The Good News of Repentance: A Covenant with Creation

Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1;9-15

In the wake a cataclysm that almost destroyed the human and non-human world, the bible tells the story of Noah finding solid ground and receiving God’s promise of a hopeful future. Despite the great flood, God offers humankind and the non-human world a new beginning. God gives humankind and its non-human companions, the promise of a hopeful future. Receding waters, dry land, and a rainbow in the sky.

Many readers of the Noah legend fail to notice that God makes a covenant with creation in its entirety and not just humankind. God’s love embraces all creation and that means butterflies, coyotes, black bears, grasshoppers, sharks, whales, chimps, and dolphins – new life for every creature, without exception. God’s love is like a rainbow, encompassing creation in all is wonder and diversity, and saying “yes” to non-humans and humans alike.

The God of the Genesis story – creating and recreating – is the poet, artist, and creator of new life. God’s palette is bright and beautiful and will withstand our destructive behaviors. Inspired by rainbow promises, we can trust that the moral arc of history will support our highest spiritual and ethical aspirations.

A new covenant with creation challenges us to be new persons with new values. Mark’s gospel gives a short form of Jesus’ temptations: after his baptism, Jesus hears God’s voice, pronouncing “you are my beloved” and then journeys to the wilderness to claim his vocation as God’s messiah.

Jesus needs to be alone to let his mystical encounter with God sink in. He is tempted, but he faces temptation with the support of God’s angelic messengers.

Tested and tried, Jesus comes forth from the wilderness with a message, “repent and believe the good news.”

Repentance means to turn around, to go from the path of destruction to the path of life, from addiction to freedom, from self-interest to sacrificial love, and from me-first nationalism to world loyalty.

We all, at certain times of our lives, need to change direction and to let go of burdens that dampen our spirits, constrict our imaginations, deplete our joy, and separate us from our human and non-human neighbors. The process of repentance lasts a lifetime, one moment at a time and one day at a time. In the spirit of Yale Divinity School professor Hal Luccock, who was once asked “are you saved?” by an ardent street corner evangelist, we need to respond, “I’m saved every day.”

We are beginning a series on “spiritual decluttering” this week. Now, we all need to get rid of some of the clutter or cumber in our lives – we have too many things and our possessions often possess us, making our lives complicated and anxiety ridden. Letting go of the cumber can liberate our spirits, open our hearts, and unclutter our homes. Spiritual decluttering is about repentance, about turning around, and discovering new and life-supporting values.

Today’s scriptures invite us to consider our consumption of resources and the impact of our lifestyles on the planet and its most vulnerable people. Pope Francis, in his recent letter to the churches, asserts that we have made the earth a garbage dump through our heedless consumption. Pope Francis counsels us to live more simply so that others might simply live and take seriously our obligation to care for the earth so that our children’s children and the non-human world might flourish in the decades to come.

God has made a covenant with creation, and God invites us to do likewise – to share in a new covenant with the earth and its peoples. We need to feed our spirits and nurture relationships with life around us rather than consuming our way to oblivion.

Two paths lie ahead – death and life – and when we repent of our misplaced values, we begin to experience life in all its abundance and joy. Like the legendary Noah, we need a rainbow to avoid calamity. We need divine help but help that comes from our willingness to play our role in healing the earth.

A few weeks ago, in one of our congregation’s adult faith formation seminars, a member expressed her sense of powerlessness in changing the world. We all nodded our heads in agreement: sometimes we feel like we are watching a slow-motion train wreck nationally and globally and feel impotent to put on the brakes or guide the train to an alternative track. We know that our nation can reclaim its moral and spiritual GPS, we know that we need to repent our polarization and incivility, and our apathy about gun violence, but how will we do this– that’s my challenge, too.

A few weeks ago, I quoted June Jordan, who affirmed that “we are the change we are waiting for.” Jesus’ handful of disciples changed the world. Against all odds, that ragtag group of women and men vent global, and their commitment made it possible for us to hear good news today.

We are the change we are looking for. As a wise Jewish teacher noted, “when the Messiah comes, he will not ask me if I was David?” He will ask, “Were you Bruce, or Jack or Pam or Nancy?” The Messiah won’t ask, “ere you Cape Cod Church or West Parish?” but were you “South Congregational Church?” Did you follow your calling? That’s surely what our visioning process is all about!

There are no cookie cutters, and each of us is called differently, but it begins with “noticing” what needs to be healed, who’s left out, who’s struggling to find their way, who’s hurting, and then reaching out in caring compassion – a phone call, a visit, a casserole, a kind word to a co-worker, a call to your political representative advocating for a more compassionate, caring, and healthy local or national environment, or beginning a new movement to reach out to the vulnerable of our community.

The world is healed by simple acts of kindness, and personal responsibility. There is a rainbow on the horizon and it’s meant for all of us, there is God within us who loves all of us, and there is a future and hope, and pathway to life for us and generations that will come in the future.