Monday, February 20, 2012

Next Sunday's Sermon

On this first Sunday of Lent, the season that guides Christians through the crucifixion of Jesus and the declaration by his followers and disciples as the Messiah, we explore the ancient Hebrew version of the flood story. To understand Jesus outside of his Hebrew context is to misunderstand the Son of Man, therefore it is appropriate that we start the Lenten season within the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

An ancient global flood story is not unique to the Israelites. The flood story we have today appears to be a combination of two separate Hebrew accounts; one derived from the northern kingdom, Israel (referred to as the “P” source), and one derived from the southern kingdom, Judah (referred to as the “J” source). But both accounts seem to pull similarities from some widespread Babylonian flood narratives. A major difference is that in some of the non-biblical accounts, the flood occurs as a means of population control, whereas in Genesis it occurs as a result of sin, but then God commands them to be fruitful and multiply.

This week our section of the story occurs after the flood when God makes a covenant, not only with Noah, but with all creation. Verse 6:18 in Genesis states that a covenant will take place, but only now is the covenant revealed. In the flood narrative the reader is led to understand that no creature, human or otherwise, outside of those on the ark, was spared from the raging waters. Noah then becomes the new Adam or first man. From the writer’s perspective God is aware that humanity will fall again, yet makes a promise to preserve us regardless of our response. This occurs before Israel is established; before Abram responds to a call to journey in the wilderness. Therefore the covenant God makes is not just with the righteous of Israel, but with all creation independent of their religious beliefs.

A careful reading of the passage reveals that the covenant is first a reminder to God that comes in the form of a rainbow (9:14–16). In the ancient context originally given, a [rain]bow was known as a divine weapon, with lightning bolts representing arrows that inflicted judgment. By establishing a new understanding that the rainbow will now be a symbol of peace, the listeners are once again reminded that God can take anything and turn it into something good, something that fulfills God’s greater purpose of reconciling God’s relationship with creation. As the gathering clouds build up, no more is judgment passed, but instead the rainbow is a reminder to God that peace shall be the order of the day in the midst of the storm. This is not to say that the rainbow in the midst of the storms cannot serve as a symbol of hope to humanity, but this understanding is secondary to what the author understands to be God’s promise to creation.

From very early on in Israel’s understanding of its relationship to God, the people realized that they were just the mouthpieces of what God desired for all of creation.

Regardless of our response to God, God is always looking for ways to reconcile with us. God’s intimate relationship with all of creation gives reason for all of us to have hope. God has not abandoned us and will not abandon us. We are all God’s creation and God always has our best interests at heart just as we have our own children’s best interests at heart.

We all have times of storm clouds in our lives. No one escapes these times. But we can be assured that God is with us and will give us the strength to endure the worst of times. This is the hope we long for and need. All of us need to feel that we are never alone. God has assured us of God’s everlasting presence. Sometimes we feel that presence in the form of a friend who comforts us during the bad times.

Recently Bob and I were discussing some of these bad times and our responses to them. He confessed that he never felt the necessity to attend a support group before Phyllis’s illness, but now finds it very comforting to share with others and have them share their experiences with him. It is so comforting to know others have dealt with the same trials we endure. That in itself gives us hope and strength.

One man in the support group has a sister at the Winston unit at Windsor Place. He cannot bear to go see her in the condition she is now in.

One woman we are acquainted with at the support group has the complete care at home of both of her elderly parents who have Alzheimer’s Disease and a husband who has dementia resulting from a stroke. Neither us of can even imagine what she endures each day or how she even gets through the days and the nights are even more of a nightmare. Yet she copes. She has removed all the locks from the inside doors because her mother or dad may lock themselves in the locked room. She has a sister who has chosen not to help her with their parents. Without God, found by this woman in this monthly support group, she would undoubtedly not be able to cope at all.

God has covenanted with us never to leave us alone and never to leave us with more then we can handle if we will only depend on God’s Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit may be found in you as you meet someone that can relate to you through a shared life experience.

In the tension of storm clouds building in your life, when has the promise of hope seemed redemptive for you? This story found in Genesis is about God’s grace and the assurance of God’s promises. That assurance of God's Holy Spirit is for each of us as we seek to be the source of strength for one another. To help and serve one another should be our life’s mission. Are we here for one another? As we recall God's covenant with all mankind, that is the tie that will help us to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth.

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