The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and he was heartbroken. So the Lord said, “I will wipe off of the land the human race that I’ve created: from human beings to livestock to the crawling things to the birds in the skies, because I regret I ever made them.” But as for Noah, the Lord approved of him.
These are Noah’s descendants. In his generation, Noah was a moral and exemplary man; he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt, because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth.
God said to Noah, “The end has come for all creatures, since they have filled the earth with violence. I am now about to destroy them along with the earth, so make a wooden ark. Make the ark with nesting places and cover it inside and out with tar. This is how you should make it: four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Make a roof for the ark and complete it one foot from the top. Put a door in its side. In the hold below, make the second and third decks.
“I am now bringing the floodwaters over the earth to destroy everything under the sky that breathes. Everything on earth is about to take its last breath. But I will set up my covenant with you. You will go into the ark together with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. From all living things—from all creatures—you are to bring a pair, male and female, into the ark with you to keep them alive. From each kind of bird, from each kind of livestock, and from each kind of everything that crawls on the ground—a pair from each will go in with you to stay alive. Take some from every kind of food and stow it as food for you and for the animals.”
Noah did everything exactly as God commanded him.
After forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made. He sent out a raven, and it flew back and forth until the waters over the entire earth had dried up. Then he sent out a dove to see if the waters on all of the fertile land had subsided, but the dove found no place to set its foot. It returned to him in the ark since waters still covered the entire earth. Noah stretched out his hand, took it, and brought it back into the ark. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out from the ark again. The dove came back to him in the evening, grasping a torn olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the waters were subsiding from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent out the dove, but it didn’t come back to him again.
God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, and with every living being with you—with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you. I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”
God said, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.” God said to Noah, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I have set up between me and all creatures on earth.” --Genesis 6:5-22, 8:6-12, 9:8-17 (CEB)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
Holy moly! Isn’t it a little crazy that so many people - some of us likely included - have decided that the events of Noah and the flood are appropriate with which to decorate nurseries. Seriously. This story is terrifying.
Welcome to the beginning of the lectionary year. In the Narrative Lectionary, it is customary that on the first Sunday of the lectionary year, we hear a story from what is called the primordial history. This primordial (or primeval) history consists of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. These are the mythic stories of faith - stories that speak to us in universal truths. They describe not only how things came to be for us as people of faith, but why things are the way they are.
Usually, we begin with one of the two creation stories in Genesis 1 or 2. But, once every four years, we hear this story. Of God. Of God’s regret. And, then, of Noah and the flood. In some respects it’s a story of creation. But, really, it's more a story of un-creating than it is creating. Do you notice, especially, when we hear the language describing the creatures as they are loaded onto Noah’s ark - the language and its cadence - that it sounds remarkably similar to many of the lines of Genesis 1? This account of God un-creating the world borrows and echoes words and phrases from the first story. Even the sequence moves backwards from humanity, to land animals, to birds, then to food plants.
But, before we get too far into the story, I want to back up to the very beginning. In its opening lines, we hear the depth of God’s emotion. The heartbreak. And, perhaps most troubling, the regret that God felt at having created humanity. God is grieved “to the heart” and twice “sorry” about having spoken creation into being in the first place. God intended a world that behaved and believed very differently from the one that developed. That God was facing in this story. Perhaps, even, the one that God is facing in our world today.
I don’t know about you, but, as a parent, I get it. There were many times when I just wanted to walk away. Tired and exhausted and dealing with one more challenge with my son, I understand, even in some very minute way, how God was feeling.
It was an evil place, this time of Noah. Wickedness abounds, both in the imagination of the heart and also in societies these humans have created. God is ready to call it quits. One Jewish theologian to whom I frequently listen put it this way. “Have you ever started a project with all excitement and energy, but then come to a realization that things are a mess. That this is not going to work. And that it's time to just shut it down." That’s where God is, she suggests. Ready to “blot out” every living thing from the face of the earth. The Hebrew word meaning to “rub away” as one might rub ink off old parchment. To un-remember. And simply forget it ever happened. Some theologians have suggested that God’s uncreating in this story is less a kid kicking his sandcastle apart at the beach and more a simple turning away. And without God’s sustaining and creative presence, things fall apart.
But. That’s how chapter 8 begins. It’s in the word “but” where we hear the good news. “But God remembered Noah and all of the beasts and cattle that were with him in the ark.” God can’t quite go all the way, apparently. As God responded to the disobedience of Eve and Adam in the story in Eden and as we will see time after time in the stories that follow, God’s deadly wrath is overcome by our Creator’s more powerful inclination toward salvation. At the heart of this story, setting every challenging aspect aside for just a moment, is a God who, no matter how grieved and angry, is in love with the universe and its creatures, particularly those of us of the two-legged variety who somehow share that same mysterious image of God.
We’re reminded of this in the words of Isaiah 49, “Can a woman forget her nursing baby, that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”
God remembers that last good remaining speck of creation and turns again toward it. Notice the movement of God from distant to intimate. From the broader view of humanity to Noah. God sees Noah and moves toward him. To a personal relationship with him. To save him. God’s remembering of Noah leads to God’s salvation of Noah. And a promise - a covenant - to Noah to never again abandon creation to chaos, but to stay in relationship. To stay in the sustaining relationship with creation that makes life possible. A promise marked by a sign. A rainbow. Not so much to help us remember, but to help God remember.
It is here, in this primordial story, in this teachable moment for God, that God opts in for the sacrificial, messier, more inefficient, more vulnerable route of real relationship. With Noah. And with you. And with me. And God promises, in Christ, to remember us. Forever and ever.
Preached September 11, 2022, at Grace & Glory Lutheran, Prospect/Goshen, KY, with Third Lutheran, Louisville, KY.
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Reading: Genesis 6:5-22, 8:6-12, 9:8-17