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Lent 1 Year B February 21, 2021

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

We all remember the story of the Flood which precedes our reading for today from the Book of Genesis. That story, which comes from an ancient Babylonian epic, says that people were becoming so sinful that there were only eight good people on earth, Noah and his family. God told Noah to build an ark and fill it with two of every animal, and then God made a flood that covered the earth and drowned everyone except Noah and his family.

Scholars tell us that the first part of the Noah story was written by a different person or persons than the part we are reading today. These learned people tell us that the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch or Torah, were written by four different people, or groups of people, at four different times in history. The first writer is called J, the Jahwist, because he or she called God Jahweh. J was working around 900-950 B.C.E. The second writer is known as E, the Elohist,  because this writer called God Elohim, meaning Lord. The third, called D or the Deuteronomist, worked around 620 B.C.E. during the reign of King Josiah, and the fourth writer was called P or the Priestly writer. This person or group of people was at work during and after the exile, around 587-539 B.C.E.

The Jahwist writer, J, writing around three thousand years ago, gave us an anthropomorphic view of God. God was like a human being. In the view of the Jahwist writer, people are sinning, God gets angry, God causes a flood and drowns all the sinners and saves the eight people who are good.

Our passage today was written by the PrIestly writer, who has a far less primitive understanding of who God is. Walter Brueggemann tells us that the bow which God hangs in the sky is the bow used for warfare. God is hanging up this weapon and declaring that God will protect the creation and all that is in it. Brueggemann writes, “That the bow is suspended in the sky means that God has made a gesture of disarmament, has hung up the primary weapon, and now has no intention of being an aggressor or adversary. That is, the demobilized weapon of God is a  gesture of peace and reconciliation. God intends to be ‘at peace’ with God’s world, recalcitrant though it has been.”

(Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 193. 

Brueggemann tells us that this view of God’s compassion comes from the experience of the exile, and that this text was first written and read during the exile. He says that the exile “was the quintessential disruption in the life of ancient Israel. “ He continues, “Thus it is plausible to see that the exile is the historical experience of chaos narrated through the Flood.” (Brueggemann, Ibid,. p. 192.) Writing 500 years after the Jahwist writer, the Priestly writer and his community have a much deeper sense of the compassion of God.

In our gospel, Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the river Jordan and the voice of God comes from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus then goes into the wilderness to be tempted, and the angels take care of him. John is arrested, but that does not deter Jesus. He goes through Galilee proclaiming the good news and telling the people, “The kingdom of God has come near.” In some translations, he says, “The kingdom of God is within you.”

Over the centuries, our understanding of God has grown. The Jahwist writer portrays God as someone who would flood the earth to kill sinners. About five hundred years later, the Priestly writer has realized that God wants to protect us and the creation. Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, comes to be with us, tells us that his shalom is within us, goes through forty days of struggle with the forces of darkness, and emerges faithful to God and the Way of Love, showing us that we can do the same. God has become one of us.

Sometime during this pandemic, with my Covid brain I don’t know exactly when, I was driving home. I have been driving as little as possible, so it was some form of essential trip. The important thing is that I saw a rainbow, It wasn’t the most dramatic rainbow I have ever seen, but there it was, in the midst of this pandemic, shining forth the promise of God’s shalom. Usually, when a rainbow appears, especially on the Interstate,  everybody pulls over to the side of the road. I think we all know what it means, no matter what our religion or lack thereof. This wasn’t the aInterstate and there was not enough space to pull over, so I kept on going, and the rainbow faded quite quickly. But however brief it was, I saw it as a clear sign of blessing and peace from our loving God.

It was that experience with the gift of the rainbow that drew me to focus on the reading from Genesis about God’s promise to Noah and to all of us.

But our dear brother in Christ, the highly respected, even revered scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, Walter Brueggemann, has opened up for us a connection we should not ignore. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Priestly writer or group, having lived through the exile, could tell us that God made a covenant with all of us that God would never again flood the earth, that God is a God of peace, God loves us and the creation, and God is calling us to cherish the creation and  each other.

And to top it all off, our gospel tells us that Jesus, the One we are following, God walking the face of the earth, was tempted as we are and fought and prayed and asked God for help just as we do, and gave us a living example and experience of our God who loves us and the whole creation and everyone and everything in it. God hangs up the bow as a reminder that our loving God calls us be people of peace and reconciliation. And God will die on a cross to make that call as clear as possible.

God’s people learned all this through their exile in Babylon. May our awareness of God’s compassion grow deeper and stronger during our Lenten exile in the wilderness of Covid-19.  Amen.

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