Written by Pastor Ed
Me & You & the Creatures Too
February 18, 2018 Lent 1
Genesis 9: 8-17
I Peter 3: 18-22
“All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir”
God needed a reminder. That may sound a bit funny, but that’s what we are told. You know how sometimes we get worked up over something and forget how we’re supposed to act, or we say something we wouldn’t normally say. I recall getting so frustrated with a parishioner’s complaints about what she thought people were saying about her that I blurted out, “Who the hell cares?” Not something I would normally say and I apologized!
Well, God had gotten so upset with these creatures that he had created that he decided to wipe them out, and we have the well-known story of Noah and the flood, in which as Peter reminded his readers, only 8 people were saved, along with the animals that had been gathered into the ark. And when it was all over and things were back to normal, God made a covenant with Noah. But not just with Noah.
We really have two accounts of this, as with many things in Genesis. In an earlier passage from the one we read, God says,
“I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
22 As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.” (Gen. 8: 21b-22)
And then in the passage we read God says, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and 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.” (Gen. 9: 9-10)
Covenants are an important part of the Scripture and we know from other documents, covenants were also important in the ancient near East among many peoples. Covenants were considered legal agreements that bound two parties together in some way and they generally took on a particular form, with an opening clause, the terms of the agreement, as well as a statement of the consequences if either party broke the agreement. Covenants were often sealed with some kind of ritual or symbol to mark their signing.
Covenants could be made between equals, but also were often made between unequal partners, like conquering rulers over their subjects. Sometimes there were obligations on both sides, and other times all of the burden was placed on one side of the agreement. Today we might think of them as contracts, and yet they were seen as more than a mere business transaction. Perhaps marriage would be a modern example of a covenant, or the relationship between a pastor and congregation.
But there is one kind of covenant that is rather unique to the God of the Bible, and this covenant with Noah is the first example we have, because while it is a covenant between God and Noah along with all of creation, all of the responsibility is placed on God. And the reminder is for God. God says I will never again destroy all of creation, just because I get upset with what these humans I’ve created are doing. When I get upset with humans and when I start to gather clouds in the sky like I did before, then when I see the rainbow, I, God, will be reminded that I promised not to destroy the earth with a flood again.
How extraordinary that a powerful God would make such a promise, and then a reminder for God to not get carried away with rain again. And it’s not just humans that are saved through this covenant, but all of creation. The ground along with every living creature, the birds and every animal on earth is included in God’s covenant. We might be reminded of Jesus’ saying that if God so cares for the birds of the air, how much more will God care for you. (Matt. 6: 25-33)
If anything should give us pause when it comes to caring for creation it is that God cared enough about the creation to make sure that it would never be destroyed by God again, no matter how upset God became with humans. And I suspect God has become rather upset that we humans are doing a fairly good job of destroying creation all on our own. We continue to pollute the air, water and land and whole species are becoming extinct every year.
But God obviously has a concern for the creation, shown first in the creation accounts themselves, and then in the covenant God made with Noah and the whole of creation. And, as I said, it is a covenant that is really one sided, “between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (9:16). Noah and creation were not obligated to do anything. It was a promise freely given by God.
It is that covenant and God’s patience with the people that Peter recalls in the passage we read from I Peter. As Peter writes to a people suffering persecution, he reminds them that God remains faithful to God’s covenants, even when people do not. When we become followers of Jesus, and show that in our baptism, we become part of that covenant people of God which was sealed for us in the death and resurrection of Christ. It too is a gift freely given to us, to which we are called to respond in love, faith and obedience.
This is a covenant that can be traced back to the call of Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12, in which out of all the peoples of the earth, God called a particular people to carry out God’s mission to bless the whole world. That old covenant was renewed and expanded in the new covenant through Jesus Christ, of which we now are a part.
Covenant is about relationships; relationships between people, between people and creation, and between God and us. During this season of Lent we are called to reflect on that relationship, to recognize that we often fail in keeping our part of the covenant, but that God remains faithful not only to us, but to God’s promise that God will never destroy all of creation. And even God needs to be reminded of that from time to time, just as we ourselves do too.