The Metropolitan Congregation

- serving and celebrating the LGBT communities of Manchester and the North West

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Sermon - 12th January 2014

Covenant Sunday

Scripture - Genesis 9:8-17; John 15:12-17

Walt Johnson

A musical reflection on "The Lessons of Noah"

<Video introduction with music – “The Return of the Animals” (Children of Eden)>

From a young age, we learn to make promises, and we learn that to be someone who keeps to their promises is good. Some promises have more significance than others. Adults exchange promises to cement a relationship when vows are made at a ceremony. Promises are made legally, especially in court, which we call oaths. In business, companies make agreements, called contracts; and countries negotiate treaties. All of these are promises. And in matters of faith, the promises of God we call covenants.

Every Sunday, when we celebrate Communion, the celebrant speaks these words: “Jesus took the cup, filled with wine, blessed it and gave it to the Disciples, saying: ‘Take, drink this all of you, for this is my Blood in the New Covenant.’”

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks of sacrificial love. The New Covenant brings us into a restored relationship with our Creator, and that is made possible by Jesus’ blood in His death on the Cross.

All promises are important, and Divine Covenants affect all humankind. Yet behind these come great sacrifice. Today, through various media, we shall be looking at the first Divine Covenant, the one God made with Noah.

First, a word from the great gay icon, Joanna Lumley.

<Film clip from ITV – “The Search for Noah’s Ark”>

I’ve come to the end of my journey. It’s extraordinary, because all the way through this, we have found scientific facts backing up this kind of fairy story. So when people go “pooh, pooh, pooh, this couldn’t have happened”, suddenly it turns out that it probably did happen. There probably was a catastrophic flood. There probably was a good man who saved his family and animals, and it was kept as a moral story: if you’re bad – because these were supposed to be the ‘god’ or ‘gods’ punishing people and killing them all – if you’re bad, you’ll be wiped out, so be good! So I think that is what it was. So here I am on the highest mountain in Arabia, and here comes the Sun!

When God created the world, the relationship which humankind had with the Creator was a good one. Through wrong-doing, it turned sour. The story of Noah begins with God’s lament.

<Music: “Gathering Storm” (Children of Eden)>

I’ve watched and waited since the time of Seth
And hoped as new generation drew its breath
I’ve hoped forever
Now may my earth be filled
With good and grateful children

I’ve hoped in vain
Fool, greedy, violent
They’re all the race of Cain
Now only you and your family remain

This is the last time I will hope
This is the last chance I will give
I will let your family live
But this is the last chance I will give.

Most of us will have first heard the story of Noah as children: in some ways, it is a nice story about a good man and his family, and the idea of all the animals in the Ark certainly appeals to children. Every toy shop sells a Noah’s Ark.

Genesis 9:2-3: “The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”

Humankind has a strong affinity with animals, and it is within the story of Noah that God gives humankind mastery over the animals, and also the permission to eat meat. It is where the natural fear animals have of humans is also explained.

Our first lesson from Noah is this: Noah is obedient to God.

So Noah builds the Ark, and he and his family, together with all the animals, enter the Ark, and God closes the door.

<Film clip: “Genesis and The Flood” (1994)>

<Music: “The Return of the Animals” (Children of Eden)>

While Noah, his family and the animals were inside the Ark, what was going on outside? Genesis 6 says, “The Lord saw how great humankind’s wickedness on the earth had become.” The text does not describe the wickedness, but that has not stopped theological commentators. While Christian commentators seek to explain the wickedness as sexual immorality, Jewish commentators write of selfishness and broken society, echoed again later regarding Sodom and Gomorrah.

In this story, God speaks, but Noah is silent. Unlike Abraham who bargained with God in an attempt to try to save Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah says nothing.

Nevertheless, whatever this wickedness, God commits mass genocide, not only of humankind, but also of all animals and birds. For obvious reasons, only the fish survive!

The text mentions two sources of water: the waters from the earth and the rain.

Genocide. The death of every human and every creature. This story has a very dark side and is a long way from the comfortable children’s story and toys.

<Music: “The Flood” (Children of Eden)>

(Open!) Behold I will blot out mankind from the face of the earth
(Open!) Both man and beast and every creeping thing
(Open!) The end of all flesh is come before me

Rain (Rain!) until the end of time
(Rain!) And let the raging skies
Send it down as an endless hurricane
I made everything out of nothing
Now nothing will remain
And to the skies I send my word
Forever will it rain!

We are familiar in the story of Noah with the rain falling for 40 days and 40 nights, and living in Manchester, we can certainly appreciate what it is like with so much rain! However, it is often overlooked that the Bible tells us that Noah was actually in the Ark for 1 year, 1 month and 27 days.

Noah was patient before God. How patient are we before God? How quickly do we expect answers?

  • Genesis 6:6 – Noah told to enter Ark.
  • Genesis 6:10 – 7 days later the earth flooded
  • Genesis 6:11 – 17th day of 2nd month – 40 days/nights of rain
  • Genesis 8:3 – 150 days of flood on the earth
  • Genesis 8:4 – 17th day of the 7th month – Ark came to rest
  • Genesis 8:5 – 1st day of the 10th month – mountain tops visible
  • Genesis 8:6 – 40 days later sent out the raven, then the dove
  • Genesis 8:10 – 7 days later, dove returns with olive twig
  • Genesis 8:12 – 7 days later, the dove does not return
  • Genesis 8:16 – 1 year, 1 month, 27 days later – Noah leaves the Ark

<Music: “What Is He Waiting For?” (Children of Eden)>

Forty days and forty nights
Come and gone
All the world is dead and drowned
Still the rain goes on

There are no beasts or people anymore
What is he waiting for?
What is he waiting for?

After their time in the Ark, Noah and his family stepped on to a new earth. God had wiped the slate clean and had begun again.

Both God and Noah had a new lesson to learn: to learn to let go and to trust – God trusting humanity and Noah trusting his children to do the right thing and to go the right way. God has given us the gift of freewill to determine our own course and path in life.

Those whom we love – do we hold on to them, keep them shut inside the Ark, afraid of letting them go? Or do we trust them, as Noah trusted the dove?

<Music: “The Hardest Part of Love”>

And it's only in Eden grows a rose without a thorn
And your children start to leave you
On the day that they were born
They will leave you there to cheer for them
They will leave you there to mourn ever so

Like an ark on uncharted seas their lives will be tossed
And the deeper is your love for them
The crueller is the cost
And just when they start to find themselves
Is when you fear they're lost. Ohhh.

But you cannot close the acorn
Once the oak begins to grow
And you cannot close your heart
To what it fears and needs to know

That the hardest part of love
And the rarest part of love
And the truest part of love
Is the letting go

So Noah learnt obedience, patience and trust. These are the same qualities which underpin the Covenant prayer we shall use today.

Methodist Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

At the end of Noah’s story, God makes a covenant with humankind and all creation, and as we have heard, this Covenant was bought at a terrible price. And the Covenant we have in Jesus is one also bought at a terrible price.

As the rainbow is the sign of God’s Covenant with Noah, the Cross is the sign of God’s Covenant through Jesus.

At the creation of the world, God saw all that He had made and it was very good. It is easy for the darkness to overtake us.

We finish today’s sermon with a lively reflection: “Ain’t It Good?”

Amen.

<Music: “Ain’t It Good?” (Children of Eden)>

Ain't it sweet
To smell the morning
In a world washed fresh and clean
Now the storm has left its warning
And we see, we see a hint of green

Pale grey light grow strong and golden
And release us from our pen
Where we rocked for endless days
On a sea of endless greys
Now we sing a song of praise, Amen

Ain't it good
Ain't it good now
Ain't it good to see the sun again

When my ears were filled with thunder
And when my soul began to shake
There were times I'd truly wonder
If those clouds would ever break

But no storm would last forever
Though we felt so helpless then
Now we raise a joyful chant
For a glimpse of olive plant
Haven't seen one since I can't
I can't remember when

Ain’t it good
Oh ain't it good
Our hearts are dancing
Hopes
Since
We got a second chance

And for now
We are done with fearing
We might be
The final generation
In a dawn that's new and fresh
Open wide this floating tress
And deliver
Every precious specimen

Ain't it good now
Ain't it good to see the sun again
My Lord
After all the nights we stood
Smelling rain and gopher wood
To see the sun again!

When my ears
They were filled thunder
And my soul, and when my soul began to shake
There were times
I would truly wonder
Those dark and gloomy rain clouds
If those clouds would ever break
But there's no storm
No storm can last forever
We felt so helpless then

Can't remember when it felt so good
When skies are clearing
Now our hearts begin to dance
And now our hopes are reappearing
Since we've been granted a second chance
And for now
We are done with fearing
We thought we'd be the final generation
In a dawn
Open wide
And deliver

Brother ain't it good
Oh ain't it good
Ain't it good
Ain't it good to see the sun again
My Lord
Ain't it good
Oh ain't it good
To see the shining golden sun again.

(Walt Johnson)

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