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Monday, April 12, 2021

God Promises What We Cannot - Sermon for 2-21-21, Lent I

 Genesis 9:8-17

            Have you ever tried to be creative, to make something, only to have it fail, even disastrously so? When I first got married, Suzi Homemaker that I saw myself to be, Ia decided to make my new husband a pie. I would greet him when he came in that day, with a freshly baked, still warm-from-the-oven apple pie.

While baking wasn’t something I had learned at my mother’s knee, how hard could it be? One of my favorite wedding shower gifts was my Betty Crocker Cookbook, so I whipped out my book, confidently following the recipe for pie crust.

            But, something happened. My creation just wasn’t right. The consistency was awful. I attempted to fix it by repeatedly making adjustments to it. Which only made it worse. It would be too dry and crumbly, so I would add a little water, then it was too gooey, so I sifted in a bit more flour. But then it was too stiff, so I added just a few drops of water, but of course it still wasn’t right and so I kept at it, correcting for its dryness with water, and then for its stickiness, flour.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it to a consistency where I could roll it out. It either stuck like glue to the rolling pin or crumbled and fell apart when I tried to roll it out smooth. In the end, disgusted, I threw the whole messy, disgusting ball of dough in the trash, and started all over.

            In our Scripture from Genesis today, we read of a God who has continually tried to fix the dough,…to call a wayward people back into relationship with him and with each other, time and again. God tried many ways to fix things,… to bring the people back into the harmony God intended for them, to no avail.

The trouble started back in Chapter 3, with the serpent and the temptations of the first humans leading to the first instance of sin. Outside of Eden as time went on, people slipped further and further into disharmony – between male and female; between humans and their earthly labors; between mankind and the created world around them. There was murder, cheating, stealing, out-of-control corruption and so forth, exceeding the boundaries of humanity and shattering the peace between heaven and earth, destroying the order God created into the world.


This is the picture of a humanity so depraved and thirsty for power, so corrupted by evil that God’s heart was broken. In Genesis 6:5-6 we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” What breathtaking testimony to the deep sorrow of God, who grieves the betrayal of human beings and the resulting brokenness of creation.

            And so, God sent the waters of the flood, not as an act of revenge, but out of God’s deep pain and sorrow that the corruption of humanity has in fact poisoned all the earth.

God notes the futility of trying to change what has been lost, of adding a little flour here, a little water there.

God notes the futility of trying to bring back into order that which sin has so thoroughly corrupted and returned to chaos.

What God had called good in those first days of creation, God now calls evil.

The careful separation and the gathering of the waters, during the ordering of creation, is now undone. And yet, God preserves a remnant, one righteous man who, it is written in Genesis 6:9 “Walked with God.”

Noah and his family were preserved along with all that God set apart for the sealing of a new relationship, a restored relationship between God and God’s creatures. And God established a new covenant, taking it upon Godself to build this new relationship between God and God’s creatures.

            This covenant is all on God. It is entirely God’s doing, not requiring human culpability, because God knows that the cleansing waters of the flood have not fully cured the human heart from its inclination to sin.

Yet, God willingly establishes this covenant and gives this powerful sign – the sign of the bow.

Noah and his descendants understand the significance of the bow - this weapon of warfare; this tool of battle. To hang up one’s bow is to retire from battle. As God hangs his bow in the sky, God has taken destruction and the total annihilation of the earth off the table as a consequence of sin.

God, who seeks us continually, will try everything else to win our hearts and souls. God will not give up trying to love us back to restoration, even to the sending of his own son, and his death on the cross for our salvation.

We are reminded of the waters of the flood and this promise of God each and every time we celebrate a Baptism or affirm our own Baptism. We are reminded of the waters of the flood each time we celebrate Holy Communion, in the prayer that surrounds our actions with God’s Word. It is right that we should be reminded often of the life-saving waters of the covenant God seals with us at our Baptism.

There is good reason that water holds such powerful symbolism for us, both for its destructive powers and its life-giving and life-saving properties.

Luther Seminary Professor Emerita of Old Testament studies Diane Jacobson writes, “In the ancient Near East world of Noah and our forefathers, there was belief in and fear of a monster that lived in water – sometimes this monster was called Leviathan, or Rahab, or Lothan, or simply the Deep. We know this monster as Satan or the devil. We recognize this monster in floods and terrorism, starvation and adultery, hatred and abuse. We name the monster as evil. And we see it in ourselves and name it as sin. The monster so often appears to be stronger than God and we wonder if even God can defeat such an insidious beast.

But God speaks to our fears. God has contained mighty waters since the beginning of time. God meets the devil and will not be deceived. And God in Christ has taken up our monstrous sins and tamed them through forgiveness.”

Three times in as many month, we have heard some portion of the story of the Baptism of Jesus. At the beginning of Advent, it reminded us of God’s promise to issue a new covenant, as we prepared for the Messiah, the one that God promised to send to us and in whom God would establish a new covenant; we prepared our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ, the Anointed One” of God.

At the beginning of Epiphany, we were reminded of God’s anointing of Jesus as the Son of God, the Son in whom the divine approval rested, the Son to whom we should listen, from whom we should learn, and in whom we should believe.

And now, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, we read this story one more time, and we are reminded that Lent is about God’s activity, not ours. We are reminded that it is God’s agency, not our own human traditions that form the centerpiece of our Lenten discipline, that informs our action, and that calls us forth as daughters and sons of God to witness to the powerful cleansing action of the holy water.

Each Lent, we hear the debates –what form should our Lenten discipline take? Should we give up chocolate or coffee? Should we take on new practices of prayer and devotion? Should we immerse ourselves in some form of social ministry or charitable activity? The answer …is yes! The Spirit of God is calling you, will blow through you, over you and in you, opening you up to the presence and activity of God in the world.

But remember this;

it is God who builds us up, not we ourselves.

It is God’s promises that sustain us,

and not our own practices.

It is God who recreates us anew

through our daily dying to sin

and rising to new life in Christ.

And it is through God’s Word, and through the waters of Baptism, and the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior that we receive forgiveness for our sins and are empowered to live as people of the covenant.

Through Jesus Christ, once and for all, God forms a covenant with each and every one of us. Despite all signs to the contrary: our stubbornness in the face of sin, our desire and aspirations of power, the brokenness of the world, God has not and will never give up on us; instead God joins in our suffering through the cross of Christ.

This is good news for God’s beloved people, as we await God’s return in glory, in the fulfillment of time. As we undertake our Lenten discipline, as we take this time to contemplate, recognize and acknowledge our sinfulness, let us open and prepare our hearts for the ongoing, transformational work of God’s Spirit in our lives.  

May we feel God’s urging, God’s prodding, God’s amazing grace and mercy in the face of our fragility.

I don’t remember how the new pie crust worked out that day, so long ago – I think it was at least edible. But I do know that God is still at work in me, and in all of us, adding a little flour here, sprinkling a little water there.

Regardless of what shape my lumpy dough might cling to, our faithful God will never give up on me or on any of us. God’s love will heal and shape us into bread for the world.   Thanks be to God! Amen.



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