And when my own children were little we bought them a Noah’s Ark. This one was made of plastic and Mr and Mrs Noah and the animals were made of plastic so children could chew them without getting lead poisoning.
And children play with the ark, marching the animals in and out two by two. It’s great fun, but it tells a terrible story.
The world was so wicked that God decided to start again. He could only find eight good people on the earth, Noah and his three sons and their wives so God sent those eight and two of each kind of all the animals into the ark. The rest of the animals and the humans were all destroyed, drowned in the flood because of the wickedness of the world.
However you think about it, it was a dreadful punishment. An untold number of people, men women and children were killed by God because of the wickedness of the world, and only eight spared. In the story of the ark it says that the world was filled with violence, so God decided to destroy all living things. Well, our world is filled with violence, so should we expect God to destroy all flesh again? Should all men, women and children be killed because of the world’s violence? Should we die because other people are vicious killers?
These are the questions which the story of the flood raises.
But today’s story tells us more about God and more about the way God works in the world. After the flood, God said to Noah and his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’
God is saying that this dreadful punishment will never happen again. Never again will all people die because of the world’s wickedness and violence. Somehow, after this experience, God has changed. God repents of the destruction of the earth and promises to Noah and his sons and his descendents that it won’t happen again.
And as a sign, God places his bow in the clouds. A bow, of course is a weapon of battle, used to shoot arrows of God’s wrath at sinners. But now God puts it in the clouds as much as to say, I will not use violence against my people again. This is God’s promise, God’s covenant of mercy. Never again will there be a flood to destroy all flesh.
The rainbow is a sign of God’s mercy to us. When we see the rainbow in the sky we remember that God has promised never to destroy all flesh. So when some crazy preacher says that the Victorian bushfires are God’s punishment for abortion, we can say, that is not true. It is not God’s desire to kill innocent people. God does not bring floods or fires or tsunamis or cyclones to destroy people because of the wickedness of the world.
The rainbow is the sign of God’s promise of mercy. “When I see my bow in the clouds, says the Lord, I will remember my covenant.” God will remember. When there is evil, God will remember his people and all creation. When there is wickedness, God will remember the people he has made in his own image, God will remember the animals and the plants, the earth and the sky and all God has created by the words of his mouth. The rainbow tells us that our God remembers us; we are never out of God’s sight or knowledge or love.
In the first letter of Peter we are reminded that there is a connection between the story of Noah and the story of our baptism. Both are signs of God’s remembrance. Many people say that just as the flood washed away the wickedness of the world, so our baptism washes away our sin.
I would say that baptism is, among other things, a sign that God remembers us. We baptize babies to say that God knows us and loves us and remembers us from the day of our birth. We use the words, “I sign you with the sign of the cross to show that you belong to Christ for ever.”
And when we come to the Eucharist we remember Jesus’ words, do this in remembrance of me. Baptism and the Eucharist are reminders that we are not forgotten, we are not abandoned to die because of the violence in the world. Instead, we are remembered so that we can be rescued and saved.
In the gospel we have six little verses which tell us that God remembers. In those days, Jesus came down from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. In Mark’s gospel there is no Christmas story or wise men or angels or shepherds. He plunges straight into what is important. In those days, in the days of turmoil among the nations, corruption in the temple ministry, spiritual questioning. It might be another time for a flood. But no, instead Jesus comes down to be baptized and to begin his work of salvation. God has not forgotten his people, but sent a saviour, striding over the hills from Galilee down into the deep valley of the Jordan River. Somewhere I have the idea of Jesus walking in a straight line from Nazareth to John, his eyes fixed on his goal, while John the Baptist waits in the river, his eyes turned to where Jesus will appear. Mark fills the story with drama and directness. It’s all happening in six verses.
Jesus is blessed by God, it is not the rainbow which appears but a dove, like the dove Noah sent out of the ark. And a voice comes from heaven, “I have remembered, you are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And immediately Jesus went into the wild places of the world, places where there are devils and temptations and wild beasts. God has chosen not to destroy all these wild and awful things by flood fire or plague.
And this is why Jesus, when he returns to Galilee, after the terrible news of John’s arrest, Jesus declares the good news. The bad news is that John has been arrested, the good news is that God has remembered his people, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.
And we can tell the good news too. As we think of our baptism, as we come to the Eucharist, we can say, there may be bad news, but the good news is that God remembers me.