Sunday, January 29, 2012

First Sunday in Lent (Year B)

First Sunday in Lent B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Genesis 9: 8-17; Psalm 25: 1-9; I Peter 3: 18-22' Mark 1: 9-15

NOTE: The readings from the Hebrew scriptures this Lent review some of the foundational promises made by God (Lent 1,2,3) and the ongoing and future consequences of those promises (Lent 4 and 5). Walter Brueggemann writes of these promises: "Israel's testimony to Yahweh as promise maker presents Yahweh as both powerful enough and reliable enough to turn life in the world, fro Israel and all peoples, beyond present circumstances to new, life-giving possibility. Yahweh's promises keep the world open toward well-being, even in the face of deathly circumstances." (Theology of the Old Testament, p. 164)

The Noah narrative depicts God as "forgetful" but then "remembering." The story begins with God regretting creating humankind so thoroughly that God wants to wipe all creation away in a world-wide flood. Then God "remembers" Noah and provides a plan to spare Noah, his family and representatives of every creature. God provides a second chance. After the entire episode, God promises never to destroy the whole earth by flood again. As a reminder of that promise, God puts a rainbow in the sky so that every time God sees it God will remember the promise not only to all humankind, but to "every creature."

Intense introspection leads the
psalmist to remind God that he relies on God and God's ways despite the unrelenting mischief of his enemies against him. He then pleads, "Recall Your mercies, O Lord, and Your loving-kindness... they are forever" And "remember me."

The writer of
this letter attributed to Peter presents a picture of the church's rapidly developing interpretation of the meanings of the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. The writer asserts, "Christ suffered for sins once for all," sweeping into Christ's death the entire history of every human sin. Then he elaborates on two nights about which the gospels are silent. During the time Christ was among the dead, he preached to all, including Noah and his family. Their trial by flood "prefigures" baptism, God's redemptive work through Christ extends to every human who ever existed or who ever will exist!

In last Sunday's
gospel, Mark emphasized the direct connection between God's redemptive work in the past and Jesus in the event best described as "transfiguration." On the occasion of Jesus' baptism, he emphasizes that connection when "the heavens were torn apart and a voice declared 'You are my Son, the Beloved....' " After this momentous event, a time of struggle and temptation follows. The number forty sags with the weight of loaded significance-- the chosen wandered in the wilderness for forty years, Noah and his family watched the earth swallowed up during forty days and forty night of rain, etc. etc.

Biblical relationships are anything but static. There is always change. Relationships are in jeopardy, then wonderfully restored; promises are made but then forgotten; absence sometimes and full presence other times; betrayal followed by heart-wrenching forgiveness; anger followed by a change of heart. Each party in the relationship holds the other accountable. All these things are just as true of our relationship with God.

The readings from the Hebrew scriptures this Lent restate some of the foundational promises made by God to us: creation is abundant, generous and good; hope is always a possibility; no matter what happens, life will be sustained. But, these promises can feel in doubt. Sometimes God gets so frustrated with our foolishness and worse that, for awhile, it seems maybe God has forgotten those promises to us. For our part, we are full of promises and best intentions, but then we forget. One party or the other, it seems, is always reminding the other of past promises made and mutual obligations because of those promises. The relationship is always in need of maintenance or repair.

Every time God's promises are read aloud, as they will be again this Lent, all those within ear-shot must make a decision about those promises-- Yes! No! or No opinion.

Some of the most fruitful work of Paul Ricoeur is his meditating on what he calls "attestation." A useful summary that work is provided in Don Stiver's
Theology after Ricoeur, especially p. 204 ff. Stiver writes: "Attestation is not totally clear, always faces the restriction of suspicion, and allows for the expansion of surplus meaning. It never escapes the conflict of interpretation but is a risk, backed by one's life, looking forward to vindication in hope." "Ricoeur sees that we cannot avoid some outlook on life, but it is not knowledge that can be guaranteed by some method of foundation, a la the modernist ethos; rather, it is a risk we must take that we back with our lives." (p. 205) He then quotes Ricouer, "I hope in order to understand." (p. 224)

God's promises present us with decisions which we must make not just with our heads or even our hears, but we "back with our lives." They also invite a relationship with God that will have its ups and downs--Jesus, too, knew temptation-- but each party can hold the other accountable. We remind God of past promises to sustain all creation and we survive and flourish because we trust and rely on those promises with our lives!

For those inspired to follow Jesus, this relationship with God reaches a climax in the days of the Triduum, toward which we walk in these forty days of and six Sundays in Lent.