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Genesis 9:8-17

The Noah story is popular fodder for children’s Sunday school. I suppose that is because of the animals, a large boat, and the endless possibilities of rainbow-themed crafts. I remember colorful pictures of a smiling Noah and smiling animals on an impossibly clean boat floating on serene azure waters.

It was probably in seminary that someone pointed out what was always missing from those pictures of the Flood: the dead bodies in the water. The Flood was a great upheaval with unfathomable amounts of death. Everyone Noah and his family had known would’ve died and been bloating corpses on those azure waters. But our Sunday school education elided the presence of death from this story.

It is no wonder, then, that here in the United States of America ours tends to be a culture that tries its best to elide death. I am thinking specifically about how, in the midst of the pandemic, our nation collectively has done little to face and grieve the death of so many people. As I write this, we have seen over 484,000 deaths in the US and over 2.4 million deaths globally. I cannot help but feel like we are opting to float on by this staggering death toll and try to focus on impossibly serene azure waters. Given the increase in alcohol sales in the United States, it appears that we, like Noah, are choosing strong drink to numb our trauma (see Genesis 9:20-21).

The passage for today takes place in a liminal space. The space is between the end of the Flood and a new normal in a post-Flood world. (If you are using A Plain Account’s “Into the Wilds” resources, the wilderness is also a liminal space, so feel free to play with those images in what I’ve written below). In this in-between space, God establishes a covenant. What is important in this covenant is that it is between God and humankind and all the living creatures, “for all future generations” (Genesis 9:12). Genesis 1-11 is a drama not just about God and humanity, but God, humanity, and all of creation. So the passage at hand once more shows God’s love and mercy extends to all of the created order while simultaneously placing humanity in a unique place within that created order. In other words, God has tasked us with a unique role within creation and yet we are still creatures (dust we are, and to dust we shall return).

The work that this passage does also relates to time. God’s covenant is not temporally constrained to Noah and those people and animals with him. God’s promise irrupts outward into the world and forward into time, with its language and a prohibition against eating blood, which is life, echoed in Acts 15:19-20. God has hung up the bow and again commissions human beings to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 9:1, a commission God has also given to animals in Genesis 1). God also promises “that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). In this post-Flood world, God’s covenant shows that God is for life. God is for the thriving of humankind and all of creation alike. While this passage is in a liminal space, God’s promises have a trajectory for God’s preferred post-Flood world: a world in which human beings, creatures, and the whole created order knows its relationship to God as creator and the whole created order thrives towards life.

Our world is entering a liminal space as the vaccines roll out, and we can imagine a change to a new normal. So as this passage helps us to think about God’s relationship to the post-Flood world, as preachers and teachers we have an opportunity to speak to people in a liminal space about God’s relationship to a post-pandemic world. The God we worship and proclaim is still a God who blesses (9:1), promises (9:11), and desires to see all of the created order thrive towards life for all generations to come. Robust preaching from Genesis is vital to help us as human beings once again rejoin God’s created order as priests and stewards instead of continuing to see ourselves as somehow alien to it, fit only for a nebulous, immaterial heaven. Diseases such as COVID-19, malaria, zika, and ebola spread widely because of unrestrained human expansion and development. A article in the journal Nature states, “The analysis of around 6,800 ecological communities on 6 continents adds to a growing body of evidence that connects trends in human development and biodiversity loss to disease outbreaks.”[1] So as we imagine where God is calling us as the Church in a post-pandemic world, surely regaining the Biblical witness that human thriving and the thriving of plants, animals, and insects are intertwined is vital and necessary.

Here are three tracks a sermon on this passage could take. One track could be to focus on God as covenant maker with human beings and all living flesh. God wants all of creation to thrive! This has potential to speak to how we create a post-pandemic world that thrives for all people and all of creation. Another track is to create space for people to grieve the immense amount of loss we’re experiencing, as Noah and his family did. Into this space of grief, God blesses and makes promises that life is possible after death and loss. A third track would be to preach about where God has placed us as human beings within the created order. This would have potential to touch on the first track, or stand on its own. This passage shows that we are part of a wider community that God envisions that embraces animals, fish, plants, and insects. Yes, we are unique in the created order in that we alone are created in the image of God. This uniqueness in part means God has expectations of us as human beings in how we use and treat the rest of the crated order. It is not a pass to exploit, degrade, and destroy other parts of the created order or other human beings. If you are utilizing the “Into the Wilds” resources and themes from A Plain Account, a sermon repenting of our refusal to live within our role in God’s created order is a real possibility. So what is the word that God is speaking to you and your people in this liminal space as we dare hope for a post-pandemic world?

[1] Jeff Tellefson, “Why deforestation and extinctions make pandemics more likely”, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02341-1 (Retrieved