Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Creation
Baptism of Breiyah Raye Bonander
Genesis 8:20-22, 9:12-17 (Matthew 28:1-10; Revelation 22:1-5)
“There’s a fella by the name of Noah, built an ark. Everyone knows he built an ark, say, what did Noah do, well, he built an ark. But very few people know about the conversation that went on between the Lord and Noah.” With these lines, Bill Cosby starts one of his funnier comedic routines, imagining Noah disbelieving God’s command to build an ark and put animals on it, even having him ask God if he is on Candid Camera. (If you’re too young to remember that show, think of it as the precursor of all these reality shows where people are playing pranks on one another.) We are fascinated with the story of Noah, and how he could have gotten all of those animals on the ark and kept them from destroying one another. We think it’s a children’s story, and decorate our Sunday school rooms with pictures of cute little animals marching merrily onto a cute little ark, with a cute little picture of Noah with a white beard herding the animals onto this boat. And then earlier this year we saw a very different image of Noah with Russell Crowe playing him in the movie by the same name. Whatever else you might think of this controversial movie, one thing it did was to remove the story of Noah from the pages of the children’s story Bibles and make it real. The flood was a catastrophe. The people and animals that didn’t make it onto the ark drowned, clawing onto the last bit of land in a desperate but unsuccessful bid for survival. Noah is afflicted with survivor’s guilt, wondering why God chose him and his family to live through this great disaster. Noah’s story is not such a happy one after all.
But yet . . . the story does end with hope. And we see that today in our two little snippets of the Noah story that make up our Old Testament lesson. God makes a covenant with Noah, promising that he will never again curse the ground, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth, and that he will never again destroy every living creature as he has just done. And not only does he make the covenant with Noah and with Noah’s descendants, he makes this covenant with every single living creature on earth. For if we read the whole Noah story carefully, we find that God’s heart was grieved that all of creation, and especially humankind, had turned away from him. In a moment of sadness and frustration, God decides that he is going to wipe the slate clean and start all over again, preserving only Noah, his family, and a selection of animals from the earth. But as the story progresses, we find that God suffered pain because he had destroyed so much of his creation with the flood. God was sad about the whole incident, and so God had mercy upon Noah and all of humankind, and swore, “Never again,” setting his bow in the clouds as the sign that he would, indeed, remember his promise to us.
The thing to notice about this covenant with Noah is that it is all one-sided: God promises never to destroy the earth with a flood again. We human beings, however, made no such promise back to God. In the time of Noah and in the time of the Old Testament, no one would have ever thought that we human beings possessed the capability of destroying the entire earth. Yet, the prophet Isaiah warned the people that this was indeed a possibility: “The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.” In the past three weeks, we have examined instances of how human beings have violated boundaries God has set in place: wantonly cutting down forests without thought to how they are necessary for our survival, engaging in mountaintop removal mining for the sake of easy access to coal without thought of the effects this has on the environment and upon our health; and not always respecting boundaries of wilderness that should be left as wilderness. Today, because of human activity and because we have not respected boundaries that God has put in place, we see water levels of rivers and oceans rising because of how we human beings are causing the atmosphere to warm. Miami Beach, Florida, now floods even on sunny days due to rising levels of water. They are expecting to have to spend $400 million on an elaborate pumping system to cope with this. With warmer weather, snowpacks will melt sooner in the spring, causing rivers to flood more frequently, which will affect the people who live along the rivers and use the water from the rivers to farm. Everything in the environment is intimately related with and connected to everything else, and when one thing becomes out of balance, the whole system becomes out of balance. As the Apostle Paul writes, “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains,” as it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”
Make no mistake: Just as God regretted how he had destroyed the creation in the flood, God is saddened at how we are destroying the creation today. But God does not leave us without hope. In our Gospel lesson today, we hear just how much God loves us and the whole creation. Of the four Gospels, only Matthew writes that not only was there an earthquake when Jesus died on the cross, there was also an earthquake on Easter morning when the angels rolled the stone away from the tomb. Not only did the earth shake at his death, the earth participated in Jesus’ resurrection by shaking itself. Here is the hope that we have: Jesus has risen from the dead, and one day, we too will rise. And when we rise, we will experience a new creation coming out of the old, with the river of the water of life and the tree of life, as described in our text from Revelation today. God loves the earth, and will remember us. Just as Noah stepped out of the ark to a new creation, so we too will rise one day to a new, pristine, life-giving creation, where God will dwell with us.
This is the promise that God gives us in Holy Baptism. This is the promise that God makes to Breiyah today as she is baptized. In just a little while, we will say what is commonly known as the “Flood Prayer” because of this line: “Through the waters of the flood you delivered Noah and his family.” Just as Noah and his family were saved from the waters of the flood by the ark, God saves us through our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our old, sinful self is drowned in these waters by God, so that we may one day rise to new life in him. Baptism is not something that we do, but it is a sign that God loves us and God comes to us and claims us as his own. I pray that Breiyah will remember that all of the days of her life: that she is God’s child, and no matter how bad things may seem, she and all of us are dearly loved by God.
As we conclude our observation of the Season of Creation, God’s love for us and for this world is the note that I want to end our meditations on. And to do that, I would like to borrow some words from Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic who lived in England in the late fourteenth century. She writes:
I saw that God is everything that is good and energizing.
God is our clothing that wraps, clasps, and encloses us so as to never leave us.
God showed me in my palm a little thing round as a ball about the size of a hazelnut.
I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and asked myself, “What is this thing?”
And I was answered, “It is everything that is created.”
I wondered how it could survive since it seemed so little it could suddenly disintegrate into nothing.
The answer came, “It endures and ever will endure, because God loves it.”
And so everything has being because of God’s love. Amen.