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John Knox Presbyterian

Forty Days

When I was at Hanover College, I would attend Vespers on Tuesdays nights in the chapel. There would be 20-40 of us who would gather to sing, pray, read scripture and many times hear people's testimonies. It was not from my childhood that I learned the Noah's Ark song but here in this sacred place. At the age of 19, it was clearly one of my favorites and of course we did the hand motions. This wonderful children's song takes you through this powerful story. Do you remember the final verse?

The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy.

The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy.

Everything was fine and dandy, dandy.

Children of the Lord

Was everything fine and dandy, dandy? Noah and the other 7 people on the boat not to mention the vast menagerie of animals have gone through an amazing ordeal! I'm sure those forty days and nights of rain will be forever imbedded in their brains. The first day of getting settled into their new surroundings went by rather quickly. Once the ark began to rise with the waves of water supporting it things got tense. When they looked out the windows of the boat, they could see their relatives and friends standing on their roofs with their pets in their arms, looking forlorn. They were not sure what was going to happen. I am sure they heard the cries of the people. What had they left behind? As the boat tossed and shifted in the storm, the family of eight was totally at the mercy of God. What would the future hold for them? I'm sure life on the ark was not so pleasant. I can't imagine what they had to eat. The constant care of the animals was a full time job. I have four dogs and the care for them keeps us very busy. I can't imagine! The smell must have been horrendous. There must have been a few who got sea sick.

It wasn't just the 40 days it took to flood the earth but they estimate it took about a year for the water to dry up so that it was safe for the family to depart from the ark. The chaos, violence, evil was totally washed away. The world had been cleansed by the power of God. But I wonder what changed God's mind when it came to putting the beautiful rainbow in the sky and making a covenant with the remaining life on earth?

Before the flood, God had been crushed by the cruelty of humankind. At first God wanted to destroy everything and start over but then God found hope in the good-hearted Noah and his family. God planned for Noah to build the arch. God would save Noah, his wife, his 3 sons and their daughter-in-laws from the destruction. Noah and his family loved God. They were all good people.

So, why the need for the rainbow? Why the need for the covenant? Isn't everything fine and dandy, dandy with the good hearted human creatures? Why did God have to promise that the earth would never be destroyed again? All that is left is Noah's family, right? Wouldn't it make sense that Noah and his sons would multiply and all future generations would be good like Noah?

Why was God's mind changed again? The hurt of the destruction – the cleansing was too great! God was heartbroken by the violence before the flood. But God was equally if not more heartbroken by the mass killing of creation during the flood. Did God hear the good-hearted Noah and his family bickering when things on the ark got too rough? God knew that we all have free will. God knew that Noah was faithful and that he loved God but God knew that Noah and all his relatives were human. Humans are tempted, humans sin! There is no way around it! God could not bear to go through the horror and pain of this kind of cleansing again. So God changes God's mind because the creator loves us!

God makes the first covenant with all the living creatures that the earth will never be destroyed again! As a reminder, God gives the visible sign of the rainbow – a visible sign of God's tremendous love! Can you all recall a time when you have seen a rainbow? The last one I saw was on the way to Minnesota and it was as we were driving through the cornfields of Illinois. I could see the entire bow stretch across the flatland and it was so bold and vibrant. This beautiful sign of God's love and protection for us.

Michelle Sisk tells the story of her son seeing a rainbow and wanting to keep it. He asks, "Mommy, can we take the rainbow home with us?" Michelle wonders what that would look like with all the colors bouncing off the walls, shooting out the chimney, beaming out through the windows. Would it be able to spill out into the streets? (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2; Edited by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor; Westminster John Knox Press; 2008; p. 26)

I challenge you as we start this first Sunday of Lent to take these next 6 weeks and cleanse yourself like God cleansed the earth. Examine yourself, what is missing? What is good? What is bad? What are we grateful for? Where are we seeking forgiveness? Where is the need for penitence? Do you plan to fast? What is it in our lives that we are willing to give up or take on? I'm giving up all beverages other than water. I know it is not much but it is about disciplining ourselves for God? It is about remembering. Where in our lives are we willing to be a little uncomfortable for God, because you can't tell me that it wasn't uncomfortable those 40-some days on the ark! You know it was! Open up your Bible, meditate and be in a conversation with the God who is willing to change for us.

You know sometimes I don't think we give God a lot of credit. God changes for us. God changed in our story today. God's mind is changed in the story of Jonah as well. You know the story. It is where God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell them what they are doing wrong. Jonah doesn't want to go so he heads off to Tar shish. On his way Jonah is thrown off the side of the boat and finds himself in the belly of the fish. He then decides to listen to God, he will go to Nineveh. Once he arrives he tells the people of their sins. God takes mercy on the people and God changes God's mine and does not destroy them. As the great teacher John Bell points out in a workshop I took, God changes everything when it comes to the last and newest covenant given to us in Jesus Christ. It is at the empty tomb on Easter morning. God overcomes death and changes life for all of us! God changes so that we can be saved!

Are we willing to change for God? Is our love for God that great? Barbara Brown Taylor says, "Lent is a forty day journey to cleanse our systems and open our eyes to what remains when all comfort is gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves." (Home by Another Way; by Barbara Brown Taylor; Cowley Publications; 1999; p. 66-67)

Barbara Brown Taylor continues by using the visual of a flower bed for our Lenten Journey. You know I do not like digging in the dirt but I have a flower bed in the front of my house that needs to be cleaned up every spring before I can put the 4-H geraniums out. I have to remove all the dead leaves and old wilted plants. The ivy plant, which has been dormant during the winter months, has to be pruned and trimmed back or else it will take over the entire space. The ground has to be turned over and dug up to prepare it for new growth to occur. It has to be prepared for new life.

This is what I believe we are called to do during the next 6 weeks. We need to make our way to Jerusalem with a purpose. I want to share one more story with you.

Anna Marie, one of the people I served with in my prison ministry, walked "El Camino en Santiago" or "The Way – The Pilgrimage" last fall. It is a 780 kilometer walk throughout the countryside of Spain and France. She walked and reflected on her relationship with God. It was something that God called her to do. As we approach the weekend of the prison retreat, we go through a series of meetings, where we are asked what we need to surrender to God so that we will be totally focused on what we need to do for God at the prison. She said I have nothing to turn over because I have fully given it up to God. She totally immersed herself in her relationship with God as she walked. It took 780 kilometers to get there. But she was there. What a wondrous thing to have such a clear connection to God!

Let us pray, "Most gracious and loving God, we thank you for the gift of your covenant. We ask that you guide us over this time of preparing our hearts, minds and souls to receive your Son. May we ask the tough questions of who we are and whose we are? Do we belong to you and what does that mean? Do we serve you and what does that require? Holy Spirit move us, shape us, create us to be what you want us to be. Transform our hearts in the image of your heart, O God. May the blessings of the love that radiated from that first rainbow that hung over the ark overflow, bounce-off, reflect and spill-out from us as we walk the way to Jerusalem to welcome our Savior. Amen.

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