As a child, I thought Noah’s Ark was a terrible story. Why would God do that to everyone? A few chapters before this, it says “The wickedness of humankind was great on the earth, and every inclination of their hearts was only evil, continually.” (6:5), but I remember thinking, “Even the kids? Even the animals?” It didn’t make too much sense.
The answer is that we hear this story inside out. We think of God like Jesus’ God; loving and kind. The prodigal father. Forgive seventy times seven. That’s the God I believe in.
That wasn’t the God of the people of the ancient Mid-East. They believed that the God who created everything was also the Judge of everything. It was His, (and in their eyes, it could only be a His) job to judge everything, and to determine just punishments. In this society, an eye for an eye, stoning women for adultery, and cutting the hands off thieves, was considered just. So was killing off an entire people, “because there was great wickedness on the earth.” God would see to it that evil people were punished! It was God’s job!
This punishing God was mighty, and vengeful. They thought that lightening was arrows from God’s bow. Listen to these Psalms:
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains so that they smoke. Make the lightening flash and scatter them; send out your arrows, and rout them. (Ps. 144: 5-6) The Clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flash on every side. (Psalm 77: 17)
If this was how they saw God, as the Great Creator and Judge, then this story is an Amazing Turn around! God begins an intimate relationship with people where God changes from being the Great Judge and Punisher to the Great Protector, who is invested in the welfare of these people! And it’s emphasized that it’s not just people with whom God offers to live in covenant relationship. but All of creation. This is mentioned several times. It’s not even a big deal, it sounds like God and the writer of Genesis, just assume it.
“I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals and every animal of the earth with you….This is sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. …every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth…between me and all flesh that is on the earth.
It is assumed that just as God is the Protector who is in intimate relationship with Us, God is in the same relationship with All the earth. People are not separated or treated as different and unique. All creation is related, and all creation lives or dies together.
But, this is not a story about destruction, or even humanity repenting and turning from evil to good. it is a story about God limiting God’s own powers, giving up what the ancient people considered to be one of God’s major rights. They believed that the power to destroy was one of the attributes of God. But God gave it up, and traded it for an intimate relationship with us.
Love and care for creation is one of the 3 Great Loves that the United Church of Christ is focusing on for the next two years. Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation. These are not new themes for people of faith. We have been working on this forever. But each of them; our world neighbors, our children, and our world, seem especially vulnerable now.
The UCC is collecting stories, big and small, of what our churches across the country are doing to spread these 3 Great Loves, which combined, would result in a Just World for All. If you Google it, it comes right up, complete with a form to write your story, and the stories of what churches are doing. The website says:
Our hope is that this initiative, we will tell the story of how we are impacting and transforming the world as covenantal partners united in common purpose, vision, and mission.
It’s simple, and it’s good.
What does that have to do with Lent? Everything. We tend to think of Lent as a downer, fasting, maybe giving something up, but the reality is that just like I had been looking at the Genesis story from the wrong perspective, (not realizing that the storytellers Expected God to punish them - that the surprise was that God promised never to do that), Lent has another side.
Wednesday night, we read from Deuteronomy that we need to “Love the Lord our God with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind.” Then we read what God said to us in Isaiah, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” We finished with Jesus saying, “The greatest commandment is this, that you love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and that you love your neighbor as yourself.” There is nothing more important.
These three things form a circle. We are to love God with everything we’ve got. That is because God loves us, with everything God’s got. And because of that, we love our neighbor. That’s how we express our love for God. It’s the natural result.
That’s what Lent is: Christian bootcamp, a time to focus on what’s really important, and to do it.
That’s what Jesus did in the desert. He had just been baptized, told that he was the beloved son of God, and that God was delighted with him, so then, he went into the desert to get clear on his mission. He needed to focus. He needed to pray. He was tempted in several ways, not to be true to himself and his God, and when he was done, when it was clear as a bell, he left and started his mission.
That’s our mission too. How do we increase the love in the world? How can we better love God, love our neighbor and love ourselves? That is our job.
The United Church of Christ wants to hear about it. Food pantries, volunteering, serving at shelters, housing the homeless, visiting the sick, sewing prayer shawls and blankets for Families Moving Forward, writing cards and throwing showers. We do it. Let’s share it (send a letter to the UCC online, in the mail, or put something on Facebook). The world needs more good news, more examples, and more practical expressions of love. Let’s share it! Let’s do it! Happy Lent!