Restoration and Remembrance
Throughout the Bible, from the very first word to the very last word there is one, incredible theme which is stated, alluded to, illustrated or pointing towards…and that is God’s redemption of all creation and all people through the grace of Jesus Christ. And there are points throughout the Bible where the poignancy of this redemption story is more obvious or concentrated, think of a heart rate monitor with it’s peaks and valleys showing the life of a person and there are times when the heart rate spikes — the long arch of the biblical narrative does the same telling us of all God has done.
In the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible God established a pattern of initiating covenants — Divine promises to God’s people. Each covenant is a little different, and each shows us important and transformational sides of the God of all life. Hopefully, a lot of the names you will hear as we look at five covenant in the Old Testament will be familiar, back in Sunday School (way back, for some of you) you hear of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, King David — but how much have you heard since? We are going to take five weeks to look at the covenants God’s establishes with these people and see how God’s promises and actions continue to be moving and influential powers in our lives today.
READ Genesis 8:1-9:19
This covenant is born at the end of a world annihilating flood, a dark reality for us to ponder. Have you decorated a baby nursery with those cute images of the animals floating in the ark, two by two, Noah and his family waving out — this is the image we like to conjure when remembering the old Noah story. If we were to focus on the rest of the story, we would have to wrap our minds around the action of God that destroyed most of humanity, that Divine impulse which attempted to drown out evil and injustice in our world.
This horror and destruction are what bring us to Genesis chapter 8 and we find God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, reflective. I kept picturing our God sitting down with head in hands trying to make sense of all that had just happened. In this reflection, or maybe even regret, God turns to Noah with a promise.
Never again will God use annihilation to solve a problem, never again will the creation be destroyed at God’s hands. God will remember Noah and all the animals. This remembering that God says over and over God will do, is not because God is feeling a little absent minded, rather God is turning with compassion towards Noah and all of the creation, just like the “do this in remembrance of me” that beckons us to the communion table. Remembering is a loving turn towards another.
This covenant between God, Noah and all of the creation is a promise. There is no obligation on the human’s shoulders, nothing is being asked, all is being offered. God is beginning the promise, God is keeping the promise, God is remembering the people and God is remembering all the creatures and the earth, too. We cannot fully engage in our identity as people of this covenant without fully acknowledging the covenant is made with creation, too. Scan over the words in front of you in chapter nine, God speaks as much about all the creature as about the human family. God is not only interested in remembering us, the fallen rebellious humanity, God is also moving toward the created world and keeping us in relationship with it.
And in this covenant, God is not expecting perfection, which was possibly the expectation before the flood. No, God has been transformed through the flood and the healing and now God commits to the future of less than perfect world. God will move forward with a wild and free creation and a wild and free humanity, God will remember us.
During this past year of being a cross-metro commuter, I became a podcast fanatic. One podcast that grabbed my attention was called “Invisibilia” a podcast that considers invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. One of their episodes is called “Flip the Script” and it looks at the power of “non-complementary behavior”. The idea is that typically speaking if you are kind to someone, they are most likely to be kind in return. If you are angry with someone, you will most likely get an angry response, this is “complementary behavior”. “Non-complementary behavior” is the unexpected response of meeting kindness with hostility or meeting anger with calm, imagine Martin Luther King or Ghandi.
This podcast went on to tell the story of a small, affluent town in Denmark which was known for it’s very low crime rates, no homeless population and bored police officers. Then one night a few of the young men in the community went missing, and this happened over and over and with every missing young man came panicked and desperate parents. The entire community turned to two of the underworked police officers in the community and demanded that they find the boys and bring them home.
After investigating these police officers discovered that the young men of the Denmark community where being targeted through social media by terrorist groups, being fed anti-establishment propaganda and offered promises of a meaningful, important life if only they join the holy war being waged by dozens of radical groups in Syria. The parents were devastated and afraid, their only hope was that the leaders of the Denmark community would someone stop the recruiting and maybe even bring their sons back.
These two police officers had no idea how to combat terrorism. Build large prisons? Close borders? Monitor internet usage throughout the town? They were out of their depth and chose a different approach than every other European country facing the same problem. How would they address the racism and fear that made these young men so vulnerable and impressionable?
The police station was converted into a war room. Except this war room had nice tables and chairs, a coffee maker and welcoming decor. They feared that aggression would begat aggression and they needed to break the cycle. They would begin by calling young men rumored to be in touch with radical groups and invite them over for a cup of coffee. The “war room” would be a hub of welcome, support and gather up people from the community that would help with counseling, employment, and rejoining their community. Through help and kindness anger and fear would be diffused, and the community would be a place where even the rebellious could come home and everyone could move forward, together.
The police officers responded to the desperation of the parents, the wrongdoings of impressionable young people, the spread of radical terrorist cells with a bold, welcome back effort. The narrator of the podcast said, “They made a choice to embrace people into their fold who may have done really bad things, this was a bold move. But that’s the bet they were making to get out of this complementarian trap where hostility just leads to more hostility. They wanted to write a different script for their future.”
There is such healing power in turning from violence, turning from score keeping and who is right and wrong and welcoming another with warmth, compassion, and maybe a cup of coffee. Sociologists may label this non-complementary behavior, but we, the body of Christ on earth know it as grace. The undeserved, unwarranted love of God lavished upon us.
The same God who holds the power of destruction turned towards us, laid down his bow and cast it up to the heavens. And every time that rainbow arches over the earth not only do we remember God’s turn towards us, but God too remembers us, responds to our brokenness and rebellion with grace and mercy so the cycle of violence, destruction and sin would be broken.
In this covenant the whole earth is remembered, the whole earth is restored.
May we now live as people of this covenant gift. Amen!