Genesis 6:5-22; 8:6-12; 9:8-17
(watch here: https://youtu.be/rTr28wILuK4)
5The 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. 6And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ 8But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.
9These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
11Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. 14Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.’ 22Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
6At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. 8Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; 9but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. 10He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; 11and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him anymore.
8Then God 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.’
Perhaps you’ve heard the one about little Johnnie who desperately wanted a bright red wagon for Christmas. His friends were writing letters to Santa Claus, but Johnnie decided to go one better by writing to Jesus himself. “Dear Jesus,” he wrote, “if I get a red wagon for Christmas, I won’t fight with my brother Hank for a year.” Then Johnnie thought, Oh, no, Hank is such a brat, I could never, ever keep that promise. So Johnnie threw away the letter and started again. “Dear Jesus, if I get a red wagon for Christmas, I will eat all my vegetables for a year.” Then Johnnie thought, Oh, no, that means spinach, broccoli and asparagus. Yuck! I could never ever keep that promise. Suddenly Johnnie had an idea. He went downstairs to the living room. From the mantel above the fireplace, he grabbed the family’s statue of the Virgin Mary. Taking the statue to the kitchen he wrapped it in newspapers and stuffed it into a grocery bag. He took the bag upstairs to his room, opened the closet and placed the package in the farthest, darkest corner. He then closed the closet door, took a new sheet of paper and wrote, “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…”
Poor, little Johnnie, too young to come to the conclusion that if you can’t offer a promise then offer a threat. Indeed, promises don’t leave the same sour taste in the mouth as threats do. They both might get the same thing accomplished but promises help build and sustain relationships, something God wants us to do. Not only making promises but actually carrying through on them. When we offer promises instead of threats, we can be assured of long-lasting, devoted relationships. If only little Johnnie understood this.
This morning we return to our familiar program year. The kids and teachers have made it back to the classroom and our choir singers have once again lifted up their voices. We resume our continuous lectionary after taking a three-month summer break with a handful of sermon series. What better way to resume our lectionary than with a lesson from the book of Genesis, the opening book of scripture. Last September we started up the year by looking at the creation narrative from the first chapter and this year we’re starting with the flood narrative. Both narratives represent new beginnings: God created and created anew through a devastating flood. But there’s another part of this year’s narrative that I want to focus in on this morning: God’s promise. After his horrible flood that destroys a lot of his creation, God does something He had never done before. He offers us a promise. He looks around and sees all the devastation created by his flood and feels regret. His anger and sorrow at our sinfulness had compelled him to send the flood in the first place but the flood didn’t remove our sinfulness. It simply punished us for our sinfulness. And our sinfulness is only a by-product of his allowing us to have free will. So, in a sense, God is complicit in our sinfulness so He has no right to punish us for it. God proclaims in verse 21, “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.” Our hearts are evil but they’re also good. Just because our hearts lean towards doing evil doesn’t mean we deserve annihilation. Just as He was compelled to send the flood, God was compelled to promise never to send it again. And so far, God has held true to his promise. His creation remains, unharmed and thriving.
Well, perhaps slightly harmed but only by our own doing. God is not to blame for the harm we’ve done to his creation. We and we alone are to blame. And we can’t rely on God to come in and clean up our mess with one, fell swoop. He has promised never to do that again so we must figure out a way to preserve his creation and ourselves from ourselves. God didn’t create us so that we might simply destroy ourselves. God created us to bring glory to him in all that we do! God takes delight in us! When we choose to resist evil and our sinful nature, we bring God the greatest of glory and He is the most proud of us. But getting back to God’s promises…
After the flood, God did something He had never done before; He made a promise. And unlike little Johnnie, He has no problem keeping his promises. Indeed, this was the first of many promises He’s made with us over the years. Recall God went on to promise Abram that he would become the “father of many nations.” He promised to bless Abram and make his name great. Did God carry through with his promises? Of course He did, despite the odds against it because of Abram’s elderly, barren wife. Recall God went on to promise David that his family would forever reign over God’s people. Generation after generation of David’s kin remained on that throne until finally his distant relative, Jesus, came and claimed the throne for all of eternity. As long as Jesus remains on the throne, the promise is kept. So, did God carry through with his promise? Of course He did! Isn’t Jesus reigning over God’s children today?! And these are just the big promises God has made and carried through on.
God has a long history of making promises big and small through his prophets and apostles. In Philippians, Paul asserts another of God’s sure promises, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (4:19) In his letter to the Romans, Paul attests, “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (10:8-9) The prophet Jeremiah proclaims, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29:11) The prophet Ezekiel writes, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (36:26) Satisfied needs, salvation, a future with hope, new hearts, and new spirits…these are all promises that God makes and carries through on with those who love him above all else.
God loves making promises and carrying through on them. Why? For the same reason that little Johnnie failed to realize—promises build and sustain relationships. Our God is a God who longs to be in relationship with his creation. And not just mindless, powerless relationship. Our God gave us free will so that might we might choose to be in relationship with him. Yes, this allows for sin to be a part of our lives but it also allows for true goodness and righteousness. God makes promises with us in the hopes that we make promises with him and each other. And not empty promises either! No, promises that we stay committed to. Empty promises are just as bad, if not worse, than threats. God keeps his promises so we ought to keep our promises if we want to live righteously. Let us make promises and strive to keep them for the mere sake of building and sustaining relationships.
I’ll close with a powerful story I came across in the devotional, “Our Daily Bread.” An elderly Christian was in much distress as he lay dying. “Oh, Pastor,” he said, “for years I have relied upon the promises of God, but now in the hour of death I can’t remember a single one to comfort me.” Knowing that Satan was disturbing him, the preacher said, “My brother, do you think that God will forget any of his promises?” A smile came over the face of the dying believer as he exclaimed joyfully. “No, no! He won’t! Praise the Lord, now I can fall asleep in Jesus and trust him to remember them all and bring me safely to heaven.” Peace flooded his soul, and a short time later he was ushered by the angels into the light of God’s eternal day.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.