"Too Much, Not Enough & Just Right"

1 Lent.B.24
Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

In a strange sense, the lessons today remind me of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. However, our theme this First Sunday of Lent, is not porridge, but water. Too Much, Not Enough and Just Right. The flood, the desert and the baptism of our Lord.

Sally Lloyd Jones has composed a beautiful rendition of God’s promise to Noah in her children’s book, The Jesus Storybook Bible. She writes:
“The first thing Noah did (after the Flood) was to thank God for rescuing them, just as he had promised. And the first thing God did was make another promise. ‘I won’t ever destroy the world again.’ And like a warrior who puts away his bow and arrow at the end of a great battle, God said ‘See I have hung up my bow in the clouds.’ And there in the clouds—just where the storm meets the sun—was a beautiful bow made of light.

It was a new beginning in God’s world. It wasn’t long before everything went wrong again but God wasn’t surprised. He knew this would happen. That’s why, before the beginning of time, he had another plan—a better plan. A plan not to destroy the world, but to rescue it—a plan to one day send his own Son, the Rescuer.

God’s strong anger against hate and sadness and death would come down once more—but not on his people, or on his world. Now, God’s war bow was not pointing down at his people. It was pointing up into the very heart of heaven.”

In the Gospel lesson for today we heard Mark’s concise account of the baptism of our Lord. He writes. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the river Jordan…And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness…”

Water is an interesting symbol. It has dual natures. On the one hand, water is a symbol of life. Humanity, plants and animals, cannot exist without it. Take a moment and consider how good a glass of water tastes when you are parched. On the other hand, water is just as equally a symbol of chaos and death. The flood, drowning and destruction—these are the effects of water when it is out of control.

This hit home with me during my time away on sabbatical in the southwest. The southwest is a home to many arroyos. An arroyo, also called wash, is a dry watercourse that temporarily or seasonally fills and flows after sufficient rain.

One evening Phil and I went for a walk in the Red Canyon, a few miles outside of Bryce Canyon. It was a calm and clear evening and on our excursion we crossed over a bridge. Beneath us was little more than a trickle of water—and this rather sizable bridge hardly seemed worth the effort of building over such a small stream. Looking down, we noticed a person with a camera seated on a rock in the center of the wash watching a small waterfall several yards in front of him. On our walk back I suddenly heard a loud rushing sound. I looked around and couldn’t see a thing. I reasoned it couldn’t be a highway—none were close to us. it dawned on me—what we were hearing wasn’t wind in the trees—because there wasn’t any wind. It was rushing water. We began to walk back. The man in the wash was still there, placidly sitting on a rock in the center of the stream taking pictures, as the water which a few minutes earlier had been a small trickle was now shooting through the canyon waterfall with the equivalent force of several fire hoses. The man seemed to be in no rush to make his way to the edge. But by the time he moved himself 10 feet to the arroyo’s edge, it took the frantic assistance of his companion pulling him up the slope to get him out of the wash as the water covered his feet and tore into the slope he was climbing. As it turns out, there had been a storm a good ways north, whose waters were making their way south. By the time we left Bryce Canyon the next morning, roads were closed and waters had flooded a good portion of the land. Water is both a reason for rejoicing in dry places, but it is dangerous as well.

In our Epistle lesson for today, Peter references the Great Flood and then writes. “And baptism, which (the Great Flood) 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.” We are saved through water—washed clean and made new. That dual. Nature of the symbol of water is evidenced in the baptismal rite itself. Three times a person is immersed (or, in most Episcopal services, has water poured upon one’s head). This is reminiscent of death, of Christ’s three days in the tomb, and of his resurrection in the name of the Holy Trinity.

I wonder if this is what Sally Lloyd Jones had in mind when she wrote that God’s war bow was no longer pointing down at the people on earth, but up, into the very heart of heaven. It is an image prefiguring the death and resurrection of Christ. This is an image of hope. Ultimately, it is an image of love. It is an image of self-sacrifice, portending life for us all.

In many paintings dating from the middle ages onward, Jesus can be seen seated on a throne with a great rainbow above him. This is a picture of Jesus as Lord over heaven and earth—God, who saves us through the redeeming work of his own life. Such pictures are reminders of God’s covenant with Noah and creation as well as God’s love for us as God’s children.

As we walk with Jesus, throughout this season of Lent I suspect that we will find ourselves traversing some dry and harrowing places. The work of Self-examination and renunciation is rarely comfortable—and, to be perfectly honest, to undertake these tasks is not without risk. However, if we are to do this well, I believe that we will also find in the midst of our wilderness wanderings, the occasional refreshing pool of clear water, reminding us of our baptism and our joy in Jesus. And perhaps, after a storm, we might also behold a rainbow, reminding us of the covenant we share with Noah and all creation. These are heralds of hope—they are as life-giving as a cool glass of water on a hot day—they are signs along the way, preparing us for Easter joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.