1 Lent B – February 26, 2012 – Build a Strong Ark
Genesis 9:8-15, Psalm 25:4-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Mark 1:12-15
“The sea sends sailors crashing on the rocks, as easily as it guides them safely home.” These words of the poet Rod McKuen  came to mind as I was thinking about Noah and the Ark in today’s first reading. Noah, one of the popular biblical characters, urged the people of his time to be good or to pay the price. Noah is often compared to the hero Utnapishtim in the Gilgamesh Epic, another legendary folktale about a disastrous flood in the same region.
While the debate continues about which story came first or why it was written both accounts tell of a global flood that served to punish people for their sins. It would be difficult today to use the same reasoning — that God invokes natural disasters to punish human beings. Lives of innocent people are lost every day because of flooding or contaminated waters. Imagine what our neighbors in Schoharie Valley must be thinking as they listen to this passage from Genesis this morning.
For thousands of years humans have yearned to explain cataclysmic events. How did the Israelites come to conclude that they are punishments for sin? Although most of us lean on scientific interpretations countless people believe that natural disasters are acts of God. What does the story of the flood mean for us today?
Water is an ambiguous natural element. As the poet McKuen reminds us, it can take life as easily as it gives it. For us as Christians this story relates to our baptism. The second reading this morning, attributed to Peter, explains the relationship between the flood story and baptism. The author suggests that Noah and his family were saved from a corrupt world through the waters of the flood.  Is this enough of a commentary on the importance of baptism? Do we believe that if we are baptized we will be spared devastating, death dealing floods in life whether they be psychological, spiritual or physical ones? If yes, how so?
Baptism is an initiation into a faith community that agrees to adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ. That we include the forgiveness of sin during the ritual baptismal bath is a way of celebrating the transformation taking place in a person’s life. Lent is that time of year that calls each of us to a re-formation, to find alternative ways to deal with everything that floods our minds and bodies. It is a time of testing, a season for making choices about our covenant with God and others.
The gospel reading from Mark today is a short story about Jesus being tested as he prayed in the desert. The word “test” according to some scholars is a more accurate translation in this gospel than the word “tempted” used in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Like other characters in the bible — Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Moses, the prophets — Jesus was tested. He had to make difficult choices in his life. He chose not be a victim of greed, possessions and power. He lived simply and humbly in a spirit of unbounded hospitality. How are we tested? What choices do we make?
The beginning of Rod McKuen’s poem “Fourteen” reads like this: “How can we be sure of anything the tide changes?” We can’t be. Nothing is certain in life. Nothing lasts forever. Relationships change. Religions change. Governments change. Laws change. The earth and the universe change. Life changes and there will be more natural disasters. These phenomena are not punishments. However, they are reminders that we are not perfect. They are tests of our courage and fortitude, our conviction and desire, to help one another survive the many different floods in our lives.
1 McKuen, Rod. “Fourteen” in Listen to the Warm (NY: Random) 1967, 27
2 Achtemeier, P. in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, pages 2059-60
3 Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 33