A Divine Promise For All Creatures

A sermon based on Genesis 8:1-19; 9:8-17
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on August 25, 2019 *2011
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Do you know what Noah said as he began to load the Ark? “Now I herd everything.” And when he was herding Noah thought at first the horses didn’t want to get on board because they kept saying “neigh.” But it turned out there was only one pair of animals that caused trouble they tried to take cuts in the boarding line, ever since they have been known as cheet tahs. To make sure he could watch the cheetahs at all times Noah installed the first ever flood lights.

I could of course go on and on but, I do not want anyone to leave. In addition to being a source of humor over the ages the story of Noah’s Ark has been a boon to those who make things for children. All those animals in one place are cute and eye catching. But despite our rather light-hearted view of the story it actually has a scary beginning. Genesis 6 tells us God “determined to end all flesh” with a world-wide flood because the earth was corrupt and filled with violence.

Hardly a beginning to an acceptable modern children’s story. But in the story God finds a righteous and blameless person, Noah. God entrusts Noah to preserve all creatures from complete destruction. He is to build an Ark and collect and safeguard representatives of creatures in order to start creation anew.

We tend to think of the Noah’s Ark story as basically about Noah and the animals forgetting God’s relationship with all the animals, not just humans, but all animals. We also miss that not only is creation rebooted in the story but so is human understanding of God. Before the flood story was written the Hebrew people understood God to be one among many gods. His name was Yahweh and he championed their causes as a warrior defeating other peoples and their gods.

You probably recall another flood story, where God is reported to part a sea to let the Hebrews cross and then God un-parts it to flood Egyptians chasing the Hebrews. In that famous Exodus story, that little Red Sea flood was meant to also destroy that which was corrupt and violent– just like the Flood in Noah’s day. As the champion of the Hebrews, God was understood to punish their enemies.

God has steadfast love for his people and that love is proven in the Red Sea story by his being a warrior against the Egyptians. The warrior and punishing traits exists side-by-side with the trait of steadfast love The traits of this warrior punishing God are old threads woven into the tapestry of the Bible “loomed in” tight along side of the loving God traits. But, one of the consequences of understanding God as punishing is that God does not just punish enemies, but ends up being understood as punishing God’s people too. In Psalm 7 (12-13) there is imgaery of God shooting arrows of the fiery shaft of lightening as punishment. It reads:

If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.

It is that punishing God that is said to bring about the flood in today’s lesson to not just destroy enemies, but every creature not on the Ark. The warrior God is angry at all the awfulness of the world and punishes it. That’s an old way of understanding God. But the story includes the rainbow experience – and it does so because it was written in light of the Exile when Israel was destroyed by Babylon and the Hebrews were exiled. Under the old theology that destruction and exile meant that God must have done it as punishment. That, however, mades no sense in face of the truth of God’s steadfast love. So Israel re-imagined God. In light of the Exile the understanding of God changed. So God is heard to make the remarkable one-sided promises we heard in the lesson. God vows to all of creation to never, ever, destroy the world again.

God’s relationship with creation is no longer understood to be angry and punishing, but rather unconditionally caring and loving. God’s promises in the story disconnect God from punishment. Bad things still happen but, but they do not occur by the hand of God– they are no longer credited to God. The old understanding that God is a warrior who slays the wicked with the slings and arrows of calamity and catastrophe is put to rest. Yahweh has changed in the eyes of humankind. In light Babylon’s cruel capture and enslavement of men, women and children the God of Love is virtually impossible to find if he is the one who caused it. So in the Noah story the God who ruled over the Hebrews is talked about and seen in a new way. 2. Yahweh the warrior with a bow that shoots lightening bolts of tragedy from his quiver of judgement is no more. That Yahweh has hung up his punishing bow on the wall of the sky forever. The warrior God is retired in the story.

When storms with destructive forces bring trouble, the bow hanging on the wall of the sky – the rainBOW reminds us that we are to no longer understand God as in the doing-bad-things-to-creation business. God has put up all divine weapons of destruction and will not punitively use them on creation . . . ever. God’s people no longer need to imagine God as vengeful and punishing. But can forevermore imagine God as loving and good.

And the rainbow – that splendid BOW of God’s which hangs on the wondrous wall of the sky– reminds us of the reality that our imagined God’ s old traits of warrioring and violence and punishment are to no more be a part of our theology. We now worship the God of steadfast love. In the story God’s makes an unbreakable vow to all of creation, that no human being, no living thing, need worry again that awful things in life are God’s doing. God is understood to love all of creation. And it is important that we “get” the ALL part. God loves ALL creation. The promise God makes after the flood is NOT to humankind alone.

God’s promise is for each of the creatures gathered here this morning and all those out in the wild and in other homes and places. Cats, dogs, birds, lizards, bugs, tortoises, rabbits, fish, ferrets, rats, mice, hamsters, goats, horses, snakes and humans; you name the animal, God cares for it. God’s promise goes to all creatures. The good news is: God loves all of us animals gathered here today, as well as all of those in the rest of the word.