Summary: God makes an everlasting covenant with Noah and family, his descendants, and all of creation.
Sermon for 1 Lent Yr B, 9/03/2003
Based on Gen 9:8-17
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
In today’s first lesson, we learn of God’s covenant with Noah. Our God is a covenant-making God. Throughout the Bible, there are several covenants made by God with the Israelites, and beyond them, with all peoples of the earth. A covenant is an agreement between two parties; in it promises are made; sometimes the promises are conditional so that certain things have to be done if the covenant is to be effective and honoured; other times, the promises are unconditional, wherein God is always the chief initiator and keeper and fulfiller of the covenant. The covenant in our first lesson today is an unconditional one; it bears witness to the love and grace of God.
I don’t know if you noticed it, but the covenant is made not only with Noah, it also includes his descendents and every living creature of all flesh. That means God is concerned about creation itself, not only human beings. God created this vast, magnificent universe, and God loves it. Because God cares for all of creation, God makes us humans, created in God’s image, responsible stewards—managers of God’s creation. Our survival as a species on this earth is intricately related to our connection with the survival of every other living creature as well—the web of life is interdependent. As Hildegard of Bingen observed back in the 12th century: “The high, the low all of creation, God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.”
More and more Christians today are realising how important our calling as responsible stewards of creation is for not only ourselves, but for the health and well-being of all creation. This reality is reflected in the following words of the Rev. Bob Ogle:
I am glad that I have been around the world several times: I know how small it is. And these last years have taught me just how fragile our existence is. We are all interrelated. Anything you or I do will have an influence on all our sisters and brothers around the globe. More than half the resources consumed in the entire history of the planet have been used up in my lifetime. Most of the pollution destroying creation has occurred since my father was born. Fifteen billion years of creation destroyed by two generations! I have decided that as long as I live and am able to function, I will address that question. 1
On the wall of our daughter’s bedroom is a beautiful, detailed poster of a painting by Scandinavian artist, Esben Hanefelt Kristensen of Noah’s ark. Every time I look at it, I’m astounded and inspired by two things. First, the detail of all of the creatures on the ark, along with their beauty of colour and diverse uniqueness. What a creative God we have! This panorama of colour, and diverse uniqueness in each of the living creatures is awe-inspiring. The second thing that fascinates me about this poster is the sense of harmony, peace and unity of all the living creatures there together on the ark with eight human beings.
This to me reminds me of another scripture passage—one of my all-time favourites, from the book of Isaiah, where the prophet is given that beautiful vision of the new heavens and the new earth; of the sense of complete, full harmony and peace in all of creation; of natural enemies living together and enjoying each other’s company. In other words, the covenant God makes here with Noah is universal in its scope—it applies to all of creation. God loves all of creation and now promises never to destroy it again. As recipients of this covenant, and as humans created in God’s image; our calling is to reflect God’s wishes in the covenant by respecting and protecting God’s creation; by living to the best of our abilities in harmony with all of creation; by being environmentalists and ecologists.
Another important aspect of this covenant between God, Noah and his descendants and all living creatures is its permanence. This covenant is an everlasting one. Listen again to the words of God speaking in verse 16: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God is not a flighty, fickle Being. God will remember this everlasting covenant. This covenant then is still a valid one that God continues to honour and keep even to this very day.
In other words, the New Covenant God makes with humankind through Jesus Christ does not end this older, everlasting covenant. Rather, the two belong together; they do not contradict each other; they complement each other. God’s promises of old remain and those promises give us in the New Covenant a greater appreciation of the old. We can see the true nature of God and God’s activity—how consistent and long-suffering God is in his grace and mercy towards us and all of creation. God’s unconditional grace and love never changes; is new every morning; God’s faithfulness endures forever! In a world of constant changes, we can live with the utmost confidence that our security rests with this gracious, loving God.