1st Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2021
– Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 1:9-15
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
Faith, according to the Bible, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is the company we keep for God’s sake and not our own; a community, in many cases, comprising unlike-minded souls which, in our ability to form consensus on common objectives, creates a sense that with God nothing is impossible.
Not long ago, a stray cat followed my wife, Vicky, home, which she took in at the resentment of our other two cats, who had to make some major adjustments, including anti-stress medication for one, in accommodating this stranger among them. In addition, during these winter months, one of our older roosters, now-and-then, needs to be sheltered in a warmer place within our home to keep him from freezing. So, between the late-night hissing, caterwauling cats and the too-close-for-comfort early-morning rooster crowing, the entire household is receiving a small dose of what Noah must have endured.
The story of the ark in which Noah and his family were confined with supposedly every species of animal offers a wonderful metaphor for the world ark in which God has placed all creation to somehow learn to live with one another without sinking the ship. Heaven on earth is not achieved by God intervening in our behalf to bring about a realm of justice and peace. We intervene in God’s behalf to create what God desires of us and the world in which we live. This takes time.
The number forty is often mentioned in the Bible signifying a time of trial and testing. It is mentioned 146 times in scripture, including the forty days Noah and his family were cooped up in the ark. Can you imagine the lack of sleep they must have endured with all the smell and noise and clean-up detail? Faith is no walk in the park but, in Noah’s case, it is a walk in the ark; a walk where you are constantly looking down to be careful where you step, or looking up to make sure a bird is not perched directly above you.
The ark represents the contained ecological system of God’s design – our planet, in which the life of every creature affects our own. And the degree to which we assume responsibility as caretakers and stewards of God’s creation will determine the extent to which we are prepared to foster God’s realm on earth.
I once knew a New York City cab driver who had a passenger that thought he knew the streets better than the driver, constantly telling him where to go until he finally grew so fed up with his passenger that he stopped the cab, unloaded his baggage, and left him in midtown Manhattan.
Christ was cooped up in the wilderness with Satan, who tempted and annoyed him like a back-seat driver telling him what to do and where to go until finally, after forty days, Jesus had enough fortitude of faith to tell him to shut up and get out.
I earlier mentioned that faith in God often involves keeping company with unlike-minded souls. But after a while, a cabin fever develops that requires the need to delineate the rules by which you will engage with and tolerate another.
As a welcoming church, we have decided that all, especially those who have been historically barred access to membership and ministry, will be welcomed and affirmed as the company we keep. And those who, for whatever reason, think and feel otherwise must learn to adjust and accommodate to our presence and members of God’s world ark.
Our lives so often feel like an ark upon treacherous waters. And for more than just a few hours a week you, the church, are called to be the calming shelter and welcoming refuge from the stormy seas, where seekers of God’s promise of new life may find strength, hope and courage for their faith journeys.
The Bible tells us that after Jesus was baptized, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness, and there he was tempted for forty days by Satan among wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him” (Mark 1:12-13). The same Spirit drives us into life’s wilderness and stormy seas that we might intervene in God’s behalf, ministering to one another and the world, wrestling with our inner and outer demons as angels and emissaries of God’s new world order of justice and peace. Amen.