Posts Tagged 'Genesis 9:8-17'

For Feb. 22, 2015: 1 Lent, Year B

The Reading                                                                    Genesis 9:8-17

Genesis 9:8-17 finishes the account of the great Flood. Here is God’s promise never again to destroy the world by flood; the sign of this is the rainbow. On this first Sunday of Lent, it is good to consider how our sinfulness grieves God, how great God’s mercy is—and how we children of God are also called to mercy.

The Response                                                                 Psalm 25:1-9

Psalm 25:1-9 resonates for the first day of Lent and the commemoration of two great teachers of the Episcopal Church. The psalmist declares trust in the Lord and praises the Lord’s graciousness, faithfulness, and teaching—and yet, like so many of us, the psalmist cannot help begging not to be humiliated or put to shame.

The Epistle                                                                      1 Peter 3:18-22

The issue of shame that was raised in Psalm 25 is dealt with in the first letter of Peter, written by a Roman church elder in Peter’s name, who explicitly links the great Flood of Genesis and baptism. Through baptism God moves to drown our bad conscience and with it our stubborn, self-humiliated resistance to God’s unfailing mercy.

The Gospel                                                                       Mark 1:9-15

In Mark 1:9-15 we revisit Jesus’ baptism. The reading for 1 Epiphany ended with the voice from heaven in verse 11; today’s reading goes on to describe the dove-like Spirit turning into a hawk and harrying Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted or tested. Only after those forty days does Jesus begin his public ministry.

 

Further thoughts

Outside my window, the sky is grey—an encouraging color as parched Southern California faces yet another year of drought. Most of us can still simply turn on a faucet and expect water that’s safe and mostly clear, depending on how many particulates are contributed by the Colorado River. For some in California, however, this necessity is a luxury: the farmworker households of Alpaugh in the San Joaquin Valley, whose estimated median household income is less than $20,000,[1] must spend an average of $1500 per year on bottled water because the booming almond industry[2] sucks up so much groundwater that the town’s last functioning well is bringing up water tainted with arsenic. Ironically, when Alpaugh was founded in the 19th century, it was an island in wetlands that extended from Mendota in the north to as far south (though not as far east) as Bakersfield[3] and included Tulare Lake, the biggest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi until the rivers that supplied it were dammed and diverted around the beginning of the 20th century.

Water infuses three of the four lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Lent 2015 as life-giver but also life-taker. Even when water makes an end, however, as the reading from Genesis reminds us, water is not the end, but rather a means. As we close Black History Month 2015 by celebrating the lives of educators Anna Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, it is good to remember the role of water in helping slaves escape to freedom. The spiritual “Wade in the Water” speaks of groups freed by passing through water and alludes to the healing at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:4, KJV); it was also a code instructing escapees to throw bounty hunters off their scent by taking to the rivers.[4] We are baptized once for all, of course, but visualizing God’s mercy as a flow we follow to freedom and our fullest selves can perhaps help us remember to be conduits of that mercy to the many in this dry world who still so desperately thirst.

 

[1] “Alpaugh, California,” City-Data.com, no date. Web, http://www.city-data.com/city/Alpaugh-California.html#b. Accessed 20 February 2015.

[2] Philpott, Tom. “California Goes Nuts,” Mother Jones, 12 January 2015, Web, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/01/california-drought-almonds-water-use. Accessed 20 February 2015.

[3] “Hydrology of the Tulare Basin,” Tulare Basin Wildlife Partners, 2013. Web, http://www.tularebasinwildlifepartners.org/history.html. Accessed 20 February 2015.

[4] “Revised Common Lectionary: Wade in The Water,” RevGalBlogPals, 17 February 2015. Web. http://revgalblogpals.org/2015/02/17/revised-common-lectionary-wade-in-the-water/. Accessed 20 February 2015. A glorious rendition of “Wade in the Water” by the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRpzEnq14Hs.

For Feb. 26, 2012: First Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Reading            Genesis 9:8-17

As Lent begins, we think about human sin and God’s mercy. Today’s reading comes after the great Flood. We hear God’s promise to all creatures never again to destroy the world, no matter how much our sinfulness grieves God, and the sign of this is the rainbow.

The Epistle            1 Peter 3:18-22

The first letter of Peter, written by a church elder in Rome, makes an explicit link between the great Flood about which we heard in the first reading and baptism. The Flood destroyed disobedient humans. It is sobering to think of baptism as a means through which God moves to drown our disobedience.

 

Further notes

One thinks of baptism as a gentle process: tip a little water from a scallop shell onto a baby’s tender scalp, or at most dip a youth or grownup in the Baptists’ full immersion, whether in a specially built pool or in the wilder water of a river. In either case the person baptized is literally supported. The priest cradles the infant; I for one love to watch a priest whose own family is complete gazing at the child in her arms and getting herself a “baby fix” in the course of administering this delightful sacrament. The Baptist baptism is almost a liturgical dance, and it takes a certain amount of practice to do gracefully: as the pastor and the baptizand stand thigh deep in water, it is the baptizand’s part to relax at the knees and not struggle while the pastor—who may be holding the baptizand’s nostrils shut for him—quickly lays him down into the water and brings him back upright again.

The first letter of Peter tells us that baptism, whatever form it takes, is prefigured by the epic Flood of Noah. Now the reading from Genesis today gives us the end of the process, with God promising never, ever again to destroy the whole world by flood. This promise is the first great covenant between God and humanity. The Flood that gets us this covenant, however, is a violent process.

Did the Flood prefigure baptism by washing away the human propensity to do wrong? I think we know the answer to that. The verses after today’s selection from Genesis tell us that, as soon as the world dried out enough, upright Noah discovered wine, got blind drunk and exposed himself. And things have only gone down the drain since then.

We could instead look at baptism as a kind of epic flood. A huge flood changes the landscape permanently. It sweeps away familiar landmarks, creates new ones and makes new growth possible. It overruns the banks we assign it and astonishes us with its power. Baptism does these things. In baptism is God’s self-binding promise never to destroy the human soul, even when our sin deserves it. Through it is God’s declaration that no other power has the right to condemn us—not a government, not Satan, not the church nor even our own deep shame and guilt—because Jesus is our claim on righteousness. We don’t always recall this as we ought, but let us look to the rainbow and remember.