First Sunday in Lent

Lectionary 1st Reading Psalm 2nd Reading Gospel
Anglican lectionary Genesis 9:8-17 25:1-10 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark 1:9-15
Catholic lectionary: Job 7:1-4; 6-7 (both) Mark 1:12-15 (23)

Old Testament: Genesis 9:8-17

God’s Covenant with Creation – not just with Noah and his family who were with him in the Ark. God said, ‘I establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you AND with EVERY living creature that is with you”  And the sign given ‘My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

A covenant is the most solemn and binding form of divine promise, an assurance to humans of divine commitment, and a reminder given by God of His faithfulness.

This was the second of seven covenants made between God and humans. The first being the covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden – that all men and women would enjoy the gifts of the garden IF they did not eat from the forbidden fruit. (Gen 2:16,17)
That covenant was broken by Adam and Eve, but God provided a way out. Genesis 3:15 – considered by many Christian commentators as the ‘first preaching of the gospel’, ‘the Bible in embryo, the sum of all history and prophecy in a germ”
This passage also throws light on what Westerners in particular struggle with, the tension between God’s mercy and his justice.

Psalm 25:1-10

One of my favourite psalms that has accompanied my walk in faith through dark and light times. In whatever situation: ‘Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour.’  Verse 10 relates to our readings today, particularly Genesis, All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.’ And verse 14: The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.

Epistle: 1 Peter 3:18-22

Vss 18-20 are said to be one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the Bible! However, the passage reveals some powerful truths. The main one has been summed up by Tom Wright in his commentary of 1 Peter: ‘Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the hope of Israel by defeating all the spiritual powers in the world, the ones who were responsible for wickedness and corruption from ancient times. It may not look like it to the little Christian communities (or for that matter, us today) facing the possibility of suffering, but their baptism places them alongside the Messiah in his victory.  They must hold their heads up, keep their consciences clear, and trust that his victory will be played out in the world to which they (and we) are bearing witness. Wright reminds us that this passage serves as an encouragement to all those followers of Christ who are likely to face persecution from human authorities. Wright also adds a salutary reminder to those of us today who do not feel we need to learn the lesson above. He says that all should learn it so that we can pray for our brothers and sisters who are increasingly being persecuted and in preparation for the day when we might suddenly need it, too!

Mark 1:9-15  Baptism and testing of Jesus

Obviously, Jesus was without sin and therefore did not need a ‘baptism of repentance’. However, one of the reasons he chose to be ‘baptised’ was as a sign of his identification with the sinful people he came to redeem. God’s voice from heaven alludes to Ps. 2:7: known as the coronation formula for the messianic King of Israel AND to Isaiah 42.1 – the ordination formula for Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord. Together these passages show that Jesus’ mission would be fulfilled in the terms of the Suffering Servant. (Isaiah 52-13 – 53.12)
His message and his task for his kingdom, is one of teaching, healing, humility and sacrifice.
Jesus calls people to trust in the good news of the kingdom which he brings – the  good news that God is doing something new. In order to do this we need to realise that we will need to cut ourselves free from all things which are not from God and to trust in him and in his message. Just like Peter, Andrew, James and John it’s what all Christians have been and are called to do throughout the ages.




The paradox of God’s ‘mercy and justice’. Instead of holding these two principles together with all the tension that brings, many people have split God into ‘personalities. God is called ‘Wrathful Father’ and ‘Compassionate Son’- forgetting that the Bible tells us that Jesus is actually ‘one’ with his Father. If we look back at our Genesis text and others, we find another picture. Imagine, for a moment the situation Noah and his family found themselves in. The one place one would expect to find unflinching judgment from God. After all, God’s beautiful and perfect world had been filled, through humans, with violence – ‘every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ Genesis 6.5

We could easily expect God to explode with anger at humankind’s wickedness. But that’s not what we read. Instead, we read that God ‘was grieved’ (Genesis 6.6.NASB) and that his ‘heart was deeply troubled’ (NIV). Some evil had infected his precious children, causing them to destroy themselves and each other. God’s anguish was so great that he even ‘regretted that he had made human beings’ Genesis 6.6.  Why not just start all over again?

But in Hebrew, there is a connection between God’s pain and that of fallen humanity. In Genesis, we hear how Eve’s sorrow in bearing children will multiply, because of her sin. Similarly, Adam will labour in sorrow to make the earth produce food. (Gen. 3:16-19). Hebrew uses the same word to describe these two sorrows and God’s sorrow when his heart is ‘grieved’ in Gen. 66. Like Eve, God’s precious children would now fill his heart with pain; and like Adam’s labours, his beautiful earth would now be cursed by human bloodshed. Adam and Eve’s ‘sorrows’ were a small taste of the pain God himself felt looking at his broken world.

We mustn’t forget that the world we live in today is still full of violence, hate, and ugliness – we are no different from that generation that made God regret he had created us! But as Genesis 8.21 tells us, God will never again ‘curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.’

Here we see the response to the question that so many people have asked: why doesn’t God just destroy evil? After all, he is Good and all-powerful. But in the story of the flood God reveals that his righteous response to human evil would be – universal judgment – in other words, the death of every sinner on earth.  And the fact that a good God doesn’t destroy evil is not because, as many have argued, he is impotent, but because he is merciful. That mercy is shown in the words in Gen. 9.8-17 – the covenant he made with the whole world.

When we read in the Bible, we see that whenever God made a covenant it was of huge importance to his plan of salvation.  The covenants with Abraham, with Israel on Mt Sinai, and with King David to send the Messiah, were all key events in salvation history. In this covenant with Noah, mankind, and all earthly creatures, he committed himself to find another way rather than just destroying sinners. Probably the most amazing covenant ever – to promise to redeem humanity from evil rather than to judge it for its sin. This covenant points, of course, to the coming of Christ.

We should never underestimate it nor forget what price it cost God.

Walter Brueggemann explained: ‘God resolves that he will stay with, endure, and sustain his world, notwithstanding the sorry state of humankind. It is now clear that such a commitment on God’s part is costly. The God-world relation is not simply that of a strong God and a needy world. Now it is a tortured relation between a grieved God and a resistant world… This is a key insight of the gospel against every notion that God stands outside of the hurt as a judge.’

Terrence Fretheim also writes that – ‘it means for God a continuing grieving of the heart. Thus, the promise to Noah and all flesh in (Gen. 98-17) necessitates divine suffering. By deciding to endure a wicked world, while continuing to open up the heart to that world, means that God has decided to take personal suffering upon God’s own self.”

It was this decision that led to the cross – to bring his prodigal children back to him, to renew them, and to reinstate them in their original role as the carers of all his creation. We repent and turn back because of Jesus. And today, when we see injustices in the world we are called to action – to set things right when possible, even if it means suffering as Jesus did- as part of the kingdom building entrusted to us redeemed, kingdom citizens

As in Romans 8:28 (NEB translation) ‘God himself co-operates for good with those who love God’ or in NIV translation: ‘in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good’.  Paul writes in several places about God’s ‘working together’ with his people. Here in vs 28 Paul is saying that God is working with people, doing what he wants to do in the world, not all by himself but through human agency. This is understandable when one looks back to the image-bearing vocation of humans in Genesis 1 and Psalm 8.  Several Bible translations offer such an understanding – in NIV stands ‘in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good’. What does this mean for us today? Surely it is a call to recognise the truth of what Paul says elsewhere: that we are called to hard work, knowing that God is at work in us. The last phrase ‘who are called according to his purpose’ – Wright explains – would mean not God’s purpose for these people – final salvation, but his purpose through them. God is calling us to be part of his saving purpose for his suffering world.

How does this understanding of God challenge and change us? How does it challenge and change our own relationship, not only with God but also to ourselves, others and the whole created world?

God of our salvation,
Your bow in the clouds
Proclaims your covenant with every living creature.
Teach us your paths and lead us in your truth,
That by your Holy Spirit,
We may remember our baptismal vows
And be keepers of your trust with earth and its inhabitants.

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Revd. Elizabeth Morton-Bussmann

Environmental Officer, Diocese in Europe, Church of England.

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