Text: Genesis 9:8-17 and Mark 1:9-15
“I’m sorry.” Some people really struggle to say these words, while others find themselves blurting them out almost constantly. Either way, when we do find ourselves to be truly, deeply sorry for something, it’s a heavy burden to bear.
As we begin this season of Lent, we are likely to find ourselves feeling sorry; sorry for our sin, sorry for falling so short from the image of God in which we were created, sorry for the ways we have contributed to the brokenness of our families, our communities, and our world.
While these feelings are appropriate for the season of Lent, it’s important to remember that feeling sorry is not the goal. It’s more of a means to an end, a first step toward the true heart of Lent, repentance, turning away from our sin and toward God.
Nevertheless, throughout this season we will have to grapple with the discomfort of feeling sorry. As we seek to draw closer to the heart of God we will find our own hearts being broken over the things that break God’s heart, and broken-hearted is not a pleasant way to feel.
But there is good news for us today in the Word of God from Genesis chapter 9 and also in the first chapter of Mark. Today we will find that even in the midst of dark and sorrowful stories, there is hope in the salvation and promises of God and the good news of the Kingdom.
Most of us are pretty familiar with the story of the flood, of Noah and the ark and the rainbow. The story has a happy nostalgia about it, as we have grown up hearing about God’s promises after the flood and feeling the comfort of those promises anytime we see the beauty of a rainbow in the sky. But as is usual with nostalgic memories, we tend to block out the dark and sorrowful parts.
The story of the flood actually begins with God being sorry.
In Genesis 6:5-6 we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
What a heartbreaking memory of humankind, that there was a time when God was sorry he had ever made us!
The testimony of Genesis 6 is that violence and corruption filled the earth, it was so bad, this world God had created and called “good,” and these humans created in God’s own image, “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually”!
Think about all of the corruption and violence in our world today, the terrorism, the war, the evil and injustice. Think about the most terrible place you could imagine to be living right now, a place that is war-torn and completely corrupt, where people live in poverty and despair and constant fear. Now, imagine that the entire world was like that.
When God looked at this world and realized what it had become, “The Lord was sorry…and it grieved him to his heart.”
Like an artist displeased with her work, God saw that humanity had become a mistake too big to fix, no longer beautiful or good. God was so disappointed and brokenhearted over what this creation had become because of the corruption and violence of humankind that God decided to blot out from the earth every. living. creature.
It’s strange, isn’t it, that this is a popular children’s story?
It’s heavy, dark, full of sorrow and destruction and death.
But even in the midst of this dark and awful story we find good news. We read about a man named Noah, a righteous man who walked with God. God told Noah all about God’s plan to destroy the earth and “to make an end of all flesh” because of the violence of humankind. But in God’s next breath it seems that the plan has changed because God tells Noah to build an ark. It’s as if God can’t even think of destruction without immediately coming up with a plan of salvation, a plan to save the earth and the flesh he created.
God did what God had promised to do, sending the flood to destroy the mess of corruption and violence that his creation had become, and God remembered Noah and the creatures on the ark and sent a wind over the earth to make the waters subside.
Noah and the creatures were saved, but it was still too terrible. “Never again,” God said.
Never again. In Genesis 9:9-17 we find God’s promise to Noah and all the people and all the creatures and to the earth itself, a covenant with all of creation, in which God promises never to do it again.
This is much bigger than being sorry. One might even dare to call it repentance. God hangs up his bow in the clouds and promises every living creature that the destruction of the earth and all living things is now off the table as an option for dealing with the sin and brokenness of the world.
How often do you look at a rainbow and think of a bow, a bow and arrow kind of bow? It might be that you have never thought of that at all. But in Genesis 9 it isn’t called a “rainbow,” but simply a “bow.” Our rainbow in the sky is a symbol of a weapon of violence and destruction, with the dangerous part, the string that flings the arrow, turned to the ground, unable to do any harm.
God takes his bow, his weapon of violence, his option of destruction, and hangs it up, retires it, promising never to use it again.
It’s evident in the words of the covenant that God knows humanity will become evil again, that they will become violent and corrupt, but God promises to find another way to deal with that problem when it comes. Destruction is off the table.
It’s interesting that in the verses before, along with a blessing and a command to multiply and fill the earth, God gives Noah and his sons some guidelines about how to eat and live with a focus on respecting the life of others, creatures included, and a strict admonition against murder. “I will require a reckoning for human life,” God says, “Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind.”
Human lives matter. All lives do.
God is not going to destroy humankind again, but if they don’t respect and honor the lives of one another, they will end up destroying themselves. And what a tragedy that would be, considering all of us are made in God’s own image.
So God warned humanity about the consequences of violence and murder and admonished them to respect and value the lives of all living creatures, and then God told them what he was going to do for his part, moreover what he was not going to do. And God set his bow in the clouds, retiring it from use, promising never to do anything like this again, never again to destroy all the living creatures of the earth.
Now lets fast forward a few thousand years to another story found in the gospel of Mark. This story begins with what seems like a title in Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
This is a good news story!
And we could use a good news story, because our stories are heavy and dark, full of sorrow and destruction and death. In fact, sometimes, when we look at ourselves and the world around us we tend to wonder if God is sorry he ever made us!
We understand God hung up his bow, promising never to destroy us again, but we often wonder what God will do about the violence and corruption, and all the things that break our hearts.
In Mark chapter 9 we find John baptizing people in the Jordan River, calling people to repent, to turn from their sins and be forgiven. People come and they are sorry. They confess their sins, and John baptizes them and promises them that there will be more, that someone else is coming after him who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.
Then Jesus came. Jesus was the one. God had hung up his bow, destruction was off the table, but God had another plan to deal with the violence and corruption of the world, and it was all wrapped up in Jesus, God’s Son.
In this story, instead of the floods of destruction, the waters of baptism bring wholeness and salvation. Jesus came and was baptized by John in the Jordan. In his baptism he was identified as the Beloved Son of God. The heavens were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. It was all very exciting and lovely and meaningful, but all of a sudden we find the Beloved Son of God driven out by that same Spirit into the wilderness, with the wild beasts, being tempted by Satan!
This good news story just got a little dark. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. It was forty days and forty nights that the rains came down and the floods came up in the story in Genesis, and now Jesus, the Son of God, was the one braving the storm. Instead of all living creatures being destroyed, one man, God’s Son, was preparing to take on the sin of the world, so that through Him all of creation could be reconciled to God. The violence and corruption, the evil inclinations of human hearts, Jesus would be tempted to join it, to use it, to embrace it, but he was with God and they had hung up the bow. There would be another Way.
After Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness we find that John was arrested, a testimony to the violence and corruption of humankind once again, but nevertheless, “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.’”
God has hung up the bow. Jesus has come, proclaiming another Way; the Kingdom of God has come near.
The Kingdom of God, it turns out, is a no bows needed kind of Kingdom. In fact, in order to become a citizen of this kingdom, you are called to hang up your bow as well. Rather than fighting or destroying our enemies, we are called to love them. Rather than protect our own lives, we are called to give them up, taking up our crosses to follow after the Son of God, the Beloved, who sacrificed his life for all of creation.
Many of Jesus’ disciples, in his time, and still today, have struggled with the concept of hanging up the bow. Like the rest of humankind, we find ourselves inclined toward violence, wrapped up in corruption, and sometimes we find evil thoughts in hearts, but Jesus has come! The Kingdom of God has come near! And we are called, again, to repent, and believe in the good news.
The good news is that there is another Way. God has made the Way, and Jesus calls us to it. Violence and destruction are no longer necessary and ultimately they will be destroyed, not with more violence and destruction but with the love and sacrifice of Christ and the power of the Kingdom of God.
As we remember Jesus’ baptism today and the promise of the Holy Spirit to all who are baptized in his name, we claim the power of the peaceful dove and the promise of new life.
Filled with this Spirit we can do so much more than be sorry. We can turn away from our sin, hang up our bow, and follow after Jesus, embracing and furthering the Kingdom of God.