We Shall not be Consumed. Lent 1
From Rev Liam Miller. Readings: Gen 9: 8-17, Mark 1:9-15, 1 Peter 3: 18-22.
In the film Force Majeure there is a scene where a family is eating brunch on a patio at a ski lodge. In the background, a controlled avalanche is taking place. At first no one is worried and in fact are enjoying taking photos/videos of the event while they enjoy their food. Though, as the fog of the avalanche (which looks deceptively like snow) people get increasingly worried, to the point at which many – as this snowy fog engulfs the patio – begin to flee. One of these people stumbling over tables and chairs to escape is the father of the main family mentioned above, who abandons his family on that patio. Turns out to just be the fog of the avalanche, and no one is hurt. Slowly everyone stands up or returns to their tables, including the husband – who returns to an awkward and cool greeting from the family he abandoned to save his own skin… the rest of the movie deals with the aftermath of his choice.
We often think the measure of a healthy relationship is the actions people take when the chips are down, when danger or threat looms, when stress takes hold and it appears as though we may be consumed. Many relationships break down and fall beyond repair when trust is broken because someone chooses not to stick around when the going gets tough. And so, with that, we come to our readings.
God has made a covenant with all flesh – after the flood God makes a promise to Noah, and to all things that we should never be consumed by water again. That God will not allow all things to be destroyed, or swept away. This is the everlasting covenant that we should not be consumed.
And while there have been no more world wide floods – forty days and forty nights – which only those few on an ark survive, do we not all feel, at different times in our lives – consumed (perhaps consumed by debt, stress, illness, family strife, work - unemployment)…. Beyond this, thinking broader, thinking globally, thinking of all flesh – does not the increasing impact of our climate emergency (that is making the lands and homes of our Oceania family impossible to live) feel like perhaps the whole ‘not consumed by water’ promise is about to expire?
There seem to be – at levels both internal and external, personal and collective – innumerable forces which seem to be seeking to (and sometimes successfully) consuming us and our neighbours… does God’s promise really only cover such a narrow threat (is God really like the insurance company for whom ‘flood damage’ doesn’t actually cover the house if it is flooded by an actual flood, as opposed to a leaky dishwasher?)
Our readings from Mark and Peter today testify that God’s care, protection, and promise does indeed extend beyond a limited, literal reading and is directed at anything that would consume us, that would threaten to destroy all flesh.
Christ, the beloved Son, comes, becomes incarnate, lives and walks among us – in order to overcome Evil, Sin, and Death (our great enemies, all of which seek to consume us in this age and the way to come). Christ begins this confrontation with Sin immediately following his baptism where he is driven to the wilderness and faces temptation. The first victory – and sign of Christ’s authority over these nefarious powers – is struck by Christ’s ability to resist and overcome temptation and remain obedient to God’s call on his life (a resisting and overcoming that will remain consistent across his life). His second assault on these consuming forces comes immediately following his return to Galilee; where Jesus comes to proclaim good news of the kingdom of God come near. Jesus’ life and ministry strike true against all forces of falsehood which threaten the flesh.
But there’s more, because Jesus keeps going, he is unrelenting in his vanquishing of that which threatens our destruction and unquenchable in his thirst that all would come to life and life in abundance. Because there have been many consumed by Death and held by Sin. And so Peter reminds those reading his letter that Christ came not only to proclaim the good news of God’s freedom to us, no, not only to us amongst the living but he also went the spirits in prison; those who in the days of Noah were overcome, to proclaim that the kingdom of God had come near! Christ proclaims freedom to those captives and extends a hand to pull them from the clutches of death, to drag them from the mouth of Sheol so that they too may await the glorious day of the Lord and the resurrection of the flesh, so that they too may enjoy the wonder of God’s covenant with all flesh.
We, dear friends, live as those who have heard this good news, who have felt the nearing of kingdom, who seek to order our lives as those who live under God’s generous promise that creation and creature should not be consumed, but live!
So how should this shape our life and lives together as the body of Christ? Well I think at a basic level we should not abandon those who are being consumed. We should not be like the dad in Force Majeure, separating himself from the dying, the destroyed, the damaged. As Christ refused to change his life and message in order to avoid the cross, so we too need to remain faithful to the God has called us by living in such a way that we remain with those who feel like the waters are rising all around us. What this means in practice is something we discern personally, as families, and as the church here in Forestville – but it should impact how we organise ourselves to respond to and welcome those being consumed by debt, by stress, by unhealthy work environments and unrealistic expectations of an exacting society. It should draw us into solidarity with communities whose joy and freedom is being consumed by the forces of marginalisation – racism, poverty, climate catastrophe. It should open our hearts to be attentive to those being consumed by loneliness, isolation, those who can no longer leave their homes to join us each Sunday.
And this word should also, hopefully, be heard as good news for those of us here today who feel like we are being consumed or destroyed by any of those factors and forces, or others not named. That God’s promise that we would not be abandoned, consumed, or annihilated applies to you and the waters building up around us. It should hopefully be comforting that you are here today, as a part of a body which does not cut off an arm once it is seen to be un-useful, or tiring. You are part of Christ’s body, a body which took the nastiest blows Sin and Evil and all those Death-Dealing forces could muster, took them throughout his life, on that cross, and in his descent to bring liberty to the captives – and despite their worst, despite the anguish they wrought, they could not overcome him! Death could not overcome the who came one proclaiming the good news of God, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ Thank God for good news, amen.
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