God’s Promise of Commitment

Genesis 9:8-17

I had the opportunity while being a counselor for the Summer Sampler program at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, to explore and hear stories about The Ark and how it had changed the lives of many young people where it was located. The Ark was an after school program located in an under served neighborhood in Springfield, Ohio. The Ark was a place of safety and it provided the opportunity for transformation. When we witness the Ark in this light, many things could take on the same being. The church could be the Ark; actually where you are all sitting is called the nave, a term derived from the Latin word for ship. Lent is the Ark as we take these forty days to prepare and be transformed. Wisdom is the Ark as it changes us from the inside out. Our hearts can even be an Ark, where we find safety and are yet transformed. While these Arks provide safety, we are still tossed upon tumultuous seas of sin and chaos in an ever changing culture. (Ideas from Suzanne Guthrie, http://www.edgeofenclosure.org)

During Lent this year, our assigned readings take us on a journey through the Hebrew scriptures and the covenants that have come to define our faith today. Over the next five weeks, we will be hearing of God’s promise revealed to us. This Sunday we heard the conclusion of Noah and his families time on the Ark. In death and destruction, we find a God that is transformed and makes a commitment to all of creation that God will be unconditionally faithful for eternity.

It truly astounds me that the story of Noah and the Ark has turned into one of the most prevalent of bible stories that our children hear and remember throughout the church. There are always nice, sweet pictures of cute animals depicting the Ark. You can even buy nursery bedding and decorations that depict Noah’s Ark. The story that comes to us from the bible before the rainbow, is one of death and destruction. The earth is populated with people that have no regard for God and live only for themselves. Genesis tells us that God saw the wickedness of the people and their thoughts were evil. God decides to call for a mulligan, or do over. Noah has found favor in the sight of God and God chooses him to build the Ark and to eventually repopulate the world along with his family. We could even argue that Noah was only thinking about himself and his family at this point. Noah and his wife along with his three sons and their wives were going to be safe on the Ark and that is all that mattered. He may have warned the people, but he did not protest to God to save them.

It appears at first that the flood that has overtaken the earth and brought about death and destruction has in essence brought new life to what was broken and full of sin. Noah and his family do not take too long to prove otherwise. Noah is found in a drunken sleep laying naked while his sons are disrespectful. The brokenness continues.

The brokenness continues to this day. Once again, we do not have to turn far to witness or hear of it. We have been at war with each other from the beginning of time. World War I was suppose to be “the war to end all wars,” and look where we have been since then. War has seemed to escalate as we find more effective ways to kill people. The death and destruction is all around us.

This week we are once again mourning another school shooting. This time seventeen people lost their lives to senseless violence that we have seemed to become accustomed to and do very little to create change so that our children do not have to live in fear of going to school. One thing we cannot deny, is that school shootings are on the rise in our country. Not to say it does not happen in other countries, but it is far more prevalent in the United States. Our government would rather make issues out of things that are in reality not as big of a deal. They are failing to listen to their constituents and are bowing to corporate greed. Sounds a little like the wickedness of the people in Noah’s time to me.

We witness the brokenness as our wives and daughters are being ridiculed for finally breaking though the patriarchy and making their voices heard. While many applauded the women that came forward during the Larry Nasser sexual assault hearings, others questioned their authenticity. Once again, the brokenness of the world swallows us up. The sin that carried through the flood, continues to flow through to us today. That is because we are human and we make mistakes. Why should we attempt to be transformed when we think we are right already?

Transformation can and does happen. We even witness a transformation within God in the story of the flood. God was so upset with the wickedness of the people that the option to start over brought death and destruction. Raging waters brought a violent death and the destruction of everything on the earth. The waters also resemble our baptism as it cleanses us from sin and makes all things new. We witness the transformation that takes place in the promise that God makes to Noah and his family. That promise is a commitment to protect and save the earth and all of humanity.

That promise is marked with God placing the bow in the clouds. Since it is among the clouds, we assume it is a rainbow. The Hebrew word used for bow is also the same as to denote a weapon of war. God could have easily been saying that with the bow placed in the clouds, the anger in which the earth had been destroyed with the flood waters, is now relinquished and God is revealing a transformation of God-self.

It is in the image of the Ark that is given to provide safety and a place of transformation that points towards the transformation of God. The promise that God has now given to Noah and his family is unconditional. This promise is not only for humanity, it is for all of creation. A humanity that is created in the very image of God, and a creation that is very good.

We too need to be reminded of this promise. We are reminded of it, every time that we see a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. A promise that is for all people, no exceptions.

In the midst of our own death and destruction that we are surrounded by, the promise that God is committed to us is a reassurance for the kingdom to come. In the midst of sexual assault and violence in our schools and throughout our country, God is present with a reminder that we are loved and loved for all of eternity.

We began Lent with Ash Wednesday this week. It is a time to remember our own mortality and that we are not made to stay in our earthly bodies forever. It is a reminder that God creates us out of dust and it is to dust that we will return. The ashen cross mirrors the cross that was marked on our foreheads when we were baptized. In our baptisms we die to the sins of the world. It is a death that brings us to new life where we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. If you caught the news this week in the aftermath of the school shooting that happened on Ash Wednesday, there was an image of a mother mourning the shooting in Parkland. She had an ashen cross on her forehead from earlier in the day. To be reminded with your own mortality that morning to only be confronted with the mortality of loved ones that afternoon.

We struggle to find God in this reality. However, it is the sign of the bow that God places in the clouds that points toward a resurrected life that is shown to us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May you remember that promise and the commitment that God has made to us to provide us safe passage and protection.

Let us pray. Devoted God, you have set your bow among the clouds as a sign that you are present among us. Be with us in the times that we are afraid and questioning where to turn. In the death and destruction of our current world, we pray for Jesus to be that sign of love and peace that is promised to us in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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