Sunday, February 18, 2018

How God Answers Violence: Genesis 9:8-17 - First Sunday in Lent

8God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and 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. 11I 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.” 12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (NRSV)

Noah’s Ark by Sean.  CC BY-ND 2.0.
Noah’s Ark has always been my favorite attraction at Kennywood.  I love entering through the whale’s mouth and walking across the moving stairwells and thumping floorboards.

But I found it strange that they made a haunted house out of a bible story that is beloved by children.  Who wouldn’t love a story about a floating petting zoo?  We have Noah’s Ark painted on the wall of one of our Sunday school rooms!

Yet when you pay close attention to the story, it is actually gruesome and terrifying.  I wonder if we really should be teaching it to our children!  Setting aside the logistical challenges of capturing, boarding, and feeding two of every creature, it’s absolutely monstrous that God would “blot out from the earth the human beings and animals” God created.  God looked at creation—and saw that the hearts, will, and inclination of humans was constantly turned towards violence.  God saw only one way to stop the violence: to destroy all flesh.

But when God saw Noah, God had a change of heart.  Through Noah and his family, God resolved to break the violence and redeem creation. 

God makes a covenant with Noah—a promise that God will never again send a flood to destroy the earth.  God puts the rainbow in the sky to remind God—not us—of God’s promise to redeem the world from violence with compassion and mercy.

Surprisingly, this is good news even for the people who died in the flood!

Think of it this way: Jesus doesn’t stand on the deck of the ark and watch God’s creation drown.  Jesus jumps in the water with violent sinners and drowns with them.

Isn’t that what happens in Jesus’ baptism?  Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, because he’s not a sinner.  But he is.  Nevertheless, he goes in the water.  He immerses himself in the human condition.  This will all culminate at the cross, where Jesus will suffer the utmost violence humanity can devise.
At the cross, he dies a sinner’s death.

But in the same way as Jesus is raised up out of the water, God will raise up Jesus from the grave. Human violence—and the violence of the flood—don’t win.  God wins.  Mercy and forgiveness win.  Love wins.

Right now, in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, one wonders how the violence of our world compares with the world’s violence before the flood...  This was the second deadliest school shooting in American history—but also the seventh school shooting in 2018.

Here you had a young man consumed with violence until he exploded—with seventeen lives lost to his violence; countless others injured; and an entire community that will bear this trauma for the rest of their lives.

We who did not suffer this violence directly suffer another kind of violence: FEAR.

Fear can make us monsters...  Or, fear can make us wise...

We as a congregation are launching a safety plan to protect ourselves from violence whenever we gather in this place.   Personally, I think this is ridiculous.  But wishful thinking doesn’t change anything.  We have to do this—because no one ever thinks it will happen to them until it does.

It’s bad enough that we have to be concerned with weapons in schools—but our children suffer verbal violence and lynching on social media.

Our greed-driven society perpetuates violence against the poorest of our neighbors in the form of poverty wages and assistance programs that punish people for trying to rise out of poverty by taking away much-needed benefits they need just to survive.

Our consumerism does violence to the earth with the stuff we buy, use up, and throw away.

And in our endless quest to have more, do more, and accomplish more, we do violence to ourselves in the form of anxiety and depression.

Now, more than ever, we need to remember God’s promise to redeem this creation from the violence we sinners perpetuate.  It is for this reason that Jesus has left the safety of heaven and dived into the chaos of human experience.  Jesus is lifting you up out of the flood into newness of life.

Softly and gently, Jesus is inviting you to a whole new way of living.  The churchy word for this is repentance. Do you really need to have so much, do so much, know so much?  Do you really have it all figured out that nothing in your life needs to change?  Repentance loosens your grip on material possessions; it slows down your mad pursuit of accomplishment; it breaks the anxiety.

The fruits of repentance are actions that accomplish God’s will in the world.  Make no mistake—Jesus is raising up his church to answer the violence tearing this world apart.  People need deep and meaningful human connections.  People need the love and support of neighbors when they can’t make it on their own.  People need rest from their anxiety.  People need safety and security that comes only from living in the promises of God.

The need has never been greater for the mercies of God to be made real to the world through the Body of Christ.  Jesus has immersed himself in the chaos of this world in order to raise us all up for new life. Even though the world will continue on much the way it is now—and things may get worse before they get better, Jesus is leading us through Lent to the cross, where death and devil meet their end. Lent will soon give way to resurrection.  This is God’s moment.

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