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God’s First Covenant

February 19, 2021
Badlands National Park in South Dakota from our 2018 trip.

Ash Wednesday began the season of Lent this year. I have read a number of comments from pastors and colleagues who have described Lent 2021 as a continuation of Lent 2020 since the Pandemic has kept us “in the wilderness” since mid-March when church buildings (not churches) closed down and everyone was figuring out how to offer virtual worship. Denise and I had no idea what Zoom really was until we were preparing for the Third Sunday in Lent with relatively short notice (six hours) while learning how Zoom operates on the fly. So many of us had hoped and prayed that we would be back to in-person worship with COVID-19 under control in 2021. As 2020 passed and we crossed the threshold into 2021, virtual worship continued to be the order of the day (with outdoor worship opportunities while the weather was decent in 2020 and planning for more opportunities like that in 2021), we have now nearly come to the first year mark of the Pandemic and it’s impact on the life and worship of the church.

This year the PC(USA)’s Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Lenten Devotional, calls us to joint together in a Lenten Journey to Peace and Wholeness. As the vaccines for COVID-19 continue to be rolled out we are seeing a glimmer of hope for our communities. Worship will still not be like it was pre-Pandemic, but between masked/distanced outdoor worship and making plans for when we are able to worship in the sanctuary (my crystal ball is broken and I don’t know when that will be exactly) are offering life and hope to a congregation who is weary, along with their pastor.

The first Sunday of Lent begins with two very familiar passage from Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17 and Mark 1:9-15. The reading from Genesis comes on the heels of the flood narrative. Noah and his family have survived along with the animals in the ark and life is being renewed following the devastation from the flood. God establishes God’s first covenant with the people to never again destroy the earth and places God’s own bow in the clouds as a reminder of that covenant. Some might say that this is a new creation after the destruction of the flood. It is a fresh start for humankind and creation. The hope and dream of this new beginning is encapsulated for me in the old Negro Spiritual, “Down by the Riverside” which predates the American Civil War. The refrain captures this hope and plan for a new life of faith:

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

I invite you to listen to this rendition by Louis Armstrong:

Hope and promise, peace and wholeness… isn’t that what we are looking for today as the pandemic approaches the one-year mark? Isn’t that what we are looking for as division, hatred, and fear tear at the fabric of humanity?

In the reading from Mark, we hear once more about Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan. Immediately following his baptism, the Spirit “drives” Jesus into the wilderness. The Greek word for “drives out” (ekballo) literally means to cast out, throw out, or banish. Jesus wasn’t politely invited to go into the wilderness according to Mark; he was driven from his baptism into the wilderness where he faced the forty days of fasting (Lent is 40 days, excluding Sundays) and temptation by Satan. I wonder if Jesus thought about the promise of God represented by the bow in the clouds (we connect the bow with a rainbow, but the bow God placed in the clouds was actually a war bow according to the actual Hebrew word used (qesheh).

As we begin our journey through the five Sundays of Lent, I encourage you to consider The Way to Shalom: A Lenten Journey to Peace and Wholeness from the PC(USA) Mission Agency as a companion on this journey. Here is the link for the free download if you are interested: The Way to Shalom. In June of last year, Denise and I were able to take a break from Zoom and work to drive into the Rocky Mountain National Park. We were blessed with this sight as we drove on Trail Ridge Road:

Rainbow in Rocky Mountain National Park, July 2020.

It was a reminder to us of the promise of God to never leave us or forsake us. It brought us a sense of Shalom, Peace as we continued to journey through this wilderness experience and as we prepared to move from Estes Park to Carrollton. May the Shalom of God bring you comfort as we continue this journey together.

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