(Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22)
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Yellowstone National Park, located primarily in Wyoming, is not only our country’s but the world’s oldest national park. It was established in 1872 and consists of nearly 3500 square miles of land. 80% of the park is forested land, making it ideal for hiking and camping. But be careful—the park sits atop an enormous active volcano. Not that it will erupt any time soon; the last eruption occurred in 1350 B.C. but what an eruption it was! It left a 45 x 30 mile wide crater called a caldera, one of the largest in the world. The land is terribly unstable despite being vastly forested. There are approximately 1000-3000 annual earthquakes, approximately 290 waterfalls, and thousands of petrified trees. Perhaps the most exotic features of the park are its more than 300 geysers. These springs of water are heated by the magma just beneath the earth’s surface and occasionally spew columns of water and steam known as geysers into the air.
All throughout the park most of these geysers shoot up without any rhyme or reason. There is, however, a reason why there’s a roped walkway through the park! It would be terrible to fall into one of the hot springs let alone to get hit with heated water and steam from the various geysers. There is one geyser that erupts with regular size and frequency. Every 35-120 minutes and for 1.5-5 minutes, the geyser known as “Old Faithful” spews a 90-184 foot column into the air. For over 140 years of the park’s recorded history, Old Faithful has erupted in nearly the same fashion like clockwork. What an amazing phenomenon! Between the earthquakes and hot springs and geysers, one would expect the earth to behave unexpectedly and irregularly. Yet there stands Old Faithful, right in the heart of the park, behaving with shocking regularity.
Perhaps because the geyser exists in striking contrast to its tumultuous surroundings, tourists can’t help but be drawn to Old Faithful. They can’t believe that nature can be so reliable, so consistent…so tame. It defies reasoning! And there’s always a tourist who will watch the geyser erupt several times to verify its eruption stays within the 35-120 min interval and last 1.5-5 mins. I was one of those disbelieving tourists many years ago! But like all the other suspicious visitors, my doubt was proven wrong. Good ole Old Faithful DOES erupt with such regularity!
Earlier this week, we celebrated Ash Wednesday and the start of our Lenten journeys. We set out on our 6-week walk with Christ to the cross. We are on a prayerful, introspective journey as we reflect on our sinful natures to fully grasp the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ took on the sin of the world, OUR sin, so that we might return to right relationship with the Father. We can’t understood the impact of Christ’s atoning death on the cross unless we first understand our sin. God gives us this time each year to prepare ourselves for the glory of the Easter resurrection. In reflecting on our sin, we also ask God to forgive our sin. God knows our sin, God hates our sin, yet God wants to forgive our sin. All we have to do is recognize our sin and ask for forgiveness. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, many of us don’t want to recognize sin in our lives. But how can we ask for forgiveness if we don’t know what we’re asking forgiveness for? No, we must first realize our sin before we can ask for forgiveness.
When we recognize our sin, seek forgiveness, and then receive forgiveness, we are going through a process of change. We WILL be changed by receiving forgiveness and absolution. We WILL be changed when we live less sinful lives. Our Lenten journey is a process of change whether we like it or not. Last week, we talked about how we live in a world beset by change. Change is all around us. God created a world that is constantly changing. And God doesn’t want us afraid of change. God wants us to adapt to change. In the midst of change, we are to cling to our unchanging God. God never leaves us. God always walks with us in our change. God wants to be the rock in our lives.
This week and in the weeks ahead, we explore how God became the rock in the lives of characters from Scripture. Like Old Faithful, God has a rich history of faithfulness amidst changing surroundings. Our passage from Genesis gives us the exchange between Noah and God after the flood. God established a covenant with Noah to never again cut off all flesh by the waters of a flood nor try to destroy the earth with a flood. God sets a bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of this covenant and remind Him of it. By establishing the covenant, God gives himself an opportunity to enter into an unchanging relationship with Noah and us. A covenant, by nature, is a medium for unchanging behavior. It establishes limitations to behavior that encourage faithfulness. Through covenant, God can be faithful to us. Without a covenant, God has no incentive to be faithful to us. The covenant holds God accountable and demands faithfulness.
Unlike Noah, David never entered into a covenant with God. This didn’t stop him from singing about God’s covenant. As we hear in today’s psalm, David sang, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” David knew of God’s covenants with people along with Noah. He knew that God wanted to be held accountable. He knew that God wanted to be faithful. Why else would God establish all His covenants if not to enable himself to be faithful? Because God established covenants, God had mercy and steadfast love. We are to sing of God’s faithfulness as David sang of it.
Peter also understood the faithfulness of God. In our 2nd reading, he wrote, “For Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” In establishing covenants, God showed He wanted to be in faithful relationships with His people. God wants our whole hearts. God wants to be the rock of our lives. God is willing to enter into covenanted, faithful relationships with us and expects us to be faithful in exchange. The Son took on our sins and suffered for them so that we might faithfully draw nearer to God. We are to be faithful to God as God is faithful to us.
We return to Jesus’ baptism in our gospel reading. By sending the Son, the Father again shows faithfulness to His people. God never abandons us. God enters into intimate, faithful relationship with us through the Son. Besides this act of sending the Son, God further shows faithfulness in staying with the Son as he is tempted in the wilderness. God not only stays in relationship with us but also with the Son. Mark states, “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Jesus wasn’t in the wilderness alone. Jesus had the angels waiting on him. The Father stayed with the Son through the angels. Like covenants, the angels served to illustrate God’s faithfulness yet again.
Through covenants, the Son, and angels, God continually reminds us of His faithfulness. We’d be fools to believe He’s otherwise! God wants to be faithful to us, His beloved children. It is good to reflect on God’s faithfulness during our Lenten journey. I’m reminded of the words of the missionary statesman, Hudson Taylor. He wrote in his journal, “Our heavenly Father is a very experienced one. He knows very well that His children wake up with a good appetite every morning. He sustained 3 million Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years. We do not expect He will send 3 million missionaries to China; but if He did, He would have ample means to sustain them all. Depend on it: God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” God faithfully provides for our every needs. God faithfully provided for Noah. God faithfully provided for David. God faithfully provided for Peter. God faithfully provided for Jesus. As we walk our Lenten journey, be assured that God faithfully walks with us…sure and steady.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.