Summary: A sermon for the first Sunday in Lent, Series B. It is a comparison of all three lessons.
1st Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Almighty God, you sent your Son into our world to reveal your Word for our lives, and to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, lead us to true repentance, that we might embrace the Gospel with increased faith, and live our lives reflecting your redeeming grace to those around us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Our first lesson for this morning brings to a close the story of Noah and the ark. I think we know the story well. As the population grew from the days of Adam and Eve, they began to become increasingly wicked, which displeased God. Noah appears to be the only person on earth with whom God is pleased, and so he instructs Noah to built a huge ship, upon which he is to board a male and female of every species of animal, along with his wife, three sons, and their wives.
Then God causes it to rain for forty days and forty nights, until the whole earth is flooded, even above the tops of the mountains. As a result, every man, women and child, along with all other living creatures that God created are destroyed, except those aboard the Ark. When the waters recede, and the ark settles on land, Noah builds and altar, and offers sacrifice to God, which pleases him, and God then promises never again to destroy the whole earth, and blesses Noah and his family.
Finally, as our lesson for this morning states, God enters into a covenant with Noah, his family, and all the creatures who were aboard the ark, never again to flood the whole earth. And the sign of God’s covenant is that God would cause a rainbow to appear in the clouds, and when God sees the rainbow, he would be reminded of his covenant to never again flood the whole earth.
Now, I must admit that this has never been one of my favorite stories. Even though research has indicated that a great flood did occur in that region in ancient history, there are so many aspects of this text that just plain bug me. For example, can you imagine the God who created the whole universe, brought forth life on this planet we call earth, the all powerful, all knowing God, to need a rainbow to remind him, of his own covenant?
As Daniel N. Schowalter points out in his commentary on this text: “It is intriguing that God sets up the rainbow more for himself than for the descendents of Noah. The implication is that God might sometime forget his non-aggression treaty, and needs the rainbow to remind him.” End quote. [New Proclamation, Fortress Press, 2005] The implication is that not only the wickedness of the people grieved God, but also his own action in destroying the earth, all that he created. Did God make a mistake?
And then there is a larger problem, that was brought to my attention by one of the teachers in our Bible school a couple of years ago, when this
story was the theme for the day. “Pastor,” she said, “This is a horrible story to be teaching our kids. The implication is that God got so angry
with the people on earth, that he destroyed them all, except for eight persons. The rest all died, even the innocent animals. I fail to see the grace of God in this story. What am I missing?”
Being caught off guard by the question, I think I responded by saying that God showed his grace to the eight persons who were faithful to him, as well as preserving his creation. He offered them a new start. And his grace is also shown in his promise to never again destroy the earth.” But I doubt that my answer was any comfort to this person who was struggling that day to present this story in a positive light.
I must admit, that this teacher’s question, and my inept response, has stuck with me. But today, on this first Sunday in Lent, due to an unusual pairing of lessons resulting from using the Revised Common Lectionary, I believe this story finally reaches its conclusion. And it enables us to affirm with full voice, that popular phrase from John’s Gospel, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Listen again to the open words of our second lesson. Peter writes: “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you…”