Sermon Ideas For Genesis 9:8-17 Part 2
Set in the midst of primeval history (Genesis chapters 1-11) as an antecedent to the age of patriarchal history, Genesis chapters 12-50 is a powerful narrative regarding the promisseo Dei or the promise of God. This priestly narrative that interprets the aftermath of the great deluge reveals the nature of Yahweh as one who deliberately is bound to the people by a covenant fulfilled in word and in deed. The covenant occupies a position of centrality and constitutes the very core of God's relationship with human beings as well as the entirety of creation. God's relationship with all of reality is contingent on a covenant whether it be with creation, with Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David or the people of God as a nation. Covenant making, covenant breaking, covenant renewal are themes that are replete in the biblical narrative. What pastoral implications are there for the preacher as s/he meditates upon this particular text?
The "inclusive" nature of the covenant is a striking reality as the text indicates that Yahweh's covenant is not only with Noah, his family and progeny, but is with "all creatures" (Gen 9:8-10). It is only in recent years that the concept of the "pastoral care of the earth" has come into our consciousness. At the beginning of this decade, a newly formed organization entitled Pastoral Care Network for Social Responsibility was developed. Its mission statement is that it is an international network of pastoral caregivers working together to foster and promote spiritual, emotional, and environmental health for all persons and the world. This endeavor is an embryonic attempt to raise the consciousness of all pastoral caregivers as well as to strategize for the future in a responsible manner.
The implicit intent of the text is to demonstrate the sacredness of all life evidenced in the interconnectedness of creation. This interdependency results in an inclusive covenant that God establishes with the entire universe. This all inclusive message is further articulated by the apostle Paul when he states his concern for the bondage of all creation and that the promise of redemption includes the created order (Rom 8:18-23). The preacher has a marvelous opportunity to lift up environmental issues based on this text. Ecological concerns are global concerns. Environmental concerns are concerns of the church, for creation has been given to human beings to steward in a respectful and responsible manner. Albert Schweitzer's motto of "reverence for life" is an inclusive mandate for God in love has included all creatures in the covenant of mercy and grace.
The text likewise speaks eloquently about the nature of God. The priestly writer portrays God as the Creator who experiences agony in relationship to the travesty known as the great flood. Might there even be a hint of God "repenting" of the action similar to that noted in Jeremiah 18:8? There is an emphatic promise that "...never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Gen 9:11). God's ultimate intent for all of creation is life! As the Gospel text from Mark 1:9-15 suggests, repentance is always the order of the day for human beings. But punishment in the proportions of the great deluge shall not be visited upon God's people again. Even in their apostasy, God's desire is that the people might turn from their ways and live (Ezek 18:23). God is faithful in this promise. The faithfulness of God is the key theological tenet in pastoral ministry.
When people have experienced "faithlessness" in their relationships, when the temptation arises to jettison faith in the face of adversity, the faithfulness of God is the singular constant. Even at the point of greatest forsakenness, the faithfulness of God remains firm despite our fortunes or our feelings which may dictate otherwise.
God knows the necessity of concretizing the promise of faithfulness to the covenant people. Knowing the nature of human beings, God establishes a sign of nature for all those who exist in nature. "I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth." This sacramental symbol of nature is a constant reminder to people of God's faithfulness. It is of significance pastorally that God works in this way in relationship to people. God's incarnational presence may be experienced in nature, in the sacraments, in the scriptures or in the community of faith itself. The most significant sign and symbol is none other than the Son, the Word made flesh (Jn 1:114).
Interestingly enough, it is also God's sign to God's self! "When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh" (vv. 14-15). The priestly writer in anthropomorphic imagery portrays God as one who reminds God's self of the covenant promise via this visible means in nature. While the covenant is God's unilateral declaration of grace and mercy to all of creation, the sign of the covenant is a visual manifestation in creation. God says to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth" (v. 17).
In pastoral care, it is significant how frequently people respond to sacrament, sign or symbol when all other forms of communication fail. The impress of the sign of the cross on the body, the power of physical presence, the hearing of familiar words of scripture or prayer often sustain those in crisis as well as at the time of death. For example, the chatter and sometimes chaos evident in a nursing home when one is trying to conduct a worship service oftentimes is transformed into calm when the scriptures are read, when a familiar song is sung or the paten and chalice of the Sacrament of Holy Communion become visible. Signs and symbols have a valence all their own that visibly remind the people of God that God is faithful and ever present. The preacher can creatively use the senses with which we have been created to communicate the reality of God's covenantal relationship with the entirety of creation. The hearing of the scriptures, the taste of the sacraments, the sensation of the laying on of hands, the sight of the cross, the smell of flowers or food can all be utilized as tangible reminders that God is an ever faithful God of the covenant. Nature can serve the same function: The sight of the rainbow, the smell of the woods and lakes, the sound of singing birds, the taste of food and drink and the sensation of the gentle touching of God's creatures creates a covenantal awareness and message that God is love and that God's promise of faithfulness to all of creation persists eternally.
Robert H. Albers