A Forever Promise
Lent 1, Year B
It sounds to me that the preacher is given the option this week of talking about rainbows and the promise of God – or the ways in which temptations can assail us when we feel alone in the desert. But of course these two well-known stories aren’t told to us this morning to compare and contrast. They are connected.
The story we hear from Genesis is very familiar to all of us. Noah and the ark – it’s one of the earliest and most memorable stories from our tradition. I tell it is Children’s Chapel more than once in the course of a year – on the front pew of this church these days – are all the books I use for chapel – I record it in here after the live stream – and I have three different storybooks about Noah and the ark.
This is one of stories where you could probably ask anyone you know – whether they go to church or not – if they know it – and they could recount it for you. And it would be tempting for me, and for us, to only focus on these verses and ignore their context.
Which is what we do when we tell the story to children, by the way.
The picture books talk about the flood that wiped out creation – but they don’t expressly say what the scripture does – and God said to Noah that I will send rain on the earth for forty days and for forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature that I have made.
That is a terrifying theological statement to contend with. It’s one of the reasons we do not take the Noah and the Flood story literally. Another reason is there are two different flood stories in Genesis – just like there are two different Adam and Eve in the Garden stories.
When we don’t concretize the story – take it as fact – we can find the literal truth within the story – one that is shared between the two Genesis accounts despite the varying details.
And when we take the Genesis flood narrative (there’s your academic term for the morning) and compare it with the other flood narratives of 800 BC and earlier, we find that it’s the rainbow, and most importantly the covenant, are what sets this distinguishes this story from it’s ancient counterparts.
Because a covenant is a particular and unique kind of promise. A promise not of stuff – or achievements – or rewards. It is a promise of blessing – which is at the heart of so many of our beginning Genesis stories.
God’s promise is a promise of steadfast relationship. Covenantal relationship nullifies an understanding of a retributive or punitive relationship with God.
Which is the connection to the gospel story we hear on the first Sunday in Lent. The season where we are asked to turn our hearts towards God in repentance. Not because we are in fear of God and divine retribution – but out of love. In the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spends in the desert – he is not alone – and he knows it.
Before we went into that difficult time – he was baptized. And at that baptism he listened – and he heard words that he took to heart – You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.
When we take those words to heart – we too can make it through our trials and temptations – because we know God made a promise of steadfast relationship. We know that the stories of our faith tradition – particularly in the Hebrew canon – what we also call the Old Testament – are stories of God trying to remind people – through prophets, dreams and walls tumbling down – that they are not alone. God is with them.
In the Christian faith Jesus became the promise. Sharing our human nature – Jesus lived a life trusting in his belovedness – through trials and temptations – Jesus shows us what being belovedness is.
It is a life of compassion – and self-compassion. Of tending to the needs of others – and letting the angels tend to you from time to time. A life of being with others – and a life that will include times when we are alone – when we need to be alone – and yet, we are not alone – because we are beloved. We are always in relationship – and God’s presence is always within that relationship – because that’s God’s promise.
When I tell the story of Noah’s Ark with kids in chapel – and when I tell any vivid story that I admit I worry they will take literally long past the age of 4 or 5 – I remind myself that after the story – together – we will say our version of the Nicene Creed. A simpler version that is not obscured with heady theological and philosophical statements. But gets right to the heart of the matter – the promise of relationship.
God in me and God in you is everything we think and do.
We thank you God that this is so. We thank you that we love and grow.
So in this season of Lent may we all remember the heart of the matter – the belovedness that is at the heart of our faith. That is the good news – the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. It written on your heart – trust in the promise of God – the promise that is blessing because it invites us to be a blessing in our world – as we love and grow.