Monday, March 19, 2012

Lent 2012 - The Covenant Journey: Snakes in the Desert

Numbers 21:4-9

Legend says that St Patrick after converting to Christianity returned to Ireland, the land in which he had suffered horribly as a slave, to bring the truth of Jesus Christ to those who had harmed him so much. He walked all across Ireland teaching the truth of the Gospel as he went. Legend says that at one point during his work among the people of Ireland he went to the top of hill and to spend 40 days praying and fasting before the Lord. As he was praying a snake began to harass him, annoyed by the snake, Patrick turned on the snake and using the staff which he used as he walked, to drive not only that snake but all of his kin found throughout the island down into the sea. And thus, according to the legend, Patrick healed the land of Ireland from all snakes for all time.

Now there is much speculation about what exactly this legend speaks, because due to the islands location and the fact that it is an island and geographically separate from the neighboring lands, there have actually never been any snakes on the island of Ireland. But most people agree that due to the prolific use of the snake as a symbol among the Druids, which was the predominant religion prior to the island’s conversion to Christianity under the teachings of Patrick, that the story is actually speaking metaphorically of how Patrick was able to drive out the druid religion as he brought Christianity to the people, thus healing the land and her people of the serpent of pagan druidism.

The serpent or the snake is such a loaded symbol in Christianity. The serpent is the one who speaks to our first parents and convinces to partake of that which God had forbidden. Moses’ staff becoming a serpent which in turn gobbled up the serpents which the Egyptian magician’s were able to produce, was one of the first signs with which God sent Moses to Pharaoh when Moses was petitioning Pharaoh to let the people go. The symbol of the serpent is often used throughout the Old Testament to reference that which is evil, or dishonest. The snake represents all that has gone wrong in this sinful world, its venom is feared, its presence is abhorred and it is something to be crushed or driven off wherever it is found. Two of the most prominent imageries of the world being set right, where things are restored to their peaceful, perfect created order are the lion lying with the lamb and the other is the image of a child playing with a serpent or that of world where the snake does not bit at our heels.

As we look at this little episode with the snakes here in Numbers, it is an excurses into the traveling life of the Israelites, and is sort of a little detour as we follow the path of God’s covenant relationship with humanity through the Hebrew Scriptures. So perhaps a little background on where we are in this story would help. The Israelites are traveling through the desert toward the promise land after having agreed to the covenant. About a chapter back Aaron, Moses’ brother and the leader of the priests died. But before he died God provided for Moses’ son Eleazar to follow him as the leaders of the priests. God made preparations for a smooth transition of leadership so that the people were spiritually provided for. Nothing was left to chance. God has shown that God will act to make sure the people are provided for in rough times.

After that, the king of Arad decided to come against the Israelites. He took some of the Israelites captive. When this happened, the Israelites turned to God. They called out for God to help them. And God delivered their enemies into their hands. God once again shows that God is faithful to uphold God’s end of the covenant agreement. God will be their God, will guide, and protect them, and will be their strength and their shield.

And that brings us to our passage here. The people are traveling around the desert. God is protecting them from their enemies. God is providing a peaceful transition in leadership from one spiritual leader to the next, which is no small feat mind you. And every morning and every evening God is providing for the people’s immediate needs by giving them manna and quail to eat. On all points God is proving to be faithful and trustworthy.

But as time passes the Israelites get tired of eating manna and quail. In fact they are so tired of it, they become disgusted with it. They begin scorn that daily miracle, God is doing in their midst. They begin to grumble that there is no food. Well there is food but it is disgusting. Every morning a bread like substance, which they call Manna, a Hebrew word which literally mean “what is this,” and the quail that land in droves in their camp ready for them to scoop up, and roast (I mean the only way this could be any easier is if arrived plucked cleaned and already on a spit), that has become kind of annoying the people don't like it.

They sound like whiney little children who can’t be happy with anything. I am sure anyone who has spent much time trying to feed children has run into days when even the most well behaved child turns up their nose at any food that is provided. The steak is too chewy, the Mac and cheese is too soft, the salad to leafy, the lasagna too cheesy. It is almost expected from a child but it is nearly intolerable in an adult, and this is not just one adult who has become a picky eater this is a whole camp of adults who are complaining about miraculous food which God is giving them daily. They are all acting like whiny children who are over tired and really just need to go to bed.

So they whine to God about this disgusting food which God is giving to them and so God allows their encampment to be infested with snakes, but not just any snakes. These are not nice little garner snakes that are kind of fun to catch and completely harmless, these are venomous snakes, poisonous snakes.

The snakes are a nuisance, but they are more than just a nuisance, they are deadly.
The snakes are biting people and people are dying. This is terrible, what can they do? The people realize their mistake. They realize they were wrong in complaining about the food, they were wrong to whine to Moses to turn their noses up at the very food God was providing them. So they call out to God telling God they know they are wrong and ask God to come to help them. Well, they speak and then send Moses to intercede before God on their behalf.

God hears them and talks to Moses. God does not react as St Patrick in the story driving the snakes from their midst. In fact, God will not remove the snakes from among them at all. The snakes will continue to live, but instead of riding the people of the consequence of their grumbling, God will provide a way for the people to be healed. Moses is to fashion a bronze snake and put it on a poll. When one among them has been bitten by one of the snakes, all they need to do to be healed is to look up from the snakes on the ground and look up at that snake on the poll and believe that God will heal them. And the text tells us all who looked upon the snake and believed in God were healed.

We don’t necessarily have problems with real snakes in our lives but since throughout the Bible snakes are used as signs and symbols of all that is wrong in this world, of the trials and the woes that abound in this world due to sin and evil running rampant in this world. It is not very far fetched to see that we all have the serpents of sin our lives; trials, troubles, woes, things with which we struggle on a regular basis. We have problems in our lives; we have things with which we wrestle. There are hardships we face. Evil is manifest in sickness, in disease, in being hurt by those we love, in working to make ends meet, in struggling in relationships at work and at home. We struggle with addictions, with unwholesome aspects of our own personalities, with the baser side of our natures. We wrestle with impure thoughts and with unholy attitudes. In some way shape or form we all face the consequences of evil and sin in our lives.

Some of the snakes with which we struggle are self made, they are a result of own sins and mistakes; are a result of the choices we have made. Other serpents in our lives are caused by others, surely not every last one of the Israelites in the camp were grumbling about the quail and manna but all suffered because of the consequences of the sin of those who did. There are times when we are affected, damaged, our lives are torn apart by the sins of those around us. Others people sin and we live with the consequences other peoples’ sin against us and our lives are devastated by the evil consequences their sin brings to our lives. People make mistakes, misstep, misspeak, and we are left to deal with the fall out. We did not do anything to deserve this but we often deal with the unintended consequences of the sins of others around us. And many times we are simply faced with the general consequences of sin and evil in our world.

These are snakes in our lives and they are biting our heels. They are real problems that cause real hurt and turmoil in our lives. It is easy to get fixated on these things. To focus on them, to even allow them to define who we are, to define our relationships with those around us, it is easy to allow these serpents in our lives to be the central focus of who we are, to be the central focus of all we do.
When the Israelites were surrounded by serpents, the consequences of sin in their lives, God provides for them a way to be healed but the healing is not intuitive. When there is something striking at your heel it is your tendency to train all your focus on your feet, to focus on where the snakes are and where they are going to strike next. But God asks for the people to look away from the snakes, to take their focus off the snakes and put their focus something else. God calls for them to look up at the snake and believe.

When the serpents of life are snapping at our heels, threatening us with their deadly venom, the hard part is to take our focus off of what is harming us, what is hurting us, off the threat, the danger, and the struggle and instead focus on what God calls us to focus on, which is ultimately our belief in God. Our focus needs to be drawn away from at the problems at hand, the issues, and the hurts in our lives and instead needs to be on God, who is the sources of our healing, and our strength in times of struggle.

Before God can heal, before God can give us strength in our struggle, we have to learn to train our focus on God. We have to take our eyes off the ground and look up to God. We need to learn to look away from that which is plaguing us, take our eyes off of these things and instead look to God; to Trust God.

It important to note, God did not take the snakes away. God did not remove that which was plaguing the people, the snakes were not driven from amongst them, ala St. Patrick, but instead God gave them a way to deal with the snakes. God gave them what they needed to make it through. The healing they needed to live among the snakes. Their belief and reliance on God allowed them to have the strength they needed to withstand the venomous and deadly bite of serpents.

When God is with us, when we trust and rely on God, when we allow our belief in God to become our focus instead of all that is plaguing us, we are given exactly what we need to survive, to be healed, to live. The hurt may remain, we may continue to struggle, that which bites at our heels and causes us harm may not go away, but when we remove our focus from all that is plaguing us and turn our focus to God, our belief in God, our trust in God, we are then given what we need to make it through, to deal with the struggles and hardships that we face due so sin and evil in our lives and in our world.

Lent 2012 - The Covenant Journey: The Covenant at Siani

Exodus 20:1-17
When I was in fifth grade, if we memorized Exodus 20:1-17, our Sunday School teacher promised to give us a 1lb Hershey’s chocolate bar. It is amazing what a fifth grader would do for a 1lb bar of chocolate. Thinking back on it she was probably aiming pretty low, many of us might have memorized 5 chapters of the Bible for that much chocolate. There are few things in the Bible that our greater society at large knows about. Even if a person is disconnected enough from the Old Testament that they are unable to list even one of the commandments, they should know - assuming that they are following recent events in the last 10 years - that they at the very least exist and that there is controversy over whether or not they should be displayed at the local court house. If you grew up in the church even, if someone did not bribe you with chocolate to memorize them in their entirely, I am sure that somewhere along the line you were asked to recite at least some shortened version of these 17 verses as part of some Bible School, Children’s church, or VBS push.
This is the point in the Biblical narrative that God comes to the nation of Israel, which God has already sent Moses to, performed the plagues on their behalf, freed from Egyptian slavery, led safely across the sea, fed with manna and quail and have finally led them to the foot of the mountain, so that they can meet this God who has chosen them, rescued them and taken care of them up ‘til this point. They have come to this point so that they can come to an understanding as to what it truly means for God to be their god and for them to be God’s people. And God gives them these 10 commandments as the heart of the covenant.
These are the great commandments, this is the heart of how a community desiring to join together and join themselves with God will live. As I mentions last week, a covenant is a legally binding agreement where both parties agree to certain guidelines and stipulations. These 10 commandments are not suggestions, guidelines, or statements; they are the articles of the covenant God is making with these people. God says, “This is how a community living with me will live.” This is what your half of the agreement looks like. I will be your God, I have shown you what that looks like, I have worked on your behalf to bring you to this point and here is what I require of you. These are the legal guidelines of the relationship which God is building with these people. These commandments are in a sense legally binding on the community which desires to join itself in relationship with God.
It is interesting that not quite half of these covenant stipulations are not about the people’s relationship with God, actually just over half of them deal with their relationships with each other. Jesus summed up all the law and the prophets, Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. And this is indeed true in that most all of the law are expansions of these basic commands and the heart of these commandments are just simply about loving God and loving each other.
The things most gods asked of their adherents had to do mainly about what the people needed to do to get the gods to do what they wanted/needed the god to do. If you bring me honey cakes and your first born son, then I might make the crops grow. I you dance around in a particular fashion and give up one your daughters to the temple, then, if I am in a good mood, I might make it rain. If you anger me, if you displease me, if I woke up this morning and ticked about what my consort did, then I might rain fire and hail down on you, your animals and your crops, deal.
But that is not what God is like. God hears the cries and pleas of the people of Israel, when many of them don’t know God or have ever heard of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God calls one out from among them to be God’s voice to their oppressors and God comes to them and works on their behalf to free them and take care of them. And instead of proving to be a capricious or selfish God, God asks that they worship God and God alone, take one day out of every seven to set aside for worship and rest and to be nice to each other. This really does set God apart from the gods of Egypt and the gods of the other communities of the ancient near east.
God cares about them, in fact God love them. God wants what is best for them. So God set up parameters that not only their relationship with God, but their relationships with each other. God was not merely giving them rules about how to worship, rules on how to sacrifice. Being the people of God was harder than cutting of a nearly unnecessary part of their body that nobody could see anyway. The covenant stipulations might be simple but they are far from easy. Being the people of God meant that they had to change the way the lived their lives, all of their lives.
Being the people of God did not merely affect their “spiritual” life, how they worshipped, where they worshipped, who they worshipped and what they did when they worshipped, it affected every part of their lives. It affected how they spoke, what they said about others, their familial relationships, what and who they wanted, and what they did about what and who they wanted. It affected how they lived in relation to God and it affected how they lived in relation to every other person around them. This was not just making an agreement about which God they choose to worship, this was about adhering to a new way of life.
These covenant stipulations are not simply about how we worship or act toward God. Nor are they a check list that allows us to know if we have done all the proper things to get God to love us. God does not call us to live by a new set of rules. God does not call us to come to church on Sundays and make nice with the people of God we encounter there. God does not just care our spiritual lives. God does not merely want our worship. God wants us to completely change our whole lives. To change how we interact with each and every person we encounter, when we are at church as well as when we are not.
God cares about who we worship, why we worship and when we worship, but God also cares about how we treat each other. God does not want us to speak wrongly about God, but neither does God want us to speak wrongly about others. God loves us and desires our honor and praise, likewise God expects us to honor our parents. God love us and is a jealous God, God will not share us with other gods, and thus God wants us to assume that other people are just as jealous about those whom they love and that they do not wish to share those whom they have covenanted to love with us. Nor are we to desire their stuff, or take it. And on no account are we to haul off and kill them for just any reason. God does not merely care about who we worship, and when we worship, God cares about all our relationships, who we are when we are not worshipping, how we treat others when it is not the Sabbath, these things matter just as much to God as our focused allegiance and love.
What it looks live to live in covenant relationship with God is not easy. A check list is easy. Rules about how to properly worship God are easy. Things that tell us what we need to do to get God to do what we want God to do, sound a whole lot more appealing. Even if God is asking us to do things we don’t really want to do. At least then we know there is a pay in the end. God asks for more than adherence to a set of rules. Covenant relationship with god is more than just adding another checklist to our lives; or something else on our daily “to do.” God wants more than that. God wants all of us. God wants every part of who we are, every part of what we do.
These ten commandments; only worship God, do not have and idols, keep the Sabbath holy, do not speak wrongly about God, honor your parents, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not speak wrongly of others, do not murder, and do not covet. Sound easy, but they are more than just a check list, they are a way of life. They are the backbone, the heart, the inner workings of a relationship with God. This is about loving God and loving neighbor, as a way of life, a complete and utter change that requires us to wholly commit all aspects of who we are and all the relationships in our lives, whether they be who we worship, our parents, our friends, our neighbors, they guy who pumps our gas or that lady we pass every day on our way to work, all our relationships, every part of our lives is handed over and given over to a new way a life, a way of life that may not be easy but a way of life that is what living a community that is in relationship with the God of the universe is.
I am not against memorizing scripture, but I am not sure memorizing these 10 commandments in fifth grade did anything to help me truly understand what God was asking of me. Recently one of my friends on facebook said something to this effect in their status, “When I tell my children what to do, do not expect them to come back later and recite what I told them.” Memorizing the 10 commandments is not what it takes for them to take shape in our lives and change who we are. Memorizing these 17 verses probably makes it easier to see them as rules that help us earn God’s love. Simply calling them commandments, instead of seeing them as the heart of a covenant relationship, probably leads them to becoming a checklist to proving our worth before God.
In fact, I don’t know about you, but for many years, I thought these to be a list of what we are to do and not do in order to be Christians. And I would venture to say for many years they were are checklist for me, a part of my daily to do list. By doing these things, I was doing what I needed to do, so that God would look favorably upon me, so that God would love me. God does not ask for just part of us, God does not ask that we live by a set of standards, God asks for all of who we are. God asks for all of our relationships, all of our interactions, God asks for all of who we are. God wants to be in loving relationship with us and for us to in turn be in loving relationship with everyone else. God does not ask for much, but what God asks for is everything.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Covenant Journey: The Covenant with Abraham and Sarah

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17
Many of us who grew up in the church, who were nursed on the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are probably familiar with the story of Sarah laughing. In the timeline of the lives of the fore-parents of our faith Sarah’s mirth occurs after the events we just read. Sarah being chastised for her lack of faith occurs in the year just prior to her giving birth to Isaac. I don’t know about in your life, but in my life Sarah has received much flak for the lack of faith which her mirthful outburst reveals. In light of Abraham’s response here in this passage, I am going to have to say that our singling out of Sarah and calling her faithless for her reaction and not mentioning Abraham’s reaction here is a might bit unfair to Sarah.

As I read the passage I see an amused Sarah who chuckles at the quaint nature of this “God” who kept promising a child over decades but had yet to do anything to make this happen. In this passage on the other hand, Abraham falls over laughing at what he sees as a hysterical joke which God seems to insist on playing.

Whereas Sarah is chuckling in the way one might when a child who continues to tell the chicken joke and must chuckle because there is nothing else to do, Abraham breaks out in a raucous guffaw that causes him to fall on his face. I can see him on the floor before the divine nature of God, arms holding his sides, tears streaming down his face, laughing so hard he can barely stop. If you read a little further, at some point Abraham pulls himself up off the floor, gets himself together and wiping the tears from the corners of his eyes, asks God if there is any possibility that this promise is to be fulfilled through Ishmael. No, no God has every intention for the geriatric Sarah, as she has just been named, to bear the son through whom God plans to make a great nation out of Abraham. At this point, in the movie reel in my mind, Abraham who is still wiping the laughter tears from his face and struggling to get his composure at the hilarious nature of God stops dead. His face goes from horribly amused to deadpan. God is serious. God is not teasing, God is 100% serious. Sarah, his Sarah, 90 some-odd-year-old, Sarah is going to bare a son. God firmly believes this and is continuing to promise it.

That is where this passage ends, but where this passage begins is with God coming to Abram to establish a covenant with him. A covenant is a legal agreement between two people that is binding. God comes to Abram and proposes to make a covenant with him. As with all legally binding agreements, there are terms to the agreement, and there are things which are expected of both parties involved. First of all God calls for Abram live a blameless life. God begins with what God expects of Abram. God expects Abram to be blameless, to live a life that God would consider right and good; a life of love, loving God and loving those around him. God never really asks for much, just right living, just living, love for God and all humanity; simple things that are all encompassing; simple things that affect how one lives every part of their life.
If Abram is willing to live life as God calls him to live it, then God will do several things as well. If Abram is willing to live a blameless life, according to the call of God, then God will make Abram fruitful. God will provide Abram with children, heirs, descendants and not just A child, but a child who will have children, who will have children who will have children. Abram will not merely be the father of a son, not just the father of a family, or a clan, or a tribe, but the father of a family of Tribes, not just the father of a great nation, but the father of a multitude of nations. Abram who has lived his whole life heirless, with out a son to remember his name to the next generation will not only be remembered but he will be remembered from generation to generation because he will not be the father of just one son, but the father of nations of sons.

The finally the last thing God makes known about this covenant is that is it is an eternal covenant. It is not a covenant which is only good for a season or expires when Abram does, but it is a covenant made with Abram and all of his descendants for all times, for always. There is no expiration date. There is no time limit on God’s faithfulness, as long as Abram and his descendant uphold their end of the covenant, God is willing to up hold God’s end.

As one of the signs of this covenant, God changes both Abram’s and Sari’s names. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and Sari’s name is changed to Sarah. Abraham goes from a “great ancestor,” which was the meaning of his name to “Father of nations.” And Sari goes from having a name that has no discernable meaning (as far as we can tell) to being called “Princess” which is what Sarah means. Both of them are given, by God, names of promise, names that look to the future and mark them as people who belong to God. These names let them see who they are, who they will become and as whom they will always be remembered.

Abraham will not merely be a great ancestor to small Bedouin clan but he will be a father of nations, he will be a father king and Sarah will be his princess, a mother to the nations he will father. These two who are in danger of never being remembered because they are old and have no children to carry their story to the next generation will be remembered because from them and their offspring great and many nations rise up. They will not be forgotten. And they have not been, neither of them, I mean, even today after thousands of year, we are here talking about both Abraham and Sarah, who they are and what their story means for us and our story. In the simply act of discussing them here today, we are remembering them and they through scriptures are remembered daily by Christians, Jews and even Muslims all over the world. When God makes a promise, God makes a promise. Abraham and Sarah as the forbearers of great nations have never been forgotten and their children still live today. The promise God makes with Abraham in this covenant and in these names still stands.

God names them, God calls them God’s own and God gives them new names, names of promise which speak to who they are and who God is calling them to be. As Christians we see ourselves if not literal children of Abraham, we see ourselves as children of Abraham’s faith. In Christ, we have come to believe, worship and obey the God of Abraham. We see ourselves as spiritual children of Abraham, children grafted onto the family tree of Abraham through our faith in Christ the one and only son of the true and living God, who came to Abram, named him Abraham and entered into an eternal covenant relationship with him and all his children. We see ourselves as spiritual children of Abraham and spiritual children of this eternal covenant God makes here in this passage. Through our belief in God’s one and only son, we are able to see ourselves as children of this covenant, a part of the great nations God gives to Abraham as his descendants and as partakers in this covenant relationship God forms with Abraham.

When God calls for Abraham to walk blameless, we can see this as God’s call on each our lives as well. God will go before us, guide us through the wilderness of our lives, as he led Abraham. God will be almighty God for us, love us and fill our lives with the love only God can give, if we in turn and will live as God calls us to live, to love God, love one another, and to let these things dictate and determine who we are, our actions, our thoughts, our words, our attitudes, who we are to the very core of our being, then we truly are partakers of this covenant, participants in the promises God makes here in this passage.

If we do these things God will call us by new names, names of promise, names that speak of who God is calling us to be, names that speak to our future and speak to who each of us were created to be. I have already used that name a few times in this sermon already; it is a name we take up when we become members of God’s family, when we accept the truth of Christ’s life, teachings, death and resurrection. We call our selves by Christ’s name; we call ourselves Christ-ians. We identify ourselves by the one in whom we believe, we allow God to rename who we are. When we accept Christ we are named for more than just the name of the where we live, we are more than simply Americans, or Massachusians or Cambridgeites, we are named for the one whose life gives us life, and we are called by the name of Christ. We are marked as Children of God, we begin to become the people we are created to be and we are united with Christ in name, in word and in deed. As Christians we are marked with the sign and the name of covenant people in our baptisms. This promise made to Abraham becomes our promise, and through Christ we become children of that promise, called to live as God would have us live and blessed by the very promise that blessed both Abraham and Sarah. So let us go from here living as children of the promise, children of God, united to live, and reflect the light and love of the one in whom we find our name, Jesus Christ. Let us go from here this morning truly being named Christians.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lent 2012 - The Covenant Journey: The Covenant with all Creation

Genesis 9:8-17

The whole flood story makes me think of
that sermon by Jonathan Swift, called Sinners
in the Hands of an angry God. We had to read
it and analyze it in my junior year of high
school. We looked at the picture of humanity
it painted and the view of God that it
presented, all as a way of understanding the
mindset of the puritans of the 18th century. I
don’t remember much about it other than that
it presented a bleak unrelenting view of God
where there seemed to be no grace, no mercy,
no love. I also remember being highly
thankful that preachers don’t preach like that

The image of evil sinners in the hands of a
vengeful, angry God who can’t stand the very
presence of them anymore seems just about
right when you come to the story of the flood.
It seems that at this point God is so frustrated
at the perverseness of all of humanity that God
is done with the, and seeks to destroy us all.
That we are nothing but dirty nasty sinful
creatures and there is nothing left to do but
have a good go a destroying us all. But that of
course is not actually what is happening here.

As we come to understand the flood and
this covenant promise God makes after the
flood why don’t I give you a brief history of
humankind up to this point, or at least a brief
history of how sin filled the earth to such an
extent that everything is destroyed to give us
all a fresh start: So in the beginning there was
nothing, absolutely nothing, except God and
God made everything, the earth, the sky the
whole universe, everything. Last of all God
made a couple of humans whom God filled
with the very life/breath of God. God gave
them a beautiful garden to live in and they
were friends with God.

God had a pretty close relationship with
them until they decided one day that they
wanted to be like God and know all the things
God knows and in attempting to do so did the
one thing that God had asked them not do.
And by doing this and in attempting to be
who they were not, they introduced sin and
evil into the world. This is called the Fall.
God did not take kindly to this and kicked
them out of the garden and because of their
actions sin became apart of their lives and evil
became a part of the fabric the world itself.
If you work your way through Genesis
from the time of the fall through the time of
the flood each event given shows us that sin
was spreading and continually getting worse.
The first two people have two sons and one
kills the other, and things just go down hill
from there. Until we get to the point in
chapter 9 of Genesis that the forces of sin and
evil bring nature crashing down on itself. God
sends a flood in an attempt to wash things

When humanity sinned all of creation
suffered alongside of humanity. One of the
themes which runs through most of the Old
Testament is the fact that all of creation suffers
because of humanities sin. The flood is an
example of all of creation suffering because of
humanities’ sin. Sin started in the garden and
continued in the lives of all humans who
followed. Sin had become so rampant that the
forces of nature come crashing down in on
itself. The flood is the natural consequence of
humanities’ sin infecting the world, infecting
all creation. The sin of humanity floods all of
creation and so the world is covered in the
watery consequences of that sin. Humanity
drowns all of creation in their own sin, so to
speak. In many ways the world is washed
clean of sinful humanity and the infectious
nature of their sin. Only Noah, whom God
sees a righteous and unblemished by the
effects sin, and his immediate family are saved,
rescued from the consequences of humanities’
sin. Only Noah and his family remain safe
and dry inside the ark which God told him to

Following the flood, God makes a covenant
not only with Noah, but with all creation. At
the point when we walk into the story this
morning, the flood waters have receded, the
land had dried out, and the world was once
again in habitable. Noah and his family step
tentatively out into the new world.
When Noah and his family get off the ark
God comes to Noah and makes a promise to
Noah, his descendants and the whole earth.
God makes a promise to not allow the world
to be flooded in this way again. The covenant
God makes is a promise made not only with
Noah himself but with all creation as well.
God makes a covenant with every living
creature and the birds of the air. God says that
never again will they be cut off from earth;
never again will the flood waters rise to
destroy the earth and all that lives.
This is a promise in which God says that
God will never allow humanity to be
destroyed by the waters of a flood again. God
will never allow the world to suffer as it did
with the flood. God will stay God’s own hand
and the world and nature will not collapse in
on itself in this way again and God places the
rainbow in the sky.

The rainbow in the sky above the ark,
Noah and all the animals is probably one of
the most iconic images of the Old Testament,
oddly enough it seems to be the favored image
for most children’s Bibles, but analyzing why
that is so, is a topic of idyll contemplation and
not this sermon. But instead I want us to think
about what the rainbow means. Why did God
put a rainbow in the sky? Why is that the
symbol of the covenant promise God makes
here in this passage? What is that rainbow
doing there?
First of all what exactly is the rainbow. The
rainbow was not something God created after
the flood, but God uses the rainbow as a
symbol of the covenant that God makes here
following the flood. The rainbow is a symbol
of God’s great war bow, you know as in bows
and arrows; the kind that archers would have
used in battle. God’s war bow could be the
bow which God has raised against humanity
and all the earth by bringing the flood. The
idea being that the bow that God uses to
bring the flood is a rain bow, a bow that brings
rain. The rainbow is a symbol of God’s rain
bow being placed in the sky as a sign to
humanity and all creation of the covenant that
God made when Noah and his family stepped
off the ark that day.
There are two understandings of what the
bow in the sky means. First of all it could be
that the bow in the sky is the rain bow which
God has laid down never to raise in battle
against humanity and all the earth again. God
is placing it in the sky so that we can see that
God has laid it down, that it is no longer
raised against us. It is placed in the sky so
that we know that God will never again raise
the war bow up again against humanity and
bring the waters of a flood down upon the

It could be that the promise of the rainbow
is a promise of protection. God picked up the
rain bow and placed in the sky to protect us
from this happening again. In this case it can
be seen as a bow of protection. God had
raised up the great war bow to protect
humanity and the creatures of the earth from
the destructive forces of a future flood. In a
sense God is promising to protect us all from
the greatest consequences of sin. The flood
was an example of the worst that can happen
now that humanities’ sin has infected and
infested the world. God raised the bow to
protect the world from the worst that can
happen. God is moving to protect us from the
worst consequences that our own sin can bring
down upon us.

There are the two options and usually
when I see two options that are laying side by
side each other and not contradicting each
other I like look to see if perhaps we are to
come to the conclusion that both are correct.
Perhaps God is promising, by placing the
rainbow in the sky, to not only to not raise
the war bow against humanity and all creation
ever again, but ALSO promising to raise it to
protect us from the worst consequences of our
own sinful choices and the evil that affects the
world due to our sin. This is a promise from
God showing us that God will always move
on our behalf to mediate the consequences that
sin has in our lives and in our world.
That is really cool information. For many
of us it may give us a new way to look at this
story, but what does this mean for us today?
It means God loves us. This passage, first and
foremost, speaks of God’s love for us. God
loves us and does not desire for us to be
destroyed by our own sin and evil. God does
not desire for us or the entire world to be
completely destroyed because of the choices
we, as fallen humans, make to perpetuate the
evil that infects us and all of creation.
Secondly it tells us that God loves creation.
God loves the whole world. God cares about
this world, God cares about creation. God
does not wish for creation to be destroyed by
anything, much less by the consequences of
fallen humanity; either by our purposeful
actions, our actions that disregard creation or
by the unintended consequence our choices
and our actions have upon our world. God
created the world and everything that is in it.
As God created things, God stepped back and
saw that creation was good. God does not
desire that anything God created be destroyed.
Not by us, not by our sin, not by the evil we
have unleashed on this world. God cares for
all of creation because it is God’s creation after

Lastly it tells us that God wants the best for
us. God will not rise up against us; God
promises to not raise up against humanity and
all creation. God’s desire is not to destroy us.
God’s desire is not to harm us, or bring
calamity to any of us individually or to
humanity as a whole. God’s desire is for us to
live apart from sin and evil and the horrible
consequence they bring to our lives and in to
our world. We are told here that God will
protect us from the worst that we bring upon
ourselves. God promises to protect us from
ourselves, to protect us from the worst of sins
consequences. God will not allow our sin to
so effect the world in which we live that world
will collapse in on itself in this way again.

We can look around at our world. We can
see the consequences of sin all around us. Bad
evil things happen every day, all these things
are consequences the sin of humanity and the
evil that we have unleashed in this world.
When we see these things happening every
day all around us, the rainbow reminds us
that God is protecting us from the worst
consequences of sin. We are being protected
from the worst things that can happen. God is
protecting us. The great war bow of God is
holding back the most horrible consequences
of sin and evil. God love us, wants to protect
us and save us from our own destruction.
This is ultimately played out in God sending
Christ to save us from our demise, to rescue us
from the consequences of the sin in which we
insist on living.

We have a God who is willing to go to
extreme measures to protect us from ourselves,
to show us love. Even here in one of the
earliest stories of the Old Testament we see a
loving God who is willing to come to us to
show us exactly how much we are loved. So
in many ways instead of us being Sinner in the
hands of an angry God we are actually to
sinners in the hands of a loving caring God,
who not only promises to not allow us to be
destroyed but promises to protect us, to move
on our behalf to mediate the worst possible
consequences of our own sin.