Wednesday, March 14, 2018

No Need for Law (Reflections on Lent 5, Year B)

Dali Crucifixion hypercube.jpg
"Crucifixion" Salvador Dali 1954

“…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts…” (Jeremiah 31:33)

Psychologists tell us that the brains of middle school students are not fully developed. I spent six agonizing years as a middle school teacher in Los Angeles, and I can attest that—fully developed or not—the middle school brain is diabolically clever. These kids may not know much about grammar, spelling, or punctuation, but they could pass the bar exam as jailhouse lawyers.

“I wasn’t chewing gum, Mr. Griffiths. I was only sucking on a wad of gum. My jaws didn’t move. Ergo: I violated no rule against chewing gum in class.”

You get the idea.

One of my colleagues at the last school where I taught refused to post a list of rules in his classroom. His logic was that the average middle school student is capable of devising more infractions than a list can enumerate. He therefore let it be known that any behavior he deemed to be disrespectful or detrimental to the education of others was prohibited and subject to disciplinary action. He further maintained that the students were old enough to know what such behaviors would be.

My fellow educator’s vison for classroom decorum is, I think, something of an echo of that vison which that quixotic prophet Jeremiah has for the new Kingdom of Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34). In a perfect world, there will be no need for rules and regulations. Everyone will have God’s Law written on their hearts, and covenants will become obsolete.

This is a pretty swell vision to hold onto as we near the end of our Lenten journey. When we contemplate Jesus “lifted up from the earth (John 12:32),” we should find that we have no more need for the Law and its lifeless, static regulations. What we have instead is the picture before our eyes of a man bleeding and dying, mocked, disgraced, helpless as an old lady in a nursing home, and more lonely than we could imagine (or maybe you could. I don’t know). We also see the love and compassion and forgiveness that flows off the cross with his blood. It is a visceral image—forgiving his tormentors, creating family for his mother with the disciple, comforting the dying thief—all as his life is slowly draining from him. With this before us, do we really need a set of rules or any kind of contract?

Like the grain of wheat which “dies” in the earth, we needed to lose Jesus in order to find him. We have to see him suffering for and with us in order to grasp his love, and we need him to ascend to the Father so we can take on his mission here on earth and bear the fruit he intended for us to bear.

The new covenant, as we say in the Words of Institution, is in his blood shed for us. It’s not a list of rules, it’s now a relationship with Jesus. The simple phrase, “What would Jesus do?” is actually rather poignant, don’t you think? But instead of asking for our Lord’s advice on daily behavior, a better question might be: Who would Jesus have us be?

Thanks for stopping by, my friend. Please come again.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Just Plunge Right In! (Reflections on the Parting of the Red Sea)

Image result for Images Moses parting the waters
During Lent this year the smart folks who put together my Lutheran worship guide have recommended focusing on the mighty acts of God which would be part of the traditional liturgy of the Great Vigil of Easter. We don't do the Great Vigil in my parish—even though I'm a liturgical junkie. Unfortunately, I'm a lazy liturgical junkie, and the Great Vigil is just too friggin' long a service and too complicated to put together. I much prefer to sleep Saturday night and get up early the next day to do Easter Sunrise. But this means, of course, that we don't get to read the long scripture passages which are so much a part of the Great Vigil. To rectify that, we're doing five of the miraculous passages as part of our Lenten mid-week devotions. This week we're looking at the story of the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14: 10-31 and 15:20-21.

We all know this story of God's mighty act of deliverance. You've probably seen Charlton Heston part the sea every Easter in ABC's annual broadcast of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments—a film that's so breathtakingly bad that it's actually good!

When I look at the scripture today I am impressed by the truth of it. Okay. It sounds pretty wild that God would open a passage in an enormous inlet which is several miles wide at it's narrowest point and would take literally days—if not an entire week—to cross on foot. If you're into historic accuracy, I've heard it suggested (Read Bruce Feiler's Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses) that the Isrealites actually escaped through the Sea of Reeds, a much narrower and shallower body of water on the African side of the Sinai peninsula. I really believe that the story of the Red Sea rescue was based on an historic occurrence, but it's been raised to mythological status through the re-telling.

But that's not the point. What strikes me is how the Bible author tells the story, pointing out the faithlessness of the people. The cry-babies whine when they see Pharaoh's army, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you (Moses) have taken us away to die in the wilderness?..It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Now ain't that just like us..? Whenever we face a great change, our sinful selves are tempted to go back to the devil we know than risk the devil we don't know.

Alcoholics Anonymous, in spite of its great success, has about a 50% failure rate. That is, at least one out of every two alcoholics who go into the program will drink again. If you consider that some folks see drinking as part of their personality or culture, you can see that they'd feel a part of themselves was missing once they gave it up. The fear having nothing to fill that empty space drives them right back to the booze. Similarly, a psychologist friend of mine once told me that some battered women will leave their abusive husbands or partners and return as much as four or five times before they finally have the courage to sever the toxic relationship for good. Change means loss, and loss means fear. Sometimes we fear the emptiness so much that we resist the blessings because we've grown comfortable with the curse.

The other thing that always strikes me when I think of this story (and I always think of this when I watch Yul Brynner as De Mille's Pharaoh ordering his chariots to advance into the parted waters) is: What a dumb-ass you'd have to be to not see that this was a trap. I mean, didn't God already rain ten plagues on Egypt? Didn't he hinder the advance of the army with a pillar of cloud? Don't they know they're messing with the wrong God, and that this God just don't like ugly?

Of course Pharaoh doesn't get it. Logic and reason don't run the world—passion and ego do. Like Hitler attacking into the endless Russian winter or the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam or Iraq, it's easy for a desperate ego to ignore all common sense and plunge into disaster. As human beings, we do it all the time. We run headlong into chaos, ignoring the cost to others and the stated will of God. God didn't punish Pharaoh so much as Pharaoh brought the punishment on himself.

Finally, I think of the blessing God sometimes gives us in desperation. Our desperation is God's opportunity. Sometimes we just can't go back, so we have to go forward. All we can do is trust that, even in the swirling chaos, our God is still an awesome God who wants the best for us in spite of our doubts, fears, and mistakes. And maybe next time we'll have a little more trust and a little more peace.

Peace be with you!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Covenant for a Nation of Kardashians (Reflections on Lent 3, Year B)

Image result for Images of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)

I was talking the other day to a friend of mine whom I’ll call “Lisa” (because that’s her name). She was telling me about her college-age daughter. “I think she thinks she’s a Kardashian,” Lisa said.  “I can’t believe the things that come out of her mouth.”

My friend was lamenting a certain smugness and feeling of entitlement that she’s observed in the young. Personally, I’m not that sure that entitlement is only the purview of millennials. There’s something in our sinful nature which makes us all feel rather smug and entitled. I think America has become something of a nation of Kardashians—it’s so easy for us to take blessings for granted and, turning upside down the situation in the Gospel lesson assigned for Lent 3, Year B (John 2:13-22), turn the marketplace into our temple (v.16). We want to be noticed, we want to be praised for our uniqueness (as if that’s our own doing), and we want to enjoy the “good things” even if we don’t know what the “good things” really are.

That’s why it’s good for us on our spiritual journey to go back to the Covenant at Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17) which the Revised Common Lectionary marries to this week’s Gospel reading. If you’ve been following these blogposts, you’ll note that the theme which has been running through the Hebrew Scripture lessons this Lent has been the theme of “covenant”—the mutual promise between two parties. In this case, the parties are God and us. In the previous Sundays in Lent we’ve encountered the Covenant with Noah (God unconditionally promises NOT to destroy the earth—even though He says nothing about letting us destroy it), and the Covenant with Abraham (God promises to bless us to be a blessing to the world, provided we have the faith to believe Him).

This week, on Lent 3, God seems to up the stakes a little. Yet, if you think about it, the Covenant at Sinai (the Ten Commandments) is not really a demand God puts on God’s people in order to bless them. God already blessed the people when He gave them the Law. The Law was not a precondition for God’s mercy. The Law is meant to be a response to that mercy.

(Donald Trump must despise God, don’t you think? Since God turns out to be such a lousy deal-maker. I mean, what good businessman makes such one-sided deals which benefit the other party? Who gives away a benefit before asking for conditions of granting it? If God were a contestant on The Apprentice, Trump would fire him in a heartbeat!)

Indeed, all of us are recipients of blessings too numerous to count. On our crappiest day we are still part of the wonder of human existence, still able to feel the breeze, look to the stars, fall in love, and smile at a child. For some, circumstances are dire; nevertheless, for every victim of war, oppression, famine, or sickness God has provided a heart with the desire to rescue, feed, or bring healing. God never stops being good because we lose the ability to see the goodness or because human sinfulness has rendered the ability to behave virtuously impossible.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Our obedience to the Covenant at Sinai—weak, incomplete, and grudgingly given as it always is—doesn’t do God any favors. God will be God with or without our compliance. Our obedience is meant to be blessing to us. How satisfying to say, “God brought me out of the land of Egypt. I really love him for that, and I’m going to try to rejoice in that blessing by loving God and loving everybody else, too!”

Think about it: Has God brought you out of the bondage of Egypt? What is your Egypt? Is it an oppressive relationship? Fear of privation when you lost a job? A medical emergency? The grief of loss over a loved one? Addiction to drugs or alcohol? Fear for your family? Perhaps you’re still in Egypt or perhaps you’re yet to go there. But it might just be that you have come through a sea of painful emotion which, at the time, seemed like it would drown you.

But it didn’t.

So how do you respond?

I’m always puzzled by the thinking of the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary, and I often don’t know why they pair certain Hebrew Scripture readings with certain Gospel readings. What do the Ten Commandments have to do with Jesus cleansing the temple in John 2? Fortunately, the good Lutherans at 1517 Media (formerly Augsburg Fortress) explain it in the gloss in their weekly church bulletin inserts:

“…because God alone has freed us from the powers that oppressed us, we are to let nothing else claim first place in our lives. When Jesus throws the merchants out of the temple, he is defending the worship of God alone and rejecting the ways commerce and profit-making can become our Gods.”

Okay. I’ll go with that.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment. I love hearing from you!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Baby, the Rain Must Fall (Reflections on the story of Noah)

Image result for images of floods
In the immortal words of James Taylor, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. Well, I haven’t actually seen that much of fire. I once drove up the coast of California from L.A. to Santa Barbara and saw wildfires at a distance burning up the scrub brush. I’ve also lived in Wisconsin where tornadoes are plentiful in the summer, and heard the sirens go off at 1 AM as the neighboring town of Barneveld was blown off the map by a twister. My only actual disaster experience was living through several pretty scary earthquakes in Southern California. One did a good deal of damage to my home, but I managed to escape—for the most part—unscathed.

But if I had to pick my least favorite “Act of God” type of disaster, I’d have to go with a flood. I once had a basement flooded by a bad rainstorm here in Philadelphia, and that was enough for me. In a flood, everything gets ruined. When the water subsides, all you have left is soggy, gooey mess. That’s followed by mold and mildew and disgusting stench and potential infection and disease. Also, you can’t escape from a flood. You can’t dive under a table like in an earthquake or head for the basement like in a tornado. You just have to get to higher ground and hope the water doesn’t rise too fast and help arrives in time.
Nobody is safe when the waters fall. They fall on the good and bad alike. Even Oprah Winfrey sustained property damage when the rains poured mud on her Montecito, CA home earlier this year. (And if Oprah isn’t safe, God help the rest of us!)

Yet, somehow, I take a little comfort in God’s wrath. Not that I wish harm on anyone, mind you. In fact, I’ve always been disturbed by the violence in the Noah story in Genesis (Genesis 6-10). It’s like God temporarily joined the NRA and thought that the answer to violence was more violence. Fortunately for us, God repents at the end of the story and promises never to destroy us with a flood again—at least not everyone at once.

What comforts me is the reminder of God’s awesome power. The flood story tells us again that we’re not the ones who drive this bus. When the rain comes down and the river rises, it doesn’t matter how rich, beautiful, important, or connected you are. It doesn’t matter what kind of degree hangs on your wall or trophy sits on your shelf. Your age, ethnicity, political affiliation, and religious denomination won’t be a differentiating factor. As much as we think of ourselves, God will have the final say.

And that should put some stuff in perspective for us. We better give a little bit of thought to the things we can control, because there’s a whole lot that we can’t.

Of course, besides the death and destruction aspect of the story, the other thing that gets me bothered about the tale of Noah is the idea that God singled out this one guy and saved him and his family when everyone else (and all the other critters, too) were drowned. Okay. The Bible clearly says that Noah was righteous and everyone else was violent and wicked. I guess they got what was coming to them, but it makes me wonder: If I get saved from a flood and my neighbor doesn’t, does that mean I’m good and he sucks in God’s eyes?

Maybe it’s better we just take the story for what it is and not go there. I’ll just stick with the idea that I can’t really control anything on this crazy rock. I’ll be thankful to God for the blessings God bestows on me every day and for God’s shear awesomeness. And I’ll hunger and thirst after righteousness, too. Not because I fear punishment, disaster, or retribution. But because I experience my helplessness. I don’t know how much time I have here, and I don’t want to waste any of it trying to out-God God.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Patriarch's Journey (Reflections on Lent 2, Year B)

Expulsion of Ishmael and His Mother.png
"The Expulsion of Hagar" by Gustav Dore, French print ca. 1866.

“I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

The above is the promise God made to Abraham, the “Big Daddy” of three of the world’s great religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. God made a deal with this old boy: Get up and leave your secure and settled home in Ur of the Chaldeans (Iraq, we call it) and head west to land I’ll show you. Just keep going, keep believing in me, and I will bless you so that you will be a blessing to the whole earth (see Genesis 12:1-3).

In Abraham’s time, that was a pretty tall order. It was a big and gutsy decision to leave settled land and venture into God-knows-what kind of territory with no proof that things will turn out well at all. But, then again, that’s what we call faith.

When I think of Abraham and his journey—which is a heck of a story, and if you haven’t read it in a while you should look at it again (Genesis 12-25)—I think of my own dad. My illustrious patriarch did what a lot of guys his age did when they returned from military service in the Second World War. He took his wife and journeyed west, leaving his home and family on the East Coast and ventured in search of the Promised Land in Southern California. My parents settled in San Diego where they produced my two sisters and my dad went to work in the aerospace industry.

As Abraham was forced to journey from Canaan into Egypt in search of food, my Old Man was forced to uproot his young family and head to Kansas where he could put his engineering skills to work keeping Khrushchev’s murderous hordes at bay by the installation of intercontinental ballistic missiles.  I was born during this leg of his odyssey.

Alas, famine struck again when the last missile silo was filled with its deadly inhabitant, and Dad headed out on his own to find work in Colorado, sending for the family once he was settled. Eventually the work took him back to California, the land of Milk and Honey, where jobs for veteran engineers were falling off the trees.

That is, until the early 1970’s. As the Vietnam war wound down and we had beaten the Russians to the moon, the government tap for aerospace work was twisting shut and the milk and honey ceased to flow. My dad lost his job and spent a torturous fourteen months on the unemployment line. Now, anyone who’s ever been laid off knows you only have to be out a short time to get a long way behind in the bills. For years afterwards work was sporadic, and there were many frustrating periods of unemployment for this middle-aged engineer.

My dad tried a lot of career changes during this period—real estate, manufacturing dune buggy bodies, selling household products—all of which proved unsuccessful. Yet he never lost faith that somehow everything would turn around and he and his family would be safe and financially secure again. He never skipped church, never stopped reading his Bible, and his offering envelope went in the collection plate (sometimes with rather meagre contents) every Sunday. It always seemed that, just as he was down to his last buck, something would turn up to keep us going.

Eventually, my father was hired back by the same firm which had laid him off years before, and was able to retire comfortably with full benefits. His legacy supported my mother for the rest of her days, and even stretched far enough to pay off my student loan from seminary. I feel, like Abraham, my dad had been blessed to be a blessing. A faithful and active Christian himself, he was also the father of a Lutheran clergyman and a Disciples of Christ teaching missionary (my sister Lorraine who has served in South Africa and Myanmar).

I never really gave thought to my dad’s faithfulness until years later when, as a graduate teaching assistant, I attended the funeral of the father of one of my students. This man, frustrated by his unemployment, had killed himself in the family garage by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide.

My dad wasn’t perfect, but nobody’s family is. The Hebrew Scripture text in the Revised Common Lectionary for Lent 2, Year B (Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16) finds God re-making his covenant with Abraham after Abraham, frustrated by Sarah’s childlessness, doubted God and tried to take matters into his own hands. Sarah gave Abraham her slave girl, Hagar, as a concubine (Nobody asked Hagar what she thought of this arrangement!), even though God had promised that Sarah would eventually be the mother of Abraham’s offspring. Abraham impregnated Hagar, and Hagar suddenly became a little smug and snooty at being the patriarch’s baby momma. This resulted in Sarah beating the crap out of her and blaming it all on Abraham. Two women in the household made for a pretty tense situation for old Abe, and he was eventually forced to send Hagar and her son, Ishmael, packing. God, on the other hand, was patient with Abraham and eventually gave him a son by Sarah.

God doesn’t always see to our wants in the way and on the timeline we want him to. In fact, God doesn’t even see to our wants. He sees to our needs.

Religion isn’t about how we influence God, because God will do what God will do. The rain will fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Religion is about how God influences us. Faith means that we will sometimes be called upon to carry the cross and simply believe, trusting that such belief will make us a living witnesses and blessings to others.

Share the blessing, my friend. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

God Bless! (Reflections on the Creation Story)

Image result for images of the earth from space
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

God bless.

I say that phrase a lot. I tell it to the guy at the toll booth when I cross the Delaware River every morning. I say it to the young girl who hands me my freshly cleaned and pressed black clerical slacks at the dry cleaner. I use it as the closing salutation on my emails. I want you to know that God blesses you. By the dictionary definition, God favors you, endows, you, and desires your joy.

When I looked again at the famous creation story in Genesis 1, I noticed that three times it’s mentioned that God blesses something. God blesses the first creatures to crawl out of the primordial sea (v.22), he blesses human beings when he creates us in his image to be caretakers of the earth (v.28), and he blesses the Sabbath day of rest (Chpt. 2:3).

I think that’s pretty cool, don’t you? I mean, to think that the God of Creation approves of this world, provides for it, and wills its happiness—basically loves this world—is a pretty great way to navigate through our lives.

The Genesis 1 story shouldn’t be looked at as “Creation Science” or “Intelligent Design.” I sure wish the fundamentalists and evangelicals would let that one go. This isn’t a lesson in science, and the veracity of the Scripture doesn’t rest on the literal truth of this narrative. The fact that there’s actually two contradictory creation stories in Genesis should’ve been a clue that this wasn’t to be taken literally. What we have in Genesis 1 is the conviction of Hebrew believers from the 6th Century BCE about the nature of God’s relationship to our world.

In this narrative, these believers from a polytheistic culture declare that there is only one Creator God. This God—our God—created a world of order and harmony out of chaos. It was a beautiful world, and it was made simply by God’s will, by God speaking it into existence. God loves and blesses it. It is a world where there is no bloodshed as humans and animals are provided for by the plants which grow abundantly for food (v.29-30).

So what’s the big deal here? I find three things which touch me about this story. First, it’s the idea that God blesses creation. He loves it and endows it. If you can’t wrap your brain around that, you’re doomed to live a life of fear of privation. Even as badly as we humans have jacked up this planet, there is still enough food produced to feed every man, woman, and child if we are willing to share it. The problem is not overpopulation but, rather, underdistribution. Faith in God’s blessing can produce generosity and peace. Fear will produce something very different.

Secondly, the writers of the Genesis 1 creation myth believed that God made the universe orderly. There’s a way that it works and a way that it won’t work. If we’re willing to work with it, we can be blessed by it. God has given us the sun and the wind and every plant bearing seed after its kind by which we can power our homes and industry. At Faith Lutheran in Philadelphia we have committed to purchasing only electrical power from renewable sources. The world was not created to have filth poured into the seas and into the air. We can exploit finite resources, but we will pay a penalty for it. (Similarly, we can build a 2000 mile wall along the southern border of the United States, but it won’t keep drugs out of the country. What it will do is interrupt the migratory patterns of many species with the potential of bringing them to extinction!) Genesis calls us to see the order and pattern of the created world, and seek harmony with it.

Finally, the belief that God created the world in order to bless it. God’s blessings are myriad, and God does not stop being good just because we, in our selfish circumstances, fail to recognize his goodness. You may be having a tough day, but you had sky above you, food to eat, and water to drink. Somewhere a kid started his first job. Somewhere two teenagers fell in love. Somewhere a baby has been born. Somewhere an elderly soul has died peacefully after a long and meaningful life.

Belief in God’s presence in creation is not just to assure us of going to Heaven when we die or to give us rules and regulations for our journey through earthly society. Granted, such beliefs are powerful; nevertheless, seeing God in creation as provider and guide can give us a sense of joy in all we encounter daily. We yearn to feel God’s presence and love in all things, and know that he has pronounced it good. In this way, we come alive.

God bless!

PS – If you’re interested in the ecological effects of the proposed border wall, click on WALL  for a link.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Noah Was a Jerk (Reflections on Lent 1, Year B)

“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.” (Genesis 9:16)

So what’s a “covenant?” I’ve been trying to get the concept across to my confirmation students this semester since the word seems to crop up a lot in the Bible. It’s a contract, an agreement, a treaty, a hand-shake, pinky-swear, “let’s-drink-on-it” mutual promise between two parties. And covenants show up pretty early in the Bible. Adam and Eve are the first parties to a covenant with God. That deal went like this: “Live in my garden,” God says. “Eat all the fruits and veggies you want, be in charge of everything and have lots of babies. Just don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and everything will be peachy between us.”

Well, that deal didn’t last too long.

Before you know it, everybody is just sinning their butts off. By Genesis 4 we get our first homicide, and by Genesis 6:11 the whole earth is filled with violence. So God finds one pretty righteous dude—Noah—and tells him to build a big boat to save himself and his family and enough animals to repopulate the world. Then God proceeds to wipe out all other life on earth with a devastating flood and start from scratch (which, if you ask me, sounds pretty extreme!).

But God’s plan to end violence with more violence turns out to be a bust. When Noah finally sets foot on dry land once again, he builds an altar and makes a sacrifice to God, presumable in thanksgiving for not being drowned himself (Genesis 8:20ff). There is no mention that he has any regret for the mass death and destruction which has just occurred or any pity for those who’ve died. It’s God who recognizes that even righteous Noah can be a selfish jerk, and laments, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth…” (v.21b)

To be sure, Noah actually turns out to be something of a tool. In Genesis 9:18-27 (a story we never teach the kids in Sunday School), our “righteous” friend plants a vineyard, makes wine, gets totally hammered, and passes out buck naked. When his son Ham finds the old man sleeping it off in the buff, he gets his brothers to come and cover him up. Unfortunately, Noah, in his hang-over embarrassment, blames the whole incident on Ham for seeing him nude, and curses him and his descendants forever (As if seeing your dad drunk and naked isn’t enough of a curse already!). The guy whose boat-building skills have saved the human race turns out to be a drunken, abusive father after all. (I guess nobody’s family is perfect.)

Knowing that the flood idea didn’t work too well, God makes another treaty with humankind: This time, God relaxes the rules, knowing that we’re probably going to break them anyway. He even gives up on the vegetarian thing and lets us eat meat (9:3). The new deal is totally one-sided. God just promises that he won’t wipe out life on earth. Period. He seals the deal with the rainbow, his signature on the dotted line which says he loves everything he’s made, and his desire is that it should flourish. There are no pre-conditions on our part.

This is a pretty daring thing for God to do, knowing as God does, how totally weak and faithless we are. God again gives stewardship of this planet into our stupid hands (9:1-2). God promises to be patient and to bless the earth. We’re the ones with the potential to screw it all up.
So what is our response to God’s non-aggression pact? Do we say, “Thanks, God” and forget it, or are we inspired to develop some kind of responsibility towards the other living creatures of all flesh that are upon the earth? Or towrds the earth itself?

I kind of wonder why the Revised Common Lectionary marries the story of God’s covenant with Noah to the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Mark 8:31-38). Perhaps it’s just to illustrate for us as we begin our Lenten observances that God’s goodness is stronger than sin’s temptation. God is willing to give us this planet and trust that we’ll take care of it. We’ll be tempted to make selfish choices and mess it all up. But Jesus came to walk with us in this wicked, jacked-up world, and teach us by example. We really can be grateful and faithful once we let into our hearts the knowledge that God’s love is mightier than the world’s sin.

Look to the rainbow. Feel God’s grace. Then do the right thing.

Thanks for reading, my friend.