"War

Is Over"



                                                                February

22, 2015



 



Genesis

9:8-17



Mark 1:9-15



 













The Old

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.



Covenant,

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.



Our

covenant binds us together and keeps us moving forward together into an always

uncertain future that God is making in us and through us.



What we

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.



I want

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.”



This

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.”



Down

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.



But it

is a wonderful ancient look at power and at God.



What can the Creator do?



What will the Creator do?



And are

there limits on God?



Can the

One who made the world overcome all that is wrong about that creation?



This

story seeks to respond to such questions.



AS the

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.



The best

solution? Wipe ‘em out. And get rid of the birds and beasts for good measure.



A little

bit of rain can wash away the snow—that’s OK. We look forward to that.



A little

more rain can soften the ground for spring planting—also good.



We know

first-hand, however, that even more

rain can cause a lot of destruction.



Forty

days and nights of rain can—well, unless you've got an ark, you're not going to

make it.



As you

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.



After

forty days and forty nights of rain, after the water covered the earth for 150

days, God remembered Noah.



After

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

the ark.



And God

says: “Never again shall I put the earth under a curse because of humankind,

however evil their imagination might be from their youth upward.”



The

flood is over.



God has

failed.



A flood

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.



The

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.



Can God

overcome evil in the world? Certainly not by destruction.



Are

there limits on what God can do? Are there limits on what God will do?



The

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.



The

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

earth.



This is

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.



Some of

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.”



War is

over, if you want it.



A

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?



As a

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.



War

is over—if you want it.



The

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.



As the

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.”



The

rainbow rests as an undrawn weapon.



Rainbows

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

upright.



I for

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

the rainbow.



The limits

of power? God could not, God would not destroy the world and so instead becomes

involved with creation.



Someone

suggested that this is a story of a surprising turn, what she called a

"gospel reversal.” A movement toward death means life for all.



Sure. A

gospel reversal. That is ultimately what the cross is about.



The

cross seems to be the end of the line. But maybe it's the beginning.



It

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.



But the

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.



In

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.



And in

Jesus, God shows us that the floods are not the end of the story. The end of

the story is life for all creation.



It

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

deserve it.



Several

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!”



Whether

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!”



I guess

that's really what I'm trying to say today as well. Maybe the rest was just an

attempt to get your attention.



Look!

God's bow is in the sky. We have been promised life.



Look!

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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