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the sermon for

the First Sunday in Lent

18 February 2018

Genesis 9:8-17
God saves! End of sentence.

02182018Well, here we are, again. Sitting together, on a Sunday morning, reading a passage of scripture, and turning it into one more mural for a nursery wall. A month ago, it was Jonah and the whale. Originally, the story was of a man furious, seething, that god didn't hate his enemies like he hated them! But the story hit too close to home. Too realistic. Too challenging. So we changed it! We cut out two verses from the rest of the story, focused our attention on them, and transformed them into a fairy tale, into a nursery rhyme! A man is swallowed by a whale and the same man is spewed out by the same whale. The Word of the Lord; thanks be to god!

This morning, it's Noah's turn. We do the same thing. Scripturally speaking, the story of the Great Flood and of Noah's Ark is pretty dark, pretty sinister. More like Russell Crowe's portrayal than the Precious Moments alternative. But it makes us uncomfortable, uneasy. And so we change it. Into a cartoon. A coloring page. Bright! Colorful! And then we name preschools after it! Animal shelters! We sell Noah's ark toys and Noah's ark wallpaper and Noah's ark sheets and pillow cases. We tame the story. We domesticate it. We destroy it... with sweetness and adorability.

Truth is, there's, probably, no other story in the entire bible as brutal and as violent as this one. Think about it. In the beginning, god creates a paradise. A man and a woman together in a place where they have everything they could ever need, anything they could possibly want. And then, something happens. Something goes terribly wrong. And it all changes. First, there's the fruit of the tree. Then, Abel and Cain. Creation crumbles before god's very eyes. And human beings were to blame.

"The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." The solution? Blot them out! Human beings! Animals! Creeping things! Birds of the air! All of it! Wipe them off the face of the earth and start all over, again, somewhere else! God was sick and tired of the whole thing! His first instinct? Destroy! Obliterate! Annihilate! "For the LORD was sorry the he had ever made it!"

Every one and every thing, that is, but Noah! Noah was different! Noah found favor! God would wipe it all out but him... and his wife... and his sons... and their wives... and a pair of every creature... But everyone else... everything else... god would erase! Thus, the ark, and the animals, and the rain, and the flood. After the waters began to subside, the ark came to rest on the mountaintop and the doors were opened and the creatures were all back on solid ground.

God looked around them. At the destruction. At the devastation. At the meaninglessness and the emptiness of it all. And god was filled with sorrow and regret. And god repented. God changed god's mind. And god said to Noah and to his wife and to their sons and to their son's wives... In fact, god said to that little group of survivors standing together atop the mountain, Genesis, chapter nine, verse eleven! "I'm sorry. I'm sorry and I promise never to do that, again." That small band isolated on the mountaintop, looks out over the desolation, over a creation decimated by wrath. And god facing that brave new world of god's own making, is filled with regret, filled with remorse, god repents! God repents! God's mind is changed! And god says, Genesis, chapter nine, verse eleven! "I'm sorry!" God says it to Noah and to his sons and to Noah's wife and to his sons' wives. Indeed, says it to all creation! "Never. Never again."

The wrath accomplished nothing. The rage made no difference whatsoever. So, next time, rather than flood us back to the Stone Age, god would... God would what? God would forgive? God would show mercy? God would turn the other? God would go the extra? God would do unto? No matter how bad it gets, god will never, again, crumple us up and toss us aside! That's what the rainbow is about! It's god saying, one more time, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry and I promise never to do it, again. From now on, my response – my only response – to your humanness, to your brokenness, to your inability, will be grace! Charity! Love! "I will act," says god, "only out of pure, father, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of your own, at all!"

Of course, if you notice, the people in the story don't change. They remain nothing more than people. Still wicked! Not in the sense of being fiendish and brutal, but in the sense of not loving god or neighbor! And every inclination is still evil. Not in the sense of being malicious and cruel, but in the sense of looking out only for their own interests. But god will not destroy. Not by water. Not by fire. Not by ice. Instead, god will only rescue and redeem and deliver! God will change us, transform us, by god's mercy and by god's grace! Not because we're just so doggone adorable. But because that is what god has promised to do! Save us! Salvage us! Recycle, repurpose, reuse! And the rainbow is the sign, the symbol, the souvenir!

The gospel doesn't begin with a once upon a time. It begins with a confession. We are in bondage, captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned. We sin. In thought, in word, in deed. By what we've done and by what we do. By what we've left – and by what we leave – undone. We have not, do not, will not love. You or anybody. It begins with a confession. And it ends not with a happily ever after, but with a cross. With a cross, a grave, and new beginning that lies beyond. In the mercy – the mercy and grace – of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, all our sins – past, present, future – all our sins are forgiven! And the story of Noah and the Flood? Of his family and of creation? It's no different. It, too, begins with a confession. And there, on the back side of the rainbow, it ends with a promise. As god says to us... as god says to all creation... "Never again! Never again! Cross my heart and hope to die!"

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