The Sunday Sermon: Second Sunday in Lent – February 25, 2018
Scripture: Genesis 6:5-7 (8)
Grieved to the Heart
So, this week, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, our predicament. It’s only the second Sunday in Lent, so we might expect that.
Last week we remembered that we are way, far out in the wilderness, along way from who we were created to be. We discussed why we’re out here, why we’re sent forth from the garden of Eden as the story goes. We’re not out here because we did something we weren’t supposed to do. We’re out here because we didn’t do something we were supposed to do. We didn’t, and we still don’t, admit that there’s something wrong, that we’ve done something wrong, that has, and is, messing with the created. We refuse to acknowledge that we have a role to play in this world, a role for its good and the good of all its creatures – plant, animal, and human. Like Adam and Eve in our tradition’s story, we continue to pass the blame, to hem and haw, to avoid the questions whose answers are already known by the mystery at the center of our lives … God, we name it.
We’re out in the wilderness pretending it’s working for us. But things aren’t going so well for us out here, east of Eden. And, as the story goes, it gets worse.
One of the very first things that happen east of Eden is death – a murder, a fratricide, Cain killing his brother Able. So, there are more punishments handed out and we’re sent deeper into the beyond, into the “land of Wandering.” Scared and vulnerable, we begin to organize ourselves.
Again, as the story goes, we try to get “civil,” to become “civilized.” We create “civilizations.” We lay claims to land, property, people, and products. We establish laws to govern, issue titles to hold, and build walls to keep all of our stuff in (and others out, of course). But founded as our civilization is on the heels of that first act of brutality, the violence only escalates. God’s promise of a “seven-fold vengeance on anyone who would kill Cain” when he and his family were first sent east was an attempt to restrain blood vengeance, to deter the violence that we so love. But by the end of chapter four (only up to chapter four!), Cain’s great-great-great-great grandson is promising seventy-sevenfold vengeance for anyone who tries to harm him.
Things are getting worse in the land east of East of Eden, in the Land of Nod, the Land of Wandering. And, as the story goes, it going to get even worse before anything changes.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Genesis 6:5-7 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (That’s one of those readings for which our response just doesn’t seem right. But there it is.)
Only six short chapters into the story of creation the opening vision of harmony and unity is thoroughly shattered.
Now, as we continue this morning, let’s be clear on the character of the verses we read and all those that are in our heads now about waters and arks and animals and rainbows. We do not have before us history. Even if there is some memory here of flood experiences in the ancient community, we’ll get distracted if we insist on “historical facts.” What we are exploring is not a statement about the world, but a statement about the character of the mystery we call God. And, by the way, do yourselves a favor, as difficult as I know that it is: Don’t imagine “God” as a supernatural punisher of evil and wickedness. Imagine “God” as the opening vision of Genesis does, not so much a “who,” but a “what.” Imagine God as Love and harmony, as unity, as that which calls creation into being and holds it all together … delicately but stubbornly, holds on to creation.
This God (and remember, Love-Harmony-Unity) is impatient when the purposes of creation are resisted. This God, this Love-Harmony-Unity, holds an expectation for the world and will not abandon it, no matter how wicked it gets. And as we just read, we’ve gotten extremely wicked.
I know that’s hard, given that we focus most intently on the line, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created.” But these verses, and this sermon are not about us. I haven’t titled this sermon “Blotted from the Earth!” Because, with amazing boldness these few verses in Genesis six invite us into the heart of God – of Love itself. And what we find here is not an angry tyrant, but a troubled Creator grieved to the heart over what Walter Brueggemann calls humanity’s “unrelieved hostility.”
The “evil heart of humankind” in verse five grieves the “heart of God” in verse seven. And it’s time for a “heart-to-heart” between the two. It’s time for a heart-to-heart between God and us. Get ready for the waters to rise:
Easy access to guns, most especially guns whose sole reason for manufacture is to kill human beings, threatens to destroy Life as it was intended. With some small measure of hope still lingering in the actions and changed mindsets of individuals and even some corporations of recent days, too many in powerful and influential positions refuse to deal directly with the epidemic of gun violence in our country. There is overwhelming evidence that the rate of gun ownership in any population correlates with the rate of gun deaths in that population. And whether a bad guy with a gun kills innocent people or a good guy with a gun kills that bad guy, we’re still talking about death. The antithesis of life. Our infidelity to the purposes of creation is diminishing our life and all of life around us.
Climate change threatens to destroy Life as it was intended. Blame whoever or whatever you want (and ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that trends over the past century are caused by human activity), this threat to life as it was intended is real. Global sea level rise has nearly doubled in the last two decades; the average worldwide temperature has increased over the past century; catastrophic weather events have multiplied exponentially over the past half century; the acid in our world’s oceans and the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere threatens life in the water and in the air as well as life on dry ground. Our infidelity to the purposes of creation is diminishing our life and all of life around us.
Gender inequality threatens to destroy Life as it was intended. In the United States we are most directly focused on sexual harassment, degradation, and pay equity, but globally, women are fighting for equal access to basic education, longer life expectancy through access to health benefits, equal economic opportunities, and deeper more meaningful political empowerment. Gender inequality is a profoundly debilitating stigma that damages women’s psychology of themselves and diminishes their sense of dignity. Our infidelity to the purposes of creation is diminishing our life and all of life around us.
The immigration conversations and policies that have been the main part of global conversation, including and especially in our country, are completely antithetical to our biblical mandate to “welcome the foreigner, Lt 19:34” “show love for the alien Dt. 10:19,” and “not neglect the stranger He 13:2.” From the Books of Moses to the Gospel of Christ, we are called to “rejoice with all the world in the good which the Lord our God has given” us all. Dt. 26:11 Our infidelity to the purposes of creation is diminishing our life and all of life around us.
Our addiction to money and power, and our pathological need to consume and control, is the final wave of destruction for us this morning. Our infidelity to the purposes of creation is diminishing our life and all of life around us.
These “mini-floods” don’t even include sexual orientation discrimination that continues to diminish life, or the racism that we refuse to acknowledge, or the “ageism” that insists a group of high-schoolers couldn’t possibly feel so passionate about anything to mobilize for change when the grown-ups refuse to do so. I’ll hear as much about those “omissions,” about what I haven’t said in this sermon, as I will about what I have said. Because, all of these waves, these mini-floods, that put together threaten to “blot us out,” are indeed political – they have to do with the ordering and organizing of communal life – and our infidelity to the purposes of creation is diminishing Life, our own and all of life around us.
We are confronted in these three verses, and in the story that follows, not with a literal flood, not with history, but with a heavy, painful crisis in the dealing of God (Love-Harmony-Unity) and humanity.
We might take solace in the fact that God’s heart does grieve, because that assures us that the Love-Harmony-Unity, the “God,” that created Life as it was intended to be, seeks to create Life even now. Decisively affected by the suffering, hurt, and hate we show each other with “unrelieved hostility,” Life seeks a way. I know it’s hard to imagine given our almost exclusive understanding of God as “wholly Other,” but the flood, the devastation, the catastrophic ruin that threatens to “blot out from the earth … people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air” comes not from beyond creation, directed by a “vengeful tyrant,” but from within us, directed by our refusal to acknowledge our problems. It pouring down and the waters are rising.
The daily estrangement of brother and sister, mother and father, neighbor and stranger, creature and creation that was never intended to “be,” has come to seem so ordinary, and so routine, and so accepted. Estrangement and destruction seem to be our “common lot.”
But they’re not. They’re not.
And our scripture reading is not complete yet this morning. (Did anyone notice that?) There is one verse included in parentheses. Just as it gets as bad as it can possibly get, you see, we read … verse eight.
Read Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.”
The figure of Noah is the bearer of an alternative possibility. And as we read this last verse for this morning, we are invited to consider that in this troubled exchange between Creator and creation there is the prospect of a fresh alternative (Brueggemann, 79). The Hebrew name Noah means “rest,” that is “serenity in God’s world” (69). The comfort promised by the introduction of Noah, “Rest,” is to reverse the destiny of living as we do, separated from creation. What we can anticipate from Noah is deliverance from the sorry situation which our human ingenuity has wrought. It looks like humanity just may be the solution for our inhumanity.
And so, the biggest question of our lives of faith is before us on this Second Sunday in Lent: Will we get on the boat and rise above the flood that will most certainly destroy us? It’s a long way home, but the longest journeys start with a single step. In this case, up the gangplank for the journey of our lives. Indeed, the journey for our lives.
I do hope you come back to continue the Lenten journey … home. Our Communion table will be set and we will once again remember and to re-member our lives in fidelity to the purposes of creation so that Life may flourish, our own and all of life around us.
May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 25, 2018