“God’s Promises” Genesis 6-9 (Selections)
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL Pentecost 16
September 9, 2018 NL Year 1
Rev. Sean Weston
I remember like it was yesterday. It was my turn for show and tell in my kindergarten class. I was so excited to share a craft I had made with the entire class. Like my classmates, I had been looking forward to my turn for weeks. With my parents’ help, I agonized over what to bring. I finally settled on a craft I had made in Sunday School a few days before. I don’t remember what the craft was about, but I remember what it was: a glass baby food jar filled with clear gel and glitter. I was so proud of my creation. I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone else. I put it carefully in my backpack.
We arrived for the day and I lined up like always. As the day started, I was called on to show my craft. I opened my backpack, and what I saw made me feel so sad. My jar had broken, and the gel was all over my backpack. Not only was my creation ruined, but so was everything else. Nothing could make me feel better. Nothing at all. I’ve never forgotten that moment.
Few things are as disappointing as making something only to see it fail in some way. You work all weekend on a home improvement project and then the door doesn’t fit anymore. You pour yourself into something at work only to have the boss change direction at the last minute. You study and study at school and still don’t get the grade you wanted. It is disappointing. Frustrating. Even enraging.
In the Bible story Jean and I read this morning, God is disappointed with the way God’s creation turned out. It just so happens that instead of a craft or work project, God had created the world. But people weren’t treating one another right in this world. They weren’t treating animals right, they weren’t treating the earth right. Instead, they were greedy, violent, unjust. And God was hurt.
This helps me understand something I’ve always struggled with. Why in this story did God destroy the earth? How could a good and loving God do that? But then I see myself that day in kindergarten again, and I remember the hurt and anger I felt when my creation got messed up. When things I do get messed up I still feel that way. Sometimes you just want to start all over.
The God of the Bible, and especially the God of Genesis, is a God that has emotions just like human beings. We like to talk about that – when the emotions are love and other nice things like that. But when we hear stories tell of God’s sadness disappointment or anger, well, that’s not as nice. We don’t always know what to do with that. But if I had created the world, only to see brother kill brother, to see bosses hurt workers, to see big kids picking on little kids, well, I’d be disappointed too. Sometimes I’ve wondered why God lets things go on as they are.
For me, that wondering is the key to understanding this story. People back then also wondered why things were the way they were. Why bad things happened, and why God seemed to allow it. It’s important to remember that the Bible was written by people. And people are always asking those big questions. The Bible is a record of people trying to understand the world. So, just like we do, they told stories. The meaning of the stories doesn’t depend on everything happening exactly 100% how it says. The Bible isn’t a history textbook.
Scientists have found no evidence for a huge flood in those times. That said, and I preached on this text in February and mentioned this, but it’s worth mentioning again – many ancient cultures have flood stories: stories of broken relationship between gods and human beings, relationships that can only be mended by a great flood – the divine use of a big reset button. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that something happened that people needed to understand, to tell stories about. Most ancient peoples just assumed without question that natural disasters came from God. Today there are people who believe natural disasters like floods are caused by God. And, many of us, myself included, don’t see it that way. You and I might be bothered by a God that does such things. But the writers of Genesis assumed these things came from God, and they happened for a reason. Because people kept messing up. God was sad about that and wanted to start over. But then at the end something amazing happens. God makes a promise: never to destroy the earth again. God doesn’t say “hey, my work is done here, this next crop of humans is going to be better so I don’t have to do this again.” God recognizes that people will continue to do bad things. God will keep being sad, and hurt, and disappointed. God seems to accept this, and decides to change. To be a God of patience, mercy, and steadfast love – creation, but never destruction.
So God starts again, in a new way. God establishes a covenant, not just with Noah and his family, not even all humankind. God establishes a covenant with every creature on the earth. God promises to never destroy the earth again, in exchange for absolutely nothing. The promise is unconditional. The people will be reminded of this promise in the rainbow, a sign of God’s love and mercy.
And so here our ancient ancestors gave us an answer to the question: “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” Because God learned something: when you try to fix things for other people, you hurt more than you help. After all, even those few who survived the flood learned nothing. After the flood, Noah was no example of good conduct, and people since have done all sorts of bad stuff.
In every relationship there are things we will do and things we don’t do. I will play with you; I won’t punch you. That’s called a boundary. In this story, God’s boundaries change. Before, when people did things that made God sad, God tried to fix it. Whether people wanted it or not. Even to the point of ending nearly all life on the earth. But now, God decides, “I will teach them, I will offer guidance, I will raise up leaders. As the scriptures say, “I have set before you life and death.” But we will choose how to live. Freely. In that freedom is accountability: the consequences of our choices are ours to bear. God will allow us to be careless, even if that means we spill the milk. But when we do, it will be our spill to clean up. It will be up to us to learn from the experience. God will not force anything, but neither will God swoop in and save the day.
If there is another great flood on the earth, it will be not because of God.
That is God’s promise in this story: freedom. We spend our whole lives, from when we are born to when we die, learning how to use our freedom. Making decisions and, hopefully, learning from them. God will never stop trying to teach us. =God will never, ever, ever, stop loving us. But no matter how sad or angry God may be God will not fix it. No matter how much God might want to. God will handle the hurt and sadness without taking them out on us.
One way to honor that promise is to try to become more like God. To have boundaries like God’s boundaries. To let those we love the freedom make their own choices, experience their own consequences, and to learn from them. To accept the consequences of our choices, and to seek learning from them.
When the craft broke in my in our backpack and made a huge mess, I was hurt. I was sad. I was angry. At myself, at my mom, at my classmates who just had to press up so closely. And of course I was. But I learned that I could manage those emotions without punishing myself or others. In the flood story, God learned to accept sadness and hurt at human actions without punishing us. When we act from freedom, we cannot blame God for the consequences we experience. But when we act freedom – and only when – we get the chance to grow into our full potential. To grow in mind and spirit. To truly become the best we can be.
As a church, we gather as a free people to learn together, to share our joys, to grieve our sorrows, to grow in our ability to love. To seek together to make the world a better place. God will help us without end. But God won’t do any of it for us. God loves us too much. God has promised us freedom, so that we can learn and grow together. Thanks be to God, and amen.