Creekside Church
Sermon of February 21, 2021

"Never Again"
Genesis 9:8-17

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

It is the first Sunday of Lent, a day when all the gospel readings from the New Testament are focused on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness: a forty day fast, followed by a visit from Satan and a trio of temptations: to turn stone into bread, to garner attention as God’s chosen one, and to have dominion over all the earth. In part because of this account from the gospels, traditional Lenten practices have been focused on fasting, prayer, and almsgiving -- or service to the poor. And while I would never discourage any of those things, with the blessing of our Worship Team, I am choosing to focus Lent differently this year.

There’s a couple reasons for this. If you haven’t already read the first devotion -- the one from Ash Wednesday -- in our Lent devotional booklet, “The Wild Way of Jesus,” I’d recommend it to you. Author Anna Lisa Gross begins by asking Are you giving something up for Lent this year? I’m not sure she meant it this way, but it’s kind of an ironic question. Of course we’re giving up things this year, just as we have been for the past 11 months or so. I’m sure you have your own list, but here are a few things on mine: congregational singing, eating in restaurants, gathering with extended family. I didn’t want to give these things up--they are all things which I enjoy, but I am willing to lay them aside for time for the sake of my health and the health of others. The devotional does a great job of explaining that we say No to something so that we can say Yes to something else: so, no to congregational singing, yes to keeping everyone healthy. So for Lent 2021, when so many of us have had to set practices aside which we value and love, I want to focus on what we say Yes to: We say Yes, as you heard Steve De Pue share, to God’s faithfulness and promise and presence and care. We say Yes to life because we believe that God has a reason for us to be here, and because we have a purpose in God’s kingdom. We say Yes to Jesus’ love and to discipleship and to walking alongside Christ, and in support and encouragement of one another. And in celebrating God’s faithfulness we say No to hopelessness, loneliness, and despair. God is good. All the time.

So rather than the wilderness, an expanse of desert without any water in sight and no sign of life, our text from Genesis is set in a place which might seem 180 degrees opposite -- only it isn’t. You are probably familiar, at least in general terms, with the story of Noah, a God-fearing man who followed God’s command to build an ark and fill it with all the creatures of the earth and Noah’s wife and their sons and daughters-in-law. God sent a flood which blotted out every living thing except Noah and those who were with him on the ark. Scholars don’t agree on how long Noah was on the ark; the months given in Genesis 8 are not conclusive, but it was about a year -- a lunar year is 364 days and a solar year is 365 days. At the end of chapter 8, when there is finally enough dry land to park the ark and let the inhabitants out, Noah was looking at a wilderness of water, rather than land, and the only sign of life were the ones which had come through the flood with Noah.

Especially if you have previously thought about Noah’s ark only in terms of nursery décor, take a moment to consider how traumatic this experience would have been for Noah and his family. A year on a boat filled with animals and in-laws would be quite a quarantine. We’ve heard plenty of complaints since things first shut-down last March: imagine if you had been confined to a boat that entire time. But that’s not the worst of it. God destroyed the world as they knew it: almost all the people and animals drowned, landmarks and dwellings and communities were obliterated and would never be seen again. Everything was gone. It this wasn’t due to the random forces of climate change: God did it. On purpose. This is disturbing in more ways than I care to dwell on, and maybe not the best way to begin an extended conversation about God’s faithfulness.

Which is why our text today focuses on the next part of that story: when Noah and his family are able to leave the ark and release the animals, they build an altar to the Lord, and the Lord says in his heart (that’s Genesis 8:21) I will never again curse the ground because of humankind; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. And to prove it, in the next chapter God establishes a covenant with Noah and Noah’s descendants, and every living thing which came out of the ark: never again will a flood destroy the earth. And because this is a covenant between heaven and earth, God puts a sign of that covenant between God and humanity, which extends from heaven to earth.

Noah and his family almost certainly saw the sign of the rainbow over the water, because that’s about all there was to see. Notice a few things about this covenant and this sign: first of all, the covenant is entirely one-sided: God promises to never again destroy all living things, but there are no conditions on humanity. There is no condition that you must worship God, or treat each other right, or clean all that mess up from the ark. God doesn’t force Noah and his descendants to promise anything. God’s promise of faithfulness is unconditional. Second, most of us are familiar with bows -- you know, the things which shoot arrows. You pull it back and it fires a projectile which can maim or kill, if you know how to aim the thing.

Notice though, wherever it is placed, over land or over water if you pull back the bow, where would the arrow point? Away from the earth. God has promised never again to direct God’s anger at all the living things of the earth. And finally, this may be so obvious that we’d overlook it, but a rainbow happens after a rain -- we’ll count sprinklers and waterfalls in that general category. A rainbow marks a change in the weather, the end of a storm, the advent of sunshine.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to see a bow which goes from horizon to horizon, and we feel the blessing of being under God’s covenant: that whatever storm we have experienced, God has been with us through it, and God’s promise is waiting for us on the other side. You heard this in Steve’s testimony this morning, and in the coming weeks we will hear from other members and friends of Creekside about the difference God’s faithfulness has made in their lives. It is not our circumstances which give us the boldness and the tenacity to proclaim It is Well: it is our belief in God’s steadfast love, whatever happens, which teaches us to say, It is well, It is well with my soul.

That, brothers and sisters, is what I pray you will say Yes to in this Lenten season. We have been in the wilderness -- and believe me, the wilderness comes in all shapes and sizes: a room in a nursing home without being able to see family or friends is a wilderness; staying at home doing e-learning is a wilderness, not being with your church family is a wilderness. But God’s promises come in all shapes and sizes, too. God meets us where we are and with the needs which we have. As you have heard this morning and will hear from Bible stories in the coming weeks, God’s faithfulness is more than a match for our wilderness. God’s provision is greater than our hunger, God’s promise is greater than our loss, and God’s grace is greater than our transgression. Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto us. Amen.

 

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