Genesis 9:8-17 Psalm 25:1-10 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark 1:9-15
The unconditional depth of God’s covenant is quite amazing.
As we enter this season of Lent the concept of covenant is something that
could be worthwhile to spend time reflecting on. God has given us this free gift of love, in Hebrew this ‘chesed’. Steadfast love without conditions. How we respond to this ‘no strings attached gift’ is what living in covenant with God is about.
When our son Lucas was born I soon had a real sense that our lives were going to be quite different. Not just because we had a child, but because that child was our beloved and challenging Lucas.
From the moment I went into labour for 18 hours two weeks before his due date. he lived his life to the fullest with what my dad fondly spoke of as a real “ joie de vivre”
In his early months there were many times I would be going to bed as Glen was leaving for work. Lucas’ internal clock was all twisted around as he slept during the day and fussed most of the night.
As he got older he offered us many challenges and my mantra for that time was to
“Mold the will without breaking the spirit”. Glen and I tried very hard to make sure that he understood that even though his actions were often not quite acceptable
we still loved him and we would always be there for him even in some very trying times.
Now as a young adult he works at a school for children with special needs. He is a wonderful man with a lot of compassion and care for humanity and the students that he teaches. He probably does this so well because he was such a challenging child himself!! Through this experience of guiding Lucas into adulthood I have come to understand more deeply the covenant that God made with Noah.
The covenant of God is given to us freely, we know that despite our continual acting in a way which is often not quite acceptable, God loves us with open arms .
I don’t think I will ever forget one particular day of many when Lucas and I were really at odds with each other .
He was spending time in his room on a major time out.
I went outside and sat on the grass beside the house and cried for almost as long as he did. What a horrible day for us, neither of us could bear to face each other for a couple of hours.
Eventually, lunch time came around and I went about doing the motherly thing.
Lucas came downstairs and sullenly (like only he could do) ate his sandwich. Finally after a few testing words we were able to have a somewhat civil conversation.
What I shared with him was about unconditional love.
I realize now I was able to do so because I believe in God’s grace God’s chesed
so deeply. I shared with Lucas that no matter what he did he would always be loved.
Neither his father nor I, his sister . his grandparents or God would ever abandon him.
I explained that we loved him unconditionally but that did not take away from the fact that at times he would be held accountable for his disagreeable actions. We loved him unconditionally but at times did not like what he did.
This episode in many ways brings together the Genesis reading this morning with the gospel reading.In the Genesis story God had been quite annoyed with the wickedness of humanity.
In Genesis 6 it reads
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth… and the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth and it grieved him to his heart”
To put this in relation to my experience, I think God was ready for humanity to have a major time-out . Perhaps even God wanted to head out to the garden and weep.
We know that God found that Noah was an all right guy and offered some hope for humanity. After a long timeout, well actually after 40 days, God and Noah spoke again. The actions of humanity were upsetting but God did not love them any less.
So the unconditional covenant was established.
God did not say to Noah and his sons …. OK If you do this, this and this I will never again cut off all flesh by waters of a flood. There were no conditions to God’s covenant of love. It was given freely, no strings attached.
Of course, this is not to say that we are free to act in unacceptable ways it is to say that if we understand this gift we will want to act in acceptable ways . I see this as ‘molding the will without breaking the spirit’. The love God has shown by the covenant makes us worthy and want to live a life to the fullest using what gifts God’s has blessed us with.
I think this is what happened with Jesus after his baptism. This moment prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry was a moment of covenant making by God. God chose to bear witness to Jesus that he is loved and has a special purpose to serve in this world.
When one becomes aware and feels the power of God in our life at a particular moment it can be very powerful and almost draining.
I wonder if this is what Jesus felt and why he was drawn out in the wilderness, to take time to learn and understand what it will meant to be the Beloved.
Perhaps Jesus was so filled with the awesomeness of God’s presence that the Spirit which ascended on him had to guide him away to where he could reflect and refocus on what had happened. Not to belittle what this event meant in the life of Jesus but I almost see this as that ‘timeout’ that I needed to take in the garden to understand more clearly how Lucas and I were affecting each other.
Jesus needed time out to understand more clearly how this being named “ … my Son the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” would impact his life. To wrestle with those forces that could draw him away from God.
Lent can be our time to reflect and wrestle with those forces that draw us away from God’s covenant .
I read recently that rather than focusing on the penitential side of Lent perhaps we should look at Lent as a season of covenant-making. To take time during the weeks ahead to reflect on how God’s covenant of love for us impacts our daily lives.
Both the Genesis reading and the Gospel are about God’s relationship with us. They make us very aware that although our actions may not always be acceptable we are loved unconditionally. God walks with each of us as we strive and struggle to find that ‘right place’ for God in our lives.
That place where the rainbow appears and we know God.
That place where God is present
That place where God is known
That place where God is seen by others
That place where God calls us Beloved
I would like to close by sharing with you a little about the Psalm used this morning.
For me, it ties everything together.
The morning after my Ordination I was doing the daily readings and this Psalm was the psalm for the day. I will never forget the impact it had on me.
I read through it in its entirety and it was the closing verse that has stayed with my to this very day. I try to remember to recite this verse each morning as I enter the bank.
“May integrity and uprightness fill me
for my trust is in You”
It has held me fast many a time in my life since that first day and each day I try to remember this is what our Christian journey in the world is about.
I know that it is God’s steadfast love, God’s chesed that will hold me firm no matter what I do. I know that God’s covenant means that as I falter I am Beloved and since I am Beloved I will do my best to walk in integrity and uprightness.
May this Lent be a time for us of reflecting on how God’s covenant of love impacts our daily lives.