Forty!

Date: 
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Scriptures: 
Genesis 9:8-17
Mark 1:9-15
Today we heard the reading about Noah and the promise of God.
But back up a bit:
 
Genesis 7:4 NRSA
4 For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground."
 
Genesis, chapter 7.  The first mention of the number 40.
 
What is it about this number?
 
The first time we encounter it is in the story of the flood - 40 days of rain to purify the earth.
 
When else?
 
Well, the story of the Exodus.  
First, Moses sent spies out to check the promised land - one leader from each of the twelve tribes was sent to check the land, and then they came back.  How long was that period of examination?  Forty days.
 
The people had followed Moses out of slavery, and then they complained to him, and grumbled against God.  “Ah, if only we had stayed in that wonderful life .... of slavery and abuse.... in Egypt, rather than coming out here.”  God was not happy with them, not happy with their lack of trust.  So God let them wander in the wilderness for 40 years, so that all of the adults would have passed away (except a very few), so that, in a sense, the people were cleansed from the ones who had shown themselves to be faithless: the people would be cleansed before entering the promised land.  40 years.
 
Ah, but that is not all.  
Remember that Moses went up on the mountain to receive the ten commandments on tablets of stone.  And how long was he there?  That’s right – forty days.  Forty days to receive the commandments that would keep the people on the track of right living.
 
But those tablets were broken, so Moses had to go back up on the mountain.  And again.... forty days to receive those commandments to keep the people living as they should.
 
 
Many of you will remember the story of Goliath - the giant Philistine.  Does forty come into that story?  Indeed it does.  Twice a day, for forty days, Goliath came forward, threatening and menacing the people of Israel, until young David killed him with a slingshot.  Forty days of testing of the people.
 
Elijah - on a journey of faith to Mount Horeb.  A journey of faith that lasted forty days.
 
Another example - Jonah.  Again we may wonder - how does 40 come into that story?  Because Jonah spent forty days warning the people of Ninevah that they needed to repent, that they needed to change their ways.  Forty days..... that is what it took for the people to turn away from their wrong ways, their immoral living.  And forty days - Jonah did not turn away from the task, once his fish-born journey was ended.
 
 
We can cite many other examples of 40 appearing in scripture - 
that is how long it took in the embalming process took for Abraham after his death
Eli reigned for forty years, as did King David and Johoash (in case any of us remember him), as well as Solomon.
 
But most important are the examples already listed - forty days or forty years being a period of purification, of guidance, of challenge, of repentance.
 
And then we heard how Jesus entered the wilderness - driven by the Spirit - and was there, fasting, for forty days, tempted, yet unwavering.
 
And one final mention - Jesus, after his resurrection, was with his disciples, explaining, guiding, for forty days before his ascension to heaven.
So we see how forty becomes a symbolic time period.
I used the word symbolic, because we cannot take forty literally and exactly in each case.
But it becomes a symbolic time period:
a time of repentance, and time of cleansing, a time for receiving God’s guidance to enable good living in the way of the kingdom of God.
 
With Ash Wednesday this week, we have entered a forty day period - though we do not count the Sundays in the calculation.  We have entered a forty day period of Lent.
 
Lent is a season established by the Church - it is not in the Bible - it is a season established with a thought to helping us to live faithful lives.
 
We often - and accurately - connect Lent to Jesus’ period of forty days in the wilderness.  But today, may our understanding of the significance of “forty” lead us to an even deeper appreciation of this season.
 
And may we know Lent, these forty days, 
as a time of repentance, and time of cleansing, a time for receiving God’s guidance to enable good living in the way of the kingdom of God.
 
The people heard God’s call through Jonah for forty days.
May we hear God’s call throughout these forty days.
 
Indeed:  
a time of repentance, and time of cleansing, a time for receiving God’s guidance to enable good living in the way of the kingdom of God.