+ Lent 1 B
TEXT: Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15
DATE: February 18, 2018
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Dallas
Rainbows are impressive, aren’t they?
Rainbows are one of those things
that just may stop you in your tracks
for a few minutes
and leave you staring at the sky
for no apparent good reason
other than to look at its beauty and grandeur.
So it makes quite an impressive sign
for the covenant God made
with Noah, and all his descendants,
and every living creature,
that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood.
But God has made all kinds of signs
as guarantees for a promise,
reminders of a commitment made,
a seal of assurance for a vow.
Jesus had some of his own –
signs that would remind him
of God’s promise and presence with him –
even as he is driven into the wilderness
to be tested by Satan.
One of the biggest was that vision he had
of the heavens being ripped open above him
and that dove coming down and resting on him.
That would have been an impressive and memorable sign
of God’s love and good intentions for him.
I suspect that he relied on that sign a lot
during his forty days in the wilderness.
And then, Mark reports, angels waited on him.
That surely was a good sign, too.
Throughout this season of Lent
we will hear about other covenants and signs
God has made with his beloved people
in the past.
But God hasn’t limited signs of his promises
to the people in the Bible.
God has shaken your hand, too –
sealed your certificate, too,
with his own signs of assurance and commitment
of his promises to you.
There is the loaf and the cup,
bread and wine,
table and community gathered
that serve as the sign of Jesus own body
given to you,
given for you,
and made alive in us
as his own body living and serving today.
We see and take
and eat and drink these signs,
and the promise is ours in the depths of us.
There is the cross,
a sign that sin and death,
injustice and suffering,
are defeated in the death of Jesus on that cross
when God raised him from death
and redeemed our sinful lives.
And his life is now our promise.
This is a sign to see with our eyes
and to mark on our foreheads or our bodies
and to take into our hearts
as the sign of the source of our life in Christ.
And there is water and oil,
signs of our baptism
and all the promises God lavishes on us in it:
A new birth into a living hope,
deliverance from sin and death
and resurrection to new life in Jesus.
Being united with all the baptized
in the one body of Christ,
being anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit,
and being joined in God’s mission
for the life of the world.
and the oil of anointing
are the signs for us
that God has made these promises to you
and God keeps these promises.
But I was struck by two important things
about God’s promise – or covenant –
to Noah, his descendants, and all creatures
that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood.
And these two points can dramatically change
how we think about all God’s covenant with us
and these signs I’ve mentioned.
The first is that it’s God who makes the covenant.
“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that is with you…” God says.
“As for me, I am establishing my covenant,” says God.
I’m the one doing this, and that’s the way it is.
And neither Noah, his descendants, nor the creatures
have anything to do with it
but simply to live in the promises of that covenant.
In fact, the descendants of Noah intended here
aren’t even born yet,
and the birds, the farm animals, and all the creatures of the earth
aren’t about to sign any contract.
As for me, God says.
I am making this covenant with you.
And it’s all for your benefit.
And that’s how it is with us, too:
God makes the promises.
God raises Jesus from the dead.
God delivers us from sin and death.
God makes us his children.
God feeds us with the body and blood of Christ.
And neither you nor I
have done a thing about any of that to make it happen
other than to live in the promises God has made with us.
But here’s the second and more amazing thing to me
about the covenant God made with Noah and all.
God provided that sign
as a reminder of that covenant,
as the assurance of that promise,
as the seal for that vow.
But a reminder for whom?
For whom is that sign given?
Not Noah, but God.
“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”
“When the bow is in the clouds,
I will see it and remember
the everlasting covenant…” says God.
I don’t doubt that whenever Noah saw a rainbow,
he would think of this promise.
And if the storm that brought that rainbow
was a particularly fierce one,
he might find some comfort in that rainbow
remembering God’s promise
and knowing that this storm
is not the great flood all over again.
But come to find out,
God doesn’t put that sign there
for Noah or his descendants or the animals,
but for himself.
Remember the first point:
God is the one who makes the covenant.
So it is God who would need to remember
to keep that covenant he has made.
God provides a sign of the covenant
to hold himself accountable to his own word
to remember the promise he has made
so that God could keep that promise.
Think about that. I think that’s amazing!
Now imagine it for you:
you take the bread and the wine,
you mark yourself with the cross,
you remember your baptism with a splash
and it’s all a sign to God
to keep his promise made to you.
It’s certainly a reminder to us, of course,
of God’s promises to us,
and we need those reminders constantly
to remember what God has done for us
and to live our lives in appropriate response.
But God has given the sign for himself –
to remember and to keep
the promise made to you.
And once again, we realize,
it’s God who is doing all the giving
and promising and doing.
And we get to live in the promise.
That is both our motivation and our object
for our Lenten repentance.
It’s not that we change our ways
to do the right thing
in order to win God over,
or to convince God of anything.
It’s that we align ourselves again
with the life God has given to us
in the covenant of salvation
God has made with us in our baptism
into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It is to see the signs
and know that God remains faithful
to his covenant with us
and will keep his promise.