Accompanying Text: Matthew 8:24-27
Preaching Text: Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and everything was very good. That’s how the story of our faith gets started: human beings living in harmony with one another, with God, and with the rest of creation, and gifted with a calling to till the ground and steward everything God has made. It doesn’t take long for things to change. Adam and Eve succumb to temptation, trading intimacy with God for the knowledge of good and evil. Their son, Cain, allows jealousy to take hold, and he murders his brother Abel in cold blood. Things only go downhill from there. By the time Noah appears on the scene and receives his instructions, the situation is dire:
“YHWH* saw that great was humankind’s evildoing on earth and every form of their heart’s planning was only evil all the day. Then YHWH was sorry that he had made humankind on earth, and it pained his heart. YHWH said, “I will blot out humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the soil, from man to beast, to crawling thing and to the fowl of the heavens, for I am sorry that I made them.”**
Contrary to the picture that is often painted of God in the Old Testament, the tone here is not one of anger and wrath, but of disappointment, regret, longing for the kind of world that had existed in the beginning. God wishes that the grand experiment in creating human beings with free will had never been started. And yet, despite that regret, and despite God’s ability to make a complete break with creation and start things all over again with something completely new, that’s not what happens here. Though God is sorely grieved by the weight of human sinfulness and the brokenness of the creation that had been so good, God takes a chance on creation once again through Noah, his family, and the ragtag group of animals that they wrangled together,
There’s no sugar coating the devastation conveyed by the story of the flood. God intends that nothing left outside the ark survives. The judgment of the world is a serious matter, and the results of that judgment are difficult to comprehend. But in the face of that judgment, what shines through most clearly – what we are intended to find in this story – is God’s desire that life should continue, that despite the persistence of human sinfulness the world is worth preserving! That God would follow an event of such raw sadness with words of promise and a renewal of humanity’s calling speaks volumes not only about the character of our God, but of the important role that we humans continue to play in the unfolding of creation’s story.
It’s that last point that looms large for us as we gather this weekend in observance of “God’s Work. Our Hands. Sunday”. In the story of Noah, the ark, the flood, and the promise that follows, God declares God’s intention to stay involved with this world, to identify with all creation, and to say once and for all that what God has made will never be destroyed by God’s hand. In fact, God’s decision never to destroy the earth again led to Jesus bearing the weight of our world’s brokenness on the cross for you and me and the whole creation! In Jesus Christ, the same God who spoke to Noah speaks anew to this and every generation, extending that gracious promise to us and to those who will follow. By the same token, this story of flood and promise reminds us that God’s will for creation is that it be fruitful and multiply and flourish, and that the primary responsibility for that flourishing is laid squarely at the feet of those creatures who bear the image of the creator: us. A quick survey of the news suggests that humanity continues to shirk that responsibility with alarming frequency and almost unfathomable consequences. People within and outside the church, even when we have the best of intentions, fall short of fulfilling that calling in ways too many to number. As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we acknowledge that fact, even as our church’s slogan – “God’s Work. Our Hands.” – signals that we endeavor to take our responsibility seriously. We who have been called by Christ in the waters of baptism, freed by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, and fed at the Lord’s table with the bread of life and cup of salvation are sent out to partner with God in caring for the community of creation – not only our brothers and sisters and neighbors near and far, but also our fellow creatures and the home that we all share. We won’t always (or ever) do that perfectly, but we go out to do so with the confidence that the one who has called us to this work has also promised never to turn his back on us.
This weekend we will put our hands to work in service to God and our neighbors and enjoy the goodness of creation when we break bread together. As our congregation prepares for this time of service and fellowship, may the story of Noah and the symbol of the rainbow remind us of the grace God showers upon us and the whole creation, and may we be moved to respond to that grace with our whole lives. Thank you for your willingness to serve in all the ways you do each day, and thanks be to God for this calling to be church for the sake of the world. Amen.
* YHWH is how many scholars reproduce the Hebrew text of God’s personal name. The pronunciation of this name is deemed too holy for many Hebrew speakers, and, in any case, we are unsure how it is truly pronounced. Most modern English translations render this name by substituting “the LORD”; older ones rendered it “Jehovah”.
** Genesis 6:5-7, Everett Fox, trans., The Five Books of Moses, Schocken Books (New York: 1995).