Scripture: Genesis 5:28-32; 9:8-17
So, the English language. It’s a mess sometimes, right? The comedian Gallagher commented wonderfully on it years ago - asking questions like “why do you park in a driveway and drive in a parkway? Why is it called a TV set, when you’re only getting 1 TV?” It highlights the annoyance in how words and sounds get interchanged and mixed up all the time.
Could you define the difference between contract and covenant? We live in a very contract based society: I do work for you, you pay me. I give you this money, you give me that food. I follow the rules of driving, you (police) don’t arrest me. Contracts are conditional on both parties following the agreement, whether formal or informal.
In contrast, we don’t always focus and live into covenants. Covenants are more self-giving and less self-serving. A covenant is an understanding, a promise between parties that is not conditional. According to the website “upcounsel”...
A contract is legally binding, a covenant is a spiritual agreement.
A contract is an agreement between parties while a covenant is a pledge.
A contract exchanges one good for another, while a covenant is giving oneself to the other.
You can opt out of a contract while a covenant is about having the strength to hold up your part of the promise.
In the Bible, we see a lot of covenants made. Not contracts. This is so important to note because too often we are taught theology that is conditional - if you are a “good” boy or girl then God will be happy with you, if you pray or read your Bible “x” number of times per week then God will “bless” you. These messages may not be directly taught to us, but they creep into our thoughts and color our relationship with the Divine in conditional terms.
Good news: God doesn’t make contracts with the people. God makes covenants. During Lent this year we’re going to take a look at the different covenants we read about in Scripture - covenants, promises made, between God and the people, between people and other people, between God and Creation.
Today’s covenant: the Noah Covenant. Now, most of here know the story of Noah and the ark and a flood. The story is so popular that Fisher Price and Melissa & Doug children’s toy brands have gotten in on the action and have made playsets of animals 2x2.
And as with most biblical stories edited for family viewing, a lot of insight is missed if we only keep the message at “God won’t flood the earth again.” There are many rich lessons in this story and we can’t cover them all in one Sunday. (Don’t worry - we’re going to return to a focus on Creation Care and covenant later in March.)
What stands out to me in studying this covenant flood story further is:
First, this story of a flood and then a rainbow in the sky is a reminder to God, not people. Ya’ll, this is my 41st year living life as a practicing Christian - I was born into the church - I went to youth group - I’ve led a youth group - I went to seminary - I’m ordained - and I’m going to confess to you that this is the first time I’ve heard this small detail. I always thought that the rainbow was a reminder to us of God’s promise. According to Scripture, the rainbow is not a symbol to us to remember, but to God. It’s as if God is showing what will keep the Divine accountable. This is God’s string tied to God’s pointer finger!
Second, this covenant highlights God’s goodness, not humans, and God’s desire to be in relationship with people and the earth. God didn’t completely destroy the earth or its people. Sin wasn’t wiped out with the flood - it would continue because humans continued to live. Imperfect creatures God didn’t want to totally get rid of.
In all of this talk about God, we place a lot of human attributes onto the Divine. I see pros and cons in humanizing God - on one hand it helps us understand and connect with God. On the other hand it can be limiting to all that God is in this world. For today, though, thinking about God working through the thought process encourages me and hopefully you too in the things we face in life.
Scripture says that, in this process, God regrets (6:6), grieves (6:6), and remembers (8:1; 9:5). Those are pretty intense human emotions.
I imagine God having the train of thought: “I’ve created these creatures. Things are going pretty terrible at the moment. I don’t want to totally destroy this Creation because I love and want to be in relationship with the creatures….hmmm….how do I make this work. Ok, this is gonna hurt, but here I go.”
So, God’s goodness is seen in not 100% throwing out creation.
Third, this message of redemption in covenant is a message of inclusivity. At least six times God reiterates inclusiveness of all - a message that is given through a somewhat powerless group of people - “a peculiar group of people, a small, third-rate vassal state subject to the major players in the region.” (Timothy Simpson,https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-saving-everybody-genesis-98-17/)
At least six times in this selection, God mentions “every living creature, all flesh, all the earth, all living things” or some variation of that. God doesn’t say “just you people who live in this country or you have this color skin or have this certain job.”
This message of renewal and re-creation and redemption and promise is for ALL.
We see in this covenant made with Noah God’s goodness to not destroy Creation 100% and also God’s desire for inclusiveness. My prayer is that the way we uphold our covenants is very similar...that we don’t throw away relationships 100% and that we are inclusive.
God sets the stage here for us to know that sometimes destruction (or what we see as failure) is a chance for re-birth and re-creation. The flood was 99% devastation of the earth and living creatures in it - but it wasn’t 100% devastation.
Even as we journey through Lent, we are moving toward Easter - one of the greatest reminders that even death doesn’t have to be an end. Even the death and resurrection of Jesus is a kind of new beginning - a re-creation. “What some thought was the deathly end of the human story turns out just to be another kind of new beginning. What we might have assumed was the end of God’s gracious dealings with us turns out to be just the first chapter in a kind of new story of promise.” (Doug Bratt, https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-1b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary)
If you feel something in your life is not only a hot mess but a burning pile of flaming crap just about to take a nose-dive into oblivion, know that there is a chance for re-creation. Take a lesson from God and Daniel Tiger and try again!
We have so many artists in this congregation - how often do your pieces of art turn out how you thought on the first go?
This lesson is especially important for our mental health - too many people contemplate suicide because they have decided to “destroy it all.” Friends, even if 99.9% of a way of living needs to be trashed, God sees the .1% worth redeeming.
In relationship with God, many people decide to completely leave the relationship (from their side) because it isn’t going as planned. This is where the covenant relationship comes into play. Many of you have gone through a “deconstruction” of sorts in order to also then “reconstruct.” You decided to not destroy it 100%, and I hope you feel it is worth it. Yes, a lot may be destroyed in the process. But it doesn’t have to be 100%.
Remind yourself that 100% destruction doesn’t have to be the answer - like how God set a rainbow to remind Godself. We all need reminders.