First Sunday in Lent
1 Peter 3:18-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who found another way. Amen
Did you know that it only takes five chapters in Genesis
for God to get sick of humanity?
At the end of chapter one
God creates humans on the sixth day of creation
and by the beginning of chapter six
God is already tired of the fighting and wars and misuse of creation
and begins planning a genocidal flood
to wipe out everything and start over.
In my Lutheran Study Bible that’s seven pages, impressively fast.
But Noah found favor with God
and so God decides to put Noah and his family
and two of every animal on a big boat
- that Noah has to make-
and use them to start over.
And we know this story,
how Noah follows God’s instructions
and brings the animals into the ark two by two,
how it rains forty days and forty nights
and everything not on the ark dies,
how the ark drifts for a long time
until the water begins to recede
and the ark finally settles on top of a mountain
Noah keep sends out the dove to see if it’s safe to exit the boat,
the dove finally brings Noah an olive leaf
and then on the next expedition doesn’t come back
at which point Noah and his family
spill out of the ark and give thanks to God
and hearing their praise and worship and smelling the sacrifice that Noah makes,
God in chapter 8
realizes that destroying everything isn’t the answer
and says “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”(8:21)
And so God makes a covenant with Noah,
and we get part of that in our first reading,
but only the second part,
a covenant is an ancient legal contract
where both parties have responsibilities.
The human part of the covenant that God makes with Noah
is much like the first time around with Adam and Eve,
Noah and his family
are to go be fruitful and multiply,
fill the earth and care for it
and for God’s part
God promises not just Noah,
but all creation, all flesh,
to never again destroy the earth with a flood
and even though God will not forget this covenant
God creates a sign of the covenant,
placing God’s bow in the clouds
so that when everyone sees the bow
they will remember the covenant God made with all flesh
to never wipe out the earth again with a flood.
Now you might be wondering,
why on this first Sunday in lent
we are talking about God’s covenant with Noah.
How do Noah and rainbows
connect with Jesus being baptized and tempted in the wilderness?
In many ways the story of the flood leads to Jesus.
God has promised to never again destroy all flesh
even as God realizes that there is still evil in the hearts of humans
and that it will spill over into the rest of creation as it did the first time.
This doesn’t mean that God is giving up on humanity and all of creation,
but what making this covenant means
is that God will have to find another way of dealing with
the brokenness and violence of humanity that spills over into the rest of creation.
And Jesus is the way God ultimately finds
to bridge the gap between divine expectations
and the brokenness of humanity.
Our second reading from 1 Peter
makes the connection and summarizes what we as Christians believe
happened in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“For 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, “
Jesus resisting temptation in the wilderness
before his ministry begins
maintains his righteousness,
it marks him as someone special,
who does what no other human has done
-that is resist temptation
and it sparks the interest of the listener,
what will happen to this remarkable person?
We know what happens,
and yet God is able to work through all that
to save us.
God found another way to deal with humanity,
that way was Jesus.
but I want to be clear here,
it is not the violence and suffering
that is particularly salvific,
there’s been a lot of attempts at explaining how it worked
and all of them fall short,
in the end salvation through Jesus
is both mystery and truth,
the how is the mystery
but the truth is that God has healed the broken relationship between us and God
and set us free from the human need for violence
to live out our part of the covenant,
to take care of all creation.
And just like with Noah,
God seals this covenant,
this promise, with a sign,
where we are joined to Christ’s work
which again from 1 Peter
“now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”
God knows that we humans have a need for divine reassurance.
God was not going to forget the covenant after the flood
but humans need reassurance and reminders,
so God made the rainbow as the sign
that the promise would be remembered.
In the same way
God knows we are beloved children of God
whom Jesus saved,
but we humans often wonder,
we have doubts,
so God gave us the sign of baptism,
so that we can point to a moment in time
and name without a doubt
that God has claimed us and joined us to the work of Christ
we are God’s
and in the waters of baptism
God forgives our sins
and brings us to new life.
And this sets us free
to live contrary to the way of humanity,
to respond to violence with peace,
hurt with forgiveness,
hatred with love
and when the brokenness of the world
seems to be too much,
or we give in to temptation
or are paralyzed by inaction
water points us back to the promise
that God has made,
the forgiveness God offers
and our true identity,
beloved children of God. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.