Saturday, 6 September 2014

Covenant of love

Genesis 6:11-22
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And 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. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make 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. For 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. But 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. And 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. Of 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. Also 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.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
Genesis 9:11-17
I 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.” God 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: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 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 the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When 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.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The story of Noah and the ark has been done to death, hasn't it?
We teach it to children from earliest days.
Nursery toy boxes will almost certainly have a Noah's ark play set buried somewhere in there.
And the rainbow is sung about in all tempos and genres.
Big boats, animals and rainbows - all make a pretty story.
Look again.
God, having created a beautiful world, sees how evil and corruption have affected creation.
And decides, like a child with an etch a sketch board (remember those?) to erase what has become and start over again.
Sounds like a pretty easy thing for God to do.
But then God notices Noah and decides that he is OK - and his family.
So he devises a rescue plan for Noah, along with the animals that inhabit the earth.
An ark that will keep them afloat while the rest of creation and humankind is destroyed by floods.
And so, the first question that this story raises for me is:
What kind of God creates human beings to make choices and then destroys them when they make the wrong choices?
What kind of God simply gives up on creation?
And then, when the earth is destroyed, when folk have been swept away by floods or have led their loved ones to higher and higher ground and been forced to watch others drowning before they, too, have no place else to go and succumb to a watery death, what kind of God chooses the symbol of a rainbow as a reminder of the wrath of God and a promise that this angry, vengeful God, will not destroy the world in this way again?

I 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.” God 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: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 

Who would want a symbol of Covenant with such a God?
Somehow, beyond Sunday School, this story is a horror story.
What are we to make of this God, portrayed in Hebrew Scripture as a God of such contrasts?
Angry, loving, vengeful, remorseful?
Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring the nature of a Covenant God.
A God who makes promises.
A God who offers relationship.
We'll look at the nature and terms of that relationship.
And what those promises might mean for creation and for the people of God today.
We'll also look at the burdens and responsibilities, the hopes and the aspirations that living in Covenant with God might bring to us.
Perhaps one of the first themes we might explore is that establishing covenant with God involves a journey.
A journey, often portrayed in Hebrew Scripture as a physical journey.
God tended to call people to leave all that was familiar and journey to a new place.
And, in this story of the Ark, God calls Noah to leave behind all he has known, to journey with his family to a place inconceivable and unrecognisable.
And it is often on the journey, not at their destination, but on the journey that God's people learn most about themselves and about the God who calls them out of all that is familiar and into relationship.
Fred Beuchner, writes this of that journey in the ark:
".., just about everything imaginable is aboard, the clean and the unclean both. They are all piled in together helter-skelter, the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin. There are sly young foxes and impossible old cows. There are the catty and the piggish and the peacock-proud. There are hawks and there are doves. Some are wise as owls, some silly as geese; some meek as lambs and others fire-breathing dragons. There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together, and there are times when you could hear a pin drop. Most of them have no clear idea just where they’re supposed to be heading or how they’re supposed to get there or what they’ll find if and when they finally do, but they figure the people in charge must know and in the meanwhile sit back on their haunches and try to enjoy the ride.”
(from Whistling in the Dark)

Wow! What a picture. Everything imaginable aboard, all piled in helter-skelter. No clear idea how to get there or what they'll find when they arrive, figuring the people in charge must know...
Is it just me, or does that seem like a description of our Scottish Referendum?
Except I'm not sure that we have that much faith in the people in charge!!!

But there is a huge element, as we'll discover in the weeks ahead, as we navigate these texts on Covenant and as we navigate a post Referendum Scotland, that, often, we're skiddling about not sure where we're going, but travelling in hope, sometimes with a healthy dose of scepticism,doing our best to enjoy the ride and the community along the way.
That seems to me an apt description of the church in the world today.
Comprised of people raising mighty big questions with the God who is in charge, but settling to the journey, building community where we can, and living in hope of relationship that is not destructive but builds up and sustains. Of course it will be a bumpy ride. Trusting that the God of floods and rainbows will lead us out of what we know to what we will be. Perhaps we won't recognise the landscape at journey's end. Perhaps we won't recognise ourselves, changed as we must surely be by the journey. But we put our hope in God who makes a covenant with us, a covenant shot through with love.
Thanks be to God.

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