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February 18, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Charting the Wilderness


by Sandy Bach

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and 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.[a] 11 I 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.” 12 God 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: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I 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. 16 When 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.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 NRSV

It must have come as a crushing blow.

God went to so much trouble to create this beautiful planet.  God's ultimate achievement after flora and fauna and animals was us.  We humans were the crowning glory of creation.

It took fifty-five verses for us to blow it.  We got ourselves kicked out of Eden and went about our own way.  Four chapters later, God has had it.  It's time to start over again.  First a flood with only a remnant of animals and humanity saved. Then it took months and months to clean up the earth from pre-creation chaos.

That's when God did something very strange.  And that's what matters to us today.

This is the first in a series for the Season of Lent where we look at our spiritual wilderness and starting over.  Whether you're in that spiritual or emotional wilderness today or have been in the past, I hope this will be of help to you.

The wilderness is barren.  Foggy.  Filled with wild animals.  It feels God-forsaken.  It feels hopeless.  We drift from one place to another, not sure of our direction.  When we arrive, we recognize that it isn't where we thought we were headed.  We wander, unsure where to go or how we got there.  Overpowered by the powers that be.  Walled in and walled off.  Alone.  Too worn out to be scared or angry.

Once Noah and his family got off the ark, they were also in a wilderness.  They had to rebuild their lives.  Start all over again.

Jesus found himself in the wilderness.  Driven there by the Holy Spirit, he encountered beasts and angels and Satan.  He was there for forty long, unending days.  Tempted and tested and hungry, he endured.

There are others throughout history that have found themselves in the wilderness.  It's okay for them, but what about when it happens to you?  You wonder, how did I get here?  Did I earn this particular punishment?  Is God trying to tell me something?  Was there something I did or didn't do?  Or is this part of living in a dysfunctional, sometimes toxic world?

More to the point, how do I get out of here?  Perhaps if I'm very, very good, God will relent and open up the gates to allow me to escape.  Will I be here forever?  40 minutes, 40 days, 40 years: they're interminable, forever.

The thing is, when Noah opened the door of that ark and his family walked out onto the drying land, he was met by God.  And God had a message so important and astounding, that it left Noah speechless.

God took responsibility.  God changed God's mind.  God made a covenant with Noah.  Here's the strange thing: this is a covenant that depends on nothing or no one, except God.  No quid pro quo.  No, I'll do this but you have to that.  It's a unilateral covenant.

And it goes like this: "I won't destroy the entire earth with flood waters ever again.  To prove my point, I'm putting my bow in the sky to remind me that never again will flood waters destroy the earth."  It was believed that lightening was the result of the gods sending arrows to the earth with bows.  When God put that bow in the sky, God hung up a weapon of destruction.  Never again would God use it.

Jesus spent his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness with the Holy Spirit at his side.  He encountered wild beasts and angels.  But the Holy Spirit never left his side.  In other words, God was present.

So where is God when we're in our own wilderness?  Right there with us.  Look around you and you'll find evidence of God's provision.  For forty years the Hebrews received water and food from God's providence.  For forty days Jesus was sustained by God, not with food, but with power to withstand the temptations and testing.

The wilderness isn't an easy place to be.  Yet, it's a place where you can rest for awhile, where you can express anger, sadness and desolateness.  It's a place to experience God's grace.

What is or was your wilderness?  A spiritual dessert where you questioned God's existence? A place of addictions to drugs or alcohol?  A sickness of being controlled by wealth or fame or power?  A realization that your sense of control and self-sufficiency are only an illusion?

Ask yourself, how is God at work?  Whatever got you there, look around.  How is God at work to bring you to new life?

Rest awhile.  Learn from God and your experience.  Let go of your assumptions.  The wild animals will try to tell you what you need to do (just pray a little harder or have more faith) or what got you there (you know God is trying to tell you something) or how to endure (God never gives us more than we can endure.) Move away from them.  Like any wild animal, they aren't good for you.

In prayer and reflection, you'll learn more about yourself than any ten wild beasts!  You'll feel God's presence and a sense of peace will gradually embrace you.  Rather than godforsaken, the wilderness is God infused.  Rather than hopeless, the wilderness can provide a new kind of hope.

Look for grace.  Allow grace to find you.

Most of all, stay where you are.  God will tell you when it's time to leave.  For now, we'll spend the next couple of weeks in this wilderness.

After the flood, God realized that humanity simply can't live up to very high standards.  Sure, sometimes we get it.  But, after a centuries of wars to end all wars,  difficult race relations, increasing poverty, we still can't get it right.  Even when we do the right thing, we get the wrong outcome.

That's why God's covenant is so important.  It wouldn't take long for Noah to get drunk and his sons to disrespect him.  The Bible is filled with those here-we-go-again stories.  But, God looks at the bow in the sky and remembers: "I won't destroy the whole earth."  And for thousands of years, God has been at work.  Left up to us, it be a lot worse.

Listen to what God is saying to you: "I'll meet you in the wilderness.  I will not dessert you.  I will not leave you.  That bow in the sky is my reminder.  I will not change my mind.  But, I can and will transform you."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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