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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Lent 1 – Year B

It’s a good thing
we have a separate Children’s Chapel.
We’ve got to make sure the kids
are all out of the sanctuary,
because we’re talking about Noah
and his ark today
and this story
is just not appropriate for small children!
I’m serious!
Today’s Old Testament passage
begins with the word ‘Then’,
which is a small clue
that there is more to the story.
We just heard the nice bit today…
the happy ending
with rainbows and divine promises.
But what exactly happened before the ‘Then’?
Even though I know you know this story well,
indulge me in a little Genesis review:
God decides to create.
So we get heavens and earth
and light and sky
and dry land and oceans
and days and nights
and seasons and plants
and trees and sea monsters
and winged birds and cattle and creeping things.
Then we get humankind.
And God deems it all “very good.”
But not even six chapters later
and God’s ready to throw in the towel.
God looks around
at how these creatures are behaving.
Apparently “every inclination of the thoughts
of their hearts was only evil continually.”
That’s a direct quote.
This makes God sad
and regretful about creating,
So God decides to start over
with an almost-blank slate.
God finds a man
who has managed to live 600 years
mostly on the up-and-up,
and God gives this man
some very specific instructions.
First, a detailed blueprint
for building a wooden boat.
And next, orders to go round up
a bunch of wild animals.
But not all the animals!
No, only representatives of each breed.
And the 600-year old man is to coerce
these animal representatives onto the boat
by twosies twosies
along with his own wife
and his sons and his daughters-in-law.
And this tiny fraction of all of creation
battens down the hatches
while God sends down forty days of intense rain.
The whole earth is flooded.
There are no land-dwelling survivors—
no birds,
no wild things,
no pets,
no humans—
except the inhabitants of this one boat.
Everyone else—well, too bad.
I told you it’s not a children’s story.
Storms and floods are deadly, destructive forces.
Just ask anyone who has been on
one of our New Orleans Mission Trips.
So, the rain stops after 40 days
but the water keeps rising for 150 days after.
And as one astute member
of my Wednesday Bible Study pointed out,
The bible does NOT say whether
Noah and his family
and the other carnivorous beasts aboard the ark
keep a strictly vegetarian diet or not.
They are on that boat
for the better part of a year, after all.

But eventually Noah
sends out some feathered spies
to check on things.
Once they determine that the coast is clear,
Noah and his family
and the animals exit the boat—
by threesies threesies, of course.
Yay, the animals are free!
Except that then Noah proceeds
to build an altar upon which
a bunch of the surviving animals
are sacrificed to God as burnt offerings.
we usually skip over that part of the story,
but I promise, it’s in there.

All in all, it’s really
an incredibly violent story.
But nevermind about all that.
Now we’re all caught up
and we’ve gotten to the happy part!
The part where God promises to never repeat
this kind of destructive divine intervention.
The part where our all-powerful God
voluntarily places limits
on what God’s own self can do.
God draws up a covenant
between God and Creation.
But only God is bound by it.
The Covenant is therefore
an act of divine grace and mercy.
The Covenant weakens God’s abilities
to destroy on purpose.
Yes, God gets weaker,
and it is a beautiful divine act on God’s part.

Then everyone is happy
and humanity never
behaves badly again, right? Right?
Not even 4 verses
after God finalizes the Covenant,
we find Noah drunk and misbehaving.
He was supposed to be the responsible one,
the one person God trusted.
If even Noah can’t keep it together,
what chance do the rest of us have?

You see, the whole point of this story
is not that God used the Flood
to teach human beings a valuable lesson
and we forever changed our sinful ways.
Nor is it the point that a 600 year old man
built a 450 foot boat in a week’s time.
And neither is it the point that this all wooden boat
somehow managed to hold at least two adult elephants
and still stay afloat.
And the point of the story is not
that all the other elephants perished in a watery grave.
The point of the story is that God demonstrates
both divine power and divine love
by choosing to be weaker.
God, who could handle the problem of human sin
in any number of ways,
chooses to restrict God’s own ability
to demonstrate parental anger.
The story of Noah and the flood moves
from Wickedness to Wrath,
from Wrath to Water,
from Water to Wisdom,
and from Wisdom to Weakness—
beautiful, powerful, divine Weakness.

In this season of Lent,
we take stock of our own weaknesses,
our deeply flawed ways,
and we are forced to consider that
keeping this Covenant day in and day out
must get pretty frustrating for God.
Like any parent
who is pushed close to their breaking point,
God must absolutely ache
at the sight of us, God’s own children
engaged in so much war and hatred and greed.
God must be truly tempted
to wipe the slate clean again every day.
Start fresh.
Mix a new batch.
Maybe next time they won’t always be
hurting each other and disappointing me.
But God does not act on this temptation.
God remembers the promise.
For God set in place a reminder,
like a post-it note,
or a string tied around your finger,
or a meeting alert on your smartphone.
The bow in the sky is not
to remind Noah or you or me
of the Covenant God made.
It is to remind God.
Just as the ashes so recently traced on our foreheads
serve to remind us that we’re flawed and mortal.
In other words, while Ash Wednesday
reminds us that we’re not God,
The bow in the sky
reminds God that God is God.
A God so powerful, so omnipotent
that he is not afraid of appearing weak.
Not afraid of limiting divine power
with a one-sided Covenant.
“Never again,” says God.
“I establish my Covenant with you, that never again
shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood.”

That Covenant, however, was just the beginning
of God demonstrating power by appearing weak.
In the fullness of time,
God’s Son became incarnate and walked among us.
What could be weaker than God becoming human?
Many stories were circulating
about when God’s Son becoming human.
Mark was one of the earliest
to write some of them down.
Today we read in Mark about three early events
in the life and ministry of this Son of God.
He, though without sin,
allows himself to be baptized in a muddy river.
Then he subjects himself
to a period of intense testing
—a temptation, scripture call it—
out in no man’s land.
Finally, he emerges from the desert
and begins his public ministry
with a proclamation,
a one-sentence sermon
in which he shares the heart of the Gospel message.
Like in our flood story,
Mark’s account of these events
contains water
and the number 40
and wild beasts.
But unlike the flood story,
Mark’s story moves
from Water to Wilderness
and from Wilderness to Witness.
The Witness of a New Covenant.
A Covenant that results in Christ’s painful death.
The death of God?
What could be weaker than that?
God chooses vulnerability.
God chooses weakness.
God is so powerful
that God chooses to be limited,
chooses to be humbled.
Choosing humility out of love.
What could be more powerful?

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