Sunday’s sermon: Spectrum of a Promise

Text used – Genesis 6:5-22; 9:8-17

  • I want you to think about light for a minute this morning.
    • All the different ways that we experience light
      • Sun (and sun’s reflected light from the moon)
      • Electric lights homes, businesses, vehicles, appliances
      • Candles or fireplaces
      • And of course, there’s the light we take in from the screens of our various devices, right?
    • All the different ways we describe light
      • List from DailyWritingTips.com[1]
    • All the different ways we use light in our day-to-day colloquialisms
      • Understanding
        • “… see the light”
        • “… a lightbulb moment”
      • Joyful, enjoyable presence of someone
        • “… they lit up a room”
        • “… light of my life”
      • Revelation
        • “… light at the end of the tunnel”
        • “… shed light on this” or “… see that in a new light”
    • Light is essential to our lives in so many different ways. And yet I find it fascinating the in the grand scheme of things, the amount of light that we can take in – the light that’s actually visible on the grand scheme of the electromagnetic spectrum – is miniscule compared to what’s out there. It’s smaller than miniscule. It’s infinitesimal. → time for a very brief, very simple science lesson[2]
      • Light = electromagnetic wave length of those waves determines frequency
        • Frequency related to the color of light that we’re seeing[3]
          • Red = longest wavelength
          • Violet = shortest wavelength
        • Frequency determines when something falls on the electromagnetic spectrum
          • Longer wavelength (lower frequency) = radio waves and microwaves
          • Shorter wavelengths (higher frequency) = xrays and gamma rays
        • Visible light falls toward lower end of this huge spectrum
          • Higher frequency than infrared light
          • Lower frequency than ultraviolet light
    • And of all the different frequencies that make up the whole of the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light – all of that amazing light that we see and that literally makes life on this planet and our daily ways of life possible – all of that light and the different ways that we experience it only makes up .0035% of the electromagnetic spectrum.[4] Not even a tenth of a percent! Not even a hundredth of a percent! There’s so much more to the electromagnetic spectrum than our eyes can perceive … but it’s still there.
  • Throughout the first part of the fall, we’re going to be journeying through some of God’s covenants – God’s promises – found in the First Testament.
    • Begin today with God’s covenant with the people through Noah in the aftermath of the flood
    • Continue with further promises God makes to the people through other figureheads
      • Some familiar
      • Some maybe less so
    • But here’s the thing. Often, when we talk about God’s covenant with the people, we talk only about the reassuring parts – the parts that make us feel good about ourselves and about God and about our relationship with God. We like reminding ourselves of the ways that we think we’re already living into God’s promises. And we’ll certainly talk about those elements of God’s covenants. But we’re also going to delve into the elements and aspects of the covenants that we don’t always see – the parts that we don’t always talk about. We’re going to tackle the full spectrum of the God’s covenants … and see where it leads us.
  • Good place to start = talking about covenant in general What exactly is a covenant? – turned to 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know by Rev. Dr. Matt Schlimm[5]
    • General = binding agreement between 2 parties
    • Heb. “covenant” appears almost 300 times throughout the Bible
      • Sometimes refers to agreements made btwn. people
      • Mostly refers to relationship btwn. God and God’s people – Schlimm: The fundamental idea here is that God and the covenant people are bound together in the closest imaginable ways.[6]
    • Heb. tradition covenant was not something to be taken lightly
      • Phrasing = “cutting a covenant”
        • Certainly harkens to sealing of God’s covenant with Abraham through circumcision
        • Also references another tradition – Schlimm: “cutting a [covenant]” meant cattle were killed and the animals’ bodies sliced in two. The halves of these carcasses would face each other. Next, those making the covenant would walk between the bleeding corpses. The idea was that those who would violate the covenant deserve to become like the corpses.[7]  There is definitely a weight to this idea of covenant that we seem to have lost in our modern culture with its constantly shifting allegiances, a culture in which we have whole cadres of lawyers whose specialty is finding ways around contractual obligations – finding ways to extricate us from the covenants we’ve made.
      • Less severe side of the Heb. tradition surrounding covenants = also often meal involved
        • Covenants btwn. people sealed by sharing meal together
        • Covenants btwn. people and God sealed by animal and/or grain sacrifice (essentially sharing meal with God)
        • Often involved the essential element of salt salt = preservative of the ancient world, so offering salt was a symbol of the lasting power of a covenant
  • So as we embark on this journey through the spectrum of God’s covenants, it’s rather appropriate that we begin with Noah.
    • Appropriate because God’s covenant with Noah is, in fact, God’s first covenant with the people
    • Appropriate because of the elements of the covenant that we don’t normally talk about namely what led up to it
    • Appropriate because it’s a covenant sealed with its own spectrum – the bow that God places in the clouds as the abiding, visual reminder of God’s own promise
  • Begin at the beginning (of our reading … which also happens to be the beginning of Noah’s story) And the beginning of this story serves as our reminder that Noah’s story is not exactly the happy, smiling, pastel-colored story often relayed in Sunday school lessons and coloring sheets.
    • Text (beginning): 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.[8] lots to unpack here[9]
      • Heb. “evil” = wide-ranging word basically anything that is not what it ought to be
        • Can mean wicked, bad, harm, mischief, evil
        • Can mean broken, spoiled, destroyed
        • Can mean afflicted or miserable
        • Can mean something that displeases, punishes, or vexes
        • Covers things that are physically, socially, or morally “bad”
        • Clearly, among the people, things had gone horribly, horribly wrong in all the ways.
          • Point driven home by that description “always completely evil” = literally “all day every day”
      • Heb. “regretted” = difficult little word that carries the implication of pity and the accompanying consolation but also encompasses the less righteous ways that we console ourselves in our minds basically avenging thoughts/fantasies This is a regret tinged with sadness and pity as well as frustration and anger. There’s a desperation to this regret – to God’s regret.
      • Heb. “heartbroken” = “grieved God to God’s heart” literally “to carve,” so God’s regret was so deep that it carved at God’s heart
      • This is definitely the element of the covenant that we don’t often talk about – the intentional invisible part of the spectrum. We like to sing about the animals boarding the ark in “twosies.” We like to skip to the end of the story so we can talk about the dove and the olive branch, so we can color the picture of happy Noah and happy Mrs. Noah and all the happy animals disembarking the ark under that beautiful rainbow. But leading up to that Sunday school scene is utter brokenness.
        • Brokenness on the part of the people
          • Brokenness among one another evil and violence done to one another
          • Brokenness in their relationship with God section from the book Old Turtle: But the people forgot. They forgot that they were a message of love, and a prayer from the earth. And they began to argue … about who knew God, and who did not; about where God was, and was not; about whether God was, or was not. And often the people misused their powers, and hurt one another. Or killed one another. And they hurt the earth. Until finally even the forests began to die … and the rivers and the oceans and the plants and the animals and the earth itself … Because the people could not remember who they were, or where God was.[10]
  • And yet, even in the midst of all that brokenness and struggle and human chaos, God found a bright light in Noah. In that vast spectrum of humanity, Noah was the infinitesimal spectrum of visible righteousness – the one with whom and through whom God could renew that relationship.
    • Should be said: Noah was far from perfect Nowhere in our text today (or in any of Noah’s story that’s not part of today’s text) does it ever call Noah “perfect.” – text: But as for Noah, the Lord approved of him.[11]
      • Other translation: But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.[12] Heb. “favor” = grace, kindness, preciousness  Nothing in our text gives us any indication exactly what it was about Noah that caught God’s favor – that found him washed in God’s grace instead of the rising flood waters – but whatever it was delivered Noah and Noah’s family through the devastation of the flood to the promise on the other side.
        • Text: 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 … I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters.” … 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 put my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth.”[13]
          • Interesting because it’s the only covenant in which God includes humanity and the rest of creation (“every living thing with you” and “covenant between me and the earth”)
  • So what do we take from this introduction to covenant? This story of a broken world and Noah, the story of raging floodwaters and a rainbow promise in the sky?
    • God’s love is greater
      • Greater than our brokenness and mistakes
      • Greater than the chaos of the world around us
      • Greater even than God’s own frustration We know that as humans, we make mistakes. We mess up. We hurt other people – intentionally and unintentionally. We mislead. We act in ways that cause harm, and we cause harm by failing to act in the face of blatant injustice and deep need. As one of our Prayers of Confession says, “We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”[14] And yet even in the midst of that brokenness – our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us – the brilliant spectrum of God’s promise and grace shines through: ever-present, ever-holy, forever giving, forever reminding us that God loves us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://www.dailywritingtips.com/36-adjectives-describing-light/.

[2] https://k8schoollessons.com/what-is-light/.

[3] https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/47-colours-of-light.

[4] https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/articles/visible-light-eye-opening-research-nnsa.

[5] Matthew Richard Schlimm. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 100-104.

[6] Schlimm, 101.

[7] Schlimm, 101.

[8] Gen 6:5-6.

[9] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/genesis-6/.

[10] Douglas Wood. Old Turtle. (New York: Scholastic Press), 1992.

[11] Gen 6:8.

[12] Gen 6:8 (NRSV).

[13] Gen 9:8-10a, 11a, 12-13.

[14] “Prayer of Confession” in Book of Common Worship. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 20.

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