2.25.2009

First Sunday in Lent

[This week invites us to think a little bit about this creature that we call the "Revised Common Lectionary." In broad brush strokes, the Lectionary is crafted to walk people through a series events in the Christian Year - through events in Christ's life, through events in the history of the Jewish people, and through the experiences of the early church. The readings are arranged so that we are reading texts written in wildly different contexts toward a specific "takeaway" for Christians. Beginning with Advent, we watch and wait for the incarnation of God in Christ. On Christmas, we actually celebrate and praise the blessed event of Christ's birth. Epiphany is then a season which reveals for us the truth of who Christ was as he walked the earth, through teachings and actions and events in his ministry. Now we are entering Lent. We have completed our view of what made Christ "special," and now we begin the slow walk toward his persecution, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Lent culminates in Easter, the recognition and celebration of Christ's resurrection. Following Easter we consider the season of Pentecost, learning about the activities of early Christians as they witnessed the resurrection and then moved out in the world with the Good News that they understood from these events. At Pentecost we see how the early group of followers grew and fanned out and became the church. And after Pentecost, we sink into a long season of growth, where we read a wide variety of selections from the Bible, which follow specific patterns each year.

This week, the readings gave us pause -- we were reminded that it is important to remember that these readings are put together to tell a very specific story, and it is not the story that the texts were originally written to tell. The authors of these texts didn't know that they would ever hang together in this way, and so out of respect for the original texts and for their original context, we just want to remind our readers that it is always important to pause for a minute and respect the texts as they were originally written as well. They arrived in the canon because they meant something powerful to the communities that were reading them and using them in worship...which means that the Old Testament texts were well loved and well used and meaningful long before the Gospels were written, long before they were quoted by Jesus and the Disciples. They shaped generations - and in particular, they shaped Jesus and his early followers.

Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves. Now, onto our thoughts for this week.]

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Oxyclean is a bit of a miracle in the laundry world.

It removes so many of those tenacious stains that those launderers out there are so familiar with -- coffee, blood, ketchup, chocolate, grass stains. Single product, multiple stains. We could write a commercial.

Of course, Oxyclean, in all of it's multipurpose wonderfulness, doesn't do anything unless it is mixed with....

Water.

This week our readings have us thinking about water -- about it's life giving nature, about it's destructive AND life-giving nature. It's easy to take for granted. In most of our priveleged North American existence, we turn a handle and it flows from a fawcet, cool, relatively clean and safe for cooking, cleaning and drinking. And so perhaps we are jaded. Some of us have journeyed to places where this precious commodity is not so abundant. We invite you to reread this week's passages and consider what you read through the senses of a community that has no readily available clean source of water. Hmmm. It's tough, isn't it?

Most children raised with any contact with a church know something of the Noah story. They know about a catastrophic flood and about animals two-by-two. This week's Hebrew scriptures recount God's covenant with Noah and his family immediately after the flood. God promises Noah that the earth shall never again be destroyed by water, and as a reminder of this commitment, God sets a rainbow in the sky -- an occasional reminder of something that went horribly wrong here on earth followed by God's promise that it will never happen again. In this promise there is hope. And there is a touchstone. It is probably safe to say that Noah never again had the same reaction to a rain cloud, or a rainstorm or the fresh smell that emerges from the earth after the rain, or a rainbow against the stark contrast of dark clouds and bright sunshine breaking through ever again. He was forever changed by his experience with water. [We'd like to say that he was forever transformed...but read the rest of the Noah story. We're not sure he really got the message. Are you? Do we ever really get the message?]

The Psalmist petitions God's presence and support for a righteous life well-lived. There is no mention of water here, we confess. But considering the Psalms as the early hymns or liturgical readings of the church, we can imagine that asking God for his presence and support might follow one's consideration of Noah's life. God is faithful to Israel, and the Israelites knew that it was important to seek God's counsel and solace and mercy.

The Gospel account is from Mark's telling of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. Now we were just at this chapter in the story a few weeks ago (January 11, actually). John was offering a baptism of repentence, a known act in the Jewish practice of the day. Repentence would have been a "starting over" or a "turning back." A recognition that all was not well, but that from this point forward, things could be different. Jesus steps into the water with John and something quite amazing happens. A voice from heaven declares that this - this Man from Galillee - is the beloved in whom God is well-pleased. Wow. Now if you are riverside, expecting your life to change as you step into the water and turn away from your past sins with hope for a new way of life, this disembodied voice spoken over this one man might strike you as just a little odd. Maybe this particular guy doesn't need repentence? And this week, we get the next part of the story. Even as God's beloved, this man doesn't walk out of the river and into a simpler, better or necessarily more Holy life. Instead, he's driven into the wilderness where he is tried and tested by none other than Satan for 40 days and nights. Not exactly the baptism of repentence that John was offering.

Finally, we have a letter whose authorship is disputed. We do know that this letter 1 Peter was widely known in the early church and it was intended as an encouragement to communities that were facing sometimes violent persecution. The author connects the lives saved on the ark through the waters of the flood with the waters of baptism "as an appeal to God for good conscience..." Desiring to be one with God, desiring to do the right thing, desiring to live a righteous life, accepting baptism compels the believer into a relationship with God. It is a sacrament that connects the past with the present and with the future, shaping its receiver for a forever-changed-but-not-always-easy life.

Water. We are born of it. We wash in it. We must consume it for life. It moves us and shapes us. It can also destroy us if we are careless or inattentive. In so many ways, it is a magnificent reminder of God.


Have you ever taken time to look at all of the ways water is physically important to you and your life?Are there ways water is important to you spiritually?


"River of God"
What a full and pregnant thing life is
when God is known;
and what a weary emptiness it is without God!
The river of God is full of water,
and God will moisten and fill
these parched hearts of ours,
out of the river of his own life.

Thomas Erskine

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