Sunday, February 18, 2018

Among Wild Beasts

Coastal areas fear floods.  Rising waters with crashing waves turn streets into rivers of fast-moving waters.  Remember Hurricane Irma in Naples, Harvey in Houston, and Maria in Puerto Rico.  Then there’s Katrina in New Orleans.  And Andrew in Florida. 

Some of us have experienced that flooding, and Boston residents are now thinking about a sea wall at the Harbor’s entrance.  The Seaport recently experienced storm conditions, rising tides, and flooding.

For those many people affected by those floods, their cry was “Why God? Why?  Is this some sort of punishment?   Of course not, but what’s the explanation for so much destruction?  Does the story of Noah provide an answer?

On this first Sunday of Lent our first reading speaks of flooding with the story of Noah after the flood that devastated the earth.  But our reading leaves out an important part – a conversation before the flood.   It goes: “When the LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, the LORD regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved. So the LORD said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them.”

Now that’s one bad attitude and wicked sentence – some punishment! A total wipe out with animals being collateral damage except for Noah and his family, and those many pairs of animals that filled his Ark two by two. 

Of course this is just a story because God doesn’t punish, although many people think God does. God is love. God shows unconditional love.  We are the ones who often don’t show love, and we are the ones who punish – we even punish ourselves through behavior that we later truly regret.
These biblical authors simply were writing about renewed covenants, repaired relationships and second chances. The story of Noah and his ark symbolically represents humanity’s second chance in hopes that human beings would no longer be wicked and evil. That second chance was worded in this way with God being the speaker. “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth." 

We all need second chances because it’s in our nature to make mistakes many of which we call sins that overwhelm us with devastating floods of guilt and remorse from which we struggle to recover.  The 40 days of Lent enable us to lower those flood waters and get another chance.  Through self-examination and reflection, as well as through sacrifice and prayer, we focus on our sins – big and little. We focus on resisting temptation. We try to repent – to change our ways, those wicked and evil ways.
Our Gospel reading speaks of temptation and testing.  This first Sunday of Lent reminds us to face down evil nonviolently and how we are to cling to the presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  We are to stand together with Jesus against Satan and the wild beasts. Our Gospel warns us of this: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

Speaking of beasts and Satan, here’s story:  “A missionary in Africa once said there are three beasts that lie in wait for their prey: the lion, the leopard, and the hyena. The hyena does not devour, but attacks only the vital organs and quickly leaves after eating a few meager mouthfuls.

The leopard too does not eat its prey, but desires only its blood.  The lion, however, completely devours its helpless victim leaving not a single portion. What a perfect picture of Satan, the destroyer of souls, said the missionary.”

Lent helps us remember that we are not helpless victims with souls to be devoured and destroyed.  God is with us through our Lenten journey. Jesus is our lion tamer.

God helps us confront and tame and control the wild beats in our lives and not just during Lent. These beasts that seek to devour us are greed, anger, hatred, envy, fear, insecurity, self-doubt, desperation , and grief.

Consider this true story about a Tibetan Master named Rinpoche who brought  Buddhist teachings to America in the '60s.  Rinpoche had been in Tibet after the Chinese takeover and was traveling with his attendants to a monastery he had never visited before.

As they approached the monastery’s gate, he saw a ferocious guard dog with huge teeth and red eyes. It was growling ferociously and struggling fiercely to get free from its restraining chain. The dog seemed desperate to attack.

As the Master got closer, he could see the dog's tongue and the spittle spraying from its mouth. He and his attendants walked past the dog and entered the gate.  Suddenly the chain broke, and the dog rushed at them. The attendants screamed and froze in terror. Rinpoche turned and ran as fast as he could…straight at the dog! The dog was so surprised that he ran off in the opposite direction.

Lent is not about avoiding the raging beasts of our lives. It’s about confronting them.  It’s about running straight at them. When we do this, Satan turns tail and runs off.

Deacon David Pierce

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