Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
1st Reading: Genesis 9:8-17
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
With all there is to do and remember in life, we all have different ways of reminding ourselves of our commitments and appointments. In the cartoons, folks tie a string to their finger. I've only seen this once or twice in real life. Other people write it on their hand. Many people have devices, electronics to keep lists and calendars to remind themselves. My favorite way to remember to bring something is to place it in the doorway, so I have to walk right over it. Sometimes I have three bags of things in front of my door. Probably not so smart for fire safety. I have only my self to blame the times I walk right over the thing I was intending to bring without ever seeing it!
Something makes me smile about God using a rainbow as a reminder never to flood the earth again. When I see a rainbow, it is always a reminder to slow down and appreciate the beauty all around me. All of a sudden it doesn't matter if I'm running late or I forgot something I was supposed to do. A rainbow is a good excuse for running late and a good reminder of the big picture what is most important in life.
Reminders are one way to try to be organized in a wild and disorganized world. Rainbows are a way of organizing and separating the light spectrum, but they seem such a wild expression. It is easy to see why a rainbow is such an important religious symbol. It's beauty is incredible. It doesn't last. It is mysterious. Wherever you stand, it appears differently and when you try to follow it, it seems to move. There is something very spiritual about a rainbow, in that it can't be touched or captured and that it has the potential to touch us so deeply and delight us at the same time.
There are a lot of wild things going on in the readings for today. Noah lives in a time of wild abandon, sin of every kind. It seems that God responds with a wild plan. Noah is to build an ark to house some of every kind of animal on the earth. He is to gather and organize and live among these wild animals on this ark for many months. In the film Noah that came out last year, they solved the question of how all these animals kept from eating each other by placing them under some kind of hibernating sleep. Wild flood waters come to the earth. What kind of seasickness would the inhabitants of the ark have experienced? What kinds of fears? What kinds of chaos in these waters?
Who knows what feelings would have come over Noah and his family as they stepped from the ark and saw the rainbow and began to understand the covenant that God was not only making with them but with all these wild animals they had saved? Were they relieved? Angry that their home had been destroyed with all its comforts, the land was a mess and all their friends had drowned? It sounds very lonely and sad to start over. Not something they would have chosen to do on their own. Maybe they were too exhausted to react at all. We know that God regretted this kind of destruction. Now this colorful bow that was like a bow and arrow, instead of being used as a weapon, would be placed as a symbol of peace in the sky to remind everyone that God wasn't about destruction, but new life.
We look at this story as part of the evolution of human thought about who God is. Earlier, more primitive cultures saw God as potentially destructive and punishing. As we started to develop a theology of a God of love, we spoke of God more as one who saves us and helps us. But rather than say that we were the ones who changed in our understanding, we say that God changed after regretting this act of destruction.
But this isn't the end of the Noah story. And it isn't the end when Noah dies or his sons have children. In 1 Peter we have a picture of our unconstrained, wild God coming to love and save even those who died in the flood, through Jesus' death and resurrection. Have you ever wondered what was Jesus doing after he died on Good Friday but before he rose on Easter Sunday? It says in our reading that he went to bring new life to those who had gone before and specifically mentions those who perished in the flood. 1 Peter says, “He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.” Those who perished are even saved through the power of Jesus' resurrection. They, too, can share in the new life he offers. God doesn't come to punish and destroy, but to reach out and heal and give new life.
Last week, Jesus was linked with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop in the transfiguration. He gets their official endorsement. Today, he is linked with Noah. For Noah the rain fell for forty days and and forty nights. For Jesus, he was driven into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Noah was surrounded by wild beasts in the ark. Jesus is with the wild beasts in the wilderness. Certainly both Noah and Jesus wrestled with their demons in that time. Noah being tested to even build the ark and then perhaps wondering if the waters would ever subside. Wondering if it was all a cruel joke, wondering about his own identity and what he was capable of, wondering who he would be when it was all over. And Jesus, tempted by Satan, having just been told that he is God's beloved Son, wondering what that means, being tempted to use that power for his own gain and coming through with a much clearer picture of who he would be and what he was capable of when God's favoritism wasn't so obvious. Both of them had to wrestle with their demons to move forward on the path of faithfulness. And when Noah stepped from the ark, human kind was starting fresh and new, a clean slate. And when Jesus comes out of the wilderness, he called for a clean slate, a time of repentance, a statement about the nearness of God, and of faith and belief. Something new is happening with the arrival of Jesus, on the same level of everything being made fresh and clean after the flood, except this time, no one will be left behind. In fact it is even a deeper cleansing, in that it involves all creation for all time and a new start of this relationship between us and God in which God makes love known to all of us through the Beloved son, Jesus.
It is a pretty wild concept to include everyone and everything, past present and future, human and animal, a covenant for all time, not because of something we did or some standard we could never meet, but all being fulfilled through God's saving action of love in Jesus Christ.
One of our favorite books is “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendack. Max who is maybe 7 years old puts on his wolf suit and goes wild. One of the parenting books I've read tells me to think of my child as a cave man, in an earlier stage of evolution, and speak to him as if I were an ambassador from this world trying to communicate and explain this foreign land to him and trying to appreciate and understand where he is coming from. Max is being wild in this book, but instead of trying to understand him, his mother sends him to his room. Mothers do lose their patience sometimes. So Max sails off to where the wild things are. He has a wild rumpus with the wild things, but eventually he decides to go back to where someone loves him best of all. And it is clear he is still loved, especially when he gets back to his room and finds some hot dinner waiting for him.
We have our wild moments and we sometimes cross a line. Sometimes we need to be wild for a while, because it brings us experiences we might never encounter. We often learn something from our wild days. And when we are ready to come home to the one who loves us best of all, we find a meal of love and warmth waiting for us when we do repent and return.
God appreciates a little wildness. Sometimes we picture God, sitting primly on a throne. That looks pretty boring to me. Other times we picture God, wildly creative, bringing the world into being, as the Holy Spirit soaring and helping us to soar, knowing no boundaries and everywhere at once, loving with a love so wild that none will escape it. So let us join the wild rumpus that God has begun, and let down our hair as we celebrate the wild love of God on our lenten journey.