February 21, 2021


Genesis 9:8-17

“Leaning into the Promises of God”

Thank you, Marianne and Bill, for sharing that beautiful song, “You Are Mine” by David Haas. It is one of my favourites, and so appropriate for today’s service.

You may have noticed, as you were listening, that the words of the song are God’s words to us. They are words of promise, words of encouragement, and words of hope. God promises: “I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fear. You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice. Be still and know I am near. Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.”

The words remind me of the promises of a parent to a child who is scared, of the assurances of a caregiver to a dear one who is ailing, or of the vows of a couple getting married and covenanting together to be faithful to one another all the days of their lives.

We use the word “covenant” to describe the lifelong partnership of love and faithfulness into which couples enter by making promises to one another in the presence of God and other people who serve to witness the vows and support the relationship. But the idea of “covenant” comes first from God and the relationship of love that God initiates with human beings and sustains through God’s perfect faithfulness and merciful forgiveness.

During this Season of Lent, the Sunday texts from the Hebrew Scriptures are a celebration of the covenant relationship that we have with God. A resource I am using for our Youth Church Membership Classes starting tomorrow evening describes the covenants of God like this:

“Through Noah and his family, God made an unconditional promise for all creatures – a covenant. Through Abraham and Sarah, God promised to be with people in their life travels. When the Israelites were beaten and crying out in slavery, God sent Moses to lead them towards a Promised Land. God gave people the Ten Commandments as a guide to holy living. God continually took initiative and established or restored a covenant relationship.

“People throughout history waver between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, obedience and forgetfulness, but God remains constant. Through good and bad times, God is a faithful guide.”

So, during this Season of Lent, rather than getting too worked up about our sins and failings as we sometimes do in this penitential season, we’re going to celebrate and remember this covenant. And we’ll consider how we are invited to lean into the promises of God, to respond with thanks and with growing faithfulness as we embrace the gift of living and being in relationship with the God of the Universe.

So, we better get into today’s text – the final part of the story about Noah’s Ark. The children’s story this morning will have reminded you of the crisis that came before this passage’s message of hope. And you may remember that the whole problem started when the people of the world were up to no good.

In Genesis 6:5-6 we read that “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.” And God decided to destroy everything that God had made because God was sorry to have made them.

While the earth was filled with violence, fortunately, there was one family that was deemed to be good, the only one that “walked with God.” God gave instructions to Noah and his family to build a huge boat and to take with them a couple of each animal of the earth so that God would have a starting point for another attempt at making a good world. And then the rain began and flooded the earth, destroying everything except that floating zoo, as I’ve heard it called.

Today’s passage is the end of that story and the beginning of everything that will follow. Today’s passage is a realization on God’s part that destroying everything when the humans mess up is not going to work. I mean, the humans are going to mess up – again and again. We’re like that!

Even though there are going to be many more times when God may be feeling somewhat sorry to have made us, God promises in this passage not to react by wiping us out again. God is like a partner in a marriage accepting the fact that their spouse is not going to be perfect and that they will undoubtedly hurt and betray one another at times. But rather than remembering that the option of divorce is always there, the partner makes vows to remain faithful.

God says to Noah and his family: “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… there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

What is asked of the people in return for this promise? In the first part of chapter 9, God instructs them to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” – the same kind of instructions given to the first human beings in Genesis 1. But the covenant itself is God’s gracious promise to us, without requiring a similar promise on our part.

You may have noticed, however, that the promise is not only for Noah. It’s for Noah and his family. It’s for Noah and his descendants – so, all the people of the world throughout history. And it’s for every living creature of the earth. Just think… in the original story the humans messed up and all the creatures of the earth got destroyed. It makes me think of the marriage that ends in a nasty divorce where it is the children that suffer the most.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that people should stay together in abusive or bad marriages “for the sake of the children” when respectful separation may be the best option for everyone. But what we see from God here is the determination to forgive, to keep working on the relationship, and to refuse to sacrifice all the good because God’s human partners are far from perfect.

My favourite part of today’s story is the rainbow. After all, when I was a kid, rainbows were my absolute favourite things to draw. Rainbows embodied beauty, wonder, and joy. And I loved the fact that I knew the right order for the colours, and that it wasn’t “blue” in the rainbow, it was “indigo.”

God says, “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: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature.”

Scientifically, we know that rainbows are formed when light shines through water, like when the sun shines through the rain. The raindrops act like tiny prisms. White light shines through the droplets, and is bent and spread out into a band of colours that becomes a rainbow. But symbolically, the rainbow is sunshine and beauty after the rain. It is a sign of hope that there will be life after destruction and joy after pain.

The rainbow could be a powerful symbol for us in the midst of a global pandemic. Not because we would agree with anyone who might suggest that God is responsible for the horrors that this virus is inflicting on people throughout the world, but because it could remind us that God promises NOT to destroy us.

God promises to protect and help us. And not just us Christians, or us people of faith, or us human beings… but God’s promise is for all living creatures on the earth. With God’s help, and people of good will working together to help and protect the most vulnerable, this pandemic will end. We can be assured of that.

The rainbow has also become an important symbol in contemporary life for members of the LGBTQ community. How appropriate it is to let the rainbow remind us all of the beauty of diversity. And from a Christian perspective, the rainbow flag might also proclaim the truth of God’s love and promise for all people and all of Creation. Despite ongoing discrimination, hatred, and homophobia from other people, God’s covenant love is for every one of us.

Sometimes, I know, when we look around the world and despair at the violence and hatred that is so prevalent, we may feel like God did back in chapter six of Genesis. It seems like wickedness is everywhere, and evil is all around. Like God initially chose to wipe out the evil with a flood, we may wish that God would at least swoop down and wipe out our enemies and those who use their power to do violence and oppress the vulnerable.

But there’s another meaning to that bow that God sets in the clouds. Although it may be a beautiful sight caused by the refraction of sunlight through the rain, the bow could also be the archer’s bow used for warfare and violence. God chooses, in this passage, to hang up the bow – to become a God who desires reconciliation over revenge.

We don’t often get to see more than a glimpse of a rainbow, but when we do see a full one its arc goes like this. If you imagined it as an archer’s bow, the arrow would be pointed up to the sky, away from the people and creatures of the earth. So there we have a clear sign of God’s promise not to destroy us – setting down a weapon of war, pointing it away from us so that we cannot even be threatened by it, and promising to love us, and love us, and love us until we cannot help but love God and one another in return.

I hope you’ll join me as we continue through this season of celebrating the covenant relationship with God which is God’s gracious gift to us. May our partnerships with God be strengthened as we lean into God’s promises for us, and respond to them with gratitude and joy.