02/22/15 Sermon (February 22, 2015)

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:23 AM by David Hawkins

“A Promise for all”

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 9:8-17

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."

God 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: 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 of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When 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."

God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

New Testament Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water,

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Sermon: "A Promise for All"             Rev. David Hawkins

You all have probably noticed a change in the order of worship this morning, an additional scripture reading. For this season of Lent, for the next six weeks, I will be including the Old Testament readings in the service as part of the preaching text.

And especially today, the old testament text provides the background and foundation for the new testament text. The Genesis account of God’s covenant with humanity after the flood so perfectly teaches us about Baptism, it would be a shame not to include it.

But before we get there, I think we need to talk just a little bit about biblical interpretation. I don’t mean to tell you all how or what you should believe -- that’s between you and God -- but we do have to recognize that people read the Bible in different ways.

For some some folks, their theology rests on a literal interpretation of scripture, that God covered the whole the earth with water, that Noah built an ark and populated it with the male and female animals that we know today, and that Noah and his family are the ancestors of all human beings. For them, this story is a scientific account of the geological, anthropological, and zoological history of the earth.

For others, this story is a metaphor that is trying to tell a deeper truth about God’s relationship with humanity. This theology does not rest on the understanding that the Bible is describing a literal, world-wide flood, or that Noah and the ark are the literal biological genetic precursors of all of modern creation. They read this account as a story that reveals to them a God who puts limits on his own power, and makes unilateral covenants with a people who have done nothing to deserve this mercy.

I fall into this second camp. I believe that the the creation accounts of the Bible are ways that the writers of our Old Testament Scriptures wrestled with the foundational ideas about where we came from, why we are the way we are, and who God is. I do not believe that they were ever meant to be scientific explanations for the how the earth came into being.

The reality is, science and theology are both searching for answers, but they are trying to answer fundamentally different kinds of questions. Science is trying to answer the questions ‘What?’ and ‘How?’, and ‘When?’ and ‘Where?’ while theology is focused on trying to answer the questions ‘Who?’ and ‘Why?’ These kinds of questions approach things from two very different perspectives.

And scientists who try to answer the question ‘Who?’ using the scientific method will find it difficult to prove God. You can’t pin God down like a butterfly, dissect him like a frog. God is, and always will be, beyond our reach, scientifically speaking.

Trying to find a reason for ‘Why?’ is just as difficult, from a scientific perspective. Coming up with a reason for the existence of the universe is not something that you can test and verify. One might be able to suggest how the universe came into being, and maybe even when, but not why. That question is out of bounds for scientists.

And on the other hand, when we try do science from the Bible, we find ourselves confronted by uncomfortable facts, like the half-life of certain radioactive isotopes, and the existence of dinosaur fossils. The bronze age scientific knowledge of the Bible isn’t up to the task of explaining our modern universe. The earth is not flat, the Milky Way does not rotate around us. We have to come to terms with the fact that technology has revealed to us details about our creation that our ancestors could only imagine. Using theology to answer scientific questions is just as problematic as using science to answer religious questions.

Of course, this is my perspective, not everyone’s. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this. But I hope that we can agree that these differences in interpretation don’t have to jeopardize our relationships, or, for that matter, don’t have anything to do with our salvation. As St. Paul reminds us, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, even contrasting interpretations of scripture will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We need this reminder that the way we read the Bible does not save us. Only Jesus Christ does.

Which brings us back to today’s scripture.

In today’s old testament, we catch up with Noah and his family on this side of the flood. Prior to the flood, you may remember that humanity had left the garden of Eden, and had set out on a course of self-destruction and chaos. God let us go down that path and it ended in the dangerous chaos of a sea that covered the earth. God’s wrath was real, and it was complete.

But when God clears away the chaos of the ocean, He does something that we don’t expect. He reconsiders. While God is under no illusion that humanity has actually changed its ways, he decides to unilaterally disarm himself. God decides that regardless of humanity’s actions, he will never again allow us to be destroyed, nor will he destroy us. He sets limits on his own power, limits that are not dependant on our actions.

God acts in a way that needs not be reciprocated by us, cannot be reciprocated by, in fact, in a way that he know will not reciprocated by us. And yet, he still does it. His mercy and love is one sided, and it is extended to all creation.

And to symbolize this promise of God’s limits, he sets a rainbow in the air. He hangs up the bow and arrow of war, his war-bow of destruction, and he will not use it again. It is forever retired. God will not let us be taken over by the destructive chaos of our own actions ever  again. He will never act against us. And he will always come to us to save us.

And while this promise to save humanity is symbolized by a rainbow, our New Testament scripture reminds us that it is sealed and made complete in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus comes to us as the final word that completes a promise made in the very beginning. God promised humanity that regardless of our sin, he would not allow us to come to ruin.

And so, if we think about it, the Gospel message did not begin with the birth of Jesus two thousand years ago. It began when God decided that he would not allow us to be destroyed, or to destroy ourselves. It began when God decided to be on the side of humanity, even when we are not on his side, when we are not worthy of him, even when we walk away from him, even when we forget that we are living only by his grace.

And this Gospel promise made to Noah after the flood was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the clearest expression of God’s mercy. He is the zenith of God’s love for us. In him we find all the answers we can ever hope to the questions ‘Who?” and ‘Why?” Who is this Jesus Christ? He is God himself, come to earth. Why did he come? He came to save us from destruction, just exactly as he had promised.

And just as God made this promise to all creation, Jesus has come to save all the world, even those souls bound in the prison of Hell. Jesus speaks for everyone. You, me, us, them. Everyone is under the protection of Jesus.

This is the promise that we celebrate every time our youth invite us to hear the sound of Good News and to remember our baptism. The promise that was made to Noah was kept in Jesus. The promise that God will never leave us to our own destruction, that he will always come to us, and be with us, and will always save us, even from ourselves, is made real to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Over these next six weeks of Lent, we are invited to consider what it means to live in this grace. The discipline of Lent is not about giving up something that we love in order to suffer for Jesus Christ. The discipline of Lent is recognizing that living for Jesus Christ means that we might need to give us those things that keep us from granting this grace to other people.

Lenten discipline means letting God keep his promise to other people, just as he has done for us. It means recognizing that God has bound himself to all people, not just Christians, or Jews. It might be helpful to remember that Noah was neither. We might not understand exactly how this works, but according to the Bible, God has given himself to the world, and whether we like it or not, he will honor that commitment. We need to decide whether or not we want to honor it with him.

We live in a time of terrible chaos. The flood waters of war threaten to overwhelm us. We are quick to claim God’s support for our cause, for us, and for only us. This story in Genesis, whether we read it literally or not, reminds us that while God is on our side, he is also on their side. God is on our side, but he is also on the side of the refugee, the outcast, the illegal alien, the war orphan. He is on our side, but he is also on the side of the oppressed, of the exploited, of the poor, and the weak. He is on our side, but he is also on the the side of endangered rainforests of Brazil, the mountain streams of West Virginia, and the dwindling river basins of the American southwest.

God is on our side, because he has put himself on the side of all creation, not just Americans, not just Christians, but all people, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Russians, Communists, Republicans, Democrats, even Oklahomans. God’s love for his creation is just as overwhelming and all-consuming as the waters of the flood.

But because God has promised to hold us in the ark of his love for all eternity, these waters of grace will never leave us, they will never subside. In the waters of God’s mercy, we are renewed and refreshed, and brought once more to fount of God’s everlasting covenant.

Remember your Baptism, and keep it holy.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ

we bend our knees

and lift up our hearts,

giving glory to God forever. Amen.