Unconditional and Overarching Grace

Feb 18, 2024

First Sunday in Lent
Text: Genesis 9:8-17
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
“The first thing Noah did was to thank God for rescuing them, just as God had promised.
And the first thing God did was make another promise. “I won’t destroy the world again.
And like a warrior who puts away his bow and arrow and the end of a great battle, God said, ‘See, I have hung up my bow in the clouds.’
And there in the clouds – just where storm meets the sun – was a beautiful bow made of light.
It was a new beginning in God’s world.” (1)
     Those lovely words are from a children’s Bible created by Sally Lloyd Jones.
     That new beginning to which she refers was cemented in a covenant, that is a promise made by God with all of humanity and all living things. But, before we go there, let’s remind ourselves why that covenant was needed.
     In the first beginning, God had high hopes for humanity, but their destructive exercising of free will dashed those hopes and caused God grief and dismay. By only the 6th chapter of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God was sorry for making humanity. Quoting verse 5-6, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry to have made humankind on the earth and it grieved God to the heart.”
     How awful is that … people are wicked through and through and manifest evil in all they do. It is at this point that the reader is introduced to Noah and the ark, a much-loved story about one family and two of each animal being saved. It’s taught in every Sunday School, and yet it is a violent story too as God blots everything else out from the face of the earth. Although…it becomes apparent soon enough that as long as there are people and choice, sin will prevail.
     Perhaps that why, when it’s all over, God decides never do such a thing again. Quoting from a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Alison L Boden, “The hope was to eradicate violence from humanity; now God decides to stop being violent as well. God resolves never, ever to destroy again. And to help God abide by that promise, the Almighty hangs a bow in the sky as a note-to-self. No matter how wicked humanity may become again, Go will resist the temptation to destroy – to give in to grief, anger and dismay. God is changed, irrevocably changed, by the experience of obliterating all but a handful of living things.” (2)
     Let me pause here for a moment knowing that you might be thinking that God promised not to destroy the world through a flood, but couldn’t God destroy the world through some other means? Well…theoretically that’s true…except that the message of this story is that God is changed and regrets the all-encompassing destruction, so another, negative, change of heart does not fit the character of God.
     Knowing that humanity would not change, God made a covenant, a promise to never again wipe out every living thing. It is an unconditional covenant, initiated by God, and not dependent on human acknowledgement. There’s no “I’ll do this, if you’ll do that.” God graciously continues to make and keep promises to people even when they do not keep their promises, and God refuses to destroy humanity even when they consistently destroy each other and scar God’s creation.  And, it’s a universal covenant, made with the whole human race and every form of life. As for the rainbow, God does not hang it in the sky to remind us of God’s promise to protect us. The text is clear, God hangs the rainbow in the sky to remind God’s self of the promise not to give up on people. (3) (May God always keep an eye on that rainbow.)
     What we have here is a story about grace, an account in which grace has the final word. It’s where we begin on this First Sunday in Lent, and continue to journey each week as the Old Testament readings introduce us, in varied ways, to God’s covenant of grace. The rainbow is a sign of that covenant, that promise, extended to all people and creatures.
      That’s why it’s appropriate that it is a symbol for the LBGTQ+ community because, having been told for decades they are not included as God’s beloved, the message is and always has been that they are – we all are.
     So, although the rainbow is a reminder for God of God’s promise, it also shows up to convey grace in our world in a variety of ways. Commentator Scott Hoezee quotes an article he read, written by Princeton Seminary professor Daniel Migliore. He and his wife Margaret did a lot of work with inner-city kids in Trenton, NJ. One day in re-telling the Noah story to some of the children, Dr. Migliore asked, “Where do you see rainbows?” “In the street”, several replied. Thinking they had misunderstood the question he asked again, “No, where do you see rainbows?” Once again, several children replied, “In the street.”
     Upon further checking, he discovered that about the only place those kids, consigned to asphalt jungles and high-rise tenements, had seen a rainbow was in street puddles that had become slick with oil from a car with a leaky engine. Their rainbows were the greasy and grimy ones in the burned-out streets and alleys of their urban world. (3)
     Think about it, though … it was there that those children most needed to see a sign of God’s promise to never abandon them.
     So it is that we begin this Lent with this message: God’s covenant of grace is unconditional, unending and overarching. AMEN
  1. “Commentary on Genesis 9:8-17” by Meg Jenista, Feb. 18, 2024, www.cepreaching.org
  2. “Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15” by the Rev. Dr. Alison L. Boden, Princeton University Chapel, March 1, 2009
  3. “Commentary on Genesis 9:8-17” by Doug Bratt, Feb. 18, 2018, www.cepreaching.org
  4. “Commentary on Genesis 9:8-17” by Scott Hoezee, Feb. 22, 2015, www.cepreaching.org