Sermon Seeds February 18, 2018

Sermon Seeds February 18, 2018

First Sunday in Lent Year B

Lectionary citations:
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

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Worship resources for the First Sunday in Lent Year B are at Worship Ways


Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
Genesis 9:8-17
Additional reflection on Psalm 25:1-10
Additional reflections on all readings by Mary Schaller Blaufuss for One Great Hour of Sharing

Focus Theme:
God Loves Us

Reflection:
by Kathryn Matthews

One might think that our theme for this First Sunday in Lent would be something like "We Keep Sinning," or "Why We Need to Repent," instead of the tender claim that "God Loves Us." At least, that's what I thought, at first, as I reflected on the Lenten journey once again ahead of us: a time we consider to be all about penance, denial, emptiness, and remorse for our brokenness and sin. "God Loves Us" sounds like a good theme for Christmas, perhaps, but it works very well for Lent, too, as we explore and live in these texts before us, on our way to Holy Week.

Yes, we know that the story of Noah has a lot to do with God judging humankind and finding it wanting--very, very wanting, so much so that God decides on a do-over (would our technological culture say a "reboot"?) of creation itself, back when water and land had been separated and new life brought forth. In the larger story of Noah (scholars say it combines narratives from both the older J/E and the Priestly traditions that drew on familiar ancient stories of cataclysmic flooding in the area of Mesopotamia), God chooses one man and his family, establishing a new Adam and a fresh start for humanity (and, once again, telling humanity to "be fruitful and multiply"). God begins the story again, with this offer, this gift, of the very first covenant between God and humankind.

Nevertheless, sin and violence

Alas, as Martin Copenhaver observes, we know that sin nevertheless boarded the ark along with Noah's family and all those animals on their way to a new beginning, that "something was smuggled on board with them, tucked away in their hearts, and that is the seed of violence." He suggests--and we know he's right--that the sin grew "like a weed" and even today "is in us, even in the good guys"; sin and violence are "nestled in the genes" (Christian Century 2-21-2006).

And yet, and yet...we are especially prone, in the church, to concentrate on what we are doing or failing to do (right) in our relationship with God or, for that matter, what we are doing (or not doing) in the world. We don't focus so much on the primary actor in the long story of faith: God. (Perhaps this is because we, deep down, think that everything really is up to us?) This one episode in that story is a dramatic example of God at the center of things: God is the One who speaks, acts and, one might even say, feels. God is actually the one who "turns away" from a path (the thing we're supposed to do during Lent when we "repent") and makes a promise never again to destroy humankind and the earth with a flood.

One of the tasks of the pastor and preacher is to call us back, to remind us that it's not all about us, but about God. It's about what God is doing and has done not only here and now, but in times long ago and in a future we cannot even dimly see. And always, we learn and re-learn in these stories, the ancient truth that God loves us.

A story about God

It's true that the Noah story of destruction is a difficult one for preachers (not to mention church school teachers, unless they domesticate it with cute pictures of the animals riding in the boat, without mentioning the death and destruction that necessitated the ride; oddly, Noah and his boat are a popular theme for toys and nursery decorations!). These early chapters of Genesis have marvelously diverse images of a God who on the one hand tenderly makes clothing for Adam and Eve and takes walks in the garden at evening time, and yet on the other hand orders the destruction of all living things in the wake of sin and wickedness.

Scholars may struggle with this idea of God destroying all but a small remnant of humanity, but David J. Lose, for example, reminds us that our ancient ancestors in faith understood God as a God of both power and justice: "The One who created all things also stands as judge over all things and is entitled to destroy all things when they prove so disappointing." And that's what makes this story turn, why it suggests the theme "God Loves Us" more powerfully than something like "God Punishes Us" or even "We Get What We Deserve." According to Lose, God's promise never to repeat this kind of destruction is "an unheard-of surrendering of divine power," and it introduces a new dimension of the ancient Hebrews' understanding of God as "inherently self-giving, willing to enter into a relationship that puts limits on even God's prerogatives" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2).

Remembering, reminding, relationship

Indeed, this week's text is about remembering and reminding, and about relationship. It is about a covenant, a promise. Apparently, even God needs to be reminded, in this case by a beautiful bow (ironically, an ancient weapon) in the sky, of a promise God makes out of tenderness and compassion.

This is not Noah's idea, the text indicates. God initiates the whole plan, the promise and the bow and the reassurance it offers. Yes, Noah has offered a fragrant offering after landing on dry ground, but God is the one who comes up with the idea of a promise, along with a reminder in the rainbow.

So what do we learn about God--and what God is about--in this story? William Loyd Allen describes a God who is "adaptable, touched to the heart by creation, and willing to accept hurt to keep hope alive." God refuses to give up on us, Allen says, because "God's heart is touched by creation's suffering. The God declaring this covenant is not an objective judge meting out a just sentence, but a lover grieved to the heart at the beloved's violence, yet still seeking reconciliation (6:6, 8:21). Readers will find divine regret throught this covenant, but will look in vain for anger" (Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 2). Thus, our theme: God Loves Us.

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A people in chaos, needing hope

The people of ancient Israel needed to hear this gracious promise during the time of their exile, Dianne Bergant tells us, for they "would have been comforted by these tangible signs of their relationship with God and the promise of an everlasting covenant bond." With all the structures and practices of their shared life back home wrecked, with their reality in shambles, they were undoubtedly inspired by the story of a new beginning, a story of hope and the promise of God's presence with them, always (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2).

And, according to Valerie Bridgeman Davis, the breadth of the promise--a universal one not just to Noah and his family but to all the generations following them, and to all of the earth itself--reflects that exilic setting of the text, when "ancient Israel had to reckon with the notion that their God was the God of the whole creation, and the only God" (New Proclamation Year B 2009).

Vindicating God's power and holiness

W. Sibley Towner notes that the massive flood of the story comes from traditions the people of Israel would have heard from their neighbors ("there is no evidence of ancient flooding in Israel's own land," he writes), but when the Israelite community borrowed the memory of such a "deluge," they put their "own distinct literary and moral stamp on the story and used it as a way both to vindicate the power and holiness of God and the obedience of one in whom God was pleased and through whom God purposed to save the human community." By the way, Towner also notes: "The word tebah, 'ark,' is used of a craft only in these chapters and in Exodus 2:3-5, where it describes the box in which the infant Moses was set adrift in the Nile. The coincidence is not accidental" (Genesis, Westminster Bible Companion).

Our Lenten readings will say much about the relationship of humans and God. What does this story tell us about our ancient ancestors and their view of the world? Their view of God? The first thought that occurs to God after Noah's offering is a resolution never again to "curse the ground because of humankind...nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done." Do you believe that God needs to be reminded of that promise, or of any promise God makes?

A moment of reconciliation and peace

Readings in future weeks will speak of covenant in terms of Israel, but this first covenant, this beautiful moment of reconciliation and peace, is a universal one with all peoples and with nature itself, all living creatures. The blessing is for all, too, a renewal of the blessing at creation, along with the command to exercise dominion. How does this text speak to us about our relationship with God today? How does it call us to remember our relationship with the earth and with all living creatures?

William H. Willimon also connects this text with our Lenten journey ahead: "Thus surely we Christians are justified in hearing in this primal story a kind of echo of another story that we shall again enact at the end of the forty days of Lent....What we well assumed to be the last chapter in God's gracious dealings with humanity turned out to be the first chapter in a whole new story of promise" (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts).

A story of redemption

Jane Anne Ferguson has written a beautiful reflection on this text and its story of God's promise: "To see and know God as the 'One Who Remembers' us, corporately and individually, with love and forgiveness in the midst of life's chaos, with all its pain and suffering, is to discover redemption." And in that experience is a way of living for the church, to be "a place where people [are] willing to let their hearts be remade in the image of God's heart; a place where people [will] let their hearts be broken open, with grief over their own hard-heartedness and the hard-heartedness of the world and its chaos." In such a community of faith, "when their hearts were broken open the people would be moved to partner with their Creator through patient, forgiving, loving, and prophetic action for the renewal of all creation" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2).

This connection, between the promises of God about creation, and our care (or lack of care) for the earth, is an important part of responding to this text. Valerie Bridgeman Davis writes that we may not accept the idea that God would destroy the earth, but "we may not reject culpability and consequences of behavior on others, including on creation" (New Proclamation Year B 2009).

The Noah story is one of power and the checking of power. More than ever before in human history, we're aware that we have tremendous power ourselves to harm nature, and that we have often used and misused that power. We need to be reminded of our limits as humans--in wisdom and in right choices--in order to be in right relationship with God, with the earth, and with all peoples. What vision of reconciliation might we hold out to the world, as people of faith?

A symbol of hope

The rainbow, Nicole L. Johnson writes, symbolizes not only peace (no more destruction) but hope as well, and that is how the community of faith must live: in hope. "Hope, the expectation that things will get better, not only gets us through the difficult times but also gives us strength to work proactively in the interest of a just and peaceful world. Hope helps communities to rebuild after a deathly and devastating natural disaster.....Hope encourages the faith community to seek justice for all now, while waiting expectantly for the reign of Christ that will usher in pure justice. In a world that sometimes seems so lacking in hope, the Christian community is called to live that hope for others" (Preaching God's Transforming Justice Year B). What is the message of hope that we preach, within our community and to the world beyond our walls?

As we set out on our Lenten journey, what lesson, and what comfort and strength, do we draw from this story? How do we see ourselves as creatures dependent on God's goodness and grace? How will we allow ourselves to be changed by the promises of God, unfolding in our lives and in the life of all creation?

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The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.

You're invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.

Photo of rainbow by the Rev. David Schoen. We are grateful for his generosity.

For further reflection:

Marcus Borg, 21st century
"God wills, comprehensively, our well-being--not just my well-being as an individual but the well-being of all of us and of the whole of creation. In short, God wills our salvation, our healing, here on earth. The Christian life is about participating in the salvation of God."

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 20th century
"Things are always better in the morning."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century
"God can make a new beginning with people whenever God pleases, but not people with God. Therefore, people cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past."

Aberjhani, 21st century
"Rainbows introduce us to reflections
of different beautiful possibilities
so we never forget that pain and grief
are not the final options in life."

Additional reflection on Psalm 25:1-10:
by Kathryn Matthews

A psalm is not always the preacher's first choice for a text. Taking a longer look, however, we can see great value in entering not just the psalmist's inner thoughts and prayers, but the prayer life of Israel itself. We find that we are not so very different from our ancestors in faith in a place and time however distant from our own. And, in our own time, haven't we come to a keener appreciation of our need, individually and communally, to a deeper life of prayer? What better teacher for us, then, that the psalmist?

Like many psalms, this text includes prayer addressed to God as well as faith claims about God. Also, at times, within the very same psalm, it feels as though the psalmist is going in more than one direction emotionally and spiritually. While the lectionary reading includes only the first ten verses of Psalm 25, it's helpful to read the entire psalm to sense the range of emotion it expresses. Sometimes the psalms shock us with decidedly "un-Christian" prayers for vengeance, but we usually edit out those troubling phrases for public prayer. We're missing something very important, however, when we avoid the raw honesty of the psalmist's "cry of the heart."

Asking for protection

Today's psalm, of course, only asks for protection from foes who hate the psalmist with a "violent hatred" (v. 19). We wonder at times whether we're hearing from an extrovert who's processing out loud, or from an introvert who has written down the deepest struggles of his soul. In any case, Brian Erickson observes that the psalms "read more like monologues than conversations, exercises in spiritual eavesdropping" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2).

If we set aside all judgment and preconceptions, and approach the reading humbly and openly, we hear the inner heart of the psalmist at work, struggling with fear, anger, frustration, and distress, and then climbing to a secure place of trust, close to the heart of God. The psalm moves back and forth, at one moment complaining about the "wantonly treacherous," and then turning abruptly to humble prayer, asking to know God's ways and to receive God's mercy.

Keeping things nice and proper

Wouldn't we admit to a similar mix of conflicting feelings, at least sometimes, in our own inner life, if not in our prayers? Perhaps we're tempted, or trained, to keep our prayer life "proper," that is, polite to the point of being dry, sterile, and at times, even obsequious. We're convinced that we have to avoid saying the wrong thing or using the wrong words, let alone showing the kind of emotion that might roil within us. We keep a cap on our feelings and our inner thoughts, even while we long to draw close to the One who formed us and knows us in the depths of our being.

Feelings are things that we handle with exercise, therapy, medication, acquiring things, any number of distractions. But prayer, we seem to believe, is for proper thoughts and acceptable feelings, just praise, just thanks, just certainty. It's no wonder then that we don't emerge from prayer strengthened and renewed and that we don't feel drawn back, again and again, to regular times of prayer.

Examining our prayer life

What better time, then, than the season of Lent to examine our prayer life for its honesty in expressing our deepest hopes and beliefs about God? Lent: that time when we might make some "extra" room for God and pay some extra attention to our spiritual life (as long as we put that "extra" room right in the middle of our lives, not in what's left over).

Unlike Lent, Advent doesn't feel the same as the world around it, as it easily gets lost in the bustle of Christmas preparations. But Lent happens at the bleakest time of year for many of us, when nature is brown and rainy and chilled, and the snow (up north, at least) is getting old, very old. We know spring, new life, is coming, but it's hard to remember what its warmth, its greenness, feels like when late winter weariness bears down on us. The setting is right, then, for a wilderness mindset, not the beautiful wooded wilderness we want to preserve but the stark, barren wilderness, the kind where the Hebrews wandered and Jesus was tempted.

How do we re-create the wilderness?

Even if nature around us and our living conditions themselves don't conspire to put us in the wilderness physically, we sometimes attempt during Lent to create a kind of harsh and austere time period that trains us, conditions us, to greater spiritual health, much as we might go on a strict diet or a demanding exercise regimen for the health of our body. Unfortunately, most of my childhood memories about "giving up" things for Lent are about the amount of time I spent thinking about those very things! Spiritual disciplines can slide into programs to make ourselves acceptable in God's eyes, purer, better: another kind of achievement to pile on the others.

However, Valerie Bridgeman Davis introduces the season of Lent with the observation that during Lent, in our efforts at spiritual discipline, we might learn more important lessons, about "human nature and God's graciousness." She speaks of the internal struggle, about what happens inside us, because our inner life deserves and demands our attention and time. However, she cautions against a narcissism and an individualism that would focus on ourselves and forget the world around us: "The fast that only seeks to heighten our personal piety is not as desirable as the fast that will call us into prophetic action" (New Proclamation Year B 2009).

Tending the life of the spirit

And that may strike just the right note for our Lenten disciplines. The world does not encourage us to tend to our inner spiritual life, in fact, it does everything it can to distract us from such efforts. If Lent inspires us to focus our energy and attention on our relationship with God, perhaps we will indeed draw closer to God, and when Lent is over, we'll want to stay in this new place. Or perhaps we will discover that we have made room for God right where we are.

The psalms are a good companion for us as we set out into the Lenten wilderness. Thousands of years later, our hearts respond to the words, "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul, O my God, in you I trust," as well as "All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness." And yet we also look around and feel pressed down and wonder why others are against us, or why people are treacherous, or why violence rules in the world. Perhaps we find that polite, evenly worded prayers don't work as well in that case as a raw cry of the heart that goes in more than one direction and speaks with harsh honesty.

What battles do you wage?

The psalm's prayer for protection from enemies might seem a bit of a stretch for us today, when our faith rarely puts us in danger. What sort of spiritual enemies do you face? Daniel Schowalter suggests that "the greatest battle most Christians will ever fight is within themselves: a battle between self-interest and God's interest." We're in a war of sorts, caught between the call of God and the demands of a world that rewards "self-promotion," not weakness or humility (New Proclamation Year B 2006). What does it mean, in this setting, to offer up one's soul? Is it a temporary offering, or is it a lifelong, wholehearted gift?

Concentrating on "gift" is a good way to begin our Lenten practice, recalling the great gifts of God's love in every age. The psalmist does this, remembering God's steadfast love "from of old," not just in one's own lifetime. This is a deep, inner-life, close-relationship love between God and humankind: what greater gift is there, than such a love?

Paying the cost of discipleship

For the most part, we enjoy a degree of familiarity with our Christian faith, but Lent originally was a time for new converts to prepare for baptism at Easter. It was a long, hard road to this new life. Brian Erickson challenges us today: "The early Christians used the same evangelical strategy that Jesus did: brutal honesty. And so rather than entice prospective recruits with the many benefits of the Christian path, they highlighted the great costs. God's ways are not our ways. Following Christ cannot be a part-time hobby. Faith is more than dogma and discipline; it is also direction" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2).

We're reminded of Bonhoeffer's "cost of discipleship," and we also can't help but wonder how our new member classes and evangelism ministries would be transformed with this early-Christian strategy! Do you cover the "costs" of discipleship in your new member class?

Show us the path

This brings us back to the psalmist's prayer, asking to be shown the paths, the ways, the truth of God. Those ways are not easy, even for modern, apparently comfortable Christians, for our spiritual practices and disciplines prepare us to walk a long and sometimes lonely path. Reaching past our own wants and needs to care for the world God loves, to work tirelessly (even when we're tired) for justice for God's children (all of them, not just some, and certainly not just for us), to risk and to share and to love, to change ourselves and the way the world does things...all of these practices shape us, mold us, fashion us into more faithful people.

We can't stay in our rooms, or remain wandering in the wilderness, but must set out on the paths of God. Brian Erickson quotes Frederick Buechner, who writes, "If you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are." And, Erickson observes, "Lent is a time to choose who we will be and whose we will be" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2).

For further reflection:

Mignon McLaughlin, 20th century
"I often pray, though I'm not really sure Anyone's listening; and I phrase it carefully, just in case He's literary."

Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century
"I pray on the principle that wine knocks the cork out of a bottle. There is an inward fermentation, and there must be a vent."

Sofia Cavalletti, 20th century
"Help me draw nearer to God by myself."

Anne Lamott, 21st century
"It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life."
and
"Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns."

Frederick Douglass, 19th century escaped slave and author
"I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."

Additional reflections on 2018 Year B texts for the First Sunday in Lent (for One Great Hour of Sharing):
by Mary Schaller Blaufuss

Genesis 9: 8-17; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 9-15
God-Talk Matters

This is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. Lent itself is time set apart to stimulate our consciousness of borders and boundaries, of chasms and divisions, of floods and wilderness. It is a season of repentance in the midst of that brokenness and chaos. And emerging from authentic interactions with this chaos is renewal. Lent anticipates that this renewal is not just an adaptation to the way things are, but is the possibility of living the reality of what abundant life for all can be--resurrection.

Genesis 9:8-17 is a story of high drama. God makes a unilateral agreement with all of humanity and all creation, sealing that agreement with a bow set in the midst of clouds. This action and image is so concrete and yet, so out of the ordinary, that it catches our attention. It reminds us that the new pierces brokenness with the reality that beauty is in our midst. It is a sign. The bow in this story bridges the chaos and destruction flood waters with the nourishing and flourishing of the waters of creation.

This is a prophetic text. Walter Brueggemann has described prophet as one who helps communities imagine the unimaginable. The literary device that signals this prophetic moment is God's direct speech. Human prophets preface their words, "The Lord God says." Here, in Genesis 9, God speaks directly; bringing a new reality into being. The new reality is covenant relationship, a belonging and an interdependence that is abundant life. Covenant is mentioned in this text over and over again, a sure literary pointer to importance. The covenant that God initiates and follows through on is with all flesh and applicable to all earth. It is valid for all generations and time. God speaks this covenant into reality in the presence not only of Noah, but also of his children, referencing all their descendants. The passage is punctuated with God repeating what has just been said multiple times, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

1 Peter 3:18-22 is written by people in the context of political chaos. In this first generation after Jesus, followers are trying to figure out what it means to be a community of faith in new contexts and in the midst of turmoil. In this tumultuous context of border crossing, they identify with the experience of the flood waters of Noah's day. They ponder their own identity and purpose. Baptism with the sign of water is concrete and yet, out of the ordinary. This water indicates newness beyond the surface removal of dirt, but as a change of conscience (of self-understanding, identity and purpose). This text expands the scope of this newness into the cosmic with the introduction of angels, authorities and powers.

Mark 1:9-15 narrates the baptism of Jesus, his being driven into the wilderness, and the newness that his identity embodies and makes possible. Again, this is a prophetic text. God speaks directly to Jesus of his identity and power and purpose. That identity is beloved relationship. "This is my son…" Parts of creation have been actors in the baptism--the water, a dove. But other parts of creation in this text are actors of fear and destruction. In the wilderness, the beasts are not friendly, but produce turmoil for Jesus. And while Jesus is in the midst of his struggle, world events break in and gives his identity purpose. John, the one who pointed the way to Jesus as God's beloved, is arrested, held as a political prisoner and then killed. This political violence moves Jesus to act on his identity. He is sent. Jesus speaks directly to the people, prophetically punctuating his purpose, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

Interaction with the Story

In the face of disaster events or violence that forcibly displaces people, the chaos and instability of flood waters, of community fear, and of political arrest and violence are real. God's mission as viewed through these texts situates the mission of God in the very nature of God and of what God does. God initiates and keeps covenant relationship. It is a covenant relationship with a scope of time and place that includes all flesh and all generations and all the cosmos. God acts. God's signs are concrete, embedded within creation itself. In that creation is randomness and continual movement. And, in God's nature and actions are signs that pierce the reality of destruction and chaos to bring a new structure and form and stability to creation, a realized promise of abundance, relationship and belonging.

My take-away from standing in this in-between space with people who experience natural disaster and refugee displacement is that God-talk matters. Who we experience God to be guides the shape of the disaster recovery and of the refugee accompaniment and situates us in the purpose of relationship. While questions often turn to blame in the face of disruption, Jesus repeatedly diverts that response into opening another window into his own identity and purpose.

The created world is constantly in motion and that motion is life. God's creation is a constant creative tension among interdependent forces. Creation's complexity and interdependence means that the movement of one part of creation affects other parts sometimes without any intention or, even, consciousness. That movement can create beauty and new life, but it can also produce destruction and chaos. When those movements take place abruptly or on a large scale, communities lack the time, ability and resources to adapt. This destructive effect on large numbers of people is a natural disaster.

In our day, human actions have accelerated and intensified these changes in creation's movements (climate change), disrupting this delicate interdependence and thus creating more and stronger natural disasters. Already vulnerable communities experience disasters most severely. The cycle of vulnerability and exclusion means that they are the least prepared to avoid or adapt to disaster events and that they are the least able to recover, making the next disaster more traumatic. God is embedded in these very situations of vulnerability and destruction. God suffers with those who suffer. God experiences the wilderness and the flood. God experiences pain. The covenant relationship is full and authentic and real. At the same time and in the same place, God is in the midst of creating newness that has abundance and well-being as its goal and purpose, not suffering.

Likewise, those who suffer the most from political violence and turmoil are those already vulnerable and excluded. Jesus experiences that political violence. He is personally affected by John's arrest and execution. It is the very experience of this pain that prompts Jesus to exercise his divine identity. Jesus himself becomes a bridge into the newness of a kingdom of God in which all are knit together in mutual relationship. It is good news that he himself embodies and empowers.

As communities of faith, we too are sent into God's mission, guided and empowered by the identity of who God is. The shape of disaster response is created in conversation with this God-talk and self-understanding of the people. Disaster recovery guided by God-talk of hierarchy and coercive power intensifies the cycle of vulnerability, widens the gap between those with power and those without power, and accelerates the destruction of creation's interdependence. But proclaiming God's nature and mission as both embedded in community and in the midst of creating new community sends us to live out our identity and purpose as covenant relationship. We are empowered to work with all those who are creating a post-disaster stability that preferences the vulnerable and empowers the powerless. We are sent to create a community of newness that is abundant and just for all.

In this season of Lent, and as you participate in the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing, you do stand in chaos with those who suffer the destruction of natural disaster and of political turmoil and, at the same time, you are part of creating a reality that has form and order and abundance for all. The Lenten rhythm of repentance and renewal enables the experience of those simultaneous realities. Response and recovery that are shaped by this God-talk of who God is and of what God does punctuate the promise--"This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth" (Genesis 9:17) and "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15).

See Video "Wounded Healers: Stories of Resilience, Solidarity and Hope in Puerto Rico"

The Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, Ph.D., serves as Team Leader for Humanitarian and Development Ministries at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio (BlaufusM@ucc.org).

One Great Hour of Sharing resources are found at: www.ucc.org/oghs_resources.


Lectionary texts

Genesis 9:8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, 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, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O God,
    I lift up my soul.
O my God,
    in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
    do not let my enemies exult over me.

Do not let those who wait for you
    be put to shame;
let them be ashamed
    who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O God;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth,
    and teach me,

for you are the God
    of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O God,
    and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth
    or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love
    remember me,
for your goodness' sake,
    O God!

Good and upright is God; therefore
    God instructs sinners in the way.

God leads the humble
    in what is right,
and teaches the humble God's way.

All the paths of God are steadfast love
    and faithfulness,
for those who keep God's covenant
    and God's decrees.

1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."


Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:blains@ucc.org)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ

(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: "Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place" in Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)  

The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about "traditional" colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.

The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.  
    
Before the Reformation's iconoclasm, and Trent's code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of "best," "second best," and "everyday"--not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the "best" vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got "second best" or "everyday."

So, here is a challenge to worship planners: Take it upon yourselves to develop and expand the "received" tradition!