Genesis 9:8-17. What was the “mood” after the flood? God promises never again to flood the earth – but does a worldwide pandemic count, just a little? The flood itself, and the covenant God makes here, reminds us that God’s redemption isn’t merely human souls but all creatures, all of creation. St. Francis understood our kinship with his brothers and sisters the birds, fish, wolves, cattle, flowers and trees, and sang it in his Canticle and enacted it by preaching to creatures.
The rainbow is an opening, I suspect, to talk about signs. Lots of religious people love signs – but they see signs that maybe are suspect as divine in origin – and then we miss the signs that really may be signs from God. Seeing a rainbow really is a lovely reminder of God’s ultimate mercy. So are the trees, flowers and birds, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount. Too many “signs” people claim to notice are a bit self-indulgent, or what Bruce Waltke calls “hunches.” You hear plenty of these from your people, a mere chance or coincidence that folks anoint as God’s doing. No need to chide or mock them for this. Society teaches this kind of bland theology.
But not for long, and not so folks can relax into the easy chair of being the Beloved. The Spirit “immediately” (Mark’s Jesus is always in a big hurry, so urgent!) “drove him out into the wilderness.” We have our drivennesses… The wilderness could be parsed as the challenges we all face. The pandemic season might feel like a wilderness. But it’s a place, a zone, a time of testing. Jesus was driven, but he chose to let himself be driven. What would it mean for us, and our people, to see ourselves as driven into a time of testing, of purifying the self, of shedding other crutches and to rely for a time only on God? Fasting, yes. Shutting off gadgets, yes. I like, in preaching, to suggest “Could be this, could be that, could be another thing” – or all of the above. Let people pick up on what resonates, or scurry off to discover their own thing to jettison for Lent.