Sermon – 5 March 2006

When I was in Sunday School, I remember singing a little song which went like this:

When you see a rainbow, remember, God is love.
When you see a rainbow, remember, God is love.

And the truth is, I’ve found it hard ever since to look at a rainbow without that going through my head. Such is the value of indoctrinating children.

This morning, we hear a bit of the Noah saga from the Old Testament. It is the very bit with the rainbow. After the ark had been built. After the animals were loaded on, two by two by two. After the rain and the flood. After their landing. After all they had feared had come true and they had come through it all, we hear of the sign of the rainbow.

“Remember”, you can imagine Mr and Mrs Noah singing to the kids, “When you see a rainbow, remember God is love.”

But why are we reading this today? Why do we get Noah’s rainbow at the start of Lent? Shouldn’t it be something for the end of something rather than the beginning?

Well, the obvious answer is that Noah’s time on the waters matches Jesus’s time in the Wilderness. Forty days and forty nights.

Noah and his menagerie spent 40 days and forty nights in their own wilderness of the waves whilst Jesus spends his testing time in the dry desert waste all alone.

Forty days and forty nights.

And of course, our Lentan pilgrimage began on Ash Wednesday and goes on until Easter. Forty days and forty nights. (Though you don’t count the Sundays).

The two lots of forty days tell us different, though no doubt related things.

Forty days at sea. With Noah and his animals. It does not strike me as much fun. (Especially with my sailing record – No doubt that if God had entrusted an ark to me I would have sunk it). But it seems to me that all their journeying was in order to see the symbol of the rainbow at the end. The reason for this saga being told and passed on from one person to another was to retell a truth worth telling – that natural disasters could be blamed on God no more. For God was not in the business of punishing people but of saving them.

You get a reflection of that in the second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22). The author there tries to work out what happened to those who didn’t make it onto the ark. And his view is that Jesus would redeem them anyway. That is a biblical truth worth telling which God’s people are sometimes frightened of or simply do not have the confidence to believe – that Jesus will save those who appear to be lost to themselves and to others in this life.

Jesus himself went into the desert for his own forty days apparently having been driven there by the Spirit.

Everyone faces testing times in their life. I’ve no doubt that some of us here may be able to take some comfort from the fact that Jesus made that journey for we find ourselves from time to time going through desert periods. It can be comforting to know that Jesus has been there too, even if we cannot feel him with us always.

At the end of Jesus forty days, he seems to have had his own rainbow. His confidence in his own mission was developed in that time to such an extent that he could begin proclaiming the good news of God. He also began there his journey to Jerusalem.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent – the first of the weeks that will mark out our own pilgrimage with him towards Jerusalem.

I’ve no idea how any of you are keeping Lent.

Good ideas that I have heard you and others speak of this year include the following:

·        Eating healthily for the 40 days

·        Making more time to pray during the 40 days

·        Giving up junk TV for the 40 days.

·        And perhaps wisest of all, giving up bad thoughts for the 40 days.

I don’t know what you want to do, but the challenge is there in Lent to do something. To take up something that is good. To let go of something that you need to leave behind.

Someone asked me on Wednesday evening what Lent meant anyway. They meant the word Lent. Where does it come from anyway?

I had to have it confirmed to me, but my guess was correct. Lent comes from an Old English word meaning Springtime.

A reminder that Lent is for growth, not wasting away. A time when the green shoots of the spirit appear, not a time of death, misery or deprivation.

Jesus spent time with God. We are offered that same time before his Jerusalem passion begins to share something with him. To share in growing in confidence and faith and love.

Forty days and forty nights.

When you see a saviour, remember God is love.

For the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.

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