Tag: covenant

Podcast: Creation Care Isn’t All Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows

In the story of God’s promise never to destroy the earth with a flood again, God sets a rainbow in the sky as a reminder that God cares for his creation. The promise God makes — the Noahic covenant — is a promise to Noah, his descendants, and to every living creature with Noah, and ultimately to the earth itself. This covenant reminds us that God has plans for his creation and that we have a responsibility to care for it until God makes “all things new.”


Sermon: Creation Care Isn’t All Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow on the first Sunday in Lent for 2012. This reading is from the revised common lectionary, Year B, Genesis 9:8-17. In conjunction with this reading, we are also reading from the epistles, 1 Peter 3:18-22. Creation care deserves our lenten attention as we focus on God’s covenant with Noah, his descendants, and all the creatures of the earth.

Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows, or Maybe Not

Genesis 9:8-17 NIV/84:

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Lent and Creation Care

Remember Lesley Gore? No, she’s not Al Gore’s daughter, although I am talking about the environment some today.  Leslie Gore was a pop singer in the 1960s whose most famous song was “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” Now you remember her I’m sure.

Well, Lesley didn’t stop with “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” Nope, she also recorded that rock classic, “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows.” (See the YouTube clip at the top of this post.) I borrowed Lesley’s song title for today’s message, but with a caveat. So today we’re talking about “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows Or Maybe Not.” I’ll get to the “maybe not” shortly.

Which brings us back to rainbows, which appear in today’s reading from Genesis. This is the first Sunday in Lent, so why are we reading the story of Noah, the biblical flood, and rainbows? Because Lent is a season of reflection – a time when we consider our own spiritual lives in light of Christ’s coming death on the cross, and victorious resurrection.

Part of our task during Lent is to consider how our lives might be lived more in keeping with God’s intention, which might require some sacrifice on our part. That’s why many Christians, not just Catholics, give up something for Lent. I tried giving up broccoli one year, but since I don’t like broccoli anyway, Debbie told me that I got no spiritual points for that particular sacrifice. Incidentally, I was in good company with the broccoli-thing as George Herbert Walker Bush also had a disdain for broccoli, and thought because he was President of the United States he could do anything he wanted. It seems that America’s broccoli farmers took some offense at President Bush’s disparaging remarks about broccoli. Which just goes to show you that even if you are the President of the United States, someone is going to tell you to eat your broccoli.

But back to Lent. If this is a time of reflection, and if we are examining our lives to see what sacrifices we might make, not for the sake of sacrifice, but to remind us vividly of Christ’s sacrifice, I can’t think of any area in which we have thought less as Christians than in the care of creation.

In 2008, Yale University and George Mason University began a survey of Americans’ attitudes toward the issue of climate change. In that survey, which has been updated 4 times and most recently in 2011, researchers found that Americans were divided into six camps concerning climate change.

Researchers called these the “six Americas” and surprisingly these groups are not grouped by demographics, but each of the “six Americas” is found across demographic groups.

The six Americas include the Alarmed (12%); the Concerned (27%); the Cautious (25%); the Disengaged (10%); the Doubtful (15%); and, the Dismissive (10%). Which means that on the extreme ends of the spectrum 39% of Americans are alarmed or concerned about climate change, while 25% are doubtful or dismissive.

Clearly we need to look at the Bible again to understand how we should care for God’s creation.

The Story of Noah, the Flood, and God’s Covenant Sign

You know the story of Noah which forms the backdrop for our thoughts today. To say that humankind had gone in the wrong direction in Noah’s day is an understatement. The story of humanity’s wickedness and God’s destructive punishment begins in Genesis 6 and continues through Genesis 10. The book of Genesis devotes 5 chapters to this story, which is the turning point in the history of creation. This story is important, true, and we need to understand exactly what is being said when God makes covenant with mankind and places a rainbow in the heavens to confirm that covenant.

The Bible says in Genesis 6:5-8 NIV/84 –

5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”

Contrast this image of creation with the God’s observation just after God had finished creating the earth, the plants and animals, and humankind in the persons of Adam and Eve:

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” – Genesis 1:31 NIV/84

We’re not sure exactly what happened between Genesis 1 and Genesis 6, because there is very cryptic language about the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” and the Nephilim. Frankly, although there are many opinions about what these descriptions mean, nobody knows exactly what the writer of Genesis meant. But the result is clear, and that is what matters. Humanity had become a wicked, evil lot, and God was tired of the whole mess.

Verse 8 gives us hope, however. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” We will discover much later that Noah and his children are no Sunday School class themselves, but perhaps Noah was the best choice God had. And Noah was obedient to God.

You know this story. God commands Noah to build an ark that is by some estimates 450’ long.  Now that is a pretty good size boat today, but then it was tremendous. God told Noah to build the ark because God was going to flood the earth and wipe out every living thing. Everything, that is, except Noah’s family, and the animals Noah was to bring into the ark so that the earth could be repopulated.

Now, remember the point of this story is theological. The writer is explaining the problem of evil, and God’s first solution to evil on a global scale. I think it’s also important to point out that many cultures have a story of a great flood, which for me gives credibility to the biblical account. But the writer is not a reporter for The Weather Channel, and this is not a meteorological account. This story is about God and creation, and how God deals very early with the problem of evil.

The story comes to a conclusion several months after the rains begin. Noah and his family eventually leave the ark, along with all the animals, and the repopulation of the earth begins.

God’s New Covenant With Creation

So, we’re back to Genesis 9 where we started. In Genesis 9, God gives humanity some responsibility as their part of the covenant. Covenants are always between two parties, and both parties have responsibilities.

Humanity’s responsibilities are to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”  And, while humankind was going about that, human beings could eat anything. At creation, humanity was granted all the plants to eat, but now after the flood the menu widens to include animals, too.

But, even as God gives permission for people to kill and eat animals, there is a condition: respect for life. Life was symbolized by the blood coursing through an animal’s veins. God prohibited the eating of animals without properly recognizing their sacrificial death and without proper preparation.

But then God adds a special caveat about shedding human blood.

“Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed: for in his own image God made humankind.” – Genesis 9:6 NRSV

In other words, life is sacred, human beings are made in God’s image still, and don’t forget that, God is saying. Just because some bad characters have been removed from the earth, doesn’t mean that Noah and his family, and succeeding generations can or should forget that people are made in God’s image and their lives are to be protected with great care and reverence.

What’s God’s side of the covenant? God promises never to destroy the earth with water again. And as a token of that promise, God set a “bow in the clouds.” The interesting thing about this rainbow is that it is a reminder to God, not us, that God will never destroy the earth with flood waters again.

So, everything is wonderful, right? Not quite, which is why I’m saying that we can’t take Leslie Gore’s “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” as the description of the post-flood world.

Let’s look at God’s side of the covenant again.

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Look closely at this covenant statement. God is establishing this covenant with Noah, his descendants, AND every living creature that was with you in the ark – every living creature on earth.

Which says to me that God cares about all of his creation, not just us. God will never again kill people, or animals, with flood waters again. Clearly, God is concerned about all of his creation.

In verse 13, God says – “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

This covenant is not just a covenant between God and humanity, it is a covenant God makes with all of God’s creation.

Okay, what’s my point? My point is that God cares deeply about his creation, and as part of our covenantal responsibility, so should we.

Christ and Creation

Let’s turn to the New Testament quickly. With God’s covenant with the earth in mind, let’s look at some familiar places in the New Testament where Christ and creation are tied together.

In John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This obvious restatement of the creation story has a new element – the presence of Christ at creation as God’s creative “Word.” Remember that God spoke every aspect of creation into being. Genesis tells the story that on each day, “God said, Let there be light…” and so on, until by the end of the sixth day God’s Word had spoken inot existence everything there was.

Secondly, Paul says that Christ was not only present at creation, he continues to hold it all together. In Colossians, Christ is the one “in whom all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17.

In Jesus’ earthly ministry he repeatedly used as examples the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the grass of the earth, the sea, the river, water, trees, fruit, rocks, night, day, rain, drought, seasons, and natural disasters.

Jesus connected with the basics of creation and everyday life as he multiplied bread and fish to feed thousands; erased the ravages of disease; calmed the winds and waves; defied the laws of physics by walking on water and appearing in rooms with locked doors; and, ascending into heaven.

It was as though that Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God, and his use of the elements of creation were of one and the same piece. In the Kingdom of God there is an abundance, and so an inadequate amount of bread and fish become enough for all. In the Kingdom of God, diseases and accidents that have taken life and health are all dispelled. In the Kingdom of God, the last are first, and poor are rich, and the meek inherit a peaceful earth living as God intended it, in God’s shalom.

How Should We Care for Creation?

We don’t have time today to begin to imagine all the ways that we can and should be caring for creation. But, we do need to consider this: for almost 200 years the dominant eschatology (which means the study of last things) was that the earth was going to be destroyed by God, not by water, but in some raging inferno of destructive fire.

That reading comes largely from the Book of Revelation, but it is a misreading to think that, in my opinion. Theologians from Jurgen Moltmann to N. T. Wright to Brian McLaren now are suggesting that the earth will be remade, that creation will be salvaged, redeemed, just like people are redeemed. That the same sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his triumphal resurrection that changes us, also transforms God’s creation.

That vision comes also from the Book of Revelation, but from the last chapters, Revelation 21-22.

 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.

Moltmann contends that God doesn’t say he’s making all new things, but rather that he is making “everything new.” That, difference, Moltmann believes signifies that God is redeeming and restoring creation to its rightful place, with God at its center, and God’s shalom as its pervading presence.

Revelation 22 confirms that vision by giving us a picture of the recreated Garden of Eden, this time expanded, enlarged, and more abundant than ever.

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.

So, at the end of the Bible we are back where we started – in a garden, with living water, the presence of God, and not one tree of life, but enough trees to bear 12 crops – one crop every month of the year. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No curse, no darkness, no evil, nothing but God and humankind in a paradise of creation.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we do have a covenantal responsibility to God’s creation. During this season of Lent, think about what that might mean, and how we might also contribute to creation as an expression of the Kingdom of God.

Sermon: The God Who Would Be Known

The God Who Would Be Known

Jeremiah 31:27-34

27 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,

and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—his own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,

“when I will make a new covenant

with the house of Israel

and with the house of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant

I made with their forefathers

when I took them by the hand

to lead them out of Egypt,

because they broke my covenant,

though I was a husband to them,”

declares the LORD.

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel

after that time,” declares the LORD.

“I will put my law in their minds

and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

and they will be my people.

34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,

or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the LORD.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.”

The Prophet No One Wanted To Hear

Last week we looked at Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet no one wanted to hear.  Jeremiah preached between the time of the defeat of the northern kingdom of Israel, and the Babylonian captivity of the southern nation of Judah.

Jeremiah’s first sermons came as the king of Judah and the aristocracy of the nation were being carted off to Babylon.  Other prophets were saying that the “shalom” of God — the all-encompassing peace of God’s provision, protection, and presence — would be with the remaining inhabitants of Judah.  In other words, “everything’s gonna be all right.”

But everything was not going to be all right, and Jeremiah knew it.  The famous phrase, “peace, peace when there is no peace” may have been borrowed by the American revolution, but it originated with Jeremiah.  Jeremiah was the naysayer, the doomsday prophet, the guy with the sandwich board which read, “The End Is Near.”

And, of course, the end was near.  In 586-7 BC, the Babylonians quit playing at making Judah its territory, and destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem, and Solomon’s temple with it.  But, this passage we have just read comes as the worst is about to happen.

Finally, the prophet no one wanted to hear had something to say that everyone needed to hear.

The Days Are Coming

Jeremiah has some bad news for the people — Jerusalem is going to be destroyed.  But he has some good news for them, too.  “The days are coming” Jeremiah says in verse 27, “when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and animals.”  That’s the promise God makes, but what does it mean?

Well, there are two things going on here.  First, the phrase “the days are coming” is a prophet’s way of speaking of the beginning of the end, of the eschaton, the culmination of all things.  So, this is a real prophecy, a glimpse into the future of how things will be when God has God’s will in this world.

And, Jeremiah uses the language of creation — “the offspring” or seed of men and animals — to paint a picture of a new creation, a new day, an era unlike the era in which he and his fellows Jews are living.

This era will mark a new beginning, a new awareness of God in His relationship with humankind.  The old relationship was based on the Exodus experience.  God delivered the nation from bondage, from the slavery of Egypt, and from exile in a strange land.

But that the face of that deliverance was Moses.  Moses was chosen by God.  Moses represented God before Pharaoh.  Moses spoke for God, even though at times he used Aaron to do the speaking. And most importantly, Moses encountered God first at the burning bush where God called him.  Then, after the Exodus on Mount Sinai where God had summoned him.

Moses was the face of God before the people of God.  So afraid were the people of a direct encounter with God that they wanted Moses to go into the Presence on their behalf.  And it is in the presence of God that Moses receives the Ten Commandments, written by the finger of God, on rock-solid visible tablets of stone.  These tablets were held up before the people, broken in anger at the rebellion of the people, and then given again as the external reminder of the expectation God had that this people would be different from all other peoples on the earth.

But it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t enough to have the Ark of the Covenant, powerful as it was, in their midst. It wasn’t enough to have the tablets of stone containing the Decalogue, the foundation of moral and spiritual conduct.

It wasn’t enough for God to be on the mountain, and it wasn’t enough for Moses to represent the people of God in the Presence of God.  For while Moses was on the mountain, the people in the valley clamored for their own experience of God.

And before the proverbial ink was dry on the 10 Commandments, before they had even heard what God had in mind for them, the people wanted a god they could see, hear, and control.  The golden calf, made from their own gifts of jewelry, became their reassuring symbol of the presence of a god.

God’s Hand Was Evident In Nature, Too

But before God had called Israel out of bondage in Egypt, God had revealed himself to his people in creation.  God had placed Adam and Eve in God’s own garden, a place where God walked with Adam and Eve each evening.  But it wasn’t enough.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was supposed to be an external reminder that humanity did not know everything, became an external symbol to be grasped, and plundered rather than revered and acknowledged.   Even the penalty of death, which mankind had not experienced, was not enough to keep the boundary between God and man secure.

It wasn’t enough that Adam and Eve had everything good thing in the garden, they wanted everything.  And most of all they wanted to be like God.  Not with God, but like God rendering God’s presence with them unnecessary.  It wasn’t enough that they were products of the hand of God.  They wanted, not God’s revelation, but God’s prerogatives.

But even after Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden for their sin, God continues to reveal himself in nature and creation.  But man continues down a path of rebellion, misuse, and misappropriation of all the good gifts of God until God uses creation itself to judge all that is evil.  Only Noah and those in the ark survive the judgment of God.

God Reveals Himself in a Purpose

Generations pass, and God reveals himself in a purpose to another man, Abraham.  The covenant God makes with Abraham precedes the covenant with Moses and the nation made int he desert of Sinai’s wilderness.  God calls Abram from out of paganism, gives him a son as proof of the promise, and then begins to establish the descendants of Abraham as a nation that will be a blessing to all the nations of the world.

But it is not enough.  The nation loses its way, forgets its purpose as it grows and expands, and finds itself captive in what had been the land of deliverance.

It wasn’t enough that the people of God had a purpose.  They continually lost sight of both the Presence of God and the purpose of God for their community.

And so after generations of disobedience, where the sins of the fathers impact their children, and grandchildren, God sends judges, and kings, and prophets, but they are not enough.  Not enough for the people to understand that God is their God, that they are His people.  Not enough to have the Presence of God mediated through judges, and priests, and kings.  Even David, called a man after God’s own heart, fails the God he encountered as the Good Shepherd who led him beside still waters and was with him through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

A Time Is Coming

So Jeremiah reiterates his prophecy.  “A time is coming” Jeremiah says.  Not just days, but an epoch, an era, a new beginning. “A time is coming” when God will make a new covenant with his people.

It will not be like the old covenant, not like the time when they were delivered from slavery in Egypt.  That covenant meant deliverance, and security, and land, and a future, but even those promises were not sufficient to make the people keep their side of the bargain.  The people failed me, God said, even though I was their “husband” — their protector, their guide, their security, and their provider.

No, a time is coming when a new covenant will be made.  When the way to live will not be carved on stone, but carried in the heart.  Tablets that could be broken, became a symbol of a law that also could be broken.  External, enshrined in the Ark of the Covenant.  Eventually the Ten Commandments and some of the reminders of the Exodus — Aaron’s rod that budded and a pot of manna — were stored in the Ark of the Covenant.  It was placed in the Holy of Holies in first the tabernacle and then the Temple.

But Jeremiah is telling the people “the time is coming” when the law will be written on your hearts, not on tablets of stone.  What he doesn’t tell them is that in a few short years the Temple will be destroyed, the Holy of Holies desecrated, and the Ark of the Covenant plundered.  The Ark and its contents will disappear forever from the life of the nation.  The external law, the tablets of God, will also disappear for before God’s word can be written on hearts it must disappear from its external hiding place.

The Time Did Come

But when was this time of which Jeremiah spoke?  When did God place his law within his people?  When did God write his precepts upon our hearts?  When did everyman, great and small, know God directly?  When did God reveal himself in a way that was different, and make himself known so widely that no longer would teachers be necessary because everyone would know God directly?

The people of Jeremiah’s day did not live to see that time.  Jerusalem is destroyed in 586 BC and the Temple plundered and razed.  The Ark of the Covenant is lost forever.  The nation is carried into the long decades of the Babylonian exile.  The future looked bleak, if not hopeless.

But the day did come.  Not 70 years later with the return of the nation, but about 500 years after that.  The time did come when God made himself known.  The time did come when great and small could know him.  The time did come when the way to live would spring up from the heart, rather than be represented on hard tablets of stone.

The time came in Jesus.  The revelation of God known to all of Israel.  The time came in the birth of a baby, the growth of a boy, the maturity of a man.  The time came as the cousin of John the Baptist rose from the waters of baptism with the acknowledgment and approval of his Heavenly Father.

The time came when the least — a boy with his lunch, a leper with his sores, and blind man with his cane — would be touched and transformed by God’s presence.

And Jesus came with the message of Jeremiah, too.  Herod’s Temple, a grander version than Solomon’s, dominated the Jerusalem cityscape.  And Jesus reminded his followers that not one stone would be left on another.  And in 70 AD, the Romans did what the Babylonians had done five centuries before — they destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

And then, they dispersed the followers of Jesus into all the world.  The time did come when the Holy Spirit, promised by the Son, sent by the Father, filled followers of Christ with his presence, his power, and his promise.

The time did come when the last sacrifice was made, the forgiveness of sin complete, the power of death broken, and the promise of life secured.  The time did come, and the God who would be known was known by everyone.  History was changed, hearts were healed, and God would forever be known as the God who came down to his people.


Sermon: “Imprisoned by God’s Mercy” – Sunday, Aug 17, 2008

Imprisoned by God’s Mercy

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 Continue reading “Sermon: “Imprisoned by God’s Mercy” – Sunday, Aug 17, 2008″