The First Sunday of Lent

 First Reading: Genesis 9:8-17

8God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that 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.” 12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Psalm: Psalm 25:1-10

1To you, O Lord,
  I lift up my soul.
2My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be put to shame,
  nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3Let none who look to you be put to shame;
  rather let those be put to shame who are treacherous.
4Show me your ways, O Lord,
  and teach me your paths. 
5Lead me in your truth and teach me,
  for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day   long.
6Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
  for they are from everlasting.
7Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
  remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
8You are gracious and upright, O Lord;
  therefore you teach sinners in your way. 
9You lead the lowly in justice
  and teach the lowly your way.
10All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness
  to those who keep your covenant and your testimonies.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22

18Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


How many remember the Disney classic, Lion King?  When our family spent a year in the States in 1994-5 my children played the video daily and could recite it from memory.

         The Lion King Mufasa rules his kingdom from his den at Pride Rock.  He is the “good ruler.”  His brother, Scar, is jealous and bitter.  Scar, “the bad ruler,” together with the hyenas orchestrates the death of Mufasa.  Mufasa’s son Simba, which means lion in Swahili and the heir apparent, sees the death of his father and flees. The theme of what a good ruler is like unfolds.  Simba comes of age, “time is fulfilled,” and he must decide if he is going to return to claim his rightful throne.  “Looks like a real fixer-upper” says Simba’s friend.  Jesus, the true heir, appears to have been deposed by Satan, the prince of the world.  During Lent we walk with Jesus to reclaim our world, “a real fixer-upper”.

Let us pray:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, the true king.


Wednesday was Ash Wednesday.  We were marked with the cross and told to “Remember, from dust we come and to dust you shall return.”  One of my favorite lines from Disney’s Lion King was the turning point near the end when Simba, Mufasa’s son, bounds across the plains to the river, sees his reflection, and hears the voice of his father in the clouds challenging him, ”Remember.  Remember who you are.”  We start the Lenten journey by remembering who we are.  Our Old Testament text returns us to the story of Noah and the flood.   The Gospel reading takes us back to the beginning of the gospel of Mark and Jesus’ baptism.  These are stories that we remember and that define us.  “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

What do we remember?

         As the pastor marked our foreheads, if we were able to go to a church, we were charged to remember our mortality.  We are creatures that will someday die.  In Genesis 3:19 God confronts Adam and reminds him that humans are mortal.  The Noah story of our Old Testament reading reminds us that God holds our mortal lives.   He has the power to destroy and he has the power to bless. How fragile life is.  James echoing the psalmist laments that our lives are like a wild flower, here today and gone tomorrow, or a mist passing through.  People who may have worn masks, may have social distanced, may have gotten the vaccine, suddenly met with death on the icy roads of Texas this week.  It was not their sin that killed them, nor is it our goodness that keeps us alive.  Remember we come from dust and go to dust.

         Jesus incarnated and joined us in baptism. As Christians we remember that when we were baptized, we were baptized into the death of Christ and became children of God. The cross is marked on our foreheads.  We have been bought with a price.  

         I find it interesting that we put today’s gospel of the baptism next to the Old Testament reading of the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch in its mouth, signaling safety.  The Holy Spirit descends like a dove at the Baptism indicating its presence and participation in the journey Jesus is embarking on.  We believe the Holy Spirit enters us at baptism and leads us and guides our lives.  We remember who we are, children of God formed from the dust of the earth with God’s spirit accompanying and guiding us.

         The mark of the cross reminds us that we are children of God under a covenant.  Death is not the end of our days.  This clump of clay, handful of dust, that is me shaped into a person – a person that is valued by the God of the universe for we are his creation.  We remember the giftedness and grace of life.  We are dust.  We are dust formed by God.  We are dust formed by God for a purpose and we are valued.  We bowed our head and asked to be marked.  We remembered.

How do we remember?

         I don’t know about you, but I forget.  It seems to be more often these days.  I love things that help me remember.  Mufasa has to challenge Simba to remember for Simba has forgotten.  The silly uncle in the Christmas classic, It Was a Wonderful Life, ties a string around his finger to remind him and yet he could not remember where he misplaced the bank money.  We make scrapbooks and hang pictures of favorite times and people.  We carve statues and Bible verses that are important.  The wedding rings are not just jewelry.  All these things remind us who we are.    In our passages today God gives us three things to help us remember who we are: the rainbow, baptism, and the voice.

         During the time of Noah, God was so grieved at the wickedness of people’s hearts that he sent a flood.  Noah, wife, three sons and their wives were spared along with representatives of all animal species.  Forty days and forty nights the rain poured down.  Noah and crew emerge from the Ark to face a new world, a new world with a rainbow. The rainbow was there before Noah stepped out of the Ark.  The rainbow was not the reward for living through the flood and caring for the animals. The rainbow is the reminder to God and to us of God’s covenant with us.  He will never destroy the world with water.  God is committed to working with us in our limitations and sinfulness because of his faithfulness.  Remember we are dust and the rainbow reminds us of his commitment to us. Perhaps the question is how committed we are to working with him?

         Fast forward to the time of Mark and we read of the baptism of Jesus.  Jesus was not baptized because he was sinful but he identified with the people preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom.  In our baptism we are marked with the cross and baptized into Christ’s baptism, a step towards the coming kingdom.  Often we are given a candle to remember that special day. Our baptism reminds us whose we are.  We are God’s children and God is committed to us.

         In Jesus’ baptism the heavens are torn apart so that the spiritual world and the physical world are united and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove even as the dove returned to Noah with an olive branch showing it was safe to engage with the new world.  Then the voice of God speaks into our world.  God does not sit off in the heavenlies judging our actions but speaks into our reality.  The Holy Spirit is not far away but in our hearts.  Perhaps you have never heard God’s voice or felt his spirit but we read the words he spoke in the Scriptures.  We hear his voice as Scripture is read on Sundays or as a friend shares a verse with us.  Music brings God’s words to us – through radio, through television, and through zoom.  God cannot be silenced and God’s spirit communicates with us in various ways.  In Lent let us open our ears to listen and remember whose we are.

         The rainbow during storms, our baptism when we are marked with the cross and given the Holy Spirit for the journey, and the voice of God speaking to us through his word, are all ways of helping us remember whose we are.

 Lastly, why do we remember?

         Noah could not predict and survive the flood without remembering his creator, God.  His vision for the Ark came from God.  “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and for sure we need wisdom beyond ourselves to lead life.   Because we are sinners, we deserve to die, but it is only our relationship with God, remembering we are but dust, that humbles us for the salvation offered on the cross.  Why remember?  We need help and we need humility to remember that.

         One of the great parts of Jesus’ baptism is the appearance of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and the voice from the cloud speaking.  The Trinity stood together and supported each other in the journey to the cross and through the crucifixion.  The baptism reminds us that we need the community of the body, the fellowship we find with others even though they are made of dust also.  We remember we are part of a body, part of a community with different roles and different gifts, following Jesus.

         Jesus opens his ministry with the call to repentance and belief.  As much as the other may offend us, we must never forget our need to repent, our weakness, and our proneness to hurt the other.  Remembering our own weakness opens the door for asking forgiveness and restoration.

         In Lion King, Mufasa calls to Simba – “Remember who you are.”  But he continues, “You are more than you have become.”  I do not believe that we of ourselves can become more than we are by sheer will power.  Certainly we can achieve great heights, perhaps even claim our own Pride Rock, but it is only as we remember whose we are as reflected in the journey to the cross.  We are dust.  We are marked.  We are valued.  God is committed to us.  We remember that when we see the rainbow.  We remember when we see the cross.  We remember when we hear the word of God.  Why?  Because we need to remember we are dust and need God’s wisdom.  We need our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  We need to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness so we can be forgiven.

         Our world is a real “fixer-up” but it is God’s world that he is committed to and willing to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk – all the way to the cross.  Remember!

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