A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
February 21, 2021
Main idea: God loves everybody.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
The season of Lent is often a time of forgoing, giving up habits or stuff to focus our hearts and minds on Christ. This past year we have given up so much that it feels like last year’s Lent never really ended! So, for this year, our approach to Lent will be different. This year our Lenten theme is Hope Springs Eternal and rather than paring away, we will focus on the resources and foundations of our faith which support, bolster, and guide us. The Lent at home bags contain daily Scripture, reflections, and prayers. On Sundays we will be reflecting on the covenants made between God and humanity, beginning with Noah and culminating with the Resurrection. As we move through the season, we will see that each covenant lays the foundation for the next. Each covenant reveals something vitally important about the nature of God and humanity and about our growing relationship with God. Each covenant points us toward the complete revelation of God found in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This morning we will explore the covenant with Noah which proclaims two important truths: 1. that God rejects violence as a solution to human evil and 2. God loves everybody (including us!).
The story of Noah and the ark is often told as a children’s story. At our house we have had several toy boats with matching animals. But really the story is not for kids. It contains violence and horror, wrenching grief and very adult themes. The story begins in Genesis chapter 6 with the sons of heaven cavorting with the daughters of humans. And “the LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. …The earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Gen. 6:5-6). God is often portrayed in this story as angry and punishing. But anger is often a mask for grief. For some reason, it is more acceptable to lash out in anger than to express sorrow. The text says that God was “grieved to his heart”. Just imagine the grief at God’s beloved creation turning away and rejecting God’s love and companionship.
Now imagine that God’s grief was so profound that the waters of the flood were God’s tears, wiping out all living creatures with the waters of sorrow and regret. The text says “God blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.” (Gen. 7:23). The flood covered the earth for 150 days (Gen. 7:24). And during that time God reflected on all that had happened.
By the time the waters had receded and Noah and his family and all the animals had left the ark for dry ground, God had made a decision, a truly astonishing decision. And this decision is the scripture text we read for today; God’s covenant with Noah and all of creation.
This covenant is extraordinary for several reasons. One, it is completely one sided. Most covenants are agreements between two parties. “I promise to do this if you promise to do that.” But in this covenant, the only obligation is on God’s side. Noah never says a word nor promises anything. God acknowledges that humanity is probably never going to completely change but still God promises to never again blot out creation. God loves us so deeply that God chooses to limit God’s own power and control in order to allow humanity’s growth, despite knowing full well that humanity could easily mess it up.
The sign of the covenant is, of course, familiar to us. Everybody loves a rainbow but what’s striking is that the rainbow is placed in the clouds as a reminder to God, not to us. We like to focus on the rainbow’s colors but it is its shape that is God’s reminder. God’s bow, God’s weapon of destruction, has been put down. If any arrows were to be released from it, they would go up toward heaven, not down toward earth. We know that in our own time, the violence and wickedness that humanity is inflicting on each other and on the earth must grieve God deeply. But the rainbow reminds God of God’s promise and it is out of this promise that the revelation of Jesus our Christ springs. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God reveals a better way of bringing about justice, healing, and peace.
The second reason this covenant is extraordinary is that, while we call it the covenant with Noah, this Rainbow covenant extends to all of creation. God loves us deeply and profoundly, but not just us! In the text we see the covenant expand before our eyes, as God pushes Noah to expand his understanding of who God loves. As the only people remaining after the flood Noah and his family feel pretty special but God wants them to understand that while they have been blessed, God’s blessings will not limited to only them.
In verses 9-11 God emphasized Noah and his family as the primary recipients of the covenant. “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ Noah is humbled and grateful that God would recognize all that they had suffered and how they had remained faithful. He is very relieved that he won’t have to keep a boat handy.
But in verse 12 God expands the covenant beyond Noah’s immediate family to include the descendants of the animals from the ark saying, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations.” The promise is still with Noah but also with the descendants of all who were saved from the flood. Noah thinks this is probably fair, the animals in the ark suffered too and their descendants deserve God’s blessing as well.
In verse 15 the covenant expands again. “I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh;” It is no longer just for Noah and his descendants. God includes all of humanity and all of creation. This takes Noah aback bit. God will include everybody in this covenant? Even the bad people? Even the strangers who have never heard of God? “Yes, Noah”, God says.
By the time we get to the end of the text Noah is no longer mentioned for he and his family are assumed among the rest of creation. God says “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’(Gen. 9:16-17). The good, the bad, the indifferent, the young, the old, the animals, the very planet is included in God’s promise to love and not destroy.
This reminder of God’s love for all creation is especially important because deep within us we still sometimes harbor thoughts that God must love us more than those people. Surely God will step in and save us from the mess we have made of our world. This Rainbow covenant requires us to rethink these assumptions.
We are now living through a time of great stress and division. Our planet is in peril, not from God’s flood but from our own foolishness and misdeeds. The suffering in Texas is just one poignant example. We are divided by race, geography, political party, and religion, not just here in the US but around the world. We are cooped up by a pandemic made worse by selfishness and mistakes. We have gotten into the habit of demonizing those with whom we disagree and refusing to admit the truth if it does not align with our opinion. The Rainbow covenant declares that God loves everybody, not just us or those who agree with us!
This is deep stuff to ponder. It is a challenge to think about God’s grief rather than God’s anger. Actually, God’s grief may be harder to face. It is hard to let go of our fears and pull apart the many facets of the dangers loose in the world today. It is hard to face the crisis in the health of our planet. It is hard to trust those who are unfamiliar to us and to reflect honestly on the mistakes made in our own history. But it is crucial that we try! It is crucial that in this season of Lent we let go of preconceptions and propaganda and focus on what is essential and foundational to our faith. Rather than fearing God’ anger, let us acknowledge our part in God’s grief. Rather than living in denial about what is happening to our planet, let us work with others to lessen our impact on the climate. Rather than living in fear of “those people”, let us get to know those who are different from us. Rather than hoarding our resources and demanding our individual rights, let us reach out to others with grace as we work together to end this pandemic. As we enter into this season of reflection and preparation for Christ’s glorious resurrection, let us see the world with Christ’s eyes; to see each person, every person, including ourselves, as worthy of God’s love. And let us understand love is the mightiest weapon we have in our conquest of evil and fear.
The Good News of the Rainbow covenant is that God loves us deeply and profoundly, along with all of creation. We know this from this text and from the story of God’s love told throughout Scripture. We know this from Jesus our Christ who shows us the heart of God through his life and his death and his resurrection. This love is foundational to our very existence. Each time we see a rainbow, may we be reminded of God’s power and love.
Let us pray, God of all creation, help us let go of fear, suspicion, and enertia so that we might be part of your reconciling and redeeming work in this world. Thank you for the rainbow which soothes our worries and energizes our souls. May our lives be signs of your covenant grace. Amen.