First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9.1-8   God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

From a theological perspective, “covenant,” in this passage, is a declaration of God establishing an eternal, transcendent relationship between God and humanity through Noah.  Not only humanity, but all creation.  Specifically, this covenant is a declaration of God’s purpose of salvation for the whole of creation.  God provides a symbol of this covenant and declares the everlasting nature of it.  In a way, this is a prelude to the covenantal relationship to be established between God and Moses (representing the people chosen by God).  This passage from Genesis does not offer a response from the Noah.  In this instance, then, the covenant is simply a declaration of God’s intent and purpose for creation following the flood story.  What is yet to be developed is how the people who hear this story of the God of creation will respond to the invitation into covenant.  Consequently, it is important and essential to understand that “covenant” implies a relationship, fellowship, connection between distinct “sides.”  It is not a quid pro quo relationship as in a contract (you give me five dollars and I will give you a meal); rather, it is a commitment to interaction (relationship, fellowship, connection).  In the context of our Abrahamic tradition (i.e. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), there is a salvific (e.g. salvation) aspect to this covenant—God wants to save creation and we should respond by following God).   For the fullest realization of the implication of covenant, we must look to the Abrahamic saga (Genesis 12-17) and Mosaic saga (Genesis 19-24).  These two essential stories of the Covenant set the stage for our exploration of the “New Covenant” as described in the Story of Jesus.

Psalm 25.1-9

1 Peter 3.18-22  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, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, 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.

 This is a Christological affirmation of the role of Jesus in the revelation of this “new covenant.”  “Christ also suffered for sins . . .” so that we might, despite our brokenness, realize the intent of God’s saving purpose.  It is of high importance to the early Christians to understand Jesus as an extension of God’s ancient covenant and as a means to realize salvation.  The writer of 1 Peter is making this connection through the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism.  Just as God affirmed and maintained the Abrahamic covenant through the waters of the flood, so too do we realize the affirmation of the covenant, now expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through baptism.

Mark 1.9-15  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 Three quick stories in this brief passage from Mark – – no one ever accuses Mark of being a teller of long stories.  Regardless of all other renditions in Matthew, Luke, or John, Mark is just giving us the barest of information about Jesus.  John, John, John and then Jesus comes out from Nazareth without introduction and is baptized and God through the Spirit declares “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Done.

The “Spirit,” apparently the Holy Spirit “drives him out into the wilderness” where Satan tempts him.  One cannot help but think Jesus may have been wondering, “With friends like these . . .”  This lasts two verses, after which we discover John arrested and removed from the scene and now Jesus in Galilee proclaiming John’s message.  There are no wasted words in Mark’s Gospel.  The parting declaration of this pericope, Jesus saying, “time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near, repent, and believe in the good news.”  Maybe this is where we are to begin as we step into the season of Lent.

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First Sunday after the Epiphany: the Baptism of Jesus

Genesis 1.1-5:  An odd reading from the Creation story, not in its content, but in its brevity.  However, as this is the season of Epiphany, a season captured in the image of a light leading “wise” characters to the birth site of the “new” king, perhaps a short version of the Creation story focused solely on the distinction of light and darkness, day and night is all that is needed.

Psalm 29

Acts 19.1-7: Paul, in this brief reading, is drawing a distinction between the Johannine baptism of “repentence” {repent (metanoia—a turning of the heart from the wrong direction to the right direction) is essential to exploring how it is we move our journeys from brokenness to connectedness with God.  While Paul in Romans affirms salvation is by grace through faith in God (see letter “c” below), repenting or metanoia-turning is a process of us reorienting ourselves to God’s purpose for our lives.  Repenting allows us to realize and experience the unrelenting grace and love of God as we choose to seek God.}  and baptism in the name of Jesus, that is, a baptism into the transformative power of the Holy Spirit manifested by God through Jesus.  Paul is moving baptism from a personal action of metanoia to an ontologically transformative change in our nature by God.  Baptism becomes not only a mark of repentence, but also our new birth by faith in Jesus.

Mark 1.4-11: This is the story of Jesus’ baptism by John.  It is an affirmation of the distinction Paul is making in today’s reading from Acts.  The Gospel of Mark, the Readers’ Digest version of the Gospel, contains only the essential elements of the story of John the Baptist and ends with the declaration by a voice from the heavens acknowledging the person just baptized by John, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”