Sunday 21 February 2021: Lent 1
Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Context: online service for a middle of the road parish, a mix of life-long and new Christians
Aim: to offer encouragement for those in-between times, where God seems distant and our purpose confused.
‘God is good!’ the worship leader declares from the front of the Church. ‘All the time!’ the faithful congregation cries in response. It’s a battle cry, a reassuring refrain, an assertion of God’s sovereignty, whatever may befall.
But, if we’re honest, there are some times when God’s goodness can feel less in evidence than at others – not absent per se, but maybe a little less in focus – obscured, blurred by circumstances, experience or trauma. A global pandemic, for instance.
Perhaps those are the times when we need to double down – to declare it even more loudly and confidently? But sometimes the words fail to form or get stuck in our throats. Our silence accuses us, standing in testament to a lack of faith… or perhaps it simply begs a question. A question about what God’s up to and how we respond in this place of apparent desolation.
I wonder what such silence – that space between blessings – might teach us if we will stop a while and recognise it for what it is?
Our scripture readings today invite us to consider what happens in between blessings. Our gospel reading is one of quick transitions and sharp contrasts – one moment Jesus is having a transformative spiritual experience, declared the beloved and pleasing child of God in front of a crowd on the shores of River Jordan, the next he’s driven out violently into the wilderness, with only Satan and wild beasts for company.
God is good. All the time. But what now?
The ‘what now?’ of the desert places begs questions of us, too – not just of God. How will we feel? How will we respond? What growth and meaning will we find there?
CALLED TO FAITHFULNESS
For Jesus, finding himself in the desert, alone and bewildered, cannot be a sign of God’s anger or disappointment with him, nor is it some kind of punishment – the Father has literally just declared, ‘With you, I am well pleased.’ Something else must be going on here. Jesus is called to occupy that space in between blessings – for a considerable period – before he can emerge and begin his proclamation of the good news of God. It seems that the desert is a necessary place, even if we don’t quite understand its purpose. Whether or not he deserves to find himself there is irrelevant. In this in-between place, as Jesus is tempted to grasp at glory, claim power and embrace self-sufficiency he is called to respond with faithfulness, endurance, and reliance on the provision of God’s angels.
CALLED TO REMEMBRANCE
For all the technicolour child-friendly retellings, Noah and his family have just survived a monumental trauma – the eradication of life as they know it, save for their floating zoological bubble. They are rescued, safe – and for that, thanks must rightly be given to God. But what now for these survivors, beginning again on an apparently empty planet? God has charged them to be fruitful, to enjoy creation and respect life, but it’s very much time for them to make their own way now.
To see them through this time between blessings, God makes them a promise, not just them, but all creation throughout the ages, even including you and I. God promises that never again will a flood cause such devastation. And fittingly, the sign of this covenant is a bow. In ancient times, it was not unusual for deities to be pictured with a bow and arrow in hand – but God is laying down his weapons. The nature of humanity has not significantly changed from what it was pre-flood (in fact, God has already had to remind Noah and his family of the sanctity of human life) – but God has pledged that, whatever else he may do to restore creation, destruction is off the table. Instead, he will not give up on us, he will seek us, he will love us into renewal.
In between blessings, we are called to faithfulness. In between blessings we are called to fruitfulness. In between blessings, God will remember his covenant – and he calls us to do the same.
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