Saturday Night Theologian
1 March 2009

Genesis 9:8-17

After the flood, God told Noah, "Never again will I destroy the earth with a flood." The inhabitant of New Orleans who were there when Hurricane Katrina hit might beg to differ. Those living in Thailand and surrounding regions whose lives were torn apart by the tsunami might disagree. The people living along the banks of the Mississippi River who saw their homes destroyed might have a different opinion. The destructive power of water is overwhelming, as anyone who has seen it firsthand can testify. As the world gets warmer, and as nations dither around and make plans to bring CO2 levels back to 1990 levels--which were already too high--within ten or twenty years, floodwater's devastating effects will undoubtedly continue to be felt. Low lying island--completely submerged. The Everglades in south Florida--swamped by the ocean, it's unique ecosystem destroyed. People with beach-front property around the globe--seeing their homes and investments washed away. This time, though, we can't blame God for the floods. Neither can we blame those who suffer the most from severe weather and rising sea levels. Instead, blame lies primarily with those of us who consume more resources than we need, who lack the political will to insist that fossil fuels be replaced as soon as possible by less environmentally harmful sources of energy, who live at the expense of our children and grandchildren. Proposals for eliminating most fossil fuel use within ten years have been proposed, yet it is doubtful that the world's biggest consumers of oil and gas--China, the U.S., and other industrialized countries--will make deep enough cuts in their consumption to avert catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, according to many scientists. When the floods come this time, will people turn to God? Will they claim God's promise to preserve the world from devastation by flood? Or does this promise only apply to God-made, not man-made, causes?

Psalm 25:1-10 (first published 9 March 2003)

This acrostic psalm (i.e., each verse in sequence starts with the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet; cf. Psalm 119) speaks frequently of traveling with God on life's journey: "lead me," "teach me your paths," "in the way," "his way," "all the paths of the Lord." The image of the journey reminds us first that life with God is a process, not merely a one-time decision. Second, there are many paths available to us, but we should choose to travel on those trails that God has already blazed for us. Third, to walk with God, we need to be like God, accepting his mercy and showing mercy to others. In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks plays a characters stranded for years on an island, with only a volleyball for a "friend." The movie portrays both the triumphs of independent accomplishment and the difficulties of loneliness. The road of life is often filled with joy and companionship, but it's sometimes lonely and difficult. When our path gets hard, we can find comfort in God, who always walks with us, and as we travel, we should always keep our eyes open for others on the road who are in need of a friend to help them along the way.

1 Peter 3:18-22 (first published 9 March 2003)

A small boat bobs on the surface of a limitless expanse of ocean, and its eight human occupants huddle together for warmth and to quell their fear. The themes of judgment and deliverance through the flood return in this passage from 1 Peter. The author compares God's deliverance of Noah's family through the flood with the salvation that is associated with the rite of baptism. The water that drowned so many inhabitants of the earth now supports the buoyant little vessel, along with its precious cargo. Water is often a symbol of chaos, but chaos is unable to swamp the little boat, which floats unharmed on the surface of the flood. Beginning with what may be a fragment of an early Christian hymn in verses 18-19, the author elaborates on the enigmatic story of Christ "preaching" to those in prison, presumably a reference to the dead. Although the traditional understanding of this passage involves an evangelistic mission to the underworld, the Greek word suggests a proclamation of victory rather than an announcement of the gospel (unlike today's reading from Mark 1:14-15). A few scholars have even conjectured an early corruption in the text, which would have originally had Enoch as the preacher to the people of Noah's generation. Regardless of the original wording or intent of the illustration, the main point of the passage is clear: God offers deliverance to those who will receive it.

Mark 1:9-15 (first published 9 March 2003)

"Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. . . . . He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. There were questions to be faced and a plan of action to be prepared. . . . . He stepped to the edge, raised his arms, and dived down into the sky below. . . . . For three years, ever since he had lived in Stanton, he had come here for his only relaxation, to swim, to rest, to think, to be alone and alive, whenever he could find one hour to spare, which had not been often. In his new freedom the first thing he had wanted to do was to come here, because he knew that he was coming for the last time." So begins Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead, the story of a man who was a true individual, unconcerned about how others thought he should live his life, determined to heed his own internal calling, no matter what. Jesus' entry onto the human stage in Mark is accomplished not by the miraculous, though passive, birth of a baby, but by the bold act of a decisive man. Like Howard Roark, Jesus leaves his past behind in order to pursue his calling. Like Roark, Jesus spends time alone in preparation for the task ahead. Unlike Roark, Jesus has great concern and compassion for people, and his life will be devoted to them rather than himself. In a world in which "looking out for number one" has been raised to an art form, we need to look again at the sacrificial life--not just death--of Jesus. He came to his people with a message of good news: God's kingdom awaits you; the only entrance requirement is to turn from your old ways and begin living like a citizen of that kingdom. Lent is a season of remembering, reflection, and repentance. Let us turn from our selfishness and pride as we once again walk with Jesus on his journey from baptism to passion, and ultimately to resurrection.