02/21/21 – The Path Set Before Us


February 21, 2021
1st Sunday in Lent
Gen.9:8-17; Ps.25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mk. 1:9-15
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Although today is the first Sunday in Lent, it is not the beginning of Lent – that was earlier this week on Ash Wednesday. If you missed the service, I invite you to watch it on the Westminster website or on YouTube. Our Old Testament and gospel readings for today share the biblically significant number, forty. Noah, his family, and two of every kind of animal spent 40 days in the ark during the Great Flood and Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tested after his baptism and before he began his ministry. You can probably think of many other biblical references to the number 40. We are so accustomed to limiting our worship to Sundays, that Ash Wednesday is easily forgotten. The calculation of forty days of Lent, commemorating the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, does not include Sundays, which are always a celebration of the Resurrection. In the first Confirmation Class I taught, the students immediately seized on the idea: “That means if I give up something for Lent, Sundays don’t count.” Rather than see Lent as a time of sacrifice, I invite you to see Lent as an opportunity for learning about your authentic self, who God is, and how you live in a relationship with God.

The passage from Genesis we read is the conclusion of the Noah saga, which began with God’s pronouncement: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.” (Gen. 6:13) The first time I preached on this passage was before a Native American congregation in Arizona. The local pastor warned me when I was preparing my sermon that there would be people in the congregation that had never heard the story before. I realized that this population might have a different perception of God’s actions than a privileged, East Coast, white congregation. In the cultural memory of Native Americans includes the genocidal violence perpetrated by white people against them. Seen as violent, subhuman savages, there was a systematic attempt to kill off the Native peoples and erase their culture. The local pastor also informed me there would be many children in the congregation, some of whom would also be hearing the story for the first time. Needless to say, my sermon focused on God’s covenant, sealed with the sign of the rainbow.  God hung up his weapon, an undrawn bow without arrows, in the sky as a reminder to Godself to never flood the earth again.

It is in the story of Noah that a covenant is first mentioned in the bible. What is different from God’s covenant with Noah from the covenant with Abraham and Moses is the Noahic covenant is unilateral – it is God’s pledge alone. It was a covenant made not just with Israel, but also with all of creation. God demonstrated God’s love for humanity outweighs God’s judgment. God showed mercy on humanity, despite their continued inclination toward sin. The inclusiveness of the covenant explains the use of the rainbow as a symbol of welcome. For the same reason, the rainbow is a symbol for support for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in contemporary society.

God did not promise there would be no loss or destruction in the future; only that God would never destroy the earth with a flood. That doesn’t mean we may not destroy it ourselves. What God did promise was there would-be life and hope after loss and destruction. In the same spirit, we recognize that God’s promise in Christ is not life without death, but resurrection from the dead.

The dove, which returned to Noah carrying an olive branch to show him there was dry land ahead, became of symbol of peace. In Mark’s gospel, God’s Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism “like a dove.” Mark’s depiction of Jesus’ baptism indicates that, once again, God gave a sign of a unilateral covenant. Even Jesus himself had done nothing yet. Nothing, except allow himself to be baptized. His ministry had yet to begin. God broke into the world with a promise – a promise of salvation, not destruction – with a visible sign, God’s Word Incarnate. With Jesus’ baptism, the deep, chaotic waters have not only been tamed, the means of destruction at the time of Noah became the means of salvation. For that first covenant, God put down his bow and left it in the clouds. For the last covenant, God put down his Son upon the earth to show us what God’s grace and love look like. Then humanity did to the Son, what God promised never to do humanity – we destroyed him. But, once again, we received a sign that God’s grace is greater than our sin.  God’s second bow in the clouds was in the signs of the visible empty tomb and the risen Christ’s appearance.

We continue to cast people aside, even erase them from the earth. We may not turn our brothers and sisters away ourselves, but we continue to place walls between “us” and “them,” and allow “them” to be turned away at our borders, at our voting booths, in our neighborhoods, and in our schools. We pollute the air, water, and soil endangering all life God has created, both by our using more than our share of the earth’s resources and by failing to take measures to curb the destruction of the environment. Our sins are found in both the evil we do and the evil we ignore. But, God’s love is stronger than our sin. When we run away from God, God seeks us out and beckons us to return, our sins forgiven. The catch is unless we repent, we are not really returning to God.

The Psalmist has wise words to guide our Lenten journey on the path that leads us back to God. The psalmist asks for learning, the type of learning that comes from God. The psalmist pleads: “make me to know”… teach me your paths. (Ps. 25:4)… Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; (5)… he instructs sinners in the way… teaches the humble his way. (9) All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” (10) The psalmist lays out the path to salvation, which is found in God’s teaching, one’s learning God’s ways, and finally, keeping the covenant. This path is charted in the Lenten journey, where one can discover the truth, humility, steadfast love, and faithfulness. Echoing the theme of the Noah story, the psalmist calls on God to “remember” and show mercy. In keeping with the pledge of non-violence, the psalmist does not ask his enemies to be destroyed, but only for them to be shown their sin so that they are ashamed, and a lesson is learned. The psalmist does not express an expectation that their circumstances will be altered, but for a change in self. The psalmist prays for peace and hope, with trust in the promises God has made.

In keeping Lent, we accept a 40-day faith challenge to travel through the wilderness of our sin seeking a path back to God. It is not just a time of struggle; it is also a time of hope because we know we are not lost from God’s sight. God ‘remembers us.’ We are challenged to remember God and to review and renew our baptismal vows. As we work out and work on our relationship with God and God’s creation, we offer ourselves to be resurrected, to become new creations in Christ. May you feel God’s loving and guiding presence in this Lenten journey.


Amen. May it be so.




© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2021, All Rights Reserved
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