Genesis 9:8-10: God says, “I, yes I, am establishing my covenant with you all and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, from birds to herds, every living thing on earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.” And, Mark 1:13: “Jesus, was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by the Satan; and he was with the wild animals; and the angels ministered to him.” This morning I invite you to consider a ‘Cosmic Covenant with Creation.’
Let us pray: In the name of the Author, the Word and the Translator. Amen.
From the day before days when all days began with a divine inhalation, exhalation and articulation, “Let there be,” to the moment the mountains were submerged beneath the hull of Noah’s ark, creation followed by corruption coincide with this cosmic covenant. The Divine Wordsmith spoke and life happened. All manner of life with all manner of feet and none, every kind of tooth, and none, and all sorts of coverings: feathers, fur, scales and skin. A peculiar earthling was pulled from the womb of earth. New, human souls had been breathed into hand-crafted, God-crafted earthen vessels. Then one became two and two became one. In between creation and corruption was Shabbat and its promise of peace from the work of the world.
Smaller cycles of creation and corruption spiraled through the ages. And Lamech, the murderer who invented polygamy fathered a son with one of his wives, either Adah or Zillah. And he called his son’s name Noah. I Enoch, from the scriptural collection of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, tells us Lamech knew Noah was a special child because he was born with a beautiful demdema, which is an old Ethiopic word for a halo of curly hair, in other words, an afro.
Noah’s famous story in today’s first lesson is a call for reflection on consumption and creation. This is our first Lenten reflection. We began this season with the reminder that we are dust; from dust we were crafted and to the dust we shall return. This week’s readings teach that the very dust, and we who were shaped from it, are precious in the sight of God. And we find that we dust-folk have dust-kin in all of the creatures of earth, and the earth herself. As the Jewish poet Marge Piercy (The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme, 2006) writes, “We stand in a a great web of being.”
Our first lesson is a lesson in ecology, a lesson in which in which humans are responsible for safeguarding all creation. Noah is our role model. Noah is righteous, at that time and for a while, although after his salvation narrative he would abuse God’s good gifts of time and wine and call for the oppression of some of his own offspring in a drunken, hung-over rage.
But today, Noah has saved the world. He has saved aardvarks, bats, cats, doves, eagles, fireflies, gophers, horses and an ibex, actually two. Four times the covenant partners of the Creator are identified as every living creature.” This cosmic covenant is with all of creation. God has covenanted with jaguars, kangaroos, lemmings, mice, newts, orangutans, pythons and quails. Five times the covenant partners are “all flesh.” God has made a covenant with every living thing on the ark including, rabbits, sheep, tigers, urchins, vermin, wombats, maybe even a xenopithicus – probably two, yaks and zebra.
The author of the Petrine Epistle, our second lesson, completely misses the boat – pardon the pun. He says that eight souls were preserved through water – No! Noah and his family saved the whole world. Our epistoleer completely discounted animal creation and the plant life that sustains human and animal creation as cosmic covenant partners with the Creator of the universe. The natural world that God also hand-crafted was irrelevant to him, and too many in our world today. The diversity of life aboard the ark is a lesson in and of itself. The world is more than human beings. We can’t survive without plants and animals. We can’t survive without bacteria. Yet under our watch, animals are hunted to extinction, driven from sustainable land as the land itself is used up, even plants driven to extinction.
Noah probably took care of things that he didn’t want to. I don’t imagine that it was easy for Noah and his family – or the animals, if fact I think it may have been downright awful. The Rabbis asked much like Bill Cosby, ‘God, who’s going to clean that up?’ And they answered Noah. Noah was the caretaker and steward of every living thing on the ark, which meant that he was the caretaker and steward of every living thing on earth – except of course for the sea creatures who were more or less on their own. The fate of the entire ecosystem rested in Noah’s hands.
Yet Noah wasn’t in this thing alone, he had help, his wife, their sons, their wives and God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life. The Creator of the cosmos made a covenant with all creation, saying: in verses 8-10, “I, yes I, am establishing my covenant with you all and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, from birds to herds, every living thing on earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.”
The cosmic sign of the covenant was given in verse 13: God says, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Here God is laying down a weapon of war – for it was believed that God used that bow to shoot arrows from heaven in the form of hail and lightning. The bow of the original rainbow warrior has become a Divine sticky note. The weapon of war has become an implement of preservation. God says ‘I will remember.’ And Noah says ‘I will remember.’
The story of Noah teaches us that when God wants to destroy the earth and all we who dwell therein, when God wants to wash away our sins and our capacity to sin forever, when God wants to wash her hands of us and there are tears in heaven falling to the earth, God sees the rainbow and remembers. Even when all we can see is clouds, God can see the rainbow, for her vision is far better than ours. God sees her former weapon and keeps her word. And we are saved from destruction again.
The Psalmist understood this when he cried out to his Creatrix: Remember me! In verse 6:
Be mindful of your mother-love, O Yah,
and of your faithful love,
for they have been from the time before time.
The Psalmist also understood that the feelings – rechamim, of God that flowed from the womb – rechem, of God was the tender love of a pregnant mother for a wanted, cherished child. The Psalm concludes with the Psalmist promising to wait for God to remember him, but not him alone. He begs God to ‘redeem Israel out of all of its troubles.’
The evangelist who shaped today’s Gospel knew that Yeshua L’Natzeret ben Miryam, Jesus, Mary’s boy-child from Nazareth, was the one for whom the Psalmist prayed, the one who would redeem Israel out of all of its troubles. And so we journey to the wilderness where the Son of Woman, the Son of God, the redeemer of Israel and the savior of the whole world, sojourns as the companion of creation. After his surrender to the waters of Baptism, Yeshua, Jesus, the one who is salvation, went to the desert and found an oasis. There was the full diversity of creation, humanity and divinity in his person, natural and supernatural in his companion caretakers – animals and angels.
Jesus’ desert sojourn prepared him for the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel is forged in the heart of the wilderness, a wilderness that is overflowing with life. All desert creatures know how to find water in the wilderness. And they know how to live together in harmony. When all creation is in harmony – humankind, animal-kind, angel-kind – the reign and realm of God is at hand. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Repent, in this Lenten season and believe in this Good News.
But are we at harmony with creation? God does not expect us to round up critters in a pilot for a new reality show, “Hoarders: The Noah’s Ark Edition.” Nor does God expect us to bring heaven and earth together in harmony like Jesus in the wilderness. But we do have a role to play in caring for creation. This earth is our home and God’s good gift to us. Yet it seems we prefer consumption to conservation. Many like the author of the Petrine epistle seem to have discounted God’s non-human creation. Some don’t think about animals as more than food, or occasionally pets. We have forgotten that our survival on this planet depends on their survival. It seems that we care even less for plants, for water – oceans, rivers, lakes and streams – and we even seem to care nothing for the air we breathe. We have forgotten that we are covenant partners with all creation. The whole world is ours, to tend, to save or perhaps, to destroy.
It seems to me that it never occurred to Noah that he couldn’t save the world. God comes to him with this crazy plan that must have sounded like a pipe dream – I mean really, what was he smoking? – and the scripture simply says that “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” Some of us also want to save the world. But it may be that we’d rather God asked us to build a titanic ark, seal up us and our folk and some cuddly creatures from the local zoo and leave the unrighteous to their fate than really conserve the earth. But Noah didn’t save the world all at once. He did it bit by bit, as Anne Lamotte would say, bird by bird. With every creature Noah saved, he was saving the world. Every critter counted. As we harvest the treasures of earth – and we need them to survive, I invite you to consider whether our consumption is partnered with conservation.
Consider for a moment a few of your favorite things – chocolate, coffee, cotton. Consider their county of origin, the indigenous flora and fauna displaced by their plantations; consider the pesticides poured into their native soil and waters. Compare the wages of the workers with the profits of the corporations, consider the packages in which these products come and their final disposition, the petroleum products required to manufacture them and their packaging, and to transport them. And then make wiser choices, life-saving, earth-saving choices.
Noah and God made a covenant that is still binding on us today. We are all partners in a cosmic covenant with all creation. And that means no one gets left behind. We are not to sail off into a future with God and leave the world to drown in corruption. God has saved, is saving and will save more than a handful of folk from one family. Or rather, we are all one human family. There is no sailing off to a world without the rest of human society. Some say that the church is the ark of God in this world, but unlike Noah’s ark, we are not to batten down the hatches and nail the doors shut to keep some in and others out. In this ark with open doors exists all the diversity of the world.
Look around us, search above us, below, behind.
We stand in a great web of being joined together.
Let us praise, let us love the life we are lent passing through us
in the body of Israel and our own bodies, let's say amen.
Time flows through us like water.
The past and the dead speak through us.
We breathe out our children's children, blessing.
Blessed is the earth from which we grow,
Blessed the life we are lent,
blessed the ones who teach us,
blessed the ones we teach,
blessed is the word that cannot say the glory
that shines through us and remains to shine
flowing past distant suns on the way to forever.
Let's say amen.
Blessed is light, blessed is darkness,
but blessed above all else is peace which bears the fruits of knowledge on strong branches, let's say amen.
Peace that bears joy into the world,
peace that enables love, peace over Israel everywhere,
blessed and holy is peace, let's say amen.
For the gospel writers, for his disciples and for us, Jesus of Nazareth is the one who unites all creation in peace. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is the one who brings all of creation into right relationship with our Creator. The time is fulfilled, and the reign and realm of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. In the Name of God, Creator, Christ and Comforter. Amen.