St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Lent 1 2012 Sermon
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Rev. Joyce Avery

I found most of my information in the Sermon That Works for March 5, 2006, by the Rev. Amy Richter.
 
Today our 1st reading in Genesis, tells us that God has told Noah that he is going to make a covenant with him.  But, before that, he asks Noah to build the Ark to save the domestic animals, birds, and every animal of the earth, as God is going to flood all the land and destroy all the bad flesh of the land.  But after the flood, when they came out of the Ark, God made the covenant with them.  He then told Noah, “when I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and that all waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
 
Who hasn't been impressed by the beauty of a rainbow?  Rainbows have the quality of wonder; there is a scientific explanation for how light is refracted in a certain way, but really they seem more like magic.  After a rain, a colorful bow appears in the sky, a pure gift, a delight to the eyes and heart, beauty and hope after the rain.  Too bad we didn't have that happen on Tuesday, we sure could have had a better day for all the brave people that came out to pancake day.  God Bless them all.
 
In reading the Creation story, you'll notice that at the end of each creation, God would say, "It is good".  Over and over again after each creation God would say, "It is good." Then we come to the 6th day, God creates humans, and on this day God says, "It is very good."  God looks at humans and sees the crowning achievement of creation: us.  And God says, "This is very good."
 
But before long, things start to go wrong. God has given humans a great gift; the gift of freedom.  God has made humankind in God's image.  That is, God has made us free to make choices; to love, to create, to reason, to live in harmony with creation and with God.  But too often humans choose the other possibilities granted in their freedom: to hate, to destroy, to be thoughtless, to break their relationship with all creation and with God.
 
God has seen humanity as the very best act of creation, and is heartbroken. The divine heart is so broken, so disappointed, so upset, that God decides there is no way out of all the pain and destruction humans are causing except to wipe the slate clean and start all over.  This is when he came to Noah.
 
In the story of the flood, God is the big loser.  God's beloved humanity, God's precious children, God's best day of creation had all gone terribly wrong.  So God chose Noah, who alone of all the people on the earth had not forgotten about God, to build an ark, and to be protected from the waters, so there would be a way to start over again.  The rain started, and it is as if the tears of our broken-hearted God flowed down from heaven, tears of sadness, tears of disappointment and anger flowed from the very heart of God and filled the earth.
 
When the waters subsided, Noah, his family, and the animals came out of the ark onto dry ground, and God said some important words.  God was not lulled into thinking that this experience changed humans, that some­how we wouldn't sin anymore, or that we would always use our freedom to choose rightly.  No, God said, "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 destroy every living creature as I have done."  

This is the meaning of original sin: everyone of us, if left to our own devices, will do wrong.  No human ever avoids the inclination to sin, even from the time we are small children.  But God decided he won't let that lead to our destruction.  And so, when we come to today's reading, we see God hang his bow in the sky.  We should think "bow" as in "bow and arrow", but now, not as a weapon of anger, not an archer's bow taut and pointing down on us as to destroy us, but hung up in the sky, unstrung, disarmed, and colorful.  God hangs the bow in the clouds as a reminder of God's promise, to remind God never again to destroy the earth.
 
The promise that God makes to Noah is called a covenant.  A covenant is a solemn agreement made between two parties.  People have been making covenants for a very long time, thousands and thousands of years.  "If you pay me tribute, I will protect you."  "If you keep this law, things will go well for you."  Usually the agreement made between them is sealed with some sign.  Here the sign is the rainbow.  But what is amazing is that God's covenant with Noah has no conditions.  It's a covenant without any "if' clauses, such as, "if you love me," or "if you obey me," or if you worship me," or if you are kind to others, then I will be good to you."
 
God's covenant he made with Noah is an unconditional covenant, a covenant of love in which God promises to remember us even if we forget God.  The covenant that God made with Noah is for all humanity and all creation.  God will not destroy all humankind again, even if he gets disappointed again with us.  God is willing to be heartbroken for us before he will break his covenant with us.
 
It's not that God has been willing to tolerate our sins, but rather than send another flood, he sent his own beloved child, Jesus Christ, to deal with our sins.  Rather than kill, God sent Jesus, who was willing to die.  Rather than punish, God is willing to forgive.  God added to the sign of the rainbow the sign of the cross.  And in the sign of the cross, we see God's willingness to love us unconditionally, to be broken-hearted for us.  In the place of destructive waters of a flood, there will be only the water of life, and in the place of the tears, a rainbow.
 
I found a story about water and a man.  The man on his Harley was riding along a California beach when suddenly the sky clouded above his head and, in a booming voice, God said, "Because you have tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish."  The biker pulled over and said, "Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can ride over anytime I want."  God replied, "Your request is materialistic; think of the enormous challenges for that kind of undertaking; the supports required reaching the bottom of the Pacific and the concrete and steel it would take!  I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things.  

Take a little more time and think of something that could possibly help mankind."  The biker thought about it for a long time.  Finally, he said, "God, I wish that I, and all men, could understand women; I want to know how she feels inside, what she's thinking when she gives me the silent treatment, why she cries, what she means when she says nothing's wrong, why she snaps and complains when I try to help, and how I can make a woman truly happy." God replied, "You want two lanes or four on that bridge .... ??”   Amen 




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