1st Scripture Reading: Genesis 9:8-17 & Psalm 25
“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every living creature that is with you…never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
This quotation is a pretty good example of a covenant. A covenant is a contractual agreement between two parties describing how things shall be between them going forward in time.
The relationship between the Divine and Creation plays out in the ongoing manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Our overarching theme during this season of Lent and Easter will be the establishment and demonstration of God’s kingdom here on earth. The covenantal relationship established in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, is the very foundation of that relationship. We do not need to be afraid. God will not destroy what God loves.
And there is a seal on this agreement. Whenever a rainbow appears in the sky, we are reminded of this covenant, and God is reminded also!
But every contract between two parties expects something of each party. What does God expect of the people of Israel? In Genesis 9:v5 we read, “I will require a reckoning for human life. 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.” And then we read the prophet Micah’s words: “He has told you, O Mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
So the Israelites had a contract with our God, which we have inherited, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.
Let’s look a little harder at “to do justice”. We can already see that there is a legal, contractual context to how we live out this part of the relationship. The contract explicitly forbids murder, and indicates a penalty for doing so.
Unfortunately this interpretation has often led to application of the contract in ways that have not been kind, and in fact have usurped the sovereignty of God to be the final judge.
In other words justice is not the same as judgment. We humans are to “do justice” and judgment must at least be guided by Divine inspiration.
So in God’s kingdom, under the covenant we have with God, justice is a very important feature. What does it mean to do justice? There are huge ethical considerations here, but there are probably a few things we can agree are not just. Clearly the genocide of a people such as happened in Rwanda would not constitute justice. The mass expulsion of the Rohingya people from Myanmar and the subsequent burning of their villages, and the murder of their menfolk and the rape of their women could not be seen as justice.
The making of war to enlarge one’s territory or to establish control over valuable resources which belong to another people – would that be smiled upon in God’s peaceable kingdom? How about the persecution and murder of people whose sexual orientation is variant to the dominant culture?
On another tack, what do we think about the over-harvesting of whole species of animals, fish or birds to the point of extinction? Is that right under our present covenant? How about logging of timber to the point that it is unsustainable? Does God care about these other beings with whom we share this planet?
God’s kingdom, in my view, is not some other place. It is right here among us, and we are charged to create it according to our covenantal relationship with our God. God’s kingdom is where God’s righteousness applies – and we are the instruments of God’s will.
Hymn #356 VU “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22 & Mark 1:9-15
But it’s hard, isn’t it, people of God, to implement the righteousness God requires. We try. We fail. We try again, and fail yet again. So what is a good and loving God to do? We aren’t getting it, we need a teacher.
God sends us a spiritual message in the form of Jesus of Nazareth – a spiritual child of God. As we move into the Easter story we begin in Mark with the Baptism of Jesus, and his temptation in the wilderness. The mission he has agreed to take on is huge, and he must be strong enough to persevere, to endure, and to get through it.
Baptism – a rite of purification, as offered by John in the Jordan river, became a symbol for new life, for commitment to a mission or a new direction as a follower of Jesus. The temptation assured that he was strong enough to withstand the powers of darkness and evil that beset us all, and to establish the pathway for each of us to walk into the Light of God’s goodness, God’s kingdom. Jesus knew we had lost sight of God’s covenant with us. He knew we were not strong enough to find our way out of the darkness of violence and hatred, vengeance and punishment that we were trapped in. We needed a light in the darkness, we needed a guide we could trust, we needed to remember God’s love and God’s promise to never destroy us.
We needed to remember that God’s kingdom was at hand – closer than we knew – and that justice and kindness were just as important under this renewed covenant with God thru Jesus as they had been before. We needed to learn about repentance and forgiveness – that none of us should be lost to sin and evil who was willing to turn to God and follow the Way of Jesus.
The living God demonstrates to us daily that we are loveable, forgiveable and renewable people. We are needed, like Jesus was, to take on our share of manifesting God’s kingdom of justice and kindness here on earth right now and as we move into our future.
Hymn #87 MV “Water Flowing from the Mountains”