October 18, 2020
Genesis 6:1-8, 20-22; John 2:1-11
On being righteous, blameless and walking with God
We are here because we are people of faith. We are here because we are Disciples of Christ. We are people of God who are moved to worship and serve God as well as we can. This does of course not mean that we never have our doubts. We acknowledge that we are not always what we should or can be. We know that we are not perfect. As the Bible says: “We know our transgressions, and our sin is always before us.”
We are witnesses that the world is beautiful, wonderful and marvelous. We know that there are kind, loving and forgiving people. But we also sense that not everything is always perfect. Life can be hard and unfair. People can be wicked, cruel and hateful. Nature is magnificent but natural life is about the survival of the fittest. When a Springbok antelope is born, she has to get up immediately and ready to run – otherwise she will end up as dinner for a hungry predator.
We, in some sense stand on the shoulders of people of faith who have gone before us. They, like us, had faith in God and they had doubts. They served God and they sometimes failed in their commitment to God – just like we do.
The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah and the flood could be our stories. They, like us had to make decisions and sometimes their decisions had catastrophic consequences.
In Genesis 6 human beings begin to multiply. They had daughters. And then we read the following: “The sons of God saw that they were fair and they took wives for themselves …. the Nephilim were on the earth those days….there were heroes of old, warriors of renown.” Who are these Nephilim, heroes of old and warriors of renown? No one really is sure.
It seems likely that they are remnants from fabulous fables or legends. And these references to legends or fables make one important point: The wickedness of humankind was great and increasing – every thought, every inclination was evil. There is a deterioration of all of creation. There is a rampant spread of sin and things are quickly spinning out of control.
The Biblical author gives us a glimpse into the heart of God: The Lord is sorry that God created humankind. It grieves God to his heart!
I was struck by the fact that the Bible shows us God’s emotions. God shows remorse, it grieves God and God is deeply disappointed in humankind. God is shown here as a personal God who is deeply moved by what happens on earth. Humans, on the contrary, show neither remorse nor does it grieve them for their utter wickedness. One could conclude with some justification that humankind has sunk so low that it cannot be saved. Humankind is not redeemable.
Now in all honesty, I think that most of us have experienced such a deep disappointment in humankind or in ourselves. We all have been deeply disappointment by others and by ourselves. And we all have felt that our species is unredeemable for it simply never learns from the past.
There is however a ray of hope in this story. Sure, God is deeply disappointed in human beings, God is sorry for creating humankind, and God grieves. God is not unmoved by the wickedness of humankind. God makes the decision to blot out humankind and animals, an action that seems harsh, violent and cruel. No wonder that people have asked many times: “What kind of a God would do this?”
Well, we need to know that these stories are meant to be read as theology and not history. In other words, we need to ask what these stories mean theologically. What message do they want to convey? They are not descriptions of what happened historically.
And the theological intentions are clear:
God does not tolerate the wickedness and sin of humankind. God is disappointed when human beings fail to be who and what God wants them to be. God grieves when our thoughts, actions, attitudes are destructive and harmful to others and God’s creation. God has higher expectations of who we can be!
There is no need to sugarcoat this truth. God does not tolerate sin and wickedness – for sin and wickedness destroy the goodness of God’s creation.
However, God’s intolerance of sin is just one aspect of this story. In spite of the harshness of God’s conclusion to blot out humankind, there is someone who finds favor in the sight of the Lord. Noah! God chooses Noah in whom God’s work of salvation can again be resumed. God’s mercy and love of humankind remain- in spite of people’s sins.
As people of faith, who are here today, we need to pause at both of these theological truths:
Sin, wickedness and evil go against God’s will for us. They are detrimental to our wellbeing and contrary to what God wants for us. Now, I am aware that there was a time when ministers were obsessed with pointing out particular sins and always warning people of the consequences of sin.
It reminded me of the little boy who went to church at sat through the sermon. After church his parents asked him what he remembered from the sermon. He mentioned the only word he could remembered from the sermon because it was mentioned so often. “Sin” he said. “What did the minister say about sin?”, his mom replied. “The pastor was against it!” he said.
The realty is that sin in the Bible is very dangerous. It is much more than a few things we do are things we don’t do.
Sin has been described as a parasite. A parasite is an organism that lives on a host and gets its food from or at the expense of the host. Sin lives on what is good and decent and turns it into something destructive and harmful. Sin is an act of failure for we miss God’s purpose for our lives. It is an act of rebellion against God, our neighbor and God’s creation. It is an act of disobedience and selfishness. And ultimately sin destroys relationships: with God, with my neighbor, with myself, with nature, culture and structures. After everything has been said and done, we have to conclude that sin is an evil mystery that takes the goodness of God’s creation and contaminates it so that it misses its divine purpose.
Sin is a condition, a fallen condition. Humankind is not able to pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps out of this broken condition.
People of faith should be brutally honest about sin: it is a powerful destroyer that can take what is beautiful, good and honorable and turn them into something harmful.
Let me give you a few examples: Sin is able to take the love of country, traditions and culture and turn them into something that elevates one nation as superior. Sin is able to take what is ought to be celebrated, like diversity, and turn it into something that is used to discriminate. If we want to take this Genesis 6 text seriously we need to face the reality that all of us, are prone to fall victims of the powerful and evil force of sin!
There is however more to Genesis 6 than destruction and punishment. A bright light is shining into our darkness. God’s grace and willingness to save are clearly part of the story. Noah becomes the one who would show God’s salvation. Noah found favor in the sight of God.
It was said that Noah was a righteous man, blameless and he walked with God. This does not mean that Noah was perfect. We know from his future actions that he was not. However, the contrast between Noah and his generation is stark. They were corrupt and violent – he was righteous, blameless and he walked with God.
In the rest of the Bible, especially in the prophetic books, being righteous, blameless and walking with God have to do with your relationship with God but also how you treat others, especially the weak, marginalized, poor and the alien in your community. The references to Noah being righteous imply that Noah treated other with respect and dignity.
The first readers of this text without any doubt see in Noah an example – the text is now a call to follow Noah’s example! The fact that Noah was saved from the flood, and that God chose him to restart God’s creation serves as a reminder that God wants people to do what is right towards others and to walk with God.
The text also serves as an invitation to respond to a corrupt and violent world in a faithful way – by being righteous, blameless and to walk with God.
You see where the text is taking us: in our world, which is rife with corruption and where violence comes in various shapes and forms, we too need to follow Noah’s example by being righteous, blameless and to walk with God.
Let’s be honest: Corruption is rife. When we cut programs that feed hungry children, when we turn a blind eye to people who are desperate and not knowing where they will go if they can’t pay their rent, we have a choice: How will we respond? We could accept it as the world we live in or we could oppose it for it is not right!
When we hear about violence in various forms, violence like attacking a person because he is wearing a red political hat, or police violence against people of color, or violent verbal attacks on Twitter and Facebook, we have a choice: How will we respond? We can respond by saying: “I know this is not right but …” and then try to excuse violent or cruel behavior.
So, this old story about Noah and the Flood is still extremely relevant for our time. Sin has a sneaky way of infiltrating our world, our institutions and our lives. We need to be honest enough to acknowledge this reality. We know that sin deeply grieves God. As people of faith, who strive to live a righteous life, try to be blameless and try to walk faithfully with God, we should do whatever we can to live a life that will not grieve God. At the same time, we also need to follow Noah’s example to do what is right towards others, walk with God and do everything possible to be blameless. Let me just be clear again: Noah being blameless and righteous does not imply that Noah was perfect. We do not have to be perfect to be accepted by God. Noah was just like us, with feet of clay.
So, Noah was the last generation before the flood and the first generation after the flood. God started new with him and his family.
Our reading from the Gospel of John, shows us another example of God ending an era and starting a new one. Jesus is at a wedding and the wine runs out. He changes water into wine. This is not described as a miracle but as a sign. A sign of a new era, God’s era, that has arrived. We don’t have time to discuss this event in detail. It suffices to say a couple of things: There is mention of abundance of water- six stone jars holding 20-30 gallons. So, God’s era that Jesus is introducing is one of abundance. There is more than enough for all! No one has to hoard, no one has to deprive anyone, no one has to live with anxiety of where the next meal will come from. The wine is also superior wine. God’s new era is a time that is very good with enough for all.
We are part of God’s new era that was introduced in Jesus for we too believe. And how do we live as people who live in this new era? By acknowledging that sin is pervasive, by opposing its power and destructive work, by being righteous, that is to care about the weak and marginalized, by being blameless (not being perfect) and to walk with God.