1st Sunday in Lent

March 9, 2003
Reading 1: 
Genesis 9:8-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 25:1-10
Reading 3: 
1 Peter 3:18-22
Reading 4: 
Mark 1:9-15

In the Northern Hemisphere Lent occurs at the beginning of spring, and symbolize the springtime of re-birth and new life. In the Southern Hemisphere Lent marks the end of summer and begins the journey into winter. In the Southern Hemisphere we can, perhaps, better appreciate the darker side of Lent as we begin our journey with Christ towards his death.

Wherever we live, Lent is the beginning of a new journey, a journey out of our old selves into new lives with Christ. Gregory of Sinai beautifully put this sentiment in 260 CE when he said to the newly baptized:

The gift which we received from Christ Jesus in Holy Baptism is not destroyed, but is only buried as a treasure in the ground. And both common sense and gratitude demand that we should take good care to unearth this treasure and bring it to light. Therefore, my friends, I urge you;

Become what you already are,
Find Him who is already yours,
Listen to Him who never ceases speaking to you.
Own Him who already owns you.

In Genesis 9, God says that Noah, his family, and their descendants are to be given a new start. God’s new covenant also extends to every living creature, and it is everlasting, for all time and place. If the ‘flood’ was sent to destroy the evil of ‘mankind’ why was it necessary to make a new covenant with the animals of the earth?  Were the animals also evil?  Traditional ways of understanding the Genesis stories leave us with too many questions. The Process idea of God working with the world as it is, working with each element in existence, in every time and place, offering possibilities for achieving the good, helps us make sense of stories such as the flood and the rainbow.   It does us good to reread the first eleven Chapters of Genesis because they keep reminding us that God works with the Chosen People as they are, warts, sins, and all, and at each occasion offering them a fresh start.   An essential moment in the process of creation was the separation of the waters, and the waters of the flood were used to ‘cleanse’ the world from sin. It seems only right that we should continue to use water as the symbol of cleansing in baptism, a new beginning, a new life in a new community.

Psalm 25 could nearly be used as a Process definition of God.  Asking God to ‘lead me in your truth, and teach me.’  Lead me to what is right.  These verses describe a God who lures and persuades us towards ‘steadfast love’, ‘faithfulness’, and ‘humility’.  ‘Do not remember my past sins but remember me in your love.’  We are influenced by our past, but not controlled by it. God integrates our past sins and the evil of the world into God’s own self and transforms them until they again are conformed to the divine character. God’s paths are open all the time; all we have to do is to follow.

! Peter explains how Christ’s experience of suffering provides a pattern for our own response to hardship, particularly as a result of our faith.  However, Morna Hooker reminds us, “there is a danger in stressing the unique role of Jesus in dying for us, as it can mean that we forget the complimentary truth that he is our example, that discipleship means following him and suffering with him.”   The reference to the flood reminds us that the waters used in baptism are not for physical cleansing, but for a new start.  God’s covenant assures us that this is so; we can have a clear conscience that God’s word has been given.

Jesus, at his baptism was making a new beginning, the start of a new phase in the doing of God’s work.  No sooner had Jesus set out on his new path than he was tempted.  Is this the right path? Is this really what God wants me to do?  We see Jesus being given a final preparation for his public ministry, taking stock of where he is and the obstacle that lie before him.  We too need to stop and listen and to refocus; to be sure that we are being guided by God’s lure. In these scenes there is also a new beginning for us in our understanding of divinity.    The word used for the tearing apart of the heavens at the baptism is the same as used in the tearing apart of the temple curtain at Jesus’ death.  Bonhoeffer says that God’s power to renew the world only comes into its own when he is ‘pushed out of the world on to the cross’.