24 May Sunday, May 24, 2020: After the Storm
After the Storm
Genesis 8:1-4, 20-22, 9:8-17
May 24, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Adult Worship Guide: 05242020AdultWorshipGuide
Children’s Worship Guide: 05242020children
Click here to access the pre-recorded worship service for today.
Last week we looked at the story of the flood through the lens of the deep pathos of God—what was happening in God’s heart as a result of creation’s choice to do its own thing and go its own way. Today we are going to stay with this flood account but look at it from a little different angle.
Given everything that is going on in our lives and in our world right now, it is fascinating to me that chaos is the setting for God’s work of creation in Genesis 1. And, chaos continues as Genesis unfolds, with Adam and Eve’s sin and expulsion from the garden, Cain’s murderous actions against his brother, and the downward spiral of human desire and choice through the generations that land us at the flood narrative.
As we know all too well, the reality of chaos is not an ancient memory of people too primitive to think otherwise. It is as contemporary as this morning’s headlines. Like the people in Noah’s day, we watched the storm clouds gather—our current ones are called COVID-19. At first, they were far in the distance, but we watched them move closer and closer until one day it started to rain and before long, the flood waters started to rise. Perhaps at this point we’re a little like the people on the ark, peering out the window from time to time, wondering when these waters will recede and we’ll finally be able to step out of our places of safety and onto dry, virus-free ground. But, I’m getting ahead of the story. Let’s look at it again from the perspective of seven things God did for Noah and his family to help them through the chaos.
First, God warned Noah about what was coming. “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all [humankind], for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth’” (6:13). Usually we don’t have any warning about the storm that is about to hit us or the type of storm its going to be. But, we do know that rain is going to fall in our lives, just as it does in every life. As scripture puts it, rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike. Like Noah, we need to take advantage of the days when it’s not raining to prepare for the days when the clouds roll in. Spiritually we prepare for the difficulties of life by establishing regular practices of prayer and gratitude; worship; serving and sharing generously with others; reading and reflecting on scripture. These are the kinds of practices that then help us deal with worry or anxiety or discouragement when the rains come.
Second, God brought Noah and his family into the ark. “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all you household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation” (7:1). God is actively involved with us, providing for us and protecting us, during the storms in our lives. That is true even when we may not feel like it is true. One thing the coronavirus has reminded me of is that my emotions will ebb and flow, so it’s important to ground my actions in what I know to be true.
Third, God shut Noah in. “They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in” (7:15-16). It’s easy to miss this detail, but it is a critical one. Noah let God close the door behind him and trusted that God would open it again at the right time. At the time the door closed, Noah didn’t know what the future held, any more than we do, but he knew that God held his future and that God was his hope, his peace, and his salvation. Some of the hardest work we do is surrendering to God’s will and timing in our lives. It really comes down to trust. Ralph Waldo Emerson, reflecting on the death of his son wrote: “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” Noah let God close the door behind him and trusted God to open it again.
Fourth, God remembered Noah. “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark” (8:1). The issue of being forgotten is a genuine and profound human concern. We know times of the dark night of the soul when, in our deep aloneness, we fear we have been forgotten. But more often, I think our fear of abandonment lurks secretly hidden in our psyches, causing us to act in ways that range from self-serving to self-sabotaging, from driven to deranged. In the narrative of the flood, the whole creation comes to a time of being forgotten by God as the waters surge.
But the gospel is that this God remembers. The only thing the waters of chaos and death do not cut through, though they cut through everything else, is God’s commitment to his creation. God’s remembering is an act of gracious engagement with his covenant partner, an act of committed compassion born from God’s grieving divine heart. It proclaims that God is not preoccupied with himself but with the creation that resulted from God’s overflowing cosmic elation of love in the first place. The key point is that it is the remembering of God, and only that, which gives hope and makes new life possible. Before God remembers in Genesis 8:1, there is death and destruction, but immediately upon remembering Noah, the waters begin to subside.
That brings me to the fifth thing God did: God brought Noah out. “Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh…’” (8:15-17a). God shut him in, and now, upon remembering Noah, God opens the door and there is an exodus as Noah and the animals leave the ark behind and enter a liberated earth. Out of God’s gracious compassion, humankind and all creation gets a new start.
Sixth, God accepted Noah’s sacrifice. “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclina-tion of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’” (8:20-22). Isn’t it telling that the first thing Noah did when he came out of the ark was thank God for God’s deliverance and for the Lord’s presence with him? Noah really “got it.” He understood that everything he had, including his very life, was the result of God’s gracious gift. As soon as the storm was over, he dropped to his knees in the mud and said, “thank you.”
Finally, God blessed Noah and made a covenant with him. “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth… 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” (9:1, 8-11).
As it was in Genesis 1, humankind is entrusted again with the vocation of tending God’s creation. Despite the fact that the one created in God’s image is the same one who troubled God’s heart, and the human imagination which is evil has not changed as a result of the flood, God refuses to abandon his creation project. God’s purposes remain the same. Post-flood humanity is still responsible for and capable of being stewards of God’s good handiwork. They are meant to live and care for the earth in such a way that all of God’s creatures will be brought to the fullness for which they were designed. God affirms humankind’s reflection of the divine image and our call to participate as covenant partners with God. But the grief in God’s heart also serves as a reminder that men and women are dependent on a gift of grace that we cannot give to ourselves or to each other. We are not capable of saving ourselves. We are not our own source of new life. We fail time and again at transcending calculated self-interest even though it always leads to our death. This story reminds us that we perpetuate our own “flood” of self-deception about our “goodness” apart from God.
So it is nothing short of remarkable that God makes an irreversible commitment that the post-flood, post-chaos situation will be decisively different. With extraordinary resolve, God now says, “never again.” As we saw last week, what has changed is not anything about humanity or creation or waters or floods. What has changed is God and how God resolved the grief of his troubled heart.
We know that evil, death and destruction continue in our world. Suffering has not been eradicated from creation. But this story says something profound about the storms we endure. We are assured that even the flood waters that threaten to overwhelm us are not rooted in the anger or rejection of God. Because of a revolution in the heart of God, the relationship between Creator and creation is based in unqualified grace. There are those who view modern day events, such as the coronavirus, as some indication of God’s judgment on humanity, but that reflects a failure to understand the true nature of God’s commitment to us.
On the basis of God’s “never again,” the rainbow sign is established. The bow is a promise to creation. It is, interestingly, at the same time a reminder to God of a vow God has promised to honor. Old Testament scholar George Mendenhall observes that the bow is usually a weapon, but in this case, it is an undrawn bow, an indication that the creator has won his victory over chaos. The promise is that God will not again be provoked to use his weapon, no matter how provocative his creation becomes. The bow at rest forms a parallel to the sabbath in Genesis 2 at the conclusion of creation. The first creation ends with the serene rest of God over his peaceful, well-functioning, good creation. The re-creation of Genesis 8 and 9 ends with God resting his weapon. God’s creation is for all time protected by its creator.
When I started thinking last fall about preaching through Genesis after Easter, I had no idea that a worldwide pandemic was about to upend life as we knew it—that I would be preaching this series via technology and without the comforting routine of worshiping and eating and interacting together, face-to-face. And yet, how timely and relevant is the Genesis saga which is one of the things I love most about scripture. As I watch the news coverage of people storming state capitals, marching in the streets and congregating en masse in public spaces, all to protest boundaries that were necessarily enacted to protect lives, the arrogance and self-centeredness of the human condition is on full display. Each day we are invited to think about our human brothers and sisters and to make choices to do well on their behalf, not just our own. And, certainly, I think we grasp in entirely new ways the metaphor of flood and panic, rising anxiety and a yearning to find dry, solid ground beneath our feet again.
Let me remind you that the most solid ground you’ll ever have is God’s love and grace, God’s commitment and protection because these are promises rooted in the very heart of God. And, for that, let us all fall to our knees in thanks and praise. Amen.