February 22, 2015
"War Is Over"
Testament lessons that we will hear during Lent this year speak of
covenants—the agreements that God has made with the world and with individuals.
As we prepare for Easter in the weeks ahead, my sermons will explore what it
means for us to be living in covenant with God and with one another.
of course, is of special importance for us, as we have found a spiritual home
in the Congregational tradition. This congregation is bound together by the
covenant that we have made with one another. In joining this church we agreed “to
seek and respond to the Word and the will of God”—not always an easy task, but
always one that is best done together. Indeed, as part of our covenant, we also
agree to “walk together in the ways
of Jesus Christ, made known and to be made known to us.” I especially love
those last words, reminding us that the ways of Christ are in part still “to be
made known to us.” We do not know all
that it means to follow Christ. The story is not yet finished.
covenant binds us together and keeps us moving forward together into an always
uncertain future that God is making in us and through us.
believe—as individuals and as a congregation—is important, but we’re not all
that concerned with doctrinal correctness in this church. Yes, we are a Christian congregation. We have long
recognized, however, that how we behave toward one another and the world is as
important as what we say we believe. Some would even say it is more important. We are a Christian
congregation based on covenant, not creed.
Is that enough?
It’s worked pretty well for us for nearly 160 years. And it still challenges
and sustains us today.
So, as I
suggested, it’s helpful for us to consider how some of those ancient covenants
might still inform our common life today.
to put our reflections on covenant in the context of those words of Paul in his
letter to the Romans that are on the cover of the bulletin this morning—and
will be on the cover throughout Lent. Each Sunday I’ll take a small phrase to bounce off the
covenant story. On Ash Wednesday we heard “Let love be genuine.”
morning, as we think about the story of the flood, keep in mind those words of
Paul: “Hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
from the distant, misty past we hear the story of the flood—God's attempt to
blot out evil from the face of the earth by drowning everything on it. As we
have the story in the book of Genesis, it's not very good history. Sometimes
Noah loads a pair of every animal onto his big boat; sometimes we hear that
he's loading seven pairs of each. It's not very good history. In fact it's not
really history at all.
is a wonderful ancient look at power and at God.
What can the Creator do?
What will the Creator do?
there limits on God?
One who made the world overcome all that is wrong about that creation?
story seeks to respond to such questions.
story begins, the Creator looks at creation with dismay. What word do you want
to use to describe the situation: Wicked? Evil? Sinful? Things are bad in this
world that was created good. God regrets ever breathing the breath of life into
these miserable men and women.
solution? Wipe ‘em out. And get rid of the birds and beasts for good measure.
bit of rain can wash away the snow—that’s OK. We look forward to that.
more rain can soften the ground for spring planting—also good.
first-hand, however, that even more
rain can cause a lot of destruction.
days and nights of rain can—well, unless you've got an ark, you're not going to
know, “forty” is the biblical word for “a long time.” It’s not as specific as
it sounds. Jesus is in the wilderness, the Hebrew people are in the desert for
a long time. Our “forty days” of Lent actually includes 46 days—get out your
calendar and look.
forty days and forty nights of rain, after the water covered the earth for 150
days, God remembered Noah.
the waters subsided during another 150 days, after sending out a dove that came
back with an olive branch, after sending out a dove that never came back, Noah,
his sons, his wife, his sons' wives, and as the Bible puts it “all the animals,
creeping things, birds, and everything that moves on the ground” come out of
says: “Never again shall I put the earth under a curse because of humankind,
however evil their imagination might be from their youth upward.”
flood is over.
can create a mess. But it will not eliminate evil. As God's attempt to
eradicate evil from the world, it is a failure. After the rain, humankind is as
set against God's purposes as it was before the deluge.
flood brought no change to humankind—except perhaps that slight uneasiness that
we still seem to feel when it rains too many days in a row.
overcome evil in the world? Certainly not by destruction.
there limits on what God can do? Are there limits on what God will do?
story of the Flood tells us that Creation doesn’t change. But God does change.
The experience of the flood brings an irreversible change in God. From now on
the Creator will approach creation with unlimited patience and forbearance.
flood ends with a new agreement—a covenant —between
God and all creation: Never again. Never again will all living creatures be destroyed
by the waters of the flood; never again will there be a flood to waste the
a new approach and a new way of defining power: it is determined not by the
strength to eradicate but the ability to care. Like a warrior ending the
battle, God hangs a bow in the sky—a sign that the Creator has won a new kind
of victory, not just over creation, but even over God's inclination to punish.
us will remember those billboards that appeared in the late 60’s with huge
block letters that announced: “WAR IS OVER.” The small print below added the
catch: “If you want it.”
over, if you want it.
bargain with very simple terms, it required a great deal from those to whom it
was offered. The peace that was announced was provisional, conditional. Our
hopes and desires were called into question. Do the people of the world want
peace badly enough to bring an end to war?
nation we’re struggling with that desire—or lack of desire—once again. After
more than a decade of war in the Middle East the President and others are
calling for the authorization of use of military force—a term which most likely
means more troops, more money, more death. We have heard—and maybe seen—the
barbarous work of ISIS. We rightly call it evil. And many who hate what is evil
say that the solution is, in the words of Ted Cruz,
“ to hunt down and kill the terrorist leaders.” Troops on the
ground, more military power and we are assured that finally we’ll get it right.
is over—if you want it.
surprising good news of Genesis is that God makes the same offer, but without
attaching conditions. God announces “War is over,” and does not make this word
of peace contingent on our response. God disarms unilaterally.
floodwaters recede, as the sacrifice of Noah rises with a pleasing smell into
the air, God sets a bow in the sky as a promise to all creation and as a
reminder to the One who is the creator. “This is the sign of the covenant which
I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all
future generations: I set my bow in the cloud . . . I will look upon it and
remember the everlasting covenant.”
rainbow rests as an undrawn weapon.
aren't that unusual. But sometimes you'd think most people had never seen one.
Or maybe they've just forgotten what they mean. The rainbow is the sign of the
covenant between God and all creation—you and me, birds and beasts. It's a sign
that God has given up—not on us, but on punishing the guilty and rewarding the
one will take that as good news since I know which side of the equation on
which I stand. Mercy, not punishment, is the last word on sin from the God of
of power? God could not, God would not destroy the world and so instead becomes
involved with creation.
suggested that this is a story of a surprising turn, what she called a
"gospel reversal.” A movement toward death means life for all.
gospel reversal. That is ultimately what the cross is about.
cross seems to be the end of the line. But maybe it's the beginning.
certainly looks like failure: the message that the realm of God was at hand,
the call to repentance met with rejection by the religious and governmental
authorities. Their answer to the love of God shown in Jesus? Get rid of him.
God of the rainbow is also the God of the cross. Rejection was met with
acceptance. Evil was overcome by good. Death was answered by life. Having taken
the path of destruction once before, God chose instead the path of
resurrection—bringing new life out of death to confront everything that would
hate, tear down, and kill.
Jesus, God discovers what it means to have the floodwaters rising all around—as
Noah did, as we do. In Jesus, God knows what it means to go under.
Jesus, God shows us that the floods are not the end of the story. The end of
the story is life for all creation.
always seems to disappoint some people to realize just how open handed God is
in giving to creation. God's promise not to destroy is made not just to human
beings but to all living things. God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ is freely
offered to all people, not just to church members or those whom we think
years ago now, Robin and I were out walking. I don't remember the specific
meteorological conditions—it must not have been raining too much because I hate
to walk in the rain—but suddenly a beautifully complete rainbow appeared in the
west. There was a boy about eight or nine playing outside who also saw this
magnificent bow. He started calling to his family inside: “Hey! Come outside
and look at this rainbow! Hey! Look! There's a rainbow! Come out! Hey!”
they didn't hear him or didn't care, I don't know. But he had to share this
event with somebody. So finally he stopped, stared at Robin and me, pointed his
finger and said “Look!”
that's really what I'm trying to say today as well. Maybe the rest was just an
attempt to get your attention.
God's bow is in the sky. We have been promised life.
The God of the rainbow, God of the cross, and God of the empty grave is one God
who desires nothing more than that we have life and have it abundantly, filled
with color and resurrection power.
The rainbow is the sign of the first covenant that God made—not only
with human beings but with all creation. It announces “War is over” and
challenges us to live at peace with the earth, with each other, and with the
God of the rainbow.
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