Reflection on the readings for Year B, Lent 1 through 5
by John G. Gibbs, PhD
The creation/covenant connection appears on all five Sundays of Lent.
The crisis that humanity inflicts on itself and the world does not have the last word. God does. The covenant that God makes with the earth (Gen. 9:8-17) repels chaos, preserves the face of God in us the “imagers,” and establishes the Creator’s sustaining care at and as the heart of the universe.
Human community and all creation together strain expectantly toward their common fate, in a process and an outcome never separated from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31ff.). There will be new birth. Labor pains this time are not in vain.
The God who “from heaven” spoke 10 memorable promises requires that we make “only an altar of earth,” and use un-chiseled natural stones (Ex. 20:22-24). Those 10 promises portray the release God brings in perennial exodus, in deliverance from slavery to other gods. The “steadfast love of God” urges from Mt. Sinai: “Do not be afraid”; from shepherds’ fields: “Do not be afraid”; and from Jesus, despite his being encircled by men lying in wait to catch him: “Do not be afraid.” (Ex. 20:6,20; Luke 2:10 and 12:32). “All these words” (Gen. 20:1), misnamed as commandments, are promises that tell how it will be in our relationships with God, neighbors, creatures. We can choose hope, not fear.
Such promises are rooted in “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. …For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 1:10; 2:4-10) Notice: “created for good works,” not for destructive “dominion” against Creator, against creation, against “image” of the Creator.
“One heart and one way” are gifts of “the new covenant” God makes. It is the unbroken covenant not only with God’s People but also with day and night! Indeed, the God-given reliability (“fixed order”) of sun, moon, and stars, also of day and night, assure us that God’s covenant can be counted on to endure. (Jeremiah 31:31-35; 32:38-41; 33:19-22)
God would rather die than not be God for us. Global warming, sexual orientation, eco-justice, a shrinking church amending her constitution – we approach all such matters with hope in the God who makes “everlasting covenant.”
Reflection on Genesis 9:8-17
by Nan Stokes
What a wonderful sign of God’s promise to us! A rainbow after rain is a truly beautiful sight to behold – sometimes a double rainbow appears in the blue to amaze and delight all who are looking, The psalmist on the first Sunday in Lent says “All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” The gospel lesson tells of the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River, and while he is in the wilderness being tempted by Satan and waited on by angels, we are being reminded of how much we are loved by our Creator God. Surrounded by love and beauty, we are aware that we must turn again and thank the Creator for making a covenant with us and sending the rainbow to remind us that we are to be faithful in our loving.
God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:8-17) is God’s gracious unconditional commitment as Creator, to the whole earth community. God’s later covenants with Abraham, and with the Church in Christ, are set within this creation covenant. God is revealed as compassionate and merciful to all who turn to God (Psalm 25:1-10).
At Christ’s baptism heaven was opened to earth (Mark 1:10). His involvement with the whole earth community is underlined by the note that he was ‘with the wild beasts’ in the wilderness (Mark 1:13). Through faith and baptism we also can begin on earth to live with God (1 Peter 3:18-22)
Jesus and the Journey of Overcoming, By Robert Saler
We all know that issues around environmentalism, ecology, conservation, etc., get very political very quickly. That’s inevitable, and serious issues deserve serious debate. But underneath all the politics, when all is said and done, let’s be clear: people are hurting. Bodies are hurting and pain damages souls. And however much fun it may or may not be to distract ourselves with party politics and church politics, at the end of the day: pain is real. And if we believe that God is a God of love, and that God loves those in pain, then the math becomes pretty simple. It doesn’t have to be about hugging trees or saving whales if that’s not your thing. But if Jesus is your thing, then ignoring those who are hurt by environmental degradation really just isn’t an option—at least according to that really edgy sermon that we’ve all heard, the one preached from a mount.
Reflection on Mark 1:9-15
by Nan Stokes
All of the readings for this beginning Sunday in Lent are involved with water. In the first reading from Genesis, we hear the story of Noah and the establishment of the covenant with God signified by the rainbow. The second reading from 1 Peter talks about baptism as an appeal to God for good conscience, and in the Gospel from Mark, we read again about the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Bible commentaries have much speculation about the heavens opening up and the Spirit descending like a dove. Was it an event seen just by Jesus – a visionary experience? We can speculate, too, and believe in spiritual experiences during or after baptisms. But now it is Lent – a time of trials and temptations – so we focus on Jesus going out into the wilderness for forty days. We have different thoughts about wildernesses – certainly desert experiences were part of the testing in areas of the world where there was a desert. Mark’s gospel doesn’t say that the wild beasts were hostile, only that Jesus was with them. And the angels waited on him, just as we can know that angels will be around us whenever our wilderness experience becomes more than we can handle. What a comforting thought for this season of deprivation and wilderness! The “beasts” in our world maybe aren’t hostile – they just need taming!
A Fool for your Love: St Francis and Discipleship Mark G. Brett
Excerpt: In our Gospel reading from Mark 1, we find the enigmatic reference to Jesus being “with the wild animals”. The Gospel writers make no attempt to explain this strange behaviour, probably because the audience was familiar with the idea in the Hebrew Bible that God would make a covenant with the wild animals. As we read in Hosea 2:18, “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety”. The focus here is precisely on those animals who are beyond the fringe of culture – the threatening and undomesticated ones, who are perhaps the most difficult for humans to love.