SCRIPTURE: Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15


In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!


          The Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995 left us with many images. Perhaps you can still see in your mind’s eye the pictures of the building itself, with half of it blown away. A memorial has been established. Andrea and I visited there a few years ago. The memorial has 168 chair-like structures built on the green lawn. There is one structure for each person who died in the explosion.

          There is a text on the wall behind the structures, the words are:

                   We come to remember those who were killed,

                     Those who survived, and those changed forever.

                   May all who leave here know the impact of violence.

                   May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.


          Probably the most powerful image for the greatest number of people is the picture of the firefighter, Chris Fields, holding infant Baylee Almon, in his arms. If you Google “Oklahoma City bombing firefighter” that picture comes up, as moving today as when we first saw it. Even though we know the baby died, the picture is still a strong sign of hope. It reminds us that even in the worst of situations there are instruments of peace.

          Our two scripture lessons today contain signs of hope as well. The first promise of God comes during a catastrophic storm, which many traditions, refer to as “The Great Flood.” Beginning with this month through May is the spring storm season in the desert southwest.  The earth and crops need the spring rains but spring storms can also be terribly destructive.

          Growing up in El Paso, Texas –which is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, the worst storms come in later summer, the monsoon season. The desert always needs rain. However, monsoon storms can be terribly powerful and fatal.

          Yet the actual catastrophe, or fatal storm in Genesis was not the rain, but the impulsive relationships of the human family at the time. Genesis 6:5 reads, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually.” So, all the living beings were killed except for the family of Noah and the animals they preserved.

          Amid the clouds of the great storm God makes the first promise to the human community, to Noah, and all his descendants and every living creature. The promise is God will never again destroy creation in this way. The sign of the promise is a rainbow in the clouds. It is a sign of hope imbedded amid chaos, storm and tragedy.

          In the second lesson today, the account of Jesus’ baptism there are powerful images as well. The image of baptism links back to the flood and the primordial abyss before the creation when all was covered by water. The splitting or tearing open of heaven is an apocalyptic vision, a true uncovering of what God will do. The descent of the dove, like the rainbow, is a sign of promise, the presence of God in the Spirit present with us. Finally, Jesus’ coming up out of the water is a foreshadowing of the resurrection. It is a sign of hope that new life will come out of even the worst humanity can do.

          The sky is an important element in both of these stories. There is the multi-hued light of the rainbow amid the dark storm clouds of the Noah story. There is the opening of the sky and the descent of the dove in the baptism story. Both are skylights, they shed the light of hope in the storms of life.

          These are appropriate texts for the beginning of our Lenten journey. Some people are uncomfortable with the Lenten emphasis. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and subsequent trial and execution are not to their liking. It all seems very dark and depressing to them. However, here in these two texts, which stand at the beginning of the journey, there are signs of hope.

          Skylights let light into areas where there is little or no natural light. In our lessons today it is as though these texts are saying to us, it is not an easy journey but there is light and hope at the end. Amid the storms of life, God will provide a skylight of hope that you might see beyond the immediate.

          There is a great deal of darkness in our world today. Terrorism, international confrontations, economic uncertainty, political corruption, dishonesty, are all among the dark clouds of our skies.

          My prayer is that during this Lenten season as we journey together, whatever storms, threats, or darkness may come our way, will be able to see, and to be, the skylights of hope which God provides. When life seems darkest may we, by God’s grace, seek to create hope by seeking justice, acting compassionately, serving faithfully, and proclaiming boldly the great mystery of Christ, in whom life overcomes death.

          On this day when we consider signs of hope we are invited to God’s table. Here we remember the love of Christ given to us. The table is a sign of hope because there is a place at it for every one of us and all God’s children. The bread and the chalice (cup) shine forth for they represent the depth of love in which we are held. When we lift the bread and cup our eyes rise to God, the source of hope.

          When the elements are given, and received, we see our brothers and sisters within whom is embodied God’s hope.

          No one can promise countless days of joy and sunshine. Such days will not dawn. Yet the witness of scripture through the ages is that in the depths of the darkest storms, God places skylights of hope. May we journey this Lent alert to these gifts from God.