Genesis 9:8-17 Psalm 25:1-9 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark1:9-15
We learned a few weeks ago that the word used for tearing:
“he saw the heavens torn apart”
is the same word Mark uses for the rending of the temple curtain at the time of Jesus’ death on the cross.
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
It is not a gentle word. What sort of force might it take to open the clouds, walls, or depths of heaven? We can scarcely imagine such force. Still, that’s what happened, and God’s voice came through:
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.”
God went to tremendous lengths to declare Jesus as God’s Son. God went to tremendous lengths to tear apart the division of the people from the holiest part of the temple.
Nothing remains that keeps us in a “direct line” with the love of God. Nothing separates us from the love and mercy of God. Nothing. The heavens have been torn apart, the division torn in two. It will be helpful for us to remember that in our desert times, whether we are in Lent or not. It is especially helpful for us to remember God’ love when we are recalling the ways in which WE have taken our selves away from God. Repentance means remembering how we “have erred and strayed” and then turning back to God. Such turning means that somehow we change ourselves, open ourselves to look directly toward our God.
When we have turned our will and our lives over to the will of God, changes ourselves in some measurable way, nothing bad will befall us, right? There are some who might tell you this. Turn to God and you’ll hunger no more, thirst no more – oh, that might even be in the bible. We are called in our faith life to look further than the words that we choose to see. It is no easy task to for us to see into heaven, to walk boldly into the presence of God. Two words keep coming to mind, one short phrase: “even though.”
The spirit of God descended upon Jesus and God declared God’s love for Jesus,
Even though the spirit was like a dove…
This same spirit drove Jesus into the desert, into danger and temptation for forty days.
Even though Jesus is God’s beloved Son.
Even though Jesus was in the presence of the Spirit.
We think that that might be bad news for us. Because if Jesus can be thrown into desolation and danger,
What might happen to us?
Are we God’s beloved children? YES.
Okay, I want you to experience a taste of that love this morning. You have a part in this sermon. You generally do because you are here and present and maybe listening, but today your involvement will be even more tangible. Ready? Maybe not, but try this anyway. Turn to the person to your left or right. You are standing now in pairs. If you are comfortable with this part – you decide what level of participation is comfortable – take that person’s hands. Then each of you speak, one at a time. Ready? One person to the other: You are God’s beloved child, with whom God is well-pleased. Wow! Now the other person say it: You are God’s beloved child, with whom God is well-pleased. Take a deep breath. Rest in that for a moment. How does it feel to hear those words? Weird? Awkward? Amazing? Generous? Good? Yeah, all those things. You may sit back down.
God’s love is not reserved for Jesus. And even though God loves us that much, bad things happen. We make poor choices. We choose not to listen to the voice of God. The many voices and impulses that surround us take over – over and over again. We are the Israelites, and we see something that looks better right now. We are the children of God, and we want what we see, what looks to be in reach, what might be a fast fix for what ails us. Even though God loves Jesus, Jesus faced danger. For Jesus, that “even though” goes pretty far, doesn’t it? That “even though” takes Jesus to his death, because that “even though” became God’s love for us.
I’d like to switch gears a bit, and then let’s see if we can bring it all back together, okay?
How many people went into the ark? Eight, that’s right, eight members of Noah’s family were the ones declared righteous in the eyes of God (“you alone are righteous”), the ones who would restore human and animal-kind after the flood. Yes, we can calculate the eight: Noah, Noah’s wife, his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and the sons’ wives. (We’ll assume one wife apiece, okay?)
How many animals went into the ark? Look at the reading:
Genesis 7:2 seven pairs of all the clean animals; a (one) pair of the unclean animals, and seven pairs of all the birds.
I thought that the animals went into the ark “two by two…?”
Genesis 7:8-9 8Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.
Uh, oh. What now? Which passage is right? We don’t know, do we? And to the kids we might need to remind them in this way: “I don’t know, I wasn’t there.”
Here are two versions right next to each other, one verse apart, of how many animals were in the ark with Noah. Text criticism can give us a reason for this: that several sources actually wrote the book of Genesis, and scholars of the time chose to leave both passages in what we have adopted as Holy Scripture. Both passages sit side by side, ever in tension. That is one of the things that I love – adore – about Scripture, that two versions, opposing words or versions, stay there. We are meant to deal with such tension.
“Even though” comes back into play. Even though the versions are different, even though they don’t seem to agree, we know that God saved all of creation. We know that God made a covenant with all that God has made: never again will God destroy every living creature as God did that time. God keeps the covenant. Even though:
We ignore God
And disobey him
And sometimes live as if we are in control of our bodies and our lives and our “ever after” future.
We are not.
We were created by God’s grace, for God’s pleasure, in God’s image.
We are righteous because God declares us so.
We are granted everlasting life with our God in heaven because God, through Jesus, has promised that to us.
We are never alone.
We need to know those things, to rely on that truth, at all times. Because life is hard, even though we are beloved – and we are – life is not always easy.
And “even though” life is hard, we will still know joy. When Jesus was in the desert “angels attended to him.” That means that God was there. Angels are symbols of God’s presence. Even though the waters covered the earth, the dove came back with a bit of olive branch in its mouth. God re-created. Even though everything had been lost. Even though all those people and animals had been cooped up in a smelly wooden boat for a long time … even though …
God is present.
Our desert might not look the same as the desert into which Jesus was driven. We might not relate to a desert of sand and wild animals, but how about this one? (from the poet Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) wrote “The American Frustration”, in Saturday Review, 9 July 1968. Therein, he stated)
“Wilderness and silence disappeared from the countryside, sweetness fell from the air, not because anyone wished them to vanish or fall but because thoroughways had to floor the meadows with cement to carry the automobiles which advancing technology produced . . . Tropical beaches turned into high-priced slums where thousand-room hotels elbowed each other for glimpses of once-famous surf not because those who loved the beaches wanted them but because enormous jets could bring a million tourists every year – and therefore did.”
Not all deserts look the same, and nor do our trials. The common denominator is that God is present. God is present in stories that don’t match, in the tension in which disparate things sit side by side: beloved and tempted, loved and in the presence of danger, loved and sent to a cross to die, loved and sick, loved and homeless. What are those things in your life? That is the work of Lent.
Then, as we come through our trials, or even in the midst of them, we might be challenged to figure out where God is in them. Where is God in what I am going through – in sickness and health? How might I share that presence with someone else? Our work doesn’t stop while we are doing our own “soul work.” I invite you to do the holy work of Lent. And to share, as you did today, that your brothers and sisters and neighbors are beloved children of God. Even though.