New People, By Water and The Spirit

Lent 1B: Flood and New Life
Readings found here

During my Ash Wednesday sermon this past week, I preached a reminder that each of us is marked as Christ’s own forever.  In our beginning and in our ending--and in the midst of the now that is now--marked as Christ’s own forever. This claiming of our collective identity as Christ’s own, is not a new message for me to preach. I often speak of the importance of remembering who we are and to whom we belong--we are beloved children of God who belong to the God who created us and loves us--beloved children of God who have inherited the promise of hope--beloved children of God whose participation in the humanity of Christ calls us to care for and love all of creation--beloved children of God faced with temptation and worry; beloved children of God who are invited again and again to “repent and believe the good news”; beloved children of God who are invited to the table.  

The season of Lent is a season of invitation back to the table--of reconciliation and restoration of the wholeness of community.  The broken relationships, the broken promises, the worries and anxieties--Lent becomes a time in which we work towards the vision of wholeness--when we are invited to become a new creation in Christ.  

This is not an invitation to destruction, but an invitation to restoration.  And, that’s where I want to pick up the story of the ark today.  

My temptation, when I hear this story of cataclysmic flood, is to get stuck in my own horror at the destruction of all life.  Sure, there are the lovely bits about the dove and the promise to never destroy--complete with rainbow!  But, the lovely bits for me are subsumed by the flood waters.  

In a sermon I preached here in September, I referenced the Talmudic response to the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea... “How can you sing as the works of my hand are drowning?”

 And, this becomes my gut response to this can we celebrate the rainbow when the works of creation are destroyed by the creator?  But, in a literal gut check, I recognize that if I approach this text as a literalist, I reject the invitation to engage with the mythic qualities of the text...those things in the text that transcend context and culture.  

In the flood narrative we hear of a creation so corrupted by the actions of human beings that the only choice left the creator is creating a new creation.  A fresh start, as it were.  Out of the destruction of all that was, emerges the hope for what might be.  And, part of that hope is the creation of a new covenant, a new relationship, between humanity and God.    

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh writes that, “ if you look deeply into your anger, you will see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering.  As soon as you see that, the capacity of accepting and having compassion for him is there. Jesus calls this “loving your enemy.”  When you are able to love your enemy, he or she is no longer your enemy.  The idea of “enemy” vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs your compassion.”  

What an amazing twist to our understanding of the flood narrative...the invitation to see God as a God who looked deeply into anger and recognizes our suffering.  A God for whom the idea of enemy vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs God’s compassion.  

And, when I can see in the flood the promise of God’s compassion and remembering I can connect our own story , our ancestral trajectory--stemming from a story of survival and emergent promise.  A story in which God chooses a new way to be in relationship with all of us--a relationship of shared experience, regret, love and sacrifice.  

And, out of this flood narrative, a limitless promise emerges--God’s covenant is with the entirety of creation.  Never again.  And God remembers.  And we remember.  

The Eucharistic Prayer, prayer C, which we will be using for the duration of Lent invokes this remembering of creation, betrayal, and new creation.  

At your command all things came to be...From the primal elements you brought forth the human race...But we turned against you, and betrayed
your trust; and we turned against one another...Again and again, you called us to return...made a new people by water and the Spirit.  

Made a new people...what an amazing invitation to start anew.  

One of the most powerful symbols we’ve been gifted with as a church is that of water.  Out of waters that would destroy comes new life into being.  And, not only new life, but a promise for all of life.  All...and this promise in its entirety is a powerful affirmation of our interconnectedness.   God’s promise is an “all of us or none of us”—my salvation is intimately tied to yours and we are all in the ark of creation together.  And, this causes me to wonder, what happens to our understanding of creation and our place in it if we begin to understand ourselves as survivors of the flood?

For the survivors of the flood, the ordeal of the waters results in an intense feeling of belonging that is marked by God’s covenant.  “This sense of comradeship and communality that comes out of the shared ordeal which anthropologist Victor Turner calls communitas. Communitas in his view happens in situations where individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition, and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive.”   

We rely on each other to survive.  And in our mutual interdependence we are invited to examine what it means to be invited into an experience of the holy lent.  

When we walk in the desert together--whether literally or figuratively, we are driven to find each other, rely on each other and support each other.  And beyond our own human here and now, we are called to remember that when we walk in the desert, we walk with Jesus.  Lent can serve as a reminder that we are never alone or isolated in our suffering, our temptation, our rejoicing, or our belovedness as children of God.    

So here we are, after the rainbow, and out of the flood comes not an invitation to destruction, but an invitation to restoration.  Made a new people by water and the Spirit.  



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