Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
An anklet made of yarn. A dog’s name tag. A wedding ring. What do these three have in common?
They are all signs of covenants. They are symbols of promises I have made over the years.
The anklet is a piece of yarn that I tied around my ankle when I was sixteen. During the Wartburg Seminary Youth Leadership School, each of us in our small group promised to pray for each other and remember God’s calling. That yarn stayed on my ankle for eight years, until it fell off soon after my ordination.
Kavod’s name tag is the sign of my promise to keep her safe, healthy, and happy. My phone number on her tag is a promise that I will always be responsible for her, even when I am away from her.
My wedding ring is a symbol of my promise to stay next to Brett and care for him no matter what happens. Every time I look at my ring, I remember the vows that I made over two years ago.
These are three covenants that I have made. Their symbols remind me of my promises. We may think of the word “covenant” as something that always involves God, yet we make covenants all the time. A covenant is simply a set of promises that establishes a relationship. Sometimes God is involved. For example, I made my wedding vows in front of God in my home congregation. But God doesn’t have much to do with my covenant with Kavod.
Documents often accompany these covenants. I have my dog’s adoption papers where I legally promised to care for Kavod. I have my marriage license certifying that my vows are binding. Even my letter of call establishes my relationship with you.
We make covenants with our equals, with those who have authority over us, and with those socially under us. We even make covenants with our pets. But do you know who I have not made a covenant with? The squirrels in my back yard.
Never have I made any sort of social agreement with those squirrels. I have never promised to keep them safe, healthy, or happy. I don’t like the ones living in my shed, so I don’t discourage Kavod from chasing them out of there. If a squirrel is injured and can’t make it to the tree in time? That is not my fault!
I may not have established a covenant with the squirrels in my back yard, but God has. The squirrels may not know it, but God promised thousands of years ago never to destroy them with a flood. Certainly, my property is high enough off the river that the squirrels will never drown.
This covenant that God made is not just for squirrels, though. After the flood waters receded and Noah and his family returned to dry ground, God made the covenant with all of humanity and with every living creature. God will never destroy the earth with a flood. This is the only time recorded in the Bible that God establishes a covenant with creatures!
And what a powerful covenant it is. Reeling from the immensity of lives lost in the flood, God is overwhelmed. God promises never again to send a flood to destroy the earth. God’s creation, no matter how flawed, is beautiful and worthy of life.
So, as a symbol of peace, God takes a weapon of war, the mighty bow, and puts it colorfully into the sky. What was once a symbol of death and destruction now promises life and hope.
This rainbow does not guarantee that God will never take a life again. There are a few instances in scripture where God directly kills individuals, and there are many more stories where God facilitates the destruction of entire peoples. Even so, never again has God caused a flood. Never again has God destroyed all of humanity.
God has kept the promise, as Brett puts it, never to “exterminate” the human and animal races. God is not like the Daleks, who hate humans for their inferior nature. Instead, God sees us as beautiful creatures made in God’s own image.
God’s covenant with Noah is the first of many that we will hear about this Lent. Each of the next weeks, we will hear of God creating covenants with the Israelites often through specific people, including Abraham and Moses. Each time, in unique ways, God promises to protect and multiply the Israelites. Each time, the Israelites won’t take long before they fail to show God respect.
Take Noah for example. Immediately following today’s passage, not long after the rainbow is in the sky, Noah gets drunk and falls asleep naked. One of his sons sees him naked, and the other two carefully lay a blanket on their father without looking. Something must be left between the lines, though, because the son who found him naked is cursed, along with all his descendants.
God never fails us, but we certainly have failed God. God needs to continue establishing covenants because we have failed and forgotten. Each of the covenants that we will hear about this Lent points forward to the ultimate covenant completed in Jesus. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has fulfilled every covenant that God has made. Through Jesus, God promises to protect and preserve us in this life and in the life to come.
We experience this covenant through the season of Lent. The sign of this covenant is the cross. Whenever we see a cross - in church, on our jewelry, or anywhere around us, we remember that Christ died so that we might live. The crosses around us remind us of the grace that God gives us freely. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are forgiven of all our sins, known and unknown.
So, it is only fair that we share a similar grace with others. For those whom we share a covenant, giving this loving forgiveness is easier. For example, one way that I care for Kavod is by letting her out into the backyard whenever she wants, even if she was just out ten minutes ago. I enjoy watching her chase those squirrels, confident that she is too slow to catch any able bodied squirrel.
I may not have a covenant with those squirrels, but I do show them grace by letting them live in my shed. I don’t blame them for finding protection from the bitterly cold winds.
God has protected us from worldwide destruction during this life, and God will preserve us into the future, too. The least we can do is share some lovingkindness with others, both whom we share a relationship, and with the strangers, both human and animal alike. Amen.