Genesis 9:8-17 – I Will Remember

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So, God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (NIV)

The older I get the less I remember.  I tell my older parishioners when they have a “senior moment” that they have a lot more to remember from a lifetime of experiences and memories than everyone else does. My memory is now such that, if I do not write stuff down, it likely will not happen. On some level, I’m sure you can relate. We all have the common human experience of being forgetful.

Even though God is old, I don’t believe he has a problem with remembering. Yet, even God puts reminders in front of himself to remember. Most people, whether knowing much about the Bible, or not, are familiar with the story of Noah. You remember the story. The world was evil.  God decided to destroy the creatures of the earth because humanity was rife with wickedness. God sent a flood, but spared Noah and his family. Afterward, God made a covenant between himself and all the earth: He would never again send a calamitous flood, stating, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you.”

Maybe memory has less to do with actual forgetfulness and more with priority, commitment, and keeping something continually in front of us.  God did not set a rainbow in the sky because he was worried about a senior moment someday; he put a sign in the sky because having symbols that point to significant events are important, even for God.  We put pictures of our kids on our desks not because we will forget what they look like, but to keep them in front of us throughout the day because we love them.  We keep tokens from travels or vacations in prominent places at home not because we will ever forget the experience, but because something significant happened or was decided in that time that was important to us.

The objects and symbols we place around us have significance. Our predilection for having objective symbols comes from bearing the image and likeness of God. And, in some sense, we are all living icons, flesh and blood reminders of God’s creative work. When we choose to use our bodies and minds for good, we are living into our original design and tapping into the wondrous image within.

God wants us to remember – the Word of God, divine actions of old, and, most of all, the Son, which is why we have tangible symbols of bread and cup to remember the redemptive events of Jesus. Christ is to be continually in front of us, our priority, and our love as we live from day to day.

Soli Deo Gloria

Gracious God, you have made covenants with your people to remember and be committed to them.  I desire to remember you in everything I do and say, especially the Lord Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me so that my priorities will reflect your goodness, and your mercy will be shown. May I continually remember: churches everywhere throughout your world, that they may proclaim the risen Lord; creation, that the people of the earth may meet their responsibility to care; those in despair and darkness, that they may find the hope and light of Christ; and, those forgotten by others, but not forgotten by you; through Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

We Belong to God

We belong to God.  Let that statement sink in and saturate your soul with grace.  The Bible is a “covenant” document giving us the stipulations of how we can have a belonging with God.  Covenant is how God has chosen to communicate to us, to redeem us, and to guarantee us eternal life in Jesus.  These truths, revealed in the Bible, are the basis of Christianity.   The Old and New Testaments are really Old and New Covenants.  The word “testament” is Latin for “covenant”.  When God makes a covenant with his people, it means that he gives them promises of what he will do, and, in turn, has moral expectations or ethical responsibilities for the people to follow. 
The ancient world operated on a covenant system.  A nation or empire would conquer a city or territory and set up a covenant in which the conqueror would promise protection, certain provisions, and leave a military presence among them.  In turn, the conquered people would be required to offer things like allegiance and tribute.  In the Bible, God made a covenant with Abraham and promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him.  The only stipulation that God gave to Abraham was to leave his home and begin a new life in the land he would show him.  God continued to work through Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, and made them a people for his own Name who would be a kingdom of priests, testifying to the nations through a lifestyle of having God the center of all they do in embodying the Ten Commandments – being a holy people, reflecting the holiness of God.
The difference between earthly covenants and God’s covenant is that God steeps his covenant in love and grace.  God cares about his covenant because in his dealings with his people, he is concerned to reveal who he is to them so that they can relate to him and flourish as human beings.
            God never forgets nor reneges on his covenant promises.  For example, God clarified his covenant by giving King David a dynasty, a never-ending kingdom, a temple, and a father/son relationship with his progeny.  Furthermore, he promised that his love (Hebrew “chesed”) would never be taken away (2 Samuel 7:1-17).  This is my favorite word in the entire Bible.  It is translated in various ways as love, grace, kindness, and compassion.  It refers to God’s steadfast covenant loyalty to his people – that he will not fail to show continuous love to his people, even when they might go astray.  Unlike the nations of the earth, unlike the fickle nature of people, unlike the inconsistent commitment of others, God stands alone as a Being who in his very nature is love and continues to be gracious.
            All the good promises given to Abraham, to the Israelites through Moses, and to David are all fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.  In the New Testament, the New Covenant, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are soaked in the language and explanation that Jesus is the Son of David.  He is the Promised One, the Savior, Lord, Teacher, and Healer that will save the people from their sins and bring them to a spacious kingdom full of the grace and love that characterizes God.  Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are brought into union with God and participate fully in all the promises of the New Covenant – a Covenant that has its main stipulation of love.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  All this talk of love is because God himself is a God that is love personified in Christ.
            The way the world is going to know that there is a God in heaven is through chesed,grace.  God has not called us to yell louder than the culture; he has not told that we are to work to get our way in everything within society.  Instead, he calls us to be gracious.  Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful….  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:2-6).


            The most gracious truth we can ever know and bank our lives upon is that we belong to God.  Our primary identity is not in a club, church membership, or even our biological family; our most fundamental identity is as a child of God, created in his image and belonging to him in Christ.  God’s covenant with us has become the mechanism that assures us of that belonging.  One can never be reminded too often of God’s covenant loyalty that is by sheer grace.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

            The past few weeks, the Lectionary readings have brought us a steady admonition of passing on to future generations the necessity of covenant, faith, and law.  Obedience is the key to it all.  But the problem entered that Israel was not faithful to God’s commands; they kept disobeying and following other gods. God always had a faithful remnant of people devoted to him, but the nation as a whole simply did not follow through with the teaching given to them.
            But where Israel failed in obeying the covenant stipulations and passing them on to their progeny, God forgives.  God’s answer to repeated human failings was not just to pronounce a judgment, but to rectify the problem altogether through the establishment of a new covenant.  God will put his law in their hearts, and they will know him in a direct and immediate kind of way. “For they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
            From a New Testament (that is, New Covenant) perspective, Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s good covenant promises to his people.  And God’s Holy Spirit serves as the continuing presence of Jesus within us, teaching us and guiding us in the ways of God.  Our only task, then, is to live into those promises – to know them, claim them, and bank on them.  We are most obedient when we believe the promises of God and place all our hope in them.
            Lord God, thank you for your promise of a new covenant.  Thank you for Jesus.  Establish his presence so firmly in my heart by means of your Spirit that obedience is always my default mode of living.  Amen.

Covenant vs. Contract

            It is a beautiful thing when someone makes a promise to you and follows through.  Whether it is someone promising to give free child-care, or to help out with a project that needs to be completed, promises kept are a kind of human glue that bonds us together as people.  When two people get married, they have a ceremony in order to publically make promises to one another – vows to remain faithful and to do everything within their power for the betterment of each other and the relationship, no matter the circumstances.
            God is a promise-making and promise-keeping God.  When humanity fell, God set in motion a plan to redeem his creation back to himself.  A healthy way to look at the whole of Holy Scripture is to understand that God has entered into covenant with his people.  That simply means that God has graciously made promises to certain persons – vows that he will fulfill.  The fulfillment of God’s promises is found in the person and work of Jesus, through his life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorification.  In Christ, we are redeemed and made holy.  Our proper response to God is to place our faith in those promises. 
            However, there are those who view a relationship with God not based on covenant promises, but more like a contract.  In a contract, promises are not made, but a deal is brokered.  On the practical level it operates something like this:  if I do good works, have clean living, and do what is right, God will bless me; and, if I don’t, God will punish me.  In a covenant understanding, when we fail or are disobedient, we confess our sins and God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us.  But in a contract, when we fail we lose.  Relating to God according to a contract is like believing that life is like a math equation; if I do my part, God must do his.  And if God tells me to do something, I’d better do it or else.
            Too many Christians live by a contractual understanding of relating to God.  I knew a woman who was a very nice sweet person.  She grew up in a Christian home, never got into trouble, and did everything expected of her.  But when she became ill with a rare disease, her faith began to unravel.  She simply could not understand or make sense of the reality that she had been good all of her life and was dying a slow death.  Since 2+2=4, she thought that God was not holding up his end of the deal; the equation was not working the way it was supposed to work.
            On the outside, two people may be doing all the same things – serving in the church and doing a range of good deeds.  But on the inside, the motivation between the two may be very different.  One serves out of obligation to a contract; the other serves out of heart response to a covenant God who has made and fulfilled promises of salvation.  The litmus test of discerning between the two typically occurs when life does not turn out the way we expect, that is, when suffering and hard circumstances knock us hard on our rear ends.
            A legalistic view of the Christian life will always discern our relationship with God as a contract; we must do certain things in order to hold up the bargain.  But a grace-filled view of the Christian life has behind it a proper view of God as the One who has given us his very great and precious promises, despite the fact that we have done nothing to deserve them.


            Which view do you hold?  Can you accept a God who relates to you based on love and grace, and not on your performance, or lack thereof?  The Christian life does not work on the idea that if I do my part, and God does his, that everything will be hunky-dory.  Instead, the wonder and beauty of Christianity is that there is a God who steps in and saves when we have done nothing to earn or deserve it.  The proper life response to this is living obediently out of gratitude for such a grace.  May our churches be filled with thankful believers.