Monday, February 16, 2015

Entering the Lenten Wilderness – 22 February 2015 – First Sunday in Lent

Begun on Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent is the annual time for mulling the crux of our faith. Who are we as people beloved by God?

Mark 1:9-15

The biblical accounts of Jesus in the desert being tempted by Satan and ministered to by angels are always a little harder to relate to than the accounts of his teaching and healing and passion. Even if you don’t take the forty days literally, most of us don’t have that kind of experience. Our times of discernment, even if we are contemplating God’s call on our lives, are usually lived in the midst of our everyday duties and family life. Sometimes we go on retreats, taking a week or so to pause and consider our direction in life. Usually, we just muddle along until we get some sense of direction...

‘‘The kingdom of God has come near,’’ [Jesus] said. His desert time wiped away other concerns and gave him a sense of urgency about telling the good news of God’s love. In modern terms we would say that he got his priorities straight.

– Judith Simonson

Who is this God who entered the wilderness of this life for us? What is our calling? What are our particular gifts?

Genesis 9:8-17

These Lenten readings give us an opportunity to enter into huge questions about existence by first hearing the promises given to Noah, his family, and all creation.

Genesis 9 introduces the first of several covenants that will be discussed in the lectionary over the next few weeks, God’s covenant with Noah and all living creatures. Here God promises never again to threaten extinction or destruction by floodwater and gives the rainbow as a sign of that promise of protection. Ironically, that sign seems to be more for God’s benefit as a reminder not to destroy the earth than as a comfort to humans that God will not forget. While these verses speak of God’s promises to Noah, not human responsibilities under this covenant, the beginning of Chapter 9 stipulates prohibitions against murder and eating the blood of animals. Jewish tradition developed a set of ‘‘Noachide’’ laws, the minimum observances expected of all people, not just Israelites. For Christians this set of laws becomes the basis of the agreement in Acts 15 as to which laws are mandatory and binding upon gentile converts to Christianity. Although these verses do not specifically mention a number, the connection to the forty days and nights of the flood is clear.

– Jonathan D. Lawrence

I think of the Epistle reading as a window into how the church is called to take in the central good news from the First Reading and the Gospel. Sometimes it is necessary to dig deeply into the presuppositions behind the text in order to find that window. Other times, as on this Sunday, the connections are plain. 

1 Peter 3:18-22

This short passage connects the story of Noah to the practice of baptism and the significance of Christ’s death. The writer sees Christ’s death and rebirth in the spirit as an innocent suffering or sacrifice on the behalf of all people. . .  Early Christians drew on Peter’s symbolism here and used the ark as a symbol of baptism, since ‘‘a few, that is eight persons, were saved through water.’’ Christian paintings in the catacombs and elsewhere used this symbol, in connection to the Eucharist as well. The idea is that just as Noah spent forty days in the ark, as a sign of faith and as the water washed away the sins of the world, Christians wash their sins away (not just physical dirt) and seek God’s care and rescuing. Again, as in the other passages for today, repentance, humility and trust are required of those seeking to follow God.

– Jonathan D. Lawrence

Jonathan D. Lawrence, an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, teaches Religious Studies and Theology at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.

Judith Simonson is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Homily Service 39, no. 4 (2006): 13-21.

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