I almost began this sermon this morning by saying that everyone knows the story of Noah and the ark. That unfortunately, however, would have been a lie. Just this week I was reading about a recent survey that revealed that twelve percent of our friends and neighbors are quite confident that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. No; really, she wasn’t Noah’s wife. She lived a very long time after Noah died. They wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to meet, let alone to fall in love and get married.
And so, for further edification, I commend the book of Genesis to all of you this morning, and especially chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9 where we discover beyond the shadow of a doubt that the name of Noah’s wife is “his wife.”
It all begins back in chapter six, where we learn that the world has become hopelessly corrupt. So corrupt in fact, that God is having second thoughts about this whole creation thing, and his continued involvement with it. Things have not been going all that great, especially in terms of the creature God called and named “human.” From the beginning, God had created a beautiful environment, lovingly designed for the benefit of the two human creatures that he ultimately placed in it. But sadly, as all human creatures do, they began to think more highly of themselves than they ought, and in doing that, they discovered that the God who had created them was actually quite evil and had been intentionally and maliciously keeping them from the pursuit of some fairly intriguing wisdom and knowledge. And so they rebelled, all two of them against the Creator of the universe. As it turned out, mercy and compassion prevailed where anger and judgment should have reigned, and while there was certainly punishment for these two, there was also very strong evidence of redemption and reconciliation, and this act of redemption and reconciliation established God’s pattern of interacting with the human creature that has prevailed from the beginning and continues to this day.
And we are reintroduced to the wonderful good news of redemption and reconciliation in chapter six, verse eight. As awful as the world has become since the days of Adam and Eve, and as disheartened as God is with the way that things have turned out, and as much as God intends to get out his great and effective cosmic eraser and begin all over again,
verse eight of chapter six reads, “But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.” There are important, repetitive phrases in the Bible, one of the greatest of which is, “Do not be afraid”. But, “so and so found favor in the sight of the Lord” stands pretty tall among them. In the Scriptures, whenever someone discovers themselves to have found favor in the sight of the Lord, we know that something very big on the redemption and reconciliation scale is about to happen, because God always chooses human beings to participate in his acts of redemption and reconciliation. The greatest act of all human redemption and reconciliation began with these words, very recently heard in our worship lives together, that actually combine the two very important repetitive phrases. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
And so, through the agency of Noah, God’s work of redemption and reconciliation is afoot. There will be punishment, there is no question about that. There will be great loss of life. Many will be taken; only eight will be left, but those eight will remain to fulfill the cultural mandate first given in Genesis chapter one, verse twenty-eight, and appearing here again, when God says in chapter nine verse seven, “And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”
And, lo and behold, here we are, fresh off the boat, and living in a new land. We got here, mostly because Noah built a very large boat, loaded it up with lots of animals and sailed it straight into a rainstorm, that eventually became the greatest major ecological disaster that this planet has ever experienced. But through it all, redemption and reconciliation will once again prevail. God will establish a covenant with Noah. And in minister-speak, we call this the “Noahic” covenant, but that’s only because every discipline has secret words that no one else is supposed to understand.
The most important thing for us to notice about this covenant is that God is the one who initiates it. Verse nine makes that pretty clear. God says, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you…” and the reason that God initiates this covenant is that things are pretty shaky on the planet right now. God has just wreaked havoc upon the planet, the flood has destroyed everything, and while there is evidence that a new beginning is in the works in terms of God’s relationship with his human creatures, I don’t imagine that the landscape looked all that attractive or promising. I’ll bet it was pretty bleak. And then there’s the awe and wonder factor. Noah certainly did find favor in the sight of God, but he had just been through a pretty wild and crazy ride that has spanned several months, every moment of which was characterized by fear and wonder and awe at the heretofore unimaginable destructive power of God. Noah and his family are on dry ground at the moment, but I’ll bet they’re all wondering, if God can do all of this, what’s next? What’s in store for us? What can we expect from God in the future? We’re safe now, but what about tomorrow? These are questions that we also ask when our world is shaken, and when much as we might wish, we cannot predict the future.
And God’s covenant with Noah and his family, and with all of creation answers those questions. The covenants that God makes with us are intended by God to settle our fears, to gather us around a promise, and to fill us with confident hope for the future.
And so God says in verse eleven, Noah, I’m not going to do this again. If this is something that you are afraid of, put it to rest. I will never again destroy the earth with a flood, and I will never again kill people and animals by flooding the earth. And look at the extent of this covenant. God is reconciling himself not only to Noah and his family, but to all of nature and all of creation. God is making this covenant first of all with all of humanity. This covenant is binding on God’s part with every son, daughter and descendant that Noah will ever have. This covenant is established for you and for me, and for our children and their children, and for all children who shall ever walk this earth. That dispenses with fear, and gathers all of humanity around a promise. The certain hope is that the human race will endure, however transient the individual. But the covenant goes beyond God’s reconciling acts towards humanity. God will reconcile himself to all of nature and creation. God also says, “I am establishing my covenant…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. Now of course, animals can neither appreciate nor understand that God is reconciling with them and redeeming them; nor can they know that they have nothing to fear, or that they are also gathered around a promise, or that they, too, have a hope for a future. But we can rejoice knowing that if the covenant is extended to unknowing creatures, how much more amazing is it to those of us who can understand it? If God loves the animals so much that he is willing to enter into a covenant with them, how much more does God love us? Indeed, the whole natural world is included in this covenant. Jesus said, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you…you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30)
And this shall be a sign unto you: you will find a child wrapped…oops, wrong covenant. But there is also a sign of this covenant. And the sign is something that God calls his bow. Because our pew bibles try to be painfully accurate, (most of the time) they don’t call this a rainbow, but that’s pretty much what it is. And I say pretty much, because in some traditions it is considered to be a weapon. It is God’s archery bow hanging over our heads, ready to strike if there is further provocation. Keep in mind that it was our sin as a race that called forth this whole flood thing to begin with. But for our purposes this morning, let’s call it a rainbow. There’s no harm at all in that, it is probably even what God intended.
Rainbows show up often enough for us to notice them, but not so often that we take them for granted. And the rainbow, as a sign of this covenant, in print and out loud, at least, is intended to be a reminder to God. Whenever the rainbow shows up, God is supposed to remember that he has redeemed all of humanity and that he has reconciled himself to all of creation, and that he will never, ever again destroy the planet and all living things on it by flooding it out. Does everyone here this morning see straight through that? I hope so. I think we’re all pretty confident that God has a pretty decent memory. The only time that God struggles with memory loss is the very place where we actually excel in maintaining our memories. When we sin, and when we receive forgiveness for that sin, God experiences total amnesia. Our sins have evaporated into nothingness; God remembers them no more. We, on the other hand, are not so good at that. We remember our own sins, and we remember the sins of others, especially if they were committed against us. And too often we even refuse to forgive; we refuse to participate in God’s acts of redemption and reconciliation.
But God needs no reminder when it comes to his acts of redemption and reconciliation, and God needs no reminder of the covenants that he has made with us and with the rest of creation. In fact, one of God’s frequent gripes about us is that we are the ones who have forgotten the covenant. He has kept it, but we have forgotten and we have strayed, and he asks us, won’t you please come back, and all will be forgiven.
And so God has no need of the rainbow; but we certainly do. One of the more subtle intricacies of the Scriptures is that sometimes we’re meant to read between the lines. God is not about to wake up one morning, see the rainbow in the sky and say to himself, oh that’s right, no matter how angry I get today, I just can’t hurl another flood on this earth. But we need that reminder, don’t we? And we need it both ways. We need the rainbow as a reminder that God always keeps covenant, and that God always intends to redeem us and reconcile himself to us. But the rainbow should also be a reminder to us that we need to receive that redemption, and then to live joyfully in the wonder of that reconciliation. And then, we need to remember that we also hold a very important stake in this covenant that God has made. Redemption and reconciliation isn’t just a vertical phenomenon, it also has to work horizontally. It isn’t just a deal between us and God, it is also a deal between us and everyone else around us. We need to be forgiving, we need to practice redemption and reconciliation with one another. This is our end of the covenant. If God can redeem, forgive, and reconcile himself to us, we can do the same for others around us. And we’ve got God’s sign of the covenant to remind us about that, every time it shows up.