HEBREW BIBLE READING Genesis 9: 8-16
Then God 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.”
*GOSPEL READING Mark 1: 12-13
12And the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] 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.
We often read scripture from such a human-centric perspective that we miss the allusions to God’s concern for the rest of creation—and our interdependence on fellow creatures. In today’s Gospel reading, note that God’s Spirit led, no, drove Jesus into the wilderness, the wild place, the place NOT inhabited by humans but by “the wild beasts.” Jesus was with the wild beasts as preparation for his ministry. Jesus learned his vocation from the natural world. From earliest times the religious human being has found an experience of God and sense of direction, even vocation, through a wilderness experience.
Note also that in our Hebrew Bible reading, the covenant God makes after the flood is one between God and not only humans but ALL creatures of the earth. Noah’s story suggests that human survival is tied to the survival of earth’s other creatures. Noah was charged with saving both humans and animals. If the animals had not been brought inside the safe ark, the people would not have ultimately survived.
We have read scripture without seeing that the overarching salvation stories are stories about saving ALL creation. Any story of salvation that saves only humanity is insufficient and unbiblical. The Christian stories of salvation take us back to the Garden of Eden with the resurrected Jesus as gardener, the promise a renewed earth in Revelation, the image of the wolf and lamb lying down together in peace. Our spiritual ancestors knew what we’ve forgotten: we will be “saved” to the extent that the rest of creation can be saved. So much for a highly spiritualized and individualized notion of salvation.
For forty days Jesus stayed in the wilderness with the wild animals. For forty days Noah and his family and their menagerie heard the rains fall upon their interspecies ark. For forty days you and I will journey through Lent. Let’s bring the wild creatures of the earth with us on this spiritual journey to remind us of our interconnectedness, our call to care for “the least,” our need to face into our complicity in climate change that might one day either bring more floods or create more desert lands.
There are many failings you and I ought to face into and “confess.” Of all the sins that demand our confession, contrition, and correction, the sin of planetary destruction is chief. We’re starting with the biggie today. It’s the problem with direst consequences and it’s the hardest to remedy. We know we as individuals can help in small ways: recycling, reusing, reducing. But there are also ways we can participate in a more systemic approach to environmentalism. For instance, in 2013 our denomination voted to pursue a set of strategies to attack climate change — which includes a path to divestment from fossil fuel companies. This action made the United Church of Christ the first major religious body in the U.S. to begin divesting from fossil fuel companies. It is but one example of a collective effort to address a systemic injustice to our planet.
Let us hold SILENCE as we listen to the heartbeat of our planet.
Praying Through Art. “With a hoot and squawk and squeak and bark, the animals tumbled off the ark.” Here’s a picture of a Plasticine illustration by Barbara Reid from the children’s book Two by Two. How does this picture make you feel? How will you add your hoot and bark as you leap into this new day? What will you bound toward or fly above as you leave the shelter of this ark? How will you cooperate with the recreating process of this dying and revitializing planet? (Children may place their animal pictures on the altar at this time.)
Praying By Giving and Receiving. At Christ’s Table, we give what we can and receive what God always supplies: forgiveness, grace, love, hope. If you wish, consider this a time of private confession. As you offer monetary gifts, pause to acknowledge ways you can be a better steward of your resources. Confess what is holding you back from living more generously. As you dip the bread into the cup, recall that Jesus said this is an act in which we realize God’s forgiveness of all our sins. Let Jesus’s mercy towards those who killed him embolden us to accept forgiveness for our failings, large and small.
Praying By Writing a Group Prayer of Confession. Take paper and pen provided to complete this collective prayer:
God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale, God of the Swirling Stars,
We, the people of your earth, confess: