spends as much time telling us about the angels as he does anything else. Jesus went into the wilderness and angels waited on him.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I sure could use some angels in my life right now. I sure could use just a few hours where I really feel God’s presence and know that no matter what happens in the world that surrounds me that God loves me and that my hope rests in him.

This season of Lent – with all of the struggles in the world that we face, I want us to all experience God’s blessing. It is my prayer that during this one hour of the week in worship, you know that you can come here to this place and rest in the arms of God. It is my prayer that the Spirit of God will enter our sanctuary and that angels will wait upon us and refresh our souls.

And this morning, that is where the promise of the rainbow comes back into our lives. Even in the midst of the storm clouds that threaten to destroy everything we have built up, the rainbow shines as a promise that God is with us and will never let us go

Hear these words from Bruce Pewter:

Rejoice in the rainbow. It is the sign of God’s steadfast love which promises not destruction but hope and reconstruction. It is on the basis of God’s covenant love that we dare to confront evil; it enables us to laugh in the face of the evil one, taking initiative and daring to be pro-active.

Against all the evil you see in the world, against all the injustice and corruption you observe in our nation, against all the perverse evil you see raising its sneaky head within yourself, dare to paint a rainbow!

Paint a rainbow over your frustrating failings and wilful sins, and over your irksome doubts and ignorance.

Over your sins within family life, or the ugly compromises you may have had to make in the sphere of your daily work, set that rainbow.

Project a rainbow over the motley fellowship which is the church, with its flawed ministers, stumbling leaders and its sometimes passive congregations.

In your mind paint a rainbow wherever flawed and lost humanity struggles to find a way of its own mess.

The rainbow is a permanent sign of God’s faithful love. A love which not only creates, but constantly recreates and redeems.

This is our promise. For God so loved the world, God promised never again to destroy the world, but to redeem it. That’s the kind of love we see in the life of Christ. He took what was broken and made it whole. He found in the poor, riches and in the blind, sight. He saw God in the lives of sinners. Jesus lived in the light of the rainbow promise – and showed that new and abundant life is what heals us. He died on the cross, so that the love of God might transform even death itself.

In the light of those promises, may you find the courage and boldness to face the pain and evil of this world, and respond out of Christ’s love. May you paint rainbows and remind the world and yourselves of how blessed we are. Amen.

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