God with Us: Noah & the Flood, God & the Rainbow
Genesis 6:5-22; 8:6-12; 9:8-17
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
Today we are beginning a six-week series called God With Us. We will be following the Narrative Lectionary this fall, which will take us on a tour through the Old Testament. It will give us a chance to familiarize ourselves with the order in which things happened and it will also give us a chance to learn about the Gospel in the Old Testament. Today we will be looking at Noah and Flood, God and the Rainbow. Where is the Gospel in this pretty horrifying story? And what do we learn about God being with us? First I want to talk about some Hebrew words in our text this morning and what they teach us about this text. Second I what to talk about what God is doing in this text and in our lives. And third I want to talk about how we can help stop a flood that is happening today.
First, a look at some Hebrew. Often when we read this story we wonder why God would send a flood that would kill so many people and animals? When we look more closely at chapter 6 verses 11-13 in the Hebrew, we find that the root word used to describe the corruption of human sin, three times, in verses 11-12, is the same root word used to describe the destruction of the flood in verse 13. What this shows us is that the earth was already filled with destruction and violence from human sin before the flood.
This leads us to our second Hebrew word. The sea is described as the deep at creation. This sea, or the deep, was an ancient symbol for chaos. At creation in Genesis, the wind of God or the Spirit of God sweeps over the deep and brings light to the darkness, brings order out of chaos. In the flood story, in chapter 7, which is not in the narrative lectionary, it rains, but also the deep bursts forth from the earth. What we learn from this is that human sin brings chaos to the order that God brings in creation. Human sin can undo the good that God creates in our lives, and even on the earth. What we see in chapter 8:1 is that God again sends the winds of God or the Spirit of God to dry up the flood, to bring order out of chaos to bring light to the darkness.
(Inspired by Donald Gowan's Reclaiming the Old Testament for the Christian Pulpit and https://www.workingpreacher.org/?lect_date=09/09/2018&lectionary=nl
It is not so much that God does this, but that this is the result of human sin. What we see then is that human beings are not punished FOR our sins, but BY our sins, by the natural consequences of our sin. And this affects not just humans, but the whole earth. We can relate to this. I am sure that everyone in this room has experienced a time in our lives when we have followed the path of sin and seen how it has brought destruction into our lives and a flood of chaos that affected not just us, but others. It can take a long time to bring order back into our lives and to find light in the darkness. The flood here represents the chaos and destruction that our sin brings into our own lives, into the lives of others and into the whole earth.
This leads us to our second point. What is God doing in all of this? Where is the Gospel? In this text, God is committed to preserving life. In this moment, God considers completely starting over. But, God makes a way for humans and animals to survive. AND, at the end, God makes a promise never to do that again, which is significant because humans don’t change in this passage. In chapter 6:5 is says that human hearts were evil continually, and then at the end in 8:21, which we didn’t read today, it says that human hearts remain evil from their youth. Humans continue to sin and bring destruction and chaos, but God has changed. In the rainbow covenant, in chapter 9, God commits to us, and the animals, and the earth. God promises never to destroy the earth with a flood again. God commits to work in this corrupt and sinful place, to bring restoration and new life continually. When God sends the wind or the Spirit of God to dry up the flood it is a new creation moment. God will respond differently to human sin from here on out. The prophet Isaiah describes this beautifully in chapter 54:9-10:
“This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
The way that God works to bring restoration and new life is through Abraham and his family, then through Moses and the law, and ultimately through Jesus. God commits to being with us in the rainbow covenant and we will see over the next few weeks how God’s presence evolves over time to ultimately lead to the new covenant in Christ in which God is with us by filling us with the Holy Spirit.
How does God work in the floods and the storms that come in our lives? We see how in Psalm 107:26, when people were brought down to the depths (the same word used for the deep in creation and in the flood), and they lost their courage. Then in verse 28, they cried to the Lord, and in verse 29 God stilled the storm and brought peace and quiet to their lives again. We see the same thing in our Matthew passage today, that Jesus stills the storm as well. The promise that God makes with Noah is the beginning of God’s commitment to forgiveness and new life, to resurrection and hope. God commits to work through Jesus in our own lives in this way, and to work through us by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring restoration and new life to the world.
This leads to our third point today. We are experiencing a flood of destruction right now, but in an unlikely place to have a flood. Human sin is destroying the oceans with a flood of plastic. All of us are participating in that. We can’t point the finger anywhere but at ourselves - we have to first take the plank out of our own eyes. The problem with plastic is not plastic itself, but what we do with it. We need plastic to keep our food fresh and we use it in medicine all the time and in our electronics, and many other important things. But because it lasts so long we have to work to change how we use plastic as much as possible. Working with God to bring restoration and new life to the oceans again is going to require innovative thinking. Think of Noah building that ark - his neighbours must have thought he was so weird. There are a lot of people who are trying really innovative things to reduce the flood of plastic in the oceans. Someone has created something that uses the natural currents to collect ocean plastics. Others are using seaweed to create a new kind of plant-based plastic for water bottles and ketchup packets. Even Lego is trying to recreate their blocks out of plant-based plastics. God created us human beings to be creators: we are made in the image of God, the creator. And, in Christ, we human beings are called to work with God to bring restoration and new life where there has been chaos and destruction on the earth. As Christians it is important for us to support the innovators of today who are taking plastic to the next level: to clean it up, to make it more earth friendly, and to give us good alternatives when possible.
But what can we do in the meantime in our everyday lives? We can try to be thoughtful about the plastic that we buy and use whenever possible. For example, the Memorial Committee has purchased a bench and a bike rack that is made out of RECYCLED plastic. This keeps plastic out of the ocean because it gets recycled and then it turns it into something permanent which better matches the long life that plastic has. In my family, we are trying to reduce the amount of single-use plastic that we buy. This reduces the amount that we throw away and it reduces the amount that needs to be recycled so that we don’t overwhelm our recycling facilities. What kinds of things have we done? We always use reusable water bottles instead of disposable water bottles, we buy bar soap now instead of bottled soap, and we have started using beeswax covered cloths instead of saran wrap. We just keep trying new things, one thing at a time so it doesn’t get overwhelming. We are also gracious with ourselves because we are so dependent on plastic and even the best intentions don’t always work. I bought reusable produce bags so I don’t have to keep taking those plastic bags in the produce section, but even when I remember to bring them to the grocery store, I often forget to use them anyway... And anyone who comes to the potlucks knows that we always bring plastic veggie and fruit platters from the grocery store. ...Baby steps and grace; that’s what it takes to change.
In conclusion, what do we learn about Noah and the flood? We learn that we humans have a tendency to bring floods of chaos into our lives through our own sin. What do we learn about God and the rainbow? We learn that God has promised to always be there for us. God made a commitment to work for life and not death in the rainbow covenant and that this covenant is at work in our lives today through Jesus. God is with us, always. When we turn to Jesus, God will calm the storm and help our flood waters recede. When we turn to Jesus we are filled with the Holy Spirit - we are new creations! - and God sends us out to bring restoration and new life all around us in the name of Jesus. Amen.