8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 1 7God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
GOSPEL MARK 1:9-15
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
The comedian Bill Cosby used to do a routine on Noah. It started with Noah in the workshop, and he hears the voice of God, who tells him to build an ark. Noah says, Riiiight. What’s an Ark?
An ark is 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits.
Riiiiight. What’s a cubit?
Noah asks God WHY he needs to build an ark, and God says, Noah, how long can you tread water?
Well, Noah finally gets going on the ark, and one of his neighbors asks, What are you building?
It’s an Ark, Noah says. An ark? Would you mind getting it out of my driveway? Why are you building an ark?
And Noah says, “How long can you tread water?”
Later Noah is all upset at God for making him build the ark, and get all the animal, male and female—two mosquitoes…male or female? “And you didn’t tell me the elephant was pregnant. I was just standing under it, and Whomp!”
And God says, as it begin to thunder, “Noah, how long can you tread water?”
We all know what happens next, It rains and rains, forty days and forty nights and earth is flooded and only Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and the animals on the ark survive. The rest of the earth is destroyed.
But God makes a promise, which is what this morning’s Old Testament passage is about. “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Now this is the Noahic Covenant. It is the first promise that God makes with Humanity. If you remember the real story, God was so displeased with humanity that he decided to wipe it out, most of it, and start afresh with Noah and his family. The world is such a mess that God decides it needs to be rebooted.
But after the flood God seems to have a change of mind, and promised Noah, and the rest of humanity, that will never happen again. Never again will the almighty destroy the earth.
It is an unconditional promise that God makes to all humanity. Later promises, or covenants, will be made to the people of God, but this promise is made to all people.
Now as we hear that, perhaps there is something in your head that says, “Riiiight. But wait a minute. There are still floods going on today. How can you say that God kept his word?”
Now this is an ancient story, and the people who told it saw God very differently from the way we see God. We tend not to think of God as a being we have to be constantly afraid of, a being who could just get sick of us all, and wipe us all out. 3500 years ago that was not the case. They believed in and worshiped a God who was very powerful and very scary. All gods were very scary back then. The god Moloch demanded that you sacrifice your first born son to him. If you displeased the gods, your crops could fail, your family get sick and die, or enemy warriors might come crashing over the gates of your city.
But in this early story, we see a different sort of God. The Hebrew God could get angry at humanity, and heaven knows, it’s not like we don’t give God plenty to be angry about—even today! But this god promises that, no matter how angry he can get, no matter how bad we are, no matter how much we might deserve it, this god will not wipe us all out.
This is not to say that we will never experience rainstorms in our lives, and this does not mean that the waters will NEVER rise. Going back to the Bill Cosby routine, there may still be times when we will have to tread water.
I had a friend who was fired from job in October, 2008. He made a pretty bad error at work, and his company fired him. If you remember that time, the economy was starting to sink. The waters were definitely rising, and they were rising around my friend. He told me, “Every morning I wake up and hear the latest unemployment figures. I picked the worst time in the world to get fired. Every morning he could feel the water getting higher and higher. Every job application he filled out which went unanswered made the waters rise.
“People never bothered to respond to the fact that I had applied,” he said. “If there was a job opening, they got so many applications, you felt like they all went into a black hole.”
He could definitely feel the waters rising. “But I never lost hope,” he said. “I knew something would eventually come up.” And it did. Yes, the flood waters were rising around him, but he knew they would not destroy him.
That is how I believe we can take this promise today.
The waters do rise. People get fired, or laid off. People get sick, some with terminal illnesses. People can have terrible things happen to them, such that it feels like the floodgate of adversity is sweeping over them. But not matter what happens, we know that we will never be destroyed.
IN the words of Paul, from the book of Second Corinthians, 4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
Yes the waters may rise, but they will never totally destroy us. Floods may come, but they will never wash us away. Life can get tragic, but the events that come our way will never sweep us away. We will survive.
Have you had the waters rise in your life? I know some of you have and I know some of you are feeling the waters around your waist even now. But we have this promise—the waters will not destroy us. They will change us, they will move us, they will even cause us to tread water for a while but they will not destroy us.
The waters may rise about us, but they will not overwhelm us. It may feel like it at times. When you are treading water, it seems the water may win, the flood may wipe you away, but you will survive. As long as you remember the promise and do not give in to despair. God has not promised a water free life, or even a flood free life, but we have been promised that the flood waters will not destroy us.
And when I say the waters may change us, they may change us permanently and for some the change is from this life to the next. But even in death we will not be destroyed.
The waters will take us to a new place, a new way of understanding ourselves and our lives—they will bring about a new reality for us, but they will not destroy us. They will transform us, but they will not overwhelm us.
They may even kill us, but they will overcome us. For we will overcome death, through Jesus Christ.
Our first lesson was about the floodwaters and the promise that arose from those waters. The second lesson is about another type of water—the water of baptism. It is not accident that they entry in the Christian life, baptism, is the same as the entry into the promise of Noah—the water.
One meaning of baptism is that that the waters wash us, but another meaning is that the waters wash us away—wash us away to a new life, a life with God. But we enter those waters with Jesus.
Jesus came out of the waters of baptism, and was moved to the wilderness for forty days. A couple of thousand years earlier the children of God crossed the waters of the Red Sea, and also ended up in the wilderness, for forty years. In both cases the waters brought them to a new place, and in both cases it took them a while to get used to that new place. But Jesus and the Children of Israel took refuge in the wilderness while the new life they were given was being formed around them. Being in the wilderness is much like having the flood waters rise about you.
It is not a comfortable place.
But know this; Jesus entered the water through the waters of baptism, and when we are waist deep, or even neck deep in the waters as they rise about us, we are with Jesus. We are not alone. He also is in the water with us.
My friend who was fired, told me this. He was afraid…very afraid. But Jesus stood with him. Well, other people stood with him, and for him that represented Jesus for him. He was not alone. And he did end up with a job, a better job than he has fired from.
The promise of God. Storms will come. We may get wet, the waters may rise. But we will NOT be destroyed.