As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Flood and Promise, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday September 9, 2018. The Reading was Genesis 6:5-22, 9:8-17, and 8:1-12.
This sermon was given as 3 separate messages given throughout the meeting.
Message 1: Going Deeper in the Story
This is a familiar reading, but we know the Sunday School version. Have you ever gone a bit deeper into this story – and thought about how that initial conversation God had with Noah might have gone?
God: (standing on a chair behind Noah, he rings a bell once) NOAH. Bill Cosby
Noah: (Looks up) Is someone calling me? (Shrugs and goes back to his work)
God: (Ding) NOAH!!
Noah: Who is that?
God: It’s the Lord, Noah.
Noah: Right … Where are ya? What do ya want? I’ve been good.
God: I want you to build an ark.
Noah: Right … What’s an ark?
God: Get some wood and build it 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.
Noah: Right … What’s a cubit?
God: Well never mind. Don’t worry about that right now. After you build the ark, I want you to go out into the world and collect all the animals of the world, two by two, male and female, and put them into the ark.
Noah: Right … Who is this really? What’s going on? How come you want me to do all these weird things?
God: I’m going to destroy the world.
Noah: Right … Am I on Candid Camera? How are you gonna do it?
God: I’m going to make it rain for a thousand days and drown them right out.
Noah: Right … Listen, do this and you’ll save water. Let it rain for forty days and forty nights and wait for the sewers to back up.
It’s a bit of a humorous look at that situation, but it’s a worthwhile point. We often read the words, but don’t think about what is happening, or what is happening around the story.
And a big part that we often overlook is God’s role in the flood. When we think about Noah building the ark to protect all the animals from the flood – that is, the Sunday school story – we often forget that it was God who caused the flood because he wanted to destroy the earth. That the only way to redeem what God had made was to destroy it all.
Does that make you uncomfortable?
Or what about if I was to point out that as Noah locked up his ark, with all the animals inside, and the waters began to rise, there would have been a large number of bodies floating around the ark – a constant reminder of what God had done.
We’re not in Sunday School anymore with this story, are we?
But there is something that I want to go a bit deeper still in. In verse 18, God says to Noah, “I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”
Now, a covenant was a reciprocal promise of sorts. It would generally take the form of “If you do this, then I will do that for you”. And when normal people would make a covenant, they would often invoke a higher power – that is, God – as a witness to that covenant. But God can’t invoke himself in order to keep this promise. And the promise that he makes is somewhat different to what a normal covenant would be. There is no reciprocity. God isn’t expecting Noah to do anything – just that God will let him and his family on the ark. And maybe that is the covenant – that Noah and his family will be allowed in the ark. Or maybe this isn’t the covenant, and what God is saying is a promise that there will be a covenant established.
We’ll come back to that – I promise.
Message 2: God Remembers his Promise
It’s amazing how Davey can show me just how awful my memory is. He can remember things that happened to him ages ago like they were only yesterday. I have trouble trying to remember what I did last week. Why, even on Thursday, between talking about my day with Liesl before leaving about 8:30am, and just after lunchtime, I had managed to forget something I had on that night which threw the rest of my day out. Some may claim baby brain, but I guess now that Micah is 1, I can no longer claim that.
Our memory is an interesting thing. At times, we can completely forget about something, and then all of a sudden, we have remembered it. Where did it come from? Where did it go? What made it come back? Have you ever had those experiences, where for some unknown reason you’re remembering some event that happened to you years, or decades ago? At times, it can seem like it is a switch – when we have forgotten about something, it’s switched off, and when we are reminded, it’s switched back on, with seemingly no in between ground between the two.
And when used in that context, this passage seems a bit odd. Almost as if God had completely forgotten about Noah and the ark, and one of the angels reminded God about it. Or maybe, as in Genesis 1, God was hovering over the waters, and all of a sudden saw this strange looking boat on the waters and went, “Oh, that’s right, Noah. I had completely forgotten about that! Guess I better do something about them now.”
However, the way that the Hebrew verb is constructed, it is indicating an action that happens in the past, but is continuing to unfold in the present. So, perhaps a better way of explaining this phrase was that God had remembered and continued to remember Noah and the promise that was made.
We’re still early in the book of Genesis. We don’t even have the name of God at this stage – that doesn’t come until the book of Exodus with Moses. Through these stories we are learning about the nature of God. We are learning that God is a God who is remembering. A God who doesn’t forget the promises that were made.
We’ll come back to that – I promise.
Message 3: God’s Covenant – then and now
I have my computer in the living room at home. It means that I can work on it while the kids are watching something and I can still keep half an eye on them. But it also means that sometimes, they will come over to the computer, and start hitting keys. Sometimes, I’ll get to the computer and there will be a whole heap of nonsense in the middle of my sermon. And that’s easy enough to delete. But sometimes, they’ll have done something that I have absolutely no idea what they’ve done, and the computer is doing something wrong. I have no idea what to do to fix it, so the general solution is for me to reset the computer – turn it off and on, and start again.
Sometimes, it’s like that with the various projects that we do. I know there’s been times where Liesl has been doing some crochet, and has got most of the way through a project, only to realise that she made a mistake somewhere along the way and now it’s all wrong. Sometimes, the only way to fix something is to take it all apart and start again.
And that’s effectively what God did with this Flood. The creation that he had made had become so out of hand, so corrupt, that the only way for him to fix it was to turn it off and on again. And we see that in the command that God gives to Noah to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” But you can also see that God was hurting from having to destroy his creation.
It’s never easy to start over. It’s never easy to change what you thought was going to work. In doing so, you have to recognise the mistakes that you made. Maybe God destroying the whole world was the right thing to do. Maybe, it was a mistake. Either way, I think we see God’s heart grieve the loss of life that he inflicted. And so we get this covenant.
This is the covenant that was promised to Noah. Known in theological circles as the Noahic Covenant, this is the true covenant that follows the standard form. Noah, and his descendants, will be fruitful and multiply, and will respect the sanctity of life in all things. In response, God committed to never destroying the world again. And to remind us both of this covenant, God adds some meaning to the Rainbow. The rainbow was already in existance – the text reads “I have set my bow in the clouds” not, “I will set”. The bow was already there, part of God’s magnificent creation. But with it being a regular sign, God uses that to remind us – and to remind God – about the covenant that was made.
But, as we’ve already established, God doesn’t forget. God isn’t going to destroy the world again. But us humans – we forget. We forget often. The Jews would find more and more ways to break the will of God, to grow hard in their hearts. And us as humans, we would find more and more ways to destroy the sanctity of life. We keep finding new ways to destroy life – there is a whole industry that seems hell bent on getting stronger and more powerful weapons in to the hands of the general public. We’re finding more and more dangerous ways to go to war. We’re finding new words that can be used to destroy a person and break them down so that we don’t kill them, but they kill themselves. We’re finding new and harsh ways to torture the people that we don’t like. We have forgotten the sanctity of life. We have forgotten that humankind was created in the image of God.
Now normally, if one party was to break the covenant, the covenant would be invalid. But as we have established, God is a God who remembers. He has been constantly remembering the covenant made with Noah. And since the world couldn’t be destroyed again, there had to be a new plan. Jesus. Jesus is the answer to all the mistakes in our world. The answer to all the death and destruction that we have created. When God said “For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning”, it wasn’t to institute the death penalty. It wasn’t to say, if you kill one person, then you will be killed likewise. No, the reckoning, the blood that was to be shed was the blood of Jesus. God’s ultimate reset. For in Jesus offering himself up as this sacrifice, he took on the sins of the world – both the ones that had been made and the ones that will be made, and said “God, this is that reckoning. Remember those sins no more”.
God knew that in hitting the reset button, that humanity wouldn’t change. We were corrupt before, and in Genesis 8:21, God acknowledges that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” So instead, God sets in place a plan that will allow God’s mercy to win. God blesses Abraham and Sarah in order that they will be a blessing. God calls the Israelites to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” God calls prophets and priests, shepherds and vine-dressers, to proclaim God’s judgement and God’s mercy, and call people back to this covenantal loyalty.
This is the story of Noah – a story about a God who always remembers, sets in action a path that will allow God to forget our sins. A promise, a covenant with us that God will never forget.
You’re invited to come into that covental relationship. To come in and be remembered by the God who will never forget. To be re-membered as a part of God’s creation, made in God’s image. All that is needed is what we find in Romans 10: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you haven’t done that before, then I invite you to come and be a part of God’s covenant. To be party to that incredible mercy that means our all-remembering God will forget your sins. And if you have confessed that Jesus is Lord, and you do believe that God raised him from the dead, then I invite you to remember that amazing Grace that transformed your life.