Sermon: The First Sunday in Lent (B) – 22nd February 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am

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

The Old Testament readings for the Sundays in Lent focus on the theme of covenant: the series of covenants God makes with people, and the ways covenants are tested, strained and renewed.

This concluding note to the Flood story tells of the very first covenant, the covenant God made with Noah and his descendants, that is, all humanity, and all land-dwelling creatures.

In this passage God covenants never again to destroy the earth with a flood; and, as a sign and reminder of this covenant, God offers to put the rainbow in the clouds.

The passage tells one part of this covenant story. Covenants always have two parts: there are specific things each party to the covenant must do, in order to make real the relationship the covenant sets forth. In this case, it is God’s part in the covenant not to destroy the earth with a flood; humans, however, must have their part to play as well in order to make the covenant complete. The human side of the covenant is detailed in the verses immediately preceding the reading.

After Noah and his family and the animals leave the ark, Noah builds an altar and makes a thank-offering for surviving the Flood; God then speaks to Noah and sets some basic conditions for life in the renewed earth. The regular cycles of days and seasons will not be interrupted, God promises, and within that stabilized environment Noah’s descendants are blessed to “be fruitful and multiply” and to inhabit the whole earth. The commandment is so important it’s repeated twice, in verses 1 and 7, as both the opening and closing of God’s description of the significance of life in the new earth. In the wake of the Flood, it takes on an meaning as something restorative, something intended to correct the corruption of the antedeluvian humanity.

Together, the two sides of the covenant map out a new dimension of redemptive action for the world: God will from now on deal with sin and corruption, not by destroying it but by transforming it. While humans from now on are called to be agents of such redemptive transformation, co-creating with God the fruits of righteous works even out of the wreckage of corrupted experience. The covenant between God and Noah thus sets the stage for all other covenants of creative transformation for right-relationship and mutual well-being that are to come.

 The passage from 1 Peter serves as a kind of bridge between the Genesis and Mark readings, in that it makes an explicit link between the story of the Flood and the theology of baptism. The covenantal relationship of co-creative transformation that emerges from the Flood is now taken up and extended in the covenant of new life in Christ that is marked and sealed in baptism. The saving power of baptism lies in its role as “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” an active connection to God that brings an intensive and intimate knowledge of God’s aims and intentions for our actions.

Jesus’ passage through the death of the flesh and the “spirits in prison” in the netherworld to resurrection and life in the spirit and heaven is presented here as the model of which Noah’s passage through the destruction of the Flood to the new, life-giving covenant of creative transformation is the original. Both point to the experience of redemptive co-creative relationship with God that is open to the believer in the name of Christ.

 Noah’s Flood and Jesus’ Baptism are roughly in parallel. Noah enters the waters in the ark, spends a time adrift and emerges with a new covenant of transformation. Jesus enters into John’s baptism, spends time in the wilderness and emerges with a new proclamation of the reign of God.

Typically the story of Jesus in the wilderness is used on the First Sunday in Lent to introduce the Lenten fast. But Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, does not actually say anything about Jesus fasting during the forty days he spends in the wild. Instead, Mark comments that “angels waited on him”. This is a clear echo of the story in 1 Kings 19, in which Elijah is served by an angel who twice brings him bread, and that bread sustains Elijah for forty days and forty nights. The Elijah story itself is an echo of the “bread of angels” in Psalm 78, which sustains the entire Israelite population in its forty-year sojourn in the wilderness.

The suggestion here is not so much that Jesus fasted as that he committed himself entirely to God’s care, like Elijah and the Israelites and Noah before him, God sustained him in some not wholly understandable and yet undeniably factual way.

Similarly, during his forty days Jesus was “with the wild beasts.” Noah was also “with the wild beasts” while the ark was adrift, and by a special providence of God the wild ones did not threaten or attack Noah or his family or attack each other during that entire time.

We are encouraged to consider it a special providence of God that Jesus was safe “with the wild beasts” in his wilderness as well. Mark shows Jesus relying on the provision of God for his sustenance and safety, rather than anxiously attempting to serve himself in these needs; and, given that Mark never specifies how Satan tempts Jesus, as Matthew and Luke do, we may take it that such deep trust in God is in fact what overcomes the Enemy’s testing.

The personal experience of relying on God’s provision for him is what confirms for Jesus the divine words at his Baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”, and what gives Jesus the personal authenticity and authority to call people to “repent” and “believe”the good news that the reign of God is at hand. Jesus’ figurative re-enactment of the Noah story puts him in a position to announce the covenant of redemptive action God made with Noah, extending it now even further with his own proclamation of God’s reign for new life.

New life that comes when we repent and believe the good news of acceptance of God’s love for all.[1]

 

[1] This sermon based upon one by Paul S Namcarrow found at [1]http://processandfaith.org/category/kind-content/resources/lectionary-commentary

 

The Reverend John Cornish