Sunday’s Sermon: Soggy Covenants

This is the sermon from Aug. 25, 2013. I apologize for the lateness in posting. 🙂

  • Water is a funny thing.
    • It’s powerful.
      • Colorado River continues to carve out Grand Canyon, arguably one of the most beautiful and magnificent natural sites in America
      • Niagara Falls hurls 150,00 gal/sec down on the American side and 600,000 gal/sec down on the Canadian side
    • Water is also soothing.
      • Looking out over a smooth lake with steam rising gently and quietly into the morning sky
      • Sounds of a brook splashing & bubbling between its rocky banks
    • But on the flip side, water can also be destructive.
      • Dec. 2004 – Tsunami killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries in SE Asia
      • Aug. 2005 – Hurricane Katrina killed almost 2,000 people and put 80% of New Orleans under 20 feet of water
    • It’s an interesting paradox, isn’t it? We need water – the earth is 71% water, our bodies are 60% water! – but too much of it can be seriously devastating. I find it intriguing, then, that the two covenants we’re talking about today – covenants made between God and the people that God loves – are expressed through water.
  • Like our need for water, these covenants are essential, and God made them with us for our well-being and restoration.
    • See covenant for well-being in waters of the flood
    • See covenant for restoration in waters of baptism
  • 1st: Covenant of well-being –> Let’s talk about the flood.
    • Story we all know well – First, we learn the charming side of the story.
      • Coloring sheets in Sunday school
        • Giant boat
        • Menagerie of smiling animals
        • A smiling man with a long white beard
        • Big, beautiful rainbow in the background
    • It’s only later, when we’re older, that we learn about the darker side of the flood
      • Things on earth had gone terribly wrong, to the point where Genesis tells us that all the thoughts and inclinations of the human heart were full of evil, and God actually regretted creating humankind.[1]
        • Humanity’s saving grace = Noah, a righteous man with an upright heart
        • And so the waters came – Gen: The waters swelled above the mountains, covering them … God blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth.[2]
          • By the waters of the flood, God was trying to save humanity and the world – all of creation – from the fear and hopelessness caused by sin.
    • And though the waters did come, they didn’t stay forever. After 40 days of flooding and ~5½ months of floating, we come to our passage for today, a passage that stresses how much God wants to take care of God’s people.
      • In passage, God uses phrase “establish my covenant” 3 times –> woven throughout: beginning, middle and end of passage
        • v. 9: “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants …”
        • v. 11: “I establish my covenant with you …”
        • v. 17: “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh on earth.”
      • Rest of the passage makes it clear that like water, this covenant is essential for all
        • Special Heb. word: hinneh –> This is an attention-grabbing word (“truly,” “behold!” or, as one of my seminary professors liked to translate it, “Shazaam!”). As with this line from Genesis, it’s not always directly translated in Hebrew, but those who read it in that original language would’ve known that whatever followed this distinctive word was critically important. So what follows this “hinneh” in our passage for today? I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you[3]
          • Hinneh = covenant is important, something worthy of serious, undivided attention –> God wants to make sure that we pay close attention to these words. This declaration of a covenant with “you and your descendants” not only promises God’s care, it also implies longevity. It implies that God has a vested interest not just in the well-being of Noah and his immediate family but also in the well-being of all those who came after … including us.
  • Next: Covenant of restoration –> From the waters of the flood to the waters of baptism …
    • Our New Testament passage is pretty clear – Peter: Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. … And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ[4]
      • You see, Christ draws us to God through the waters of baptism, restoring a relationship which is as essential to our spiritual health as water is to our physical health.
        • So essential that we impart this blessing and this drawing-in on our children when they are just babies
          • Mark them for Christ
          • Welcome them into the family of faith –> provide them with an introduction to faith
            • Scholar: Above all, baptism enacts the power of Jesus Christ, who … has the ability to bring us to God. … 1 Peter calls us again to the utter seriousness of the sacrament – the mystery of faith conjoined with the mystery of Christ, gifts that lie too deep for words.[5]
    • Through our baptism, we are called to live into this gift, this mystery – NT text today describes Christ as being “alive in the Spirit”[6]
      • Now usually, with a passage like this, we want guidance – step-by-step instructions on what we actually need to do to be “alive in the Spirit.”
        • Out of luck – no explicit instructions
        • We each come to God with different circumstances, different joys and pains, and different gifts, so the ways that we can live into the mystery of Christ – the ways in which we become “alive in the Spirit” – will look different for each of us.
  • However, there is one thing that we all share – one particularly less-than-desirable habit: rebellion. –> NT passage speaks of those who “in former times did not obey”[7]
    • Now, Peter talks about Jesus making a proclamation to the people who perished during Noah’s flood. But we know as well as anybody that those people were not the only ones in all of history to have disobeyed God.
      • Countless examples found within the Bible
      • Countless examples found within our own day-to-day lives
        • Sometimes we just can’t act as though we are alive in the Spirit because we’re being held back by something – fear, confusion, doubt, anger, resentment, prejudice … for whatever reason, we don’t obey the firm but gentle pull of God on our hearts. We can’t respond to the thirst our souls have for God’s refreshing and renewing presence.
      • Fortunately, God is stronger – more patient, more forgiving, and more willing – than we could ever hope to be. Time and time again throughout the millennia, the power of both these covenants – the one for our well-being and the one for our restoration – have been tested, but they outlast all because of the strength of God’s love. –> proof is in Peter’s words: God waited patiently[8]
        • Gr = words for “waited eagerly” + “patiently” –> waiting like little kids wait with hands folded in their laps, trying to sit nicely but just can’t quite keep still – wiggling, twitching, squirming
          • This is certainly remarkable in and of itself – that God would wait for us – but even more remarkable considering that even in the midst of saving Noah and his family, even in the midst of establishing the covenant of baptism in the waters of the Jordan, God knew the people would fall again. –> just prior to OT passage today: the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth”[9]
            • Scholar: God’s internal musings make clear that God makes this move with eyes wide open, regarding human possibilities for evil; God remains a realist. But God cares so much for creation and its potential that God determines to take a new direction.[10] –> God recognized the pervasiveness of sin as well as our own weakness, so God gave us a new direction – a pure direction –  in the grace and salvation of Christ.
    • God waits for us, not calmly and quietly but with an eager anticipation. Even when we rebel and disobey, even when we feel far away from God or when we feel like we want to be far away from God, all God wants is to be near us … and deep down, we know that’s what we want, too. It’s kind of like our bodies’ need for water. We know we’re supposed to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, but do we? Probably not. We quench our thirst with anything but that essential element that our bodies truly crave. We test how far our bodies can go without it. But when we finally take that long-desired drink of nice, cold, clear, refreshing water, we wonder why we waited so long.
      • Reminds me of our niece and nephews taking baths – When they have to stop what they’re doing – stop playing or coloring or watching a movie or whatever – they don’t want to take a bath. –> Eileen’s solution: “in & out baths” (explain)
        • The funny thing is, once they get in that water, the kids’ “in and out bath” usually turns into a good, long, warm, cleansing soak because they’re having so much fun. And when you think about it, are we really so different in our relationship with God? Sometimes, we want to focus on doing our own thing, but when we are reminded of the love and acceptance that God has for us, we decide we want to luxuriate in the warmth and security of that love and the refreshment and renewal that we find in God’s arms. That’s why God made those covenants with us – promises of well-being and restoration that are inextricably and intimately connected to water. By the waters of the flood, God says to us, “I will not forget you,” and through the waters of baptism, God says to us, “I will not abandon you.” Amen.

[1] Gen 6:5-6.

[2] Gen 7:20, 23a.

[3] Gen 9:9.

[4] 1 Pet 3:18, 21.

[5] Bartlett, 298.

[6] 1 Pet 3:18.

[7] 1 Pet 3:20.

[8] 1 Pet 3:20.

[9] Gen 8:21.

[10] Terence E. Frethem. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 402.

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