FIRST LESSON: Genesis 9:8-17
SECOND LESSON Matthew 26:17-30
SERMON: “God, Keeper of Promises”
Even if you’re not Irish, and the most Irish thing you’ve ever done is eat Lucky Charms, you probably know something about leprechauns. First of all, leprechauns are mischievous creatures who love gold, which they store in pots at the “end of the rainbow.” At the end of every rainbow, guarded by a leprechaun, is a legendary “pot of gold.”
Sounds like easy pickings, right? Except for one teeny, tiny flaw in that equation no one can ever find the end of a rainbow. Ever try to follow a rainbow from one end to the other? The “end” always “moves,” shifting onward, westward, eastward, somewhere. As you come closer and closer to what looks like is going to be the end point, that shiny endpoint keeps shifting. No one ever finds leprechaun gold, because no one can ever find the end of the rainbow.
Still, you can hardly see a rainbow and not somehow feel better, perhaps because they only occur in the presence of sunshine; perhaps because they are so colorful; or possibly they trigger in you a memory of a time when a rainbow signified that things were going to work out all right. Or maybe a rainbow makes you feel better because you know the story of Noah and the flood and the promise of God to all living creatures never again to destroy them by flooding the earth.
The fourth question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, one of the Reformation era documents in Part 1 of our constitution, asks, “What is God?” And the answer says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The one adjective in that answer that troubles me is “unchangeable.” The Book of Confessions notes Malachi 3:6 as the support: “I the LORD do not change. If the adjective is applied to the character and nature of God, the catechetical answer is solid. If we interpret it to mean that God never changes his mind about anything, we’ve got a problem because reading just through the first few chapters of Genesis, we learn that clearly God can change his mind.
In Genesis 1:31 God looks over everything he has created and
pronounces it all “very good.” God has created a paradise for his earthlings with only one restriction, but it doesn’t take them long to disobey and snatch and snack on the forbidden fruit. They are banished from the garden. By chapter 4, firstborn son Cain murders his younger brother Abel, and by chapter 6, “5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” That’s a pretty quick move from “all is very good” to “I regret that I have made them.”
For those who believe all the grace in the Bible is in the New Testament, hear verse 8: 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And so we get the ark that provides safety for Noah, his three sons, and their wives and 2 of every creature. Naturally we focus on the ark and the saving of its inhabitants, but make no mistake, what went on outside was violent destruction, as if hurricane Sandy had enveloped the whole earth. For forty days and nights the rain fell.
“23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. 24 The waters flooded the
earth for a hundred and fifty days. (Genesis 7:23-24.)
It’s the greatest do-over ever done. Once again the earthlings and the animals are to go forth and multiply, and God, who loves the creatures he has made, vows never to will such destruction upon the earth again. He places his bow in the sky to remind himself of his promise, of his covenant between God and the earth, between God and every living creature. We might anticipate an “if” at the end of the promise . . . if you are good, if you obey my commandments, if you obey my laws, if you sell all that you have and follow my. But there is no “if.” Barbara Brown Taylor says God makes covenant with the most ornery, most stubborn, most stiff-necked partners a deity ever had.
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
Writes Taylor, “From now on, God will not repay betrayal with betrayal. From now on, God will not let his sorrow lead him to kill. He will bind himself to his creation in peace, promising himself to it although he knows how it will wound him. So God will be wounded. So be it. . . God chooses to ally himself with his cantankerous creation whatever the cost. If there is to be pain the world, then God will share it. Never again will he protect himself from it by killing off those who have caused it. God’s promise to them is life, not death, ‘an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
We humans make promises, and some of us do a better job than others of keeping them. I read a story some time back, about a rich young man who had been taken to the hospital, critically ill. His condition worsened, and he was confined there for quite a few weeks. His doctor even had told him that he wasn’t sure if he’d recover, but that they would continue to do all they could. The man was obviously scared to death, and said to the doctor, “please, doctor, do everything you can, I don’t want to die, I have so much to do yet in life, and if you can help me get better, I’ll even donate $10,000 to the fund for the new hospital. The young man happily began to improve and recovered, and a few weeks later was released and went home.
Several months later, while he was out in the town, he saw the doctor on the street, and the doctor asked him how he felt. The young man said, Doc, I haven’t felt better any time in my life. The doctor said that’s great, because I wanted to ask you about the money you said you wanted to donate to the new hospital fund. You remember you said if you got well, you’d like to donate $10,000, and we could really use that now. The young man said, Man, “If I said that, I must have been really sick.”
For some people, keeping promises seems to be a really tough issue. Fortunately for us, God’s promises are always kept.
It still rains sometimes. When it does, too easily we forget that we are covenant partners with God. We forget that when it rains we are called to bail out water and hand out life vests as quickly as we can so that every living creature who rides on this ark called earth can share the joy of God’s creature-loving covenant.
Since the days of our first parents, we earthlings have continued from time to time to be stubborn, stiff-necked people. In God’s mercy he has provided for that. Every time we come to the Table, we are reminded that in spite of our stubbornness, in spite of our disobedience, in spite of being mostly self-centered instead of God-centered, God has made good on his eternal covenant through the life, death and resurrection of Christ,
One last story for you this morning -- of a rice farmer who saved an entire village from destruction. From his hilltop farm he felt the quake and saw the distant ocean swiftly withdraw from the old shoreline, like some enormous animal crouching back for a leap. He knew that the leap would be a tidal wave.
In the valley below, he saw his neighbors working low-lying fields that would soon be flooded. They must run quickly to his hilltop or they would all die. His rice barns were dry as tinder. So with a torch he set fire to his barns and soon the fire gong started ringing. His neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to help him. Then from their safe perch they saw the tidal wave wash over the fields they had just left. In a flash they knew not only who had saved them but what their salvation had cost their benefactor. They later erected a monument to his memory bearing the motto, “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.”
Could not the same words be said of our heavenly Father and the gift of his only begotten Son? You and I are the field workers saved from the tsunami. We are the beneficiaries of God’s unconditional love-covenant, a love that will not let us go. Thanks be to God.