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Flood of Sin

Rev. Harry Currie

Feb 18, 2024

Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15

When I was a child, I learned the story of Noah. I heard it at school and I heard it in Sunday School.

       It was a fun story and we sang about it and drew pictures of all kinds of animals. It was like we had a little zoo, and we put the pictures of elephants and chimpanzees and giraffes and moose on the wall.

       As children we weren’t steeped in cynicism and critical thinking and we accepted that story at face value.

       It was accepted at face value because it was considered a children’s fun story.


The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky.

Build it out of gopher barky, barky, children of the Lord


The animals, the animals, they came in by twosies, twosies.

Elephants and kangaroosies, roosies

Children of the Lord.


But as an adult and a minister, the story of Noah is on face value one of the most horrific stories in the bible, and any thoughtful Christian wonders how it lines up with the God revealed in Jesus Christ.


       God destroys the world for the world’s sin. God wipes out millions of people. Grant it according to scripture, the people deserved it. The place was very evil… but still, it is a theological problem.

       It is one of reasons I don’t read the bible literally.

So Harry, what is your answer to the seemingly God ordained violence that is in the bible, and how one resolves that with the Christ of non-violence.


       Well, last week I talked about the transfiguration of Jesus and said that not only was Jesus transfigured or changed, but, that Jesus was changing our understanding of God. Jesus changed our understanding of God from one of winning and power and control and conquering and punishing, to a God of losing, sacrifice, mercy and love.


       And one of the very first transfiguration stories is the story of Noah. And it is really not about Noah and Noah’s faith.

       The change seems to be God, who at first is ready to destroy the earth and at the end makes a one-sided covenant to never destroy the earth, the animals or people.

       But I don’t think God really changed. I think it is our understanding of God that changed.

       I was taught in seminary that humans wrote the bible. That is different for other faiths. For instance, Mormons believe that God wrote the Book of Mormon and through the angel Moroni handed Joseph Smith the golden plates already written.

       The belief in Islam is that Muhammed received their scriptures, the Quran, through the angel Gabriel. God wrote it.

       But Christians believe that humans wrote the scriptures and they were changed and edited by other humans over years. We believe that the scriptures are mostly not God’s literal words but a record of what humans thought about God and how they encountered God. And even though we believe they were inspired to write scripture they were still fallible and limited humans who didn’t know everything and made mistakes.

       And the early writers thought that our God was much like other Gods, violent, demanding, punishing of those who did wrong.

       And it was much easier for them to say God changed God’s mind, than it was to say that they were wrong and didn’t understand the full nature of God.

       And so, in the Old Testament especially, I believe the true nature of God is more subtext than text.

       The universality of God’s mercy and love is there in many texts in the Old Testament, but it is overshadowed in some ways by the older understanding of a God of violence, retribution and punishment, which to be fair, the church thoroughly embraced for centuries, even when it was obvious that the God revealed in Jesus Christ was not violent, forgave and pronounced salvation for all.


       In fact, the first pronunciation of Salvation for all is in the scripture we read today, where God makes a covenant not to destroy us, the people, the animals or the world.

       It will be repeated by Jesus who says that he didn’t come to condemn us but save us.

       And it is repeated many times by Paul who says many times that all are included in God’s plan of salvation.


I quote

From Colossians: God was pleased to reconcile to himself ALL things, 


From Ephesians  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.—Ephesians 1:7-10


From First Corinthians for as ALL die in Adam, so ALL will be made alive in Christ.


From Romans Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for ALL.–Romans 5:18


Paul even got into trouble at times for his inclusive message and taking the gospel to all people.


Now this inclusive, loving, merciful message can be found in the Old Testament as well. The story of Joseph and forgiveness for Joseph’s brother. The story of Rahab the harlot. The book of Ruth. The book of Jonah, and various scriptures from Isaiah, such as from Isaiah 2

       In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the heighted of the mountains… and ALL nations shall stream to it.


What our scriptures in totality reveal is that God’s answer to the flood of sin, the wilderness of sin, is not to punish us, destroy us, kill us, or send us to everlasting torture, but to be merciful, compassionate, to forgive us, reconcile us and change us.


And maybe the story of Noah is the first  transfiguration story where we are transformed in our understanding of God, from a God who will destroy sinners, to a God who will save all.


       And this is done through Jesus who shows us a better way, and absorbs our sin and doesn’t hurt us back.


Now this universality of God’s love is a backdrop to our understanding of today’s gospel lesson, where in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is baptized, goes into the wilderness and starts to preach the gospel.


I believe for Mark this is a unit. Jesus’s baptism, the wilderness and beginning to preach the gospel. They all go hand in hand. They are about who Jesus is. They are about Jesus’ identity. They are about what Jesus is dealing with. They are about Jesus’ mission.


And that mission is set in the same context as the days of Noah.

Jesus has come to the world and there is a flood of sin. Things are not going well. The rich are taking advantage of the poor. The powers that are ruling people are selfish and cruel and self-righteous and violence. The status quo favours the powerful and disadvantages the weak, the different, the stranger, the foreigner, the sick, women, children, and those who make mistakes.


And so, Mark will speak or write with allusions to apocalyptic images.

Apocalyptic writing was writing done in times of extreme duress, when things are looking not good, and even looking like the end of the world for some.


       Apocalyptic writing was often the language of political dissent, sometimes kind of coded, and the language of dissent often spoke against the powers of the world, the king, the pharaoh, the emperor, the ruling elite, the religious elite, and military powers etc.

       It was Daniel who likened the powers to beasts. And this would be taken up later by John in the book of revelation.

       And Jesus goes into the wilderness with the wild beasts.

       But before he does, he is baptized.

And the scriptures say that the heavens were torn apart. Mark is referring to Isaiah 64.1 where the prophet exclaims: “Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down…”

       For Mark the heavens have been torn open to reveal that the Messiah, or even God has come down to reveal himself.

       The Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. A reference to Isaiah’s Suffering servant in Isaiah 42. “I will put my Spirit on him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.

And then the voice comes from heaven: “you are my son. This is a reference to Psalm 2:7 which reads:

 I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me,

‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.


These allusions and references to scripture are deliberate to set Jesus in the context. This is God’s son. This is God’s Messiah, and Jesus is coming to a flood or sin, a place where the evil powers prevail, a place of precariousness, a place of wilderness, where many are suffering injustice, and don’t have a place at the table of resources, power, education, health or self-determination.


       And Jesus is thrust out into the wilderness. It is a forceful term that Mark uses. Jesus doesn’t casually walk out into the wilderness. Jesus doesn’t particularly choose the wilderness. He is catapulted into it.

Boom. There it is. The wilderness is upon him.


That is often how wilderness is with people. You don’t choose your wilderness. You don’t choose to lose your job, to get cancer, to be alone in a nursing home, to have parents or loved ones die. When you are a child and your family moves 5 times before your 12th birthday and you lose your friends 5 times, you don’t choose it.


Wilderness is a part of life, we all get thrust into it.

And Jesus spends a long time in it.

40 days.

It is reminiscent of the nation of Israel who escape the clutches of the Pharaoh and wander 40 years in the wilderness.

       In that time, they are tested, they fail, they learn the law, they are threatened by snakes and hunger, by lack of water, and by division and dissension.

There are times of God’s intervention. God’s presence. God’s word, God’s mercy and God’s leading.


And during this time, they learn who they are. They belong to God. They are God’s people and they are to be about God’s business.


Jesus goes into the wilderness too. There he too is tempted and tested and struggles with hunger and thirst and the wild beasts.

       It too is a time of learning his identity. He has heard the voice that he is God’s son… God’s beloved son, but he is learning what it means to be God’s son. He is praying and talking to God. He is thinking and learning and understanding what it means to be truly human and truly divine.

       And Jesus is learning, indeed inhabiting a God of mercy, understanding and compassion, who will fight the beasts of power, who harm the weak, the poor, the vulnerable, and yet Jesus will not fight with weapons like swords and armies, but with truth and love, and the word of God, and with forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus will fight not by winning but by sacrificing and serving.


And knowing who he is, and what he is about, he begins to preach: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."


In a world of wilderness where so many are marginalized, where so many are the victims of the sin of the powers, where there is too much war, too many weapons, too many divisions, too much prejudice, where colonization still happens, where multinational companies have their ways over peasants in poor countries, Jesus doesn’t say:

 Well folks, life is tough, then you die, but it will be better in heaven.

       Jesus instead says: the time is now. The Kingdom or reign of God is here. Now is the time to change. Now is the time to believe the good news that everyone is loved, everyone is important and we need to make changes here and now by following God’s way.


The kingdom is here. God’s reign of love can happen in your life.

Early Israel did not have a king. Their king was God. The people wanted a king. And they were warned of the dangers of a king. They king will have wars, and conscript people to fight. The king might conscript people to build his palace and other royal building. The king will raise taxes, and expropriate land, and the economy will be geared to the elite. And Samuel warns: “And you will be the King’s slaves.”

So, when Jesus preaches the kingdom of God, it is in opposition to the Kings and Rulers of this world. It is in opposition to the Powers and Systems of Domination who enslave and control people.

       God is kind, good, merciful and just ruler who serves you.

Jesus is asking us to switch allegiances to follow God’s reign of love and that is that way to fight the flood of sin… against the beasts and the powers and the injustices and the dehumanizing things that happen in this world.


I found this story by Melissa Bane Sevier, a Presbyterian minister, author, photographer and blogger.


There was talk at Grace Church. Sam Waters had come home.

Sam is Tom and Betty’s son, and even as a child he had been a handful. Veteran church school teachers suddenly decided to take a year off when it was their turn to teach Sam.

Betty and Tom also had trouble with Sam. Once he and some other boys broke windows around town, including windows at Grace Church. The church did not press charges and Tom and Betty replaced the windows.

Just after Sam turned 18, he was driving some friends around one night. He waited while they stole a bottle of whiskey from a liquor store. He didn’t know they had a gun. They emptied the cash register and shot and wounded the owner. Sam went to prison for 8 years.

When Sam got out of prison he moved away, but he could not get work. He came home to live with his parents. They were thrilled to have him home again and tried to make life normal. Sam spent his days looking for work and helping Tom on the farm. On Sundays, they came to church.

This is why people talked. How could Betty and Tom want Sam back after all he’d done? Some didn’t like the idea of having an ex-con in worship.

One day Sam showed up at the minister’s office. He didn’t know what to do. His parents loved having him in church, and he had found he actually enjoyed worship. It meant something to him to sit beside his parents who had been so faithful. But every time they walked into the church people turned away. He was beginning to think that it might be better if he stayed home.

The minister had seen the way Sam and his parents were treated, and had heard the talk. She’d noticed how Betty and Tom always placed Sam between them in the pew, as if to protect him from unfriendly stares. Still, she trusted the goodness of these church people. She said she would bring it up, with his permission, to the session.

The session grew quiet as the minister recounted her talk with Sam. Nearly everyone in the room remembered when Sam went away. They had prayed and grieved with his parents and some of them had written to him. Now that he was back, they were confused.

John Hughes was the first to speak. “Did you know that as a teenager I went to a reform school?” They had no idea. John said he could offer Sam a job.

Then Margaret Offenbach told a story of Sam in her first grade Sunday school classroom. (They had all heard this story before.) The subject was Noah and the ark and they’d made rainbows from construction paper. After class, she remembered she’d left her lesson book in the room and went back for it. There stood Sam, drawing with permanent marker a multi-colored rainbow on the wall. “I didn’t have the energy to remove it,” she said, “so I just left it.”

Another elder said he’d been teaching in that classroom and had tried to paint over that rainbow several times but it still showed through. Everyone laughed.

“So. What shall we do?” asked the Minister. They made a plan.

The following Sunday, Sam served as liturgist. The congregation listened intently to the readings, including the one from Genesis about the flood.

The minister took a couple of minutes off her usual sermon length, and after the prayer of commitment she called on Sam to say a few words

He thanked the minister for allowing him to be liturgist. He thanked John Hughes for giving him a job, and his parents for sticking by him, even when it had been very difficult. He thanked the church for honoring the vows they had made when he was baptized. He said he knew they had not pressed charges when he had broken church windows as a boy, and appreciated that expression of love for his family.

Sam then told how the day’s readings had reminded him of something that happened when he was in the first grade in Mrs. Offenbach’s class. He knew most of them had heard he drew a rainbow on that wall, but they probably did not know the whole story. When Mrs. Offenbach came back into the classroom that day and saw what he was doing, she did not fuss or even tell him to stop. She stood for a moment and then said, “Well, neither one of us will make it to church on time if I don’t help,” and she picked up the purple marker. Everyone laughed.

Sam said he’d gone back in that classroom one recent Sunday just to look, and to his surprise the rainbow was still there. Someone had tried to paint over it, but it still showed through. That morning twenty years before with Mrs. Offenbach had been the most memorable moment of all his years in church, because that day, while they drew together on the wall, a wise teacher had talked to him about grace. She spoke of how sad God was over the way people behaved, and how the rainbow was God’s promise of grace. She talked about how all of us—including grownups—make God sad sometimes, and she spoke of the rainbows of grace in her life.

Now, Sam said, he knew that his life had reflected that lesson. God grieved over some of the things Sam had done, yet God still showed grace. Sam had nearly covered up that grace by ignoring it. But the grace still shone through, just like the rainbow on that classroom wall.

The grace of God for him, said Sam, was in being able to come home again. He knew he did not deserve it, but he was grateful for it. Then he sat down, embarrassed that he had talked so long. No one else had noticed the time.

From that day, it was easier for Grace Church to live up to its name. (

The kingdom of God, the reign of God’s love is right here among us and in us.


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