Sermon – Dripping with Promise

Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 14:22-25

Farmville Presbyterian Church

February 18, 2024

– The covenant following the flood


You may have heard that I have moved to Farmville, and that would be correct, even if there is still some stuff in our old house in Crewe.  We are still working this herculean task, and whatever does not come home tomorrow is not coming.  I’m tempted to leave a letter for the person who bought our home in Crewe who is supposed to take ownership Wednesday: Surprise, Mr. New-Homeowner, you now have a pile of leftover dog towels, cans of spray paint, a bag of pistachios, and a bunch of plastic clothes hangers.  No, we are doing our best to get everything out of there to avoid sharing as much as possible.

Something else that has been shared, though, is covenants.  If you have ever bought a home yourself, you probably had to sign something with the word “covenant” in it.  With all the home dealing that we have done recently, this was a profound and important word for us.  It jumped out.  In fact, I was so moved by signing a covenant for our new home in the office of Harlan Horton that I broke out into a Sunday school lesson on what covenants were like in Bible times.  I’m not sure they will let me back in there.  Actually, that particular message is what I am planning to use for my sermon at the Lenten Service on Wednesday.  Covenants are huge in the biblical story – so tremendously important – and I am using the theme of covenants all through the season of Lent this year.  For today, we are considering the first expressed biblical covenant: the covenant of the rainbow.

What is a covenant?  Covenants have been around for a very, very, very long time.  They are contracts in the strict, formal sense.  Often, they are between two parties of unequal authority like a ruler and the people or maybe a ruling country and a vassal state.  Both parties agree to certain requirements, and if one party breaks the covenant, there can be a punishment expressed.  You see covenants expressed in ancient times in these formal ways.  They are more than making a deal.  You can get the sense from what God is doing in Genesis here that this is a big, ceremonial display following the nightmare of the flood.

Of course, another way we experience covenants today is in the marriage relationship.  If you have ever been married, you may have heard the word covenant used in your wedding.  I know it has been part of every wedding I have done, and it is supposed to carry some of that ancient weight.  You are agreeing to a very serious relationship, the most significant human relationship that there is.  While we do not lay out stipulations if a marriage is broken, we know all too well that it is really hard to suffer that brokenness for everyone involved.  We really try to regard marriage as a covenant in that precious, timeless sense.  It is a choice to live together in a God-given, world changing way.  Yes, if we all took marriage to mean what it should, the world would be a different place.

Which is one reason why covenants are so important.  They order human life in a way that nothing else does.  No pinky promise is ever going to rival the seriousness of a true covenant.  Covenants are not supposed to be cute or endearing commitments, but lifechanging, relationship altering, enduring promises.  They are a way of protecting relationships and the hope that those relationships want to carry.

You see this in the Genesis story, this terrible, terrible flood event which lasted much longer than 40 days.  That was how long it rained.  The water swelled for 150 days after.  Then, they had to abate for 150.  Moses aged a year on the ark.  It is unfathomable just how hard it would have been to live this story, but after all the water was back in place and the boat was no longer needed, what future was there for them now?  Even non-Jewish cultures tell of a flood event.  This was history shaping.  What they needed was hope for tomorrow.

That is where God comes in with this covenant.  It is hard to appreciate just how significant this is since covenants for us are for much happier things, buying homes and getting married mostly.  The covenants in the biblical narrative are for when times are actually pretty dark and hopeless.  While the folk on the ark would have been very relieved and even jubilant to be off their least desired cruise, they were stepping into a world of wreckage and death, a world of emptiness and a grim reminder of what almost happened to them.  They would be wondering how they would survive with so many less creatures in the world.  Yes, they were overjoyed to have a new start, but that new start came with a heavy price.  They needed hope that they would be OK.  That is the covenant.

It was the same for Jesus at the Last Supper.  As they are sharing in the Passover and remembering God’s deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt, Jesus has an obvious weight that he is carrying.  He admits the betrayal he knows is coming.  The next day he will be executed.  He is describing his death in the very meal they are sharing, but in the middle of that darkness, the darkness of being ruled by Rome and hunted by the religious authorities, the darkness of that age with poor health, poor lives, and poor hopes, he lights a candle with a new covenant.  He is saying in a way that they did not understand at the time that while things are dark now, I will be your hope for forever and ever as you remember me.

So remembering Jesus has become one of our chief occupations.  We all desperately need better hope.

But a new covenant would have meant nothing to them if they had not known a history of covenant making that began back in Genesis.  If God had not established God’s self as a covenant making deity, then this would have sounded like silly talk.

I need for you to sense just how radical an idea this is.  Was any god around them in that time offering promises for the future?  The best deal they could get was to make sacrifices to idols in the hopes that things might work out.  As times got more and more desperate in ancient days, people began to sacrifice more and more to make the gods do something nice for them.  They began sacrificing children even to get the gods’ attention.  Even the Jews practiced this for a good while.  A people that desperate to find a future is one that has forgotten the covenant.  God had already made a promise with them.  We will see more of that in the weeks to come, but today we are still waging this war for the future.

No one should just be sitting back and waiting for tomorrow to come, but we also will never be our own saviors.  We should be working for a better future for us all – for all of God’s children, but we should also be doing this with humility, meekness, wisdom, love, faith.  Jesus is the embodiment of a covenant that began many centuries ago and still resonates today.  In Noah’s day, evil was overcome by death and destruction.  In Jesus’ day, evil was overcome by love and his own sacrificial death.  He is the true flood, but rather than destroying those who are drowning, he is God’s salvation to them.  This is the hope and future that God brings.  This is God’s promise.

Quite simply, this brings a whole different kind of significance to Jesus’ claim to never leave us not forsake us.  He did not walk this path to the cross to appease an angry god.  This is not just some helpful passage of scripture or something we read every once in a while at church.  This is not wishful thinking.  No God would ever die for their creation.  No God would ever go to such trouble for those who defiantly resisted.  No God would ever become the sacrifice to make us whole.  That is, of course, unless the God was love.

As we enter this season of Lent, remember the lengths of love that God has shared to give you and me a promise worth living.  We have a promise with God through Jesus that gives us a hope and a future.  This is for you, your neighbor, the one you have wronged and the one who has wronged you.  This promise is for those who are living and dying in difficult places.  This promise is what we are working to uphold with everything that we have.  Let us remember this promise in our communion because it is Jesus, through whom be the glory of God.  Amen.