God’s Promise: Never Again (11am)
September 10, 2017 Pastor: Matt Wilcox
Topic: The Mercy and Grace of God Scripture: Genesis 9:8–9:17
When we were kids we learned the power of certain things. Things like the ice cream truck. When those chiming tones began, everything stopped. It didn’t matter if it was an intense game of tag, if you were mowing the lawn, or if you were nearly complete with your sidewalk chalk magnum opus. Those chiming tones had power. Another thing that had tremendous power and maybe still does: when your parents used your full name and middle name. You could be the toughest kid on the block but as soon as mom whipped out that middle name, you crumpled and went running home. Whether it was mom or dad, as soon as they said “Matthew Charles Wilcox” – whew, I knew I had to skedaddle. But there’s a gesture that I remember using as a kid that held almost sacred power: the pinky swearIn my experience, the pinky swear was the most powerful and binding promise that could be made. It forced two individual adolescents to entwine the most delicate of appendages in what would become a binding contract of terms. You didn’t break a pinky swear, plain and simple. Now as we grow older, we find binding agreements to be more defined by multiple signatures and present witnesses, but that pinky swear taught all of us something: Promises have power.
In our lives, we make plenty of promises. Some are minor and causal: “Yes, hun. I promise to take the trash out.” Though maybe breaking that promise has more than minor consequences. We also embark on reaching and deep promises. Like marriage. I believe there is no more powerful, no more binding, no more holy promise than the one we make to our husband or wife. To break that is to truly tear asunder something inconceivably precious both to us and to the heart of God. And the heart of God brings me to our new sermon series starting today: The Promises of God.
One of the most important aspects of God’s character is the identity of Promise Maker. It reminds us that our God is not simply some sort of cosmic clock maker who fashions together His creation and then sits back and simply watches it do its assigned task. God is invested in us. God cares about us. That is why God makes promises with us. Over the next five weeks we will look at what are considered the five major covenants of God. These are promises that God makes with humanity that have really deep roots. They are two-sided, mutually beneficial, everlasting promises between God and us.
Our first promise comes out of one of the most well-known stories in all of Scripture, and perhaps, one of the most misrepresented ones as well. The story of Noah is iconic when it comes to kids and church. I mean it’s got all the good stuff. Animals, a big boat, a guy with a beard, rainbows. It’s adorable. At least, that’s how it is portrayed in countless nurseries and children’s books. If we actually read the story of Noah we might become a little uncomfortable with having it be the theme for our baby’s room.
But the story is known by most of us, right? God has created…well, everything. That includes humanity. And while the passage of time in Old Testament books can be tricky, it doesn’t lessen the blow any when only three chapters into the Bible we find humanity outright disobeying God. Chapter four gives us the first murder recorded in Scripture, and then chapter six goes on to describe how wicked humanity has become, and that God has determined to wipe out all of creation and start fresh. Not exactly the inspirational beginnings we might have hoped for.
But then we come across God’s encounter with Noah – a righteous and blameless man who walked faithfully with God. God is inspired by Noah’s devotion despite how rampant the corruption and violence had spread through the rest of the world and the hearts of humanity. So God tells Noah to build a big boat. And thus begins the story we know and love. Animals came and filled the boat. There was a lot of rain. 40 days and 40 nights worth of rain. And only Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives survived. That’s the part that is often left out of the kiddie story. And we get why. It’s violent and graphic and tragic and hard to process. We have trouble reconciling the God who loves giraffes with the God who just flooded the earth. And that wrestling is ok. That wrestling and chewing on the more difficult realities about our God are what help us fashion and embody a bold, genuine, vibrant faith. A faith in the same God who makes the promise within our text this morning.
Just as iconic as the animals coming two by two is the rainbow. The rainbow is only a symbol of the promise of God. But let’s dive into our text this morning and read the first covenant God made with humanity. We’re in Genesis 9:8-17.
So this promise comes after our iconic story and what can only be described as a devastating catastrophe. I talked about wrestling with difficult portions of Scripture and aspects of God that are just too much for us to process. God’s use of the floodwaters is one of those elements. It alone is enough to fill its own sermon for another day. But we have to remember that in the biblical account, God brought about the flood not because of His own boredom or simply to display his power. The Creator looked upon his creation and found that humanity had entirely abandoned the purposes and meaning that God had intended for them. They had become consumed with violence and corruption and selfishness, and were destroying one another. And so, the Bible reveals that God made a difficult decision.
After the flood is over and a new beginning has arrived, God makes this promise with Noah. Actually, the Bible says that God established this covenant – this promise – with Noah, and all of humanity, and with every living creature on earth. The use of the Hebrew word here that we translate as “establish” has the connotation of erecting or building something. It hints to us that this is something new. God is doing something unique here. The action of God reaching out to humanity, of opening the door for a powerful relationship between Creator and creation. And it begins with this promise.
“Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
This is the first covenant, the first promise that God makes with humanity. Never again will God send flood waters to destroy the world. Larry and I talked about this series several months ago. We were planning out the new year and the idea came up for our church to focus on the promises God has made and continues to make with us. After burning our mortgage, and celebrating God’s faithfulness, and moving towards a renewed vision of what God has in store for First Pres and for this community, well, Larry and I really thought this was the perfect message series.
But I have to confess something: This promise is tough. For the past two weeks or so I’ve been rereading the first chunk of Genesis. I’ve been researching through commentaries. I’ve been praying. And it’s still hard. And maybe it’s hard for you too. Because for me, when I think of a promise, I think of promises that give me something in the end. Promises that have rewards and that give me something I desire. But this promise is different. This isn’t a promise of “this is what I will give you.” It’s a promise of “never again” will this happen. It’s a promise that recognizes the painful journey and the tragic reality. It’s a promise that is more saturated with endurance than it is celebration.
And it is an endurance we can embody and certainly do during the difficult times but primarily it is a promise of endurance for God. It is God making a promise that He will endure with us. That God will endure a relationship with us even when we do something to damage or compromise that relationship. This is a promise focused on how God will relate to us. Walter Brueggemann is a really respected biblical scholar and author. In his commentary on this text he remarks how this promise from God is all about the fabric of God’s relationship with creation. Brueggemann says this, “The relation of creator to creature is no longer a scheme of retribution. Because of a revolution in the heart of God, that relation is now based in unqualified grace.”
This is something we can’t afford to miss. The creator of all things, the one who has the power to bring flood waters over the whole earth, has made a promise with humanity that those waters will never be used again. But the most important element of this promise isn’t necessarily the details concerning water. The most important element is why God makes this promise at all. It’s because God has decided that grace will be at the center of the relationship between Creator and creation. As Brueggemann hints, there is a fundamental shift in the heart of God in this promise.
At the center of the story of Noah is a world-ending disaster brought about by the corruption of humanity. We had been created in the image of God and filled with breath of God. Being made in God’s image, being filled with God’s breath…it reveals that we were made to be in a relationship with our Creator. And yet, we abandoned that legacy before it even started. Genesis six tells us that God saw how the human heart was filled only with evil all of the time, that God regretted making us, and this is what verse six says, “and his heart was deeply troubled.” Humanity broke the heart of God and left God with one course of action. A course of action we deserved. We can call God harsh all we want but, as the creator, God makes the rules. We had completely rejected and rebelled against the one part of our identity God had given us: His own image. God responded to that rebellion and that corruption. And yet, here is God making a promise that it will not happen again. A promise that reveals God’s heart of grace. And it is with that same heart that God gave up His only Son for our sake.
God’s promise with Noah is the beginning of God making grace the center of our relationship with him. Christ going to the cross for us is the culmination of that promise. This is the first time we see God show humanity grace. When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden instead of something worse, God showed mercy. Mercy is not receiving what you deserve. Grace is something different. Grace is being given something you don’t deserve. And that’s what God does here with His promise. Yes, the flood was a catastrophic event. But the reach of flood waters is nothing compared to the reach of God’s grace.
Walter Brueggemann makes another powerful comment. “The only thing the waters of chaos and death do not cut through (though they cut through everything else) is the commitment of God to creation.” As terrible as rising flood waters are and as destructive as those waters can be - is nothing compared to how reaching and transforming the grace of God can be.
And right now friends - that is what I want to challenge all of us to live into. This morning Nancy read the account of the new heaven and new earth out of Revelation. It is the culminating vision of God for there to be a realm without death and tragedy and violence. I mean it says it right here in verse 3: “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
That is God’s vision and God created us so that we can participate in bringing that kingdom, God’s kingdom, into creation. We are both recipients of and agents for this promise of grace. We are a people who have been promised grace (as we see in God’s promise with Noah) and are a people saved by grace (through the cross and power of Jesus of Christ) and are now called to be examples of grace. We can be creatures that display the image of God as was originally intended. We can be people who speak with the voice and breath of God as it was once given and spoken to us.
God, in his promise to Noah and really to all of us, said “Never again.” Never again would flood waters destroy all of God’s creation. It doesn’t mean flood victims don’t need our help and support right now. And it doesn’t mean that there will never be any form of judgement or punishment for our sin. But When God says “never again” He is also establishing something new. A relationship and promise of grace. This morning, I believe it’s time for all of us live into that promise. I believe it’s time for us to say never again to those things which separate us from God and that distance us from being people of grace.
Promises have power. Whether they are pinky swears, marriage vows, or divine covenants. It’s time we lived out the power of God’s promise and shared grace with the world so that we can play our part in ending the sorrow, loss, fear, prejudice, injustice, and pain that is so present today. It’s time we become people who not only receive the promise of God, but people who share it with the world.