For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Deborah recorded in Judges 4-5. Preached on July 23, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas.
As we deal with this text from Deborah, I want to address two issues, first, the violence of it. This is a story that would have originated in the Iron age, so we have to hear it in its own historical timeframe. It’s easy to think that somehow God changed from the violence of the Old Testament to the nonviolent Jesus of the New Testament; it is more accurate to say, that people’s experience of God evolved along with history. Not every war or act of violence in the Old Testament is sanctioned or directed by God. Also, every oppressed people from the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, today’s text in Canaan, to people fighting an unjust oppression of any kind today, seek a God who will fight for them.
However, even in the Old Testament, the battles that God fights are not against peoples and cultures—even some Canaanites believed in Yahweh—God’s fight is against evil. Israel is an instrument of divine judgement on corruption and harm, as God fights evil. Sometimes this judgment is also directed at Israel, which is why they also come under oppression and judgement as we read in our story today.
The second issue I want to highlight is how unusual it is to have a religion that continually reveals the failures of its adherents in its sacred texts. But that’s what we have in the Old Testament—the very human story of the Israelites failing in their Covenant relationship with God and coming under judgement. These kinds of failures are repeated in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Judges. It lets us know that that none of us live out our relationship with God perfectly. These stories also show God’s faithfulness and steadfast love for us after repeated failure—God continues to send new leaders throughout the Old Testament as a whole, ultimately sending us himself in Jesus.
In Jesus the Christ, God reveals that God is not distant from the injustices of violence and death, but God fully enters with us these horrific realities, and overcomes them with his love and his very life for us. So, now with this frame, let’s look at Deborah’s story:
Our story begins as we’ve said, with Israel’s failure: the “Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil.”
What were they up to? Well, all kinds of stuff they knew were against God’s law and expectations:
• Like not worshiping God on the Sabbath
• Not taking care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan who are suffering among them
• And the Ten Commandments?! Israel treated them more like the ten suggestions, barely.
• They were more interested in the Canaanites and their pagan Temples
• They worshipped pagan gods, partying at the Temple which involved unmentionable acts, and harm to the body, child sacrifice, and the abuse of the vulnerable people of society
• All of the things that were evil in the sight of the Lord
But their actions were not without consequences. When community cohesion frayed, it became easy for a foreign power to take them over—the Lord gave them over to King Jabin of Canaan—a nasty and oppressive man who backed up his iron-fist with 900 iron-chariots. Israelites had no freedom--they were treated like slaves with high taxes to support a system that brought them little benefit. They had left oppression generations ago in Egypt, and here they were in the land of milk and honey. But the milk had gone sour and the only thing the bees left behind was their sting!
They endured cruelty for twenty years and could not take it anymore. So they cried out to God for a rescue—Israel needed a leader—someone to help get them out of this mess they had gotten themselves into. Whom would God send? Israel was looking for another Moses or another Joshua to rally the troops, to lead the way, to inspire a courageous heart, but no such man appeared on the horizon.
They did not expect the answer to be Deborah, the prophet and judge who sat under a palm tree named for her, where she settled disputes and spoke the word of the Lord. Deborah’s name in Hebrew, means “honeybee” which is significant because Israel was supposed to be in a land flowing with honey, but the Israelites were miserable, so to them, the bee was just an annoying insect. It is also significant because scientists today have found that aerodynamically, it is impossible for bees to fly—their body is too large and heavy, and their wings are too weak and small for flight.
But it was this woman, Deborah, this “honeybee”, that God chose to lead Israel out of its perilous predicament of oppression and pain. God spoke directly to Deborah, giving her military instructions on how God would enable Israel to defeat Sisera and his 900 chariots of iron. But Barak balked at Deborah. He essentially said, “Yeah, right! I’ll go only if you go and put your life on the line as well!”
“Barak’s” name means “lightening”—which in his case means a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing!
Why was Barak and probably most of Israel reluctant to trust her?
• Perhaps it is because Deborah had no military experience.
• Maybe because any plan seemed impossible up against 900 chariots of iron.
• Or most likely, Deborah did not fit the picture of the leader they had in mind.
Israel was looking for a man—someone who carried the commanding weight of Moses or Joshua. Perhaps God worked through women in small things, but for the big stuff, God needed a man, with experience, affluence, and authority. When God chose the unlikely leader of a woman, this honeybee, to rally the troops and lead them into battle, the Israelites asked themselves, “Does this be have sting? Can this bee even fly?
But bees do not know that they shouldn’t be able to fly, so they just go ahead and fly anyway. God’s ways of working are not ours to control or determine. God’s leaders do not necessarily fit our picture, expectations, or comfort zone. How often do we miss God’s leaders and God’s messages because we are looking in the wrong direction for the person we want, rather than the person God has chosen? How easy it is, even when we are desperate and asking for help, to put God in a box and limit the ways and the unexpected variety of people through whom God is working to bring us new ideas, grace, and good news?
Who would have imagined the positive leadership our youth offer our church:
• Virginia did the historical display in the Gathering Area, as her silver award for girl scouts, and we have a visitor who recognized his dad’s college roommate in Pr. Addix –
• And Ashley joins Virginia in being our 2 Nursury attendants –they were the first to step up when we needed new people working in the nursery. Who would have imagined the history our youth keep us connected to, and their presence in the nursery would contribute to our church growth today?
• Natalie built the outdoor food pantry outside as her silver award, and this has become a vital ministry for our community with so many people from the community both getting food from it and contributing to it—Who would have imagined our youth expanding our food outreach food ministry?
• Sam is helping to renovate the Youth room with his Eagle Scout project and this will give the youth a great space to invite their friends and help expand our program. Who would have imagined that our youth again are expanding our opportunities for ministry and contributing to our building renovation?
• Ivanna blesses us in worship regularly with singing with P-squared, the Choir, solos, and playing the violin—who would have imagined that one very young person could bless us with so much praise and worship leadership?
• Brynn, a confirmation student regularly brings a friend with her to church --Who would have imagined that one of our best evangelists is middle school student?
Who would have imagined that Deborah, a woman, would be the chosen military leader to bring Israel’s freedom and turn Israel away from doing evil? Who would have imagined that honeybees could fly? God imagined it and made it so. Deborah can fly. How did Deborah survive in a harsh world? She did not take to heart others’ skepticism and doubt her own calling, she just flew anyway. Deborah was indeed the greatest of the Judges—like Mohammed Ali said of himself, Deborah can “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” She had what it took—not just because of her faithfulness, but because of what God can accomplish through anyone who is a willing servant.
But the real miracle of the Deborah story is not that God called a woman to be a judge, a prophetess, and a military leader, but that when God did, the people of Israel actually followed her. Sisera’s 900 chariots of iron got stuck in the mud of the riverbank and had no power. Sisera abandoned his army and ran off like a scared rabbit to find refuge for himself. He was killed by another unlikely, out-of-the-box person—a Canaanite woman who was faithful to God, named Jael, who “nailed” the victory for Israel by driving a tent peg into Sisera’s temple while he slept.
A woman indeed got the glory for the victory—Jael, a foreign woman, Deborah, and God! After this victory, the people of Israel had peace for 40 years under Deborah’s rule. Now that’s the land of milk honey!
Our invitation this week is to listen to the unexpected people God is using to speak to us this week—who may not fit into our box or expectations. When we do listen to these unlikely messengers or leaders, God’s purposes for freedom, healing, and new life can be accomplished.
Our Statement of Welcome is a conscious way of saying that as a community we will not give in to a limited definition of who God can work through. St. Luke’s life and mission are growing and expanding because you are open to receiving the leadership of all the people God might choose regardless of ethnicity, race, class, income, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability, age, mental health, criminal record, or religious background—and given the leadership of our youth—we can also add age! Our youth have not doubted that they can make a contribution, so they just fly anyway.
And as you watch for new messengers and voices this week, be aware of how God is using you to be a Deborah for someone else. Because Aerodynamic or not, bees can fly. And that includes you.
For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Moses recorded in Exodus 3, 14, 16, 34 & Deuteronomy 34. Preached on July 16, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson,
A week ago Friday, we celebrated my Dad’s 88th birthday. As many of you know—he’s had a challenging health year. We are grateful for your prayers and happy to report that he’s just about back to normal. As we always do, we asked my dad for his words of wisdom on his birthday. During Covid, when we all needed a little levity, he raised his glass and said, “wine, women and song!” But this year, he said,
1. Always be honest and truthful
2. Always give thanks to the Lord your God
3. Never give up
This got me thinking about life lessons from Moses. His story is so long—with parts in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—we usually hear just a snippet at a time, but what do we learn about living in a harsh world from the span of his whole life? There are more lessons than we can name in one Sunday of course—but I would like to talk about six. I invite you to identify one or two lessons as your spiritual growth challenge for this week:
1. No one survives or succeeds alone – Moses should not have survived childhood—all the Hebrew males were to be killed. But the midwives did not obey Pharoah, Moses’ mother did not obey Pharoah, and the Pharoah’s own daughter did not obey him either. Moses’s older sister Miriam watched over her brother and told the Pharaoh’s daughter she would find a woman to nurse the baby. Miriam brought Moses back to his own mother until it was time to be adopted by Pharoah’s daughter. All these women acted in defiance of death, doing what was right in the face of injustice. Without all of these women exercising the small power they did have, Moses never would have survived.
As an adult, Moses also does not succeed as a solo act. When God calls Moses out of the burning bush, Moses protests not once, not twice but 5 times! He says, “who am I to do this, they won’t believe me, and I can’t speak well, and please send someone else.” You can argue with God, but I can tell you, you are going to lose. God has answers. God sends his brother Aaron with Moses who will be his spokesperson and help speak to the people on Moses’ behalf.
Miriam leads the people in praising God with her tambourine—the first time music is recorded in the Bible. God always surrounds us with people who have gifts and skills that we do not, so that we can succeed together in doing what God calls us to do.
Without everyone doing their part, sharing their gifts—from when he is a baby into his adult leadership—there is no Moses. The same is true for us—when everyone is sharing their gifts and doing their part, our families, our work place and St. Luke’s grows and succeeds—everyone’s gifts and service and talents are needed to make the whole work.
2. God is life and breath – When Moses asks what he should say when people ask, what is this God’s name who is sending him to free the Israelites from the Egyptians, God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”
God is life itself, God is breath, God is existence itself, infused in every bit of creation whether visibly aflame or not. This is not a name, so much as it is a fact of reality. Moses, you, and I—all of us—have been unconsciously breathing in and out the presence of God since the moment we were born.
A friend of mine just returned from Alaska and she told me that although not many people get to see it because of the weather and cloud cover, she got to see the top of Mount Denali. She said, it was a profound experience of “being right-sized”—then she described what she meant: “I am not piece of crap, I am not the most important person. I am part of this immense creation and a part in history—I felt right-sized.”
This is what God is doing with Moses before the burning bush—Moses feels like an inadequate piece of crap, and God is helping him to feel right-sized. God is actively giving you breath and life as a gift each new day. What is the burning bush, or the Denali reminder that helps you with right-sized humble gratitude for life, for God?
3. God can make a way where we can see no way – No doubt the Israelites thought Moses was a little off his rocker when they were heading straight for the Red or Reed Sea with the Egyptians on their tails. Sure, they had just witnessed 10 plagues, but what are frogs and locusts next to a mighty body of water with a whole nation to get across it with no boats and no bridge? But just like Jesus could calm a storm, God could whip one up that forced the waters aside. Moses held up his staff as God instructed, and a way was made across the sea on dry land.
Sometimes when we cannot see a way forward, God has a miracle waiting in the wings hoping we have the right-sized humility to ask for help. We have seen this at St. Luke’s with our capital campaign. It was suggested that we modify our half a million dollar goal, but the committee said, “no, this is our plan for our future mission!” and we not only met our goal, we exceeded it! A way was made where some couldn’t see a way! And we rejoice.
This month, a family here was on the verge of loosing their housing, but through some very generous donations by members to my pastor’s discretionary fund, this crisis was averted, they are getting help and financial coaching. A way was made where they couldn’t see a way! And we rejoice.
If God can do all this, and make a path through the sea, then God can help you through whatever obstacle you face.
4. Spending Time with God Shows – It is no accident that as soon as the Israelites were free, Moses went up on the Mountain to talk with God and came down with the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments outline our relationship with God, so I can quote my dad here—always give thanks to the Lord your God and make this relationship the primary one of your life. The next seven commandments define our relationship with others.
Living faithfully with these kinds of rules and responsibilities happens more easily when we love the Lord our God first and foremost. Moses did not just receive the Ten Commandments, he embodied them, loving God first and foremost. The people could see the difference in Moses when he spent time with God— the light of God’s presence shined through his face. We mean it literally in our baptismal service when we say, “let your light so shine before others that may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.” We do not have to try to shine God’s love, it happens naturally when we spend time with God in conversation and prayer. Moses demonstrates that when we spend time with God, God shows for others.
5. Trust is a daily habit – Life was not always easy in the desert, and God did provide for the Israelites. But the people complained to Moses anyway and thought life was better back in bondage in Egypt. There will always be people who are not willing to sacrifice to participate in the new thing that God is doing—even if it means freedom, new life, and new opportunity. This is another reason why the first 3 Commandments are about our relationship with God—because trusting God is a daily practice.
When God provided quail at night and manna in the morning to eat —they could only collect enough for one day unless it was for the Sabbath. If the Israelites hoarded it and tried to save some for the next day, it stunk and got worms. They had to trust that God would provide more manna the next morning, and more quail the next evening. Thus, Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day, our daily bread.” Trusting God for what we need is something we practice every day, that God can and will provide us for our daily needs—not just physical needs—but spiritual, emotional, or relational needs. Ask God for what you need and watch for the ways God provides for you.
6. Entrust the future to God and a new generation – Moses was so reluctant when God first called him—but look what God did through him over 40 years of leadership! Like my dad says, Moses never gave up on God, and God never gave up on him. Moses persevered into the greatest leader that formed the nation of Israel and brought them to the edge of the Promised Land. But then it was time to let go. Moses could see the Promised land, but he could not enter it.
It was time to pass the baton to the next generation—to Joshua and Caleb to lead them into the phase of their life.
In his speech, Moses’ tells them to trust that God will go before them, to not be afraid, to be strong and courageous because God will not abandon or forsake them, just like God stayed with them through the previous 40 years.
This speech of Moses always reminds of my mom when she died—she knew that her first great grandchild was on the way, but she did not live to see her born. She knew my oldest, Daniel was about to graduate high school, but she did not live to witness that either. As a great Mom and Nana, she entrusted the future to the next generation. I never would have guessed then, that Daniel would be working for me now.
I wonder how much my mom—angel wings and all—might have to do with getting me to learn from Daniel, the next generation right now! But I try to do it weekly as my spiritual growth challenge because this is urgently needed for us to grow as the church today. I learn from Daniel on how to use the website, social media, and the new digital sign in ways that appeal to younger generations. And there’s so much more I learn all the time.
And what about you? Where is God calling you to grow spiritually this week? And if there is a place where you feel stuck, have questions, or want to grow more, I hope you will call or text me or one of your spiritual friends in the pew next to you. Because that brings us back to lesson #1—God does not call us alone, but surrounds us with each other, to learn and grow together, and that’s what makes us a community where spirits come alive!
For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Joseph in Egypt recorded in Genesis 41, 42, & 45. Preached on July 9, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
If anyone has a reason to believe that life is unjust and God seems completely absent, it is Joseph in the book of Genesis. Sure, he is his father, Jacob’s favorite of his 12 sons—the first son of his beloved wife, Rachel, but what did that get him? A technicolor rainbow coat, the which I like to call the first LGBTQ-friendly garment of the Bible—but that didn’t last long.
• Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery; with family like that, who needs enemies?
• He ends up with a good gig in Egypt, but Joseph is betrayed again by his boss, Potiphar’s wife. She tries to seduce Jospeh, and when he refuses, she falsely accuses him of advances toward her. Joseph ends up in jail
• While in jail, Joseph accurately interprets the dreams of two servants from Pharoah’s household, but the one who gets out of jail, forgets all about him.
• Imagine, having done nothing wrong—and in fact—having done a lot of things right—and still suffering unjustly
Life is harsh for Joseph—full of human betrayal and failings, causing him a great deal of misery and suffering. Life can feel that way sometimes—stacked against you through no fault of your own –one bad thing after another just piles up and you go from illness, to mishap, to a car breaking down, to grief over a loved one passing, and you feel like you are living in a smash up of disaster without a break. Worse, you wonder where God is, and why God feels so absent.
I imagine Joseph felt that way. No doubt he had his moments when he wondered when God was going to show up and help change his situation.
God does show up for Joseph, but it’s different for Joseph than for Abraham or Jacob or Moses—Abraham receives instructions directly, including angel visitors; Jacob wrestles God; Moses has direct conversations with God; but not Joseph.
Joseph experiences God differently. Maybe Joseph’s story takes up so many chapters in Genesis, (12 to be exact!) because he is more like the rest of us to whom God may not speak directly or visit with angels. The Joseph story tells us over and over again that God is there in all of Joseph’s circumstances—in the suffering and in the good times.
For Joseph God is a constant presence, working things out in the background according to God’s divine timing. God also uses Joseph’s gifts and skills to improve his situation and to be a blessing to others. God is not necessarily experienced as a feeling or a direction—but the constant presence that provides hope and strength that runs through everything. Let’s hear this in a little more detail:
When Jacob was brought to Egypt and he was sold to Potiphar and Genesis, Chapter 39 says, The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master’s household. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made everything he did successful.
We hear God’s constant presence with Joseph, using his skills as a manager to make him successful.
While Joseph was in jail, God was with him: The end of Chapter 39 says 21 the LORD was with Joseph and remained loyal to him. He caused the jail’s commander to think highly of Joseph. The jail’s commander put all of the prisoners in the jail under Joseph’s supervision, and he was the one who determined everything that happened there.
Even in prison, we hear of God’s constant presence with Joseph, and working through his skills as a manager to improve his situation in the jail, and make things better for everyone.
Also while in jail, Joseph trusts in God’s presence with him when 2 prisoners have dreams. He says in chapter 40, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Describe your dreams to me.” He successfully interprets the dreams for the Pharoah’s cupbearer and chief baker making clear that God is present in his suffering.
Never does Joseph have an angel visitation, a direct conversation, a still small voice, a quiet moment away from the demands of jail management, a light of revelation—nothing supernatural. Just over and over—God is with him, God is with him, God is with him.
Yet, God’s presence cannot be separated from God’s agency or actions—God’s presence in Joseph’s life does move toward particular ends—not just to bring Joseph to a better place, but to use him to be a blessing to others.
Joseph blesses others repeatedly—in Potiphar’s home, for the jailer and the prisoners, with those who have strange dreams. God’s presence is like the hard drive of his life, always running in the background—offering strength and hope and presence, and securing he has what he needs in the future. It takes two more years of suffering in jail—since the cupbearer forgot about him—which is not Joseph’s preferred timing, but it did give him two more years of hard-core managerial experience!
When Joseph finally does receive an audience with the Pharoah as the one gifted with dream interpretation, he is now prepared for the bigger work God has called him to do. He is ready to save not only Egypt, but neighboring nations from famine, including his own brothers and father. What started out as a story of jealousy and evil, God ends as a story of blessing and salvation.
What humans intend for evil, God uses for good. [For those of you who did not know how the Israelites ended up in Egypt—this is how—Jacob and all of his sons and their families move there with all of their herds to survive the famine.]
Rabbi Zalman Stein who lived across the street from us in St. Louis was once asked the question why in Exodus did God say to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—why waste all that precious parchment and not just say, “I am the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” Rabbi Zalman responded, “because God develops an individual relationship with each one of them and therefore with each one of us.”
God has a different relationship with Joseph than he had with his ancestors and those who followed him. And God has a different relationship with you and me. Maybe it is similar to Joseph’s relationship, where God is not always a feeling or direct conversation—but a constant presence—like the hard drive of your life—always running in the background, offering strength and hope to keep you moving in divine order, through times of suffering and through times joy, and securing your eternal future.
How do we live in a harsh world? Joseph encourages us to pay attention to our individual experience of God’s presence in our life. How does God communicate strength, hope or love in your individual relationship with God? It may be through others, through nature, through prayer, through a deep conviction like Joseph.
Second, Joseph’s technicolor faith shows us that we are blessed to be a blessing—in both hardship and in happiness. With our new members today, we have a whole new set of gifts and talents and blessings joining our mission. Be open to their gift and new ideas, as they are open to yours.
I also invite you to choose one way to be a blessing to others this week with skills and gifts God has give you. Maybe you already have it scheduled. Maybe you can join us at the free breakfast this Saturday. Maybe you can join our member visitation team—we have 3 in rehab and several who receive home Communion. Maybe you can ask God for a new way to serve. Maybe you are recovering, and God has a new way for you to show gratitude and bless those who are supporting you. Maybe all you can do right now is hang on to the presence and strength of God and that’s okay.
Remember that in Joseph’s technicolor faith, what starts out as hardship and pain, God turns into life-saving good. Ask God for the eyes of Joseph to see what good the Lord is bringing out of your current situation as God uses YOU as a blessing in a life-giving that’s unfolding even now.
For four weeks, I am preaching on Old Testament Bible stories. This week is the story of Noah recorded in Genesis 6-9. Preached on July 2, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt, because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth. Genesis 6:11-12
People wonder how the bible is relevant for today. Yeah, I do not see how these verses relate to our time at all. Violence, corruption and evil. For millennia people have been trying to figure out the problem of evil, the scourge of corruption, and the pain of violence. What is God’s relationship to all this and to us? Does it work to wipe the slate clean and start over? How do we live faithfully in such a harsh world?
It turns out a flood story with an ark saving the animals is actually about 4,000 years old—the first story like this appeared in ancient Sumeria (now modern-day Iraq) about 2100 BCE. It was written cuneiform—the oldest known writing on stone tablets—even before Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Abraham, the father of our faith, who came from Ur in that general region must have been familiar with these flood myths and over the centuries, this story was adopted and adapted to fit the monotheistic Israelite God who revealed himself to Abraham and Sarah. The Noah’s Ark story, as we read it, came to life in about 1,000 BCE.
So yes, one thing you may not have learned in Sunday School is that the story of Noah’s Ark is a myth or a parable. This is how Lutherans study the Bible because we take the Bible far too seriously to take everything literally—the bible is a library—some history, some parable, hymns, poetry, letters and so on. Calling the Noah story a myth or a parable does NOT mean it’s untrue—it has a lot of human Truth in it, which is the very reason myths and parables are told. We just do not look to them for scientific or historical fact.
Jesus, who was historical, told lots of parables and we never wonder, who was the woman with 10 silver coins historically, and can we do an archeological dig of her house? Rather, we listen for the human truth about ourselves, our relationship to God, and how God calls us to live. This is how we listen to the Noah story—for the human truth about ourselves, our relationship with God, and how God calls us to live faithfully.
Which is why this myth, this bible story starts out by telling us the Truth—the truth which has been the same as it was in 4,000 BCE, 1,000 BCE, the day Jesus was crucified, and the same as it is today, July 2, 2023:
…the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. (Anyone read the headlines today?)
Earlier in chapter 6 it says that The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth, regretted making humankind, and God was heartbroken.
We often think of the Noah story being about an angry, vengeful, God. Our image of the Old Testament God is one who comes in to punish with might, fire and brimstone, with a violence that surpasses humanity’s.
But Noah tells a different story. The early Israelites experienced from the very beginning, a God of relationship. The story of Noah begins with God suffering from a broken heart. A God who created something good and wonderful and experienced rejection of his love and goodness and relationship over and over and over again. Humans kept choosing rebellion and selfishness and greed and harm.
So, the Noah story begins with a sad God. A weeping God. Perhaps the creator of the universe, weeping from a broken heart, cries for 40 days and 40 nights—enough sadness to cover the whole earth. This opening of a heartbroken God, gives us the first clue that this myth is less about human evil and more about the character of God, less about the harshness of the world, and more about living in relationship with a broken-hearted God. So, what do we do then, with the destruction of all living things except those that are on the ark—Noah and his family and the animals saved two by two?
Here we need a little help from the original Hebrew text. Before the flood comes, human beings bring “corruption,” then the flood brings “destruction”—and both of these words, “corruption” and “destruction” come from the same root word in Hebrew.
This is true in other places in the Old Testament—in Jeremiah and Jonah for example, the same word is used both for the “evil” and for “punishment.”
The point is, that the punishment is the natural result of the crime. The teller of the story is trying to say that humans are punished not so much FOR our sins as BY our sins. God does not need to visit punishment for evil—it happens as the result of evil anyway.
In parenting, we call this “natural consequences.” In criminology we like to say, “don’t to the crime if you can’t do to the time.” Don’t make the choice if you are unwilling to live with the results. In folk wisdom we say, “what goes around comes around,” or “if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
Those with ears to hear let them hear our own Noah story happening today—melting glaciers, rising coastlines, warming temperatures, increased wildfires, more severe storms. These weather events are not God’s punishment, they are the natural consequence of our own collective behavior and uninhibited consumption, as God grieves.
We wonder why God allows evil in the world, and the God who made all creation good and continues to make love, good choices and a relationship with him available to us, might look at us and ask the same thing. Why do you allow violence and environmental destruction in the world? You keep making the same choices and expecting different results and blame me for the presence of evil and destruction?
In the Noah story, God discovers the answer after the flood: All human beings are fallible and fallen. In chapter 8:21 – God says, the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth.
People will continue to bring corruption to the earth—the Israelites will make a golden calf, they will worship baal and other gods, they will turn away from the promises of God over and over and over again. Even the threat of war, and ecological destruction has not moved us to change our ways. But God is moved to change. It is God who changes in this story, not human beings. The story of Noah is about God’s character, not ours—ours has not changed in 4 millennia since the flood story first appeared.
God says, I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. Genesis 9:12 …This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth.
God promises steadfast love, and relationship with us, no matter what. God will be faithful, not because of anything that human beings do, but because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).
Isaiah 54:9-10: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
God returns to us in faithful love over and over and over again.
God still takes evil seriously by calling individuals into faithful relationship and to be blessing to others and a light to the nations. None of them perfect—like Noah in this story—who gets drunk when the whole ordeal is over. But this underscores the point of the whole story and in fact the whole Bible going forward—the God of Israel is a God of relationship—not perfection.
Noah was found to be faithful because he had a relationship with God. How do we remain faithful in harsh world? Noah shows us three things in his relationship with God: I invite you to pick one of these three things to work on this week:
1. Talking and listening to God—this means everything. Noah must have brought his anger, resentments and judgments to God, because they did no get lived out in harm to others. He was not living in violence like those around him.
2. By worshiping God. This is the first Noah does when he leaves the ark. You are here today and that’s wonderful—how might you worship God throughout the week in prayer or praise?
3. By being a care-taker of creation, which the Noah story models for us. There are so may ways to reduce our carbon footprint and take action for our climate in urging global cooperation, government action, and coorporate policy.
No matter how we fail, God will call us back into relationship. Over and over and over again.
Because the God whose heart breaks for a relationship with us finally enters into the waters himself — into the waters of a Mary’s womb; into the waters of the Jordan, and God floods the world with healing and love and power in Jesus. Ultimately, Jesus enters the watery depths of death to show once and for all that God is more powerful than any violence or evil humanity can muster—revealing that a relationship with us is secure for eternity.
Jesus comes to redeem us, over and over and over again every Sunday at this table. So come to the table and be nourished in your relationship with God for your faithful service in a world in need. We can’t do it without God, and God won’t do it without us.