Healing Ourselves, Healing the World

Genesis 9:8-17

Mark 1:9-15

Today we’ll be reflecting on theology and ethics, that is, what we believe and how it shapes our behavior.

How you answer two key questions can shape the way you respond to the events of life, both personal and global. “Do you believe in God?” and “What is the character of the god that you follow?”

The story of Noah, the flood, and the rainbow are legendary and poetic. Most scholars believe that the legend a great flood in the “fertile crescent,” the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, inspired the biblical story of Noah and the ark. The story responded to two questions among the Hebraic peoples, “Why was there such a destructive flood?” and “What is the meaning of the rainbow?”

Catastrophes often inspire theological speculation, and much of it is problematic. A few noted televangelists connected the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina with the town’s immorality, despite the fact that the wildest part of town, the French Quarter, was spared from the flood. Other noted preachers suggested that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 reflected divine judgment on America’s acceptance of immorality. Such commentaries invited questions both from within and beyond Christianity, “What kind of God do these men believe in? Could I follow a god who destroys innocent people to make a point or punish evildoers?”

I have difficulty connecting the god, described in the story of Noah, with the god of Jesus Christ. As the legend goes, humankind has turned from God’s ways and God regrets creating the human race. At first, God decides to destroy everything: “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and the birds of the air, for I am sorry I had made them.” Then, God discovers the righteous Noah, and hatches a plan to save Noah’s family, and gather the animals of the earth, two by two, to make a new start. God inspires Noah to build an ark, then sends a flood, destroying every flying and land creature outside the ark, and after a few months causes the waters to subside.

As Noah, his family, and the zoo begin to resettle the earth, God promises never to destroy God’s animal creation and sends a rainbow as a sign of the covenant established between God and all flesh on earth.”

Now, I don’t like the destructive, vindictive god, described in this story. I don’t believe God would destroy innocent men, women, and children, as well as the animal world to punish the guilty. Yet, the story contains a couple nuggets that we need to consider. First, our actions have consequences and may condition what God can do in the world. When we turn from God, the processes of nature turn against us as a matter of course; and God must deal with our misdeeds, seeking healing but having to clean up the mess, much as a parent or grandparent does for unruly children. God’s love abounds but its shape is related to our openness.

Second, God’s covenant is with all creation, not just humankind. The waters of destruction become the waters of global baptism, cleansing the earth, and revealing God’s love for the world, all the world and not just us.

Mark describes Jesus’ baptism, the descent of the Holy Spirit, his retreat and temptations in the desert, and the beginning of his mission in six short verses. In the wilderness, Jesus is surrounded by wild beasts and ministered to by angels. I believe Mark is pointing out that Jesus overcame the gulf between humanity and the non-human world. Like St. Francis of Assisi, he found something of value and beauty in the wild beasts and they reciprocated by living gently alongside him.

God loves the world, God loves osprey and spotted owls, God loves blue fish and humpbacked whales, God loves hummingbirds and finches, God loves bees and snakes – God loves animals we don’t like – and God loves us. As my four year grandson affirms, “God loves sharks.”

After his temptations in the wilderness, Jesus begins his mission preaching “repent and believe the good news.” Change your ways and trust that God loves you and the world and has a vision for your life. God’s love inspires us to see our errors and take new directions. We must confess that we have as a race destroyed the world that God loves: destroying species, polluting the waters, creating toxic dumps, and putting the Arctic circle and the Amazon rainforest at risk.

To repent is to change the coures of our lives and in the spirit of God’s covenant with Noah make peace with the non-human world and our unborn descendants. Each of us can make a small difference: If God loves the world, then we can love God by loving God’s creation. We can live simply so others can simply live – using less energy, recycling, and using our bags rather than plastic bags, lowering the heat (if health permits), taking fewer unnecessary car trips, getting an energy audit, and encouraging our leaders to make environmental preservation a top priority.

These are issues for all of us, regardless of our politics. What we do matters to future generations, to our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, the non-human world, and God. Our mustard seed acts can make a difference in saving the planet for generations to come. We can repent, take another path.

God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of love for nature and humankind in all its diversity. Let us become God’s rainbow people, loving the earth, and giving thanks for each day’s beauty.