God’s covenant is with and for life.  On Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our humble origin.  Adam is created from dust.  We too are animated dust.  The Spirit of God breathes life into us moment by moment.  Each moment is a gift.  This breath of God is our source of life.  As the Psalmist recalls, when the breath of God is withdrawn our life is withdrawn.  God gives life and receives it back.  

The ancient flood story of Noah in this morning’s readings is part of the foundation of our faith.  The takeaway from this epic is that God’s promise is life, salvation, and hope.  Sometimes we assume that we are only moments away from God’s judgment in wrath, but this story, just like the earlier one about Adam concerns the promise of a good relationship between God and God’s creation.  Between God and us.  It’s about God with us.  Everything is about God with us.  If we listen carefully, we can hear the Genesis narrative calling to us, “Look, you might think God’s judgment leads to destruction, but listen carefully, the promise of God is patience and mercy and peace.  The story begins with a warning and destruction, but ends with a promise of mercy.  The judgment of God is a promise of love.”  Noah is not perfect.  His relationships are not perfect.   But he, like Adam, is walking with God.  God with Noah and his family.  God with Adam and his family.  God with us.  This is the essence of the promise.  God with us.

The writer of I Peter reflects back on Noah’s story with a new twist.  Jesus’ death breaks down the wall between the faithful and the unfaithful.  The writer’s take is that even those who are seemingly condemned in the flood are invited in Christ’s resurrection to experience God with us.  According to the story, these people had no concern with the ways of God—justice, mercy, compassion—all of humanity is presented as beyond the help of God.  Because of their evil ways, they are destroyed in the world wide flood.  It’s helpful to remember that the stories in Genesis are told not for history’s sake but to teach the Jews in exile in Babylon and Persia about their God so that they do not lose faith and believe in the gods of their captors.  Some of the stories were commonly known in their country of exile but they were told in the synagogues from the Jewish perspective.

And so the early church looks back at a group of people in the Old Testament who were epically beyond anyone’s hope or even concern for salvation and dares to invite them too into the kingdom of God.  If these worst of the worst folks are embraced by God in the imagination of the early church, who is beyond the love of God?  According to I Peter?  No one.   Sometimes we are tempted to exclude groups of people from the mercy of God.   The scriptures consistently challenge us to expand the circles of love and grace.

This morning we are reminded of Jesus’ baptism by John.  His ministry of God’s welcome to all is beginning.  The Spirit descends on Jesus, God’s blessing falls on him, and he is sent out into the desert.  It’s not a pleasant expression by Mark.  He is driven regardless of his own will or decision.  He is cast into the wilderness.  Honestly, the wilderness is never pleasant.  Perhaps in the wilderness he thinks of the limits of God’s love.  Or lack thereof.  He is tempted, yes.  And in the wilderness he has time without the distraction of eating to think about what is most important--about what matters.  I’m sure the wilderness wasn’t the first time he thought about such things.  But his ministry is beginning. 

The true beginning is his proclamation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.  The writer I Peter also pondered this Good News.  No one is beyond the mercy and peace of God.  The invitation goes out to all.

Who is God calling us to invite into, to welcome into the kingdom of God’s love?  Perhaps it is someone we are tempted to exclude or ignore or fear.  Perhaps a neighbor.  Perhaps a family member.  This is not a word moment.  This is a love moment.  We welcome others into the kingdom not just by words but by deeds and listening, and compassion, generosity of time and finances.  

Perhaps you are in your own wilderness experience?  Perhaps you feel as though you have been excluded.  Perhaps you are still waiting to experience the Good News.  Sure you know all about it, but you still await God with us.  Doesn’t mean you God is not with you, might just mean you don’t feel like it or even want it to be so.  Prayer is the way forward into the presence of God.  But there are no easy answers for why sometimes we cannot imagine or practice the presence of God.  Prayer opens us to this presence even if it remains a struggle.  Blessings and peace to you in your Lenten Journey.  May you know God with you.  Amen.