8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and 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. 11I 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.”
12God said, “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: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When 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.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
I’m not a morning person. If I had my choice, I would be willing to allow the sun to rise before I got out of bed every day of the week. It turns out that I don’t need to be awake; the sun will rise on its own with absolutely no help from me. And I really don’t hit my peak cognitively until well after 10:00 am, so why bother getting out of bed so early?
But, as I’ve complained about…er…mentioned before, Sonya and I have been getting up early and going to the YMCA long before I would choose to wake up on my own. We are there at 5:30 in the morning a couple of days each week for our daily dose of voluntary torture.
So last Friday morning, at about 6:45 in the morning, we had just finished another gut-busting Spinning class, when Sonya and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways for the day. I was going to take a cool-down lap around the track when a woman, to whom I have never spoken, made the decision to speak to me. She told me, “I think your girlfriend is so cute.”
Remember, I am not yet thinking straight, it is early, I am wishing I was still in bed. So when she says “Your girlfriend is cute,” I’m thinking, “I don’t have a girlfriend. She is my wife of almost six years.” That’s what I’m thinking, but what comes out is all together different. I reply by simply saying, “Which one?”
“I think your girlfriend is cute.” “Which one?” I might say that to someone I know, just joking around. But we didn’t know each other at all, so you can imagine the look that I got from this lady. And she continued to give me that same “you’re a pig” look for a full week until Sonya finally set her straight.
Obviously I had failed to communicate adequately the relationship that Sonya and I are in. We are not simply dating; we are in a committed relationship that we commonly call marriage. Marriage is a covenant. And covenant isn’t a word most people use everyday. But a covenant is defined as “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified” (Dictionary.com). So in the case of a marriage, the covenant is to love, honor, and obey one another for as long as you both shall live.
As we read through the Bible, we can see that our God, the creator of all things, is a covenanting God. God makes formal agreements with his people to do or not to do something specific. And often times the New Testament compares the new covenant between Christ and the church as a wedding. So today we are going to look at the scripture above to see that the God who created us is a God that makes covenants with us; that God makes promises to move us from our own self-destruction to provision.
I feel like I need to be honest right up front today and say that I don’t like the story of Noah and the great flood. I apologize if this offends anyone, but I don’t know why we take this story and we make it into a children’s story. Why do we decorate playrooms with pictures of animals walking two by two into the ark, print these images on children’s clothes and make toys depicting Noah, his ark, and the animals? I don’t like this story because this story is about sinful humanity and God wiping them off the face of the earth.
If we read the scripture leading up to our passage for today we find that God is looking out over his creation, over the mountains and the plains, the animals and the people, and God is disappointed with the way that humanity has turned out. God is so disappointed that God decides to send down a great flood of rain for 40 days and 40 nights, killing everything and everybody with the exception of Noah, his family, and two of each animal. So please don’t be offended, but I don’t like this story. It sure isn’t a “feel good” children’s kind of story.
But if you are like me and you believe that the Bible is God’s word, that the Bible is written by people that were inspired by God to put pen to paper and etch these words, then you would probably agree with me when I say that God chose to include this story for a reason, whether we like the story or not. There is a message that God wants us to understand.
Perhaps what I like the least about the story of the great flood isn’t that many people and many animals died. I think what I like the least is whose fault it was that so many people had to die. See, it is really easy to blame God and point our finger at God and ask, “How could a loving God do such a thing?” But the reality is that the human beings were responsible for their actions and we cannot downplay that. The human beings in Genesis were responsible for their own death, their own destruction, as well as the death and destruction of the world around them. And I believe that one of the points that we can get out of this is that we as human beings need to take responsibility for our own actions, and much of our actions today, as they were in Noah’s day, are leading toward our own destruction and the destruction of God’s created world around us.
But thankfully, God didn’t stop there. God didn’t stop with destruction…God moved to provision, the act of providing. God who created all things did provide once again for his people. Our scripture from Genesis says, beginning in verse 8, “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, 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.’”
The God who created the earth and everything in it is now making a covenant, a promise, a contract with not only Noah and his descendants, but with every living creature on the face of the earth that this will never happen again. The God who created us is a God that loves us and makes covenants with us.
And God gave Noah and us a reminder of this covenant that was made. Verse 13 tells us that God put the rainbow in the sky so that when we turn and look to see it, we will be reminded of the love of God, that God makes promises to his people that he intends to keep and will keep.
One place where we might find bows today would be the bow and arrow. The bow and arrow are not weapons that many people use in combat in the 21st century. Many of you are probably familiar with these weapons as they are used for deer hunting today. But during the early days, whenever that was, bow and arrow were used as a weapon to kill people in battle. With the invention of these weapons people did not have to be within arms’ length to strike one another. So in their day and age, these weapons were quite destructive.
So there was this method of killing, this method of destruction that existed for a long period of time and was used in warfare. But following a battle when the sides would reach an agreement, a sign of peace was to hang up one’s bow; to place it out of reach, but yet still within the line of sight, so that others knew not to fear the use of this method of destruction. Some have said that this is essentially what God is doing when he hung up his bow in the sky. He is initiating a new way of life, a peaceful life, a covenantal life between God and humanity.
With the end of the great flood, humanity had the opportunity to begin again, to start all over, to be the people of God that they were created to be. The great flood marked the beginning of a new humanity dedicated to serving their creator. Where water had been a sign of death, now water has become a sign of new life. God had moved from destruction to provision.
So we have this creating and covenanting God. When we think of God we need to keep these two aspects of God together: creation and covenant. But God doesn’t stop with this initial covenant with Noah. We find a number of covenants in the Old Testament; or more precisely, we find a number of covenants that make up the Old Testament. The Old Testament is itself a covenant between God and creation. And that covenant is that God has promised that he would bless the world through the descendants of Abraham.
So we fast forward a few thousand years to about the year 30 AD (more likely the year 26 AD). And we find a man named Jesus coming to the Jordan to be baptized by his cousin John. Much like the waters of the great flood initiated a new era in the history of humanity, the waters of baptism marked the high point, the apex of the covenant God made with Abraham to bless all of the world through his offspring. And now a new sign appeared from the sky. The sky was torn open and the Sprit of the Lord descended upon Jesus like a dove. And from the sky came the voice of God, saying in verse 11, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
I believe that when God sent his only son to this earth that the covenant between God and Abraham from Genesis 12 reached its peak. Abraham’s descendants would be a blessing to all of the world through Jesus. The God who created the world has shown us again that he is a God who makes and keep his covenants, his promises with his people. And as a sign of this new covenant between God and humanity, we have been given the act of baptism; this death to the old ways and new birth into the family of God.
Again we find God moving from a status of destruction to provision. During the first century when Jesus lived, Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire. This would have been much like the exile period from Israel’s history, only now it was taking place in their own city rather than in Babylon. The Israelites had been living through times of war, heavy taxation, and oppression. And now God was sending his own Son to show his people how to live peaceably within this destructive empire. God was giving them the provision to be a part of a different kingdom: the kingdom of God. God had again moved from destruction to provision.
I don’t ever mean to be too much of a pessimist. I do see the glass as half full most of the time. But that does not mean that I ignore that bad, the evil, or the unjust in this world. In the midst of this beautiful creation, the very creation that God looked out over at one time and pronounced to be good, we can find many things that are far from good.
We are living in a time when the economy is in its worst shape in my lifetime; there continues to be death, hunger, poverty, sexual sins, debauchery, licentiousness, you name it. Within the good earth that God has created there is a lot of bad. And that bad is our fault, not God’s.
Like I said earlier, we can look at the story of the great flood and question God’s decision to kill the sinful people. But the reality is that this came about because the people made the decision to worship other gods, to put their quest for money, power, and fame above their love for God and their love for others. God didn’t bring about a great flood because God was simply angry at humanity. Humanity brought it upon themselves. The same thing is true for Jesus’ day, and the same thing is true for us today. God created the world and it was good. If it is sinful, disobedient, and destructive that is because greedy humanity has made it less good.
I’m reminded of the old children’s story that I used to read in the doctor’s office growing up. That book was called, The Giving Tree. In The Giving Tree, there was a tree and a boy. The tree is said to have loved the boy and the boy is said to have loved the tree. The boy played in the branches of the tree, made things out of her leaves, and ate her apples. They existed in harmony with one another, and they were both happy.
But the little boy got older, and soon he wanted more from the tree. He came to the tree one day and told the tree that he wanted money. But the tree didn’t have any money so she suggests that the boy collect her apples and sell them to make some money. And he does just that, and the tree is happy.
But the boy grew older, and soon he came back to the tree for more. Now he wanted a house. But the tree didn’t have a house to offer the boy, so the tree gave of herself, giving the boy her branches to make his house. And the tree was happy.
The years go by and the boy grows older. He doesn’t return to the tree until he needs something again. Now he is looking for a boat to go sailing in to see the world. The tree doesn’t have a boat, but she offers the boy her trunk to make a boat out of. He takes the trunk of the tree, leaving nothing but a stump behind, and he leaves the tree. And the tree was said to be happy.
The years go by and the boy grows older. He wanders into the woods, now an old man, and he comes to the tree. And the tree is excited to see him, but she knows that she has nothing to offer him anymore. All that’s left of her is a stump. But the boy, now an old man, needs nothing more than a stump to sit on. So the tree straightens herself up as best as she can and allows the old man to sit on her. And the tree was happy.
I think that the story of the Giving Tree is an excellent metaphor for the human condition. We want more, we get greedy, we seek things that will bring us pleasure. And I believe that this greed is the source of much of our sinful nature.
We take what we can get at the expense of our neighbor, our friends, the cheap laborers in China, even at the expense of God. Like the people of Noah’s day, we have turned from serving our God and began to serve the false gods that we believe will give us the satisfaction that we crave.
Thankfully we have a God who provides for our needs. Not necessarily our wants, but our needs. Like the tree in the story, God has given us abundantly more than we need. God has even gone as far as giving of his self by coming to this earth in the form of Jesus to enact the new covenant. But yet this is never enough for us, myself included. We always want more.
We serve a wonderful God. We serve the God who created the entire world, we serve the God who makes and keeps his covenants with his people. God has promised to bless the entire world through the descendants of Abraham, and I believe he did just that through Jesus the Messiah. As we enter into this Lenten period, let us reflect on the promises of God and the ways that God has proven himself to be trustworthy. And let us repent for our failure, time after time. We have led ourselves into destruction, God has led us to provision. Let us choose God and his ways. Let us be a part of the covenantal community.