Year B, First Sunday in Lent
Temptation, rebellion and repentance. The new life of baptism contrasted with the destruction and renewal of the world through floodwaters. Covenants, teachings and signs for following the ways of God. Our texts are rich in all these wonders. They are visceral. Genesis vividly describes God’s covenant with all creation – all the birds, animals, insects, humankind, the very land itself. And an intriguing bow appears in the sky as the covenantal sign. Jesus is baptized, the heavens are torn apart (a thunderstorm?), the Spirit descends like a dove (bearing a freshly plucked olive leaf as in Genesis?) and God proclaims the covenantal relationship with this baptized one…”my beloved Son.”
Psalm 25 and I Peter 3 illuminate respectively in their poetry and discourse the path of following this passionate God. Both texts speak in their own ways of our human yearning for this God that lovingly creates the world and has learned remorse and compassion in almost destroying it. We yearn for this God who sends a “beloved” messenger, a human being like ourselves, to reconfirm God’s intimate and covenantal love for all creation. We yearn for a God who sees and protects this “beloved” through the temptations of the rebellious world as those in Noah’s time were protected. This “beloved” comes through the ordeal to proclaim that God’s realm is coming alive on earth. Reminiscent of the new world that came alive for Noah, his family and all the creatures after the floodwaters receded. God is in the business of co-creating love, justice, reconciliation and compassion with the world through the arc of life – death – life experiences throughout all time.
There are many paths to storytelling in these texts. You can consider stories of reconciliation through the story of the covenantal bow we associate with the beauty of rainbows. You can tell stories revealing the nature of prayer in reflecting on the psalmist’s experience. What personal or folk tale stories do you know that illuminate the metaphor of baptism, the sacramental symbolism of its spiritual cleansing and renewal?
One of my favorite rainbow stories is from Marc Gellman’s book, Does God Have a Big Toe?. It is entitled, “The Bird-Feathered Rainbow” and tells the story of the little dove who brings back the olive leaf as proof that there is dry land ahead. Throughout the forty days and nights floating on the floodwaters, the dove is shunned by her fellow birds on the ark because she is just white and not brilliantly colored like the others. When she becomes the one who finds land the other birds are transformed through reconciliation, compassion and humility. I highly recommend this story as well as all the others in Gellman’s book. You can find it on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_16?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=does+god+have+a+big+toe&sprefix=Does+God+Have+a+%2Caps%2C681
I also tell the true story of a mother (a divinity school student and acquaintance of mine) who was taking a walk with her young son one day. They discovered a rainbow. The little boy was so delighted that he wanted to take it home and put it in their house. Intrigued by her son’s desire, the mother wrote a poem about the experience titled, “A Rainbow in My House.” While I do not have permission to publish the poem, I do have permission to tell the story of it. And imagine with children what it would be like to have a rainbow, sign of God’s love and protection, in their house. You might use this story as a springboard for a story of your own about having the rainbow inside the church, illuminating the Body of Christ. What would that mean in your congregation?
Finally, in imagining what the Kingdom of God is like with children you might consider the well-known story of heaven and hell. I found it at http://theunboundedspirit.com/heaven-and-hell-the-parable-of-the-long-spoons/ Here it is titled, “The Parable of the Long Spoons.” I have encountered this story in many versions. There is one told with an old woman instead of an old man. Sometimes it seems to have an Asian source and the spoons are chopsticks. I have even heard it told that the people in heaven and hell can not bend their elbows and therefore have to devise a way to feed themselves. Those in hell never figure it out, of course. And those in heaven have learned to feed one another.
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015. Can be reprinted only with permission.