Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation
Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
Foolish Love: But God Remembered
Rev. Kathy Donley
Scripture Lesson:Genesis 9:8-17
The story of the flood begins with a God who seems angry. Genesis 6 doesn’t say that. It says that God’s heart was grieved, that God is bitterly disappointed with the way the world has turned out. We read God telling Noah “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” Genesis 6:13. And then in chapter 7:
And the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; And all flesh died that moved on the earth, God blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth.
The Bible doesn’t specifically say that God was angry, and it is not fashionable to preach about an angry God in our circles, but I sure read this that way. But maybe it is not God who is angry. Maybe it is me. Definitely me.
I am angry that 17 people were murdered in a school in what was supposedly one of the safest places in Florida. I listen to the words of heartbroken parents and incredibly brave students and teachers who take it as part of their job description to give their lives for their students when necessary. And I am moved to tears, but I come away angry. I remember that we have seen this before in Los Vegas and before that in Orlando and before that at Mother Emmanuel and before that at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and Nickel Mines and Columbine. I am so angry that we do not recognize who we have become -- people who love our guns more than our children. I am so angry that we have not managed to stand up to those who profit from this misery and say this is unacceptable and it has to stop.
Maybe you have been angry this week too. So maybe we can relate to a God who is so fed up with the violence and corruption on the earth that God wants a re-start, a clean slate, a do-over on creation.
After 40 days of rain and 150 days of flooding, God decided it was enough. God remembered Noah and all the animals in the ark. God remembered that the reason God was angry (if angry is the right word), is because God loves the creation. God was angry because God intended a place of deep shalom with an incredible richness of habitats that were beautiful and harsh and fertile and wet and dry and changed with the seasons and the time of day. God created a diversity of plants that were colorful and pleasing to look at and good for food and shade and medicines and clothing. God created humans and other animals that were beautiful and fast and cuddly and intelligent and magnificent and ferocious. God remembered creating all of that and saying that it was good, even very good. God is angry, because the violence and corruption of humans has jeopardized and harmed and spoiled that goodness. If you looked at the pictures of 14 teenagers and 3 adults who were living into their potential in all kinds of wonderful ways until Wednesday, maybe you can understand where God might be coming from.
There was violence and corruption at a level so distressing that God said “I’m going to wipe them out.” But then God remembered, “I love them.” And so, God remembered Noah and the people and the animals on the ark and did not entirely blot out every living thing on the planet.
So, the waters recede, slowly, much too slowly for the ark’s occupants I’m sure. When Noah finally staggers off the ark, God makes a proclamation, a covenant. It is not a covenant with one human being or one tribe of human beings, but with all generations of humans and with all of creation. God promises never to destroy the earth again. In the 10 verses of our reading, the words “every living creature” or “all flesh” occur 5 times. God is no longer just the Creator. God is now also the Protector. God promises now to uphold the world, to keep it safe, to make it function. Genesis 8:22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
The sign of this covenant is the rainbow. The Hebrew word for rainbow usually means “bow of war” It refers to a weapon. God’s weapon is hung in the clouds, not drawn against the earth. It is a reminder, first of all to God, that God is not going to make war against the earth ever again. This is not a one-time act of mercy. God surrenders Divine power forever.
God knows that people tend towards violence and corruption and they are not going to easily change. For every act of violence, God will remember one before that and before that and before that, because God sees the long view of eternity. Knowing that, God puts the rainbow where God can see it and remember “Oh yeah, I love them.”
One of the Hebrew words for God’s love is hesed. It is translated steadfast love or loving-kindness. When it appears in Scripture, it is always about God. “It comes from the Hebrew word for womb. It like a parent’s unconditional, unrelenting, indestructible, fierce love for a child. It is a love that will never give up.” A love we might call foolish.
At the time of creation, God gave humans every green plant and every tree with fruit for food. But after the flood, God tells Noah “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” Up to the point, humans were supposed to be vegetarians, but now God relents and allows them to kill animals for food. “This is not the world as God intended it to be, but rather the world as God continues to work with the reality of human violence and sin.” 
Walter Brueggeman, says it this way, “It is clear now that such a commitment to the creation on God’s part is costly. The God-world relation is not simply that of strong God and needy world. Now it is a tortured relation between a grieved God and a resistant world.” 
The next time you hear someone say that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, remember this text. Remember that hesed is used to describe God 180 times. This God is inherently self-giving. This God who sacrifices divine freedom and control in the days of Noah is the same God who is found in Jesus, about whom the apostle Paul wrote, “he was in the form of God, but did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”
This first covenant is one that God makes with every living thing, with all creation. What about that later covenant? The one Jesus described as the “new covenant that is in my blood.” Colossians 1:20 says that through Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven. All things. Not just human things. All things on earth or in heaven. Jesus’ mission was to redeem the world, the whole creation. I suggest that the covenant which we Christians understand best through the cross is also a covenant with all of creation.
God’s foolish love goes on and on. Despite human violence which wreaks havoc on God’s beautiful world. Despite mountains being dynamited to get what is deep underground. Despite dying coral reefs and starving polar bears. Despite over-consumption and exploitation, despite those with wealth and power who don’t care if the poor and meek drink toxic water and breathe polluted air. Despite the endless wars which destroy everything in their path and leave behind landmines and famine and disease and enmity for generations. Surely God must want to start over, but the rainbow appears and God remembers “Oh yeah, I love them.”
So here is the question I want you to leave with. It is the question that I ask myself. If we claim to love God, should we not also love what God loves? If we claim to follow Jesus, who gave his life for the creation, can we learn the kind of discipleship that lives within limits and resists contaminating the cosmos with our greed and selfishness and apathy?
Millions of tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, threatening the marine life, which God loves. If we love what God loves, what might we do? We might take on a Lenten fast from plastic, particularly one-time use plastic, which is what the Church of England has encouraged.
Loving what God loves might mean reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and advocating for clean water in Flint and cleaner air for our neighbors in the South End. If we love God, shouldn’t we also love what God loves?
Loving what God loves led a woman named Dorothy Stang from Dayton, Ohio to the Amazon where she advocated for the poor and for the rainforest. Sister Dorothy protested illegal logging which destroyed the rainforest and also deprived peasants of their land. She knew she was risking her life. She was murdered by two hired gunmen as she read the Beatitudes to them. It was an act of violence and corruption. God remembered one before that and one before that and one before that. The Pastoral Land Commission has documented 118 deaths of environmental activists in the state where Stang was murdered, in the two decades since her death. And yet three women from her order continue to live in the simple wooden house where she lived, and they continue to love what God loves in the Amazon. What foolish love is this?
God has shared power with us. Jesus invites us to participate in and continue his mission. Perhaps the world will not get the re-start it needs until we exhibit the same passion that God had. The promise in Genesis 8 says that as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest shall not cease. Perhaps what is left in human hands is that first part . . . . “as long as the earth endures”. Unless we love the creation as fiercely as God does and we do it right now, the earth may not endure. It may be destroyed, this time by human hands.
If we claim to love God, shouldn’t we also love what God loves? God has made covenant with every living thing. For the love of the cosmos, Jesus lay down his life. What foolish love is this, oh my soul.
 David Lose in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 Lent Through Eastertide, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008) p. 29.
 This definition is from the Rev. John Buchanan, in his sermon How About Love?
 William Willimon “Being Born Anew” in Pulpit Resource, Vol 31, No1. Year B, January-March 2006, p. 42
 Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), p. 81.