Beckett: Sermon – Remembering the Promise

Date: July 25, 2021
Festival: 9th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)
Text: Genesis 9:8-17
Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church and Christ the King Lutheran Chapel, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

Let us pray: “Grant us, Lord, to hope in Your name, which is the primal source of all creation, and open the eyes of our hearts that we may know You, who alone are highest among the high.” Amen. [1 Clement 59.3]

When you see or imagine a rainbow, what does it remind you of? Maybe you remember the Genesis account here where God set the rainbow in the sky as His covenant between mankind and all creation that He would not destroy the Earth by flood again. Or maybe the first thing that comes to mind is what mankind has twisted it to mean: Pride, specifically gay pride.

Ever since gay “marriage” was legalised in the U.S. on June 26, 2015, the month of June has become the celebrated “Pride Month” where sexual orientations and gender identities that are unlawful in the eyes of God are celebrated. Virtually every business and corporation flies the rainbow, gay pride flag and they change their brand icons on social media to rainbow colours, only to take down those colours as soon as July 1st hits because, let’s face it, they don’t care about the supposed “human rights” of it but are only interested in making money out of it.

This is upsetting to us, of course—that people are unabashedly living in sin to their own physical and spiritual detriment, rebelling against God, and that businesses and even churches are taking advantage of their sin to make money out of it. And what’s more upsetting is that they don’t listen to the Word of God that urges them toward repentance, even when we tell them lovingly. But let’s be honest with ourselves: we don’t always tell them to repent in a loving manner, and that is not okay. Yet sometimes, even when we do lovingly preach God’s Law to bring them to the Gospel for forgiveness, life, and salvation, they still don’t listen.

But enough about that. This is not going to be a sermon about how sinful homosexuality is or transgenderism is, because you know that already. But if you don’t know that—or if you don’t believe it and what I’m saying offends you—please be patient, and please keep listening.

First, I want to remind you of the Gospel lessons of the first half of Mark 6[:1-29] these past couple weeks. The Word of God that both Jesus and John the Baptiser preached was offensive to people: (1) because Jesus claimed to be God and sent His apostles to preach repentance, and (2) John preached God’s Law to Herod that his adulterous “marriage” was unlawful in the eyes of God. We learnt that when God’s Word offends you, that means His Law is working in your heart to bring you to repentance, which brings me to the second thing that is today’s Gospel message: the rainbow has nothing to do with pride but has everything to do with God’s promise of salvation when He remembers you.

This comes from our Old Testament reading today when God sets the rainbow in the sky and He says to Noah, “I will remember My covenant that is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” [Genesis 9:15-16]. When we read this earlier, did you wonder what it means that God “remembers”? How can God “remember” if He’s omniscient, or all-knowing?

I have to thank my colleague for his work on the topic of God’s remembering, Rev. Andrew Belt, who is Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Marshfield, Wisconsin. We were classmates in the pre-seminary programme at Concordia University-Ann Arbor where his thesis was on God’s remembering, and he helps us see that God’s remembering is entirely different than our remembering.

The usual way we think of remembering is when we’ve forgotten something or need to recall information. In school and college, for example, students are responsible for remembering information for tests, papers, and quizzes. As your new pastor, I have the arduous task of remembering all your names! For those of us who are husbands, when your wife tells you to do something, you better remember! Or those of you who are children living with your parents, if they tell you to do your chores, you better remember! How many of you can remember all the passwords to your many online accounts? You have a password for Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, your WiFi, your computer and smartphone, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, Snapchat, your bank account, email addresses, and the list goes on and on! Thankfully, we have autofill for our passwords, which makes it easier to forget!

You can see how difficult the task of remembering is. So, how can God remember every human being?

For us, remembering is simply mental recollection; but this is not the only definition there is. Out of ten definitions it gives, Dictionary.com’s fifth definition is perhaps most helpful: “to give a tip, donation, or gift.” The example it gives is when you “remember the needy,” which is accompanied by the action of giving a gift. In this case, it is not so much a mental recollection than it is an act of mercy. Where there is remembrance, acts of mercy follow.

As you know by now, I always like to give context. So, bearing that in mind, God’s remembering always has to be placed within its proper context. As systematic Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper reminds us, God “does not always remember with favor. He may remember iniquities and punish them” [Pieper I:449]. Here in Genesis 9, however, God’s remembering has to do with salvation, and it is here that we ask ourselves: Is God a being who forgets? Pieper speaks on God’s omniscience that, “everything happens as God has foreknown it” [Pieper I:461].

So, since God is all-knowing—because nothing gets by Him—how can we speak of God “remembering”? Again, my friend Pieper writes that God ascribes “remembering” to Himself “to conform to our mode of thinking… therefore God condescends to our concepts of time” [Pieper I:451; emphasis mine]. What it means that God “condescends” to us is that He uses human language in the Scriptures to reveal to us His saving nature. He uses something familiar to us to reveal the unfamiliar. Furthermore, when the Scriptures speak of God “remembering” something, we ought to think of it as something God is paying very close attention to since nothing escapes His knowledge.

So, Noah is the first human whom God remembers, or pays close attention to. Does this mean God forgot about Adam and Eve? No, because—if you read the boring genealogy parts—Noah was the 9th generation grandson of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:15, God promised a seed would come through Eve to crush the head of the serpent, Satan. So, by God “remembering” Noah and, therefore, Adam and Eve and His promise to them—that is, by God paying particular close attention to Noah—He acted to preserve him and, by extension of this, all humanity. And by the time we get to our text in Genesis 9, God chooses Noah and all creation to be the recipient of His remembering—of His particular attention, which He does through the sign of the rainbow.

It is here that we see God’s remembering has nothing to do with some mental thought but, rather, is God’s direct action according to His plan of salvation. When the rainbow is set in the sky and God “remembers,” this is not a moment of forgetfulness or an occasion for celebrating human pride, but is His direct action of preventing the entire Earth from being destroyed by flood again.

Therefore, as Rev. Paul Kretzmann says, “Every appearance of the rainbow should cause a prayer of thanksgiving to arise to our lips, praising the goodness and mercy of God” [Kretzmann, 22]. Rather than using the rainbow to praise ourselves, it ought to cause us to praise God because, in the words of Psalm 136, His steadfast love endures forever.

And yet, this rainbow is not the only occasion of God’s remembering, or His particular attention toward humanity. Ultimately, God remembered Adam & Eve and their descendants—you and me—in Jesus Christ, the promised seed of Eve. God paid so much attention to His human creatures that He became fully human, yet fully God, to die and rise again for you, thus crushing the head of the serpent. And Christ Himself has given us His own signs in which He remembers you and me, meaning He pays close attention to you so that He might bring you His salvation.

The first sign is Baptism, which we witnessed today, and which St. Peter links to the Flood [1 Peter 3:18-21]. In his first epistle, Peter writes that just as Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the Flood, so you are saved through the waters of Baptism. Just like little Gideon today, in Baptism you are marked by the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your heart that marks you as one whom Christ has redeemed. Just as creation is marked by the sign of the rainbow and God prevents it from destruction by flood, so you are marked by the sign of the cross in the Word and waters of Baptism and God has saved you from the coming, crimson flood of His wrath.

Baptism is why St. Paul warned the Corinthians—and us—about old sins, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Notice what all these sins have in common: pride. And then he reminds them and us of Baptism, “And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” [1 Corinthians 6:9-11].

You used to engage in such prideful, sinful living, but now in Baptism you have been marked by Christ for salvation and holy living. Because He has marked you in Baptism, when Jesus returns again—and He is coming soon—God will remember who you are in Christ and shall act to spare you because He did not spare His only-begotten Son but gave Him up for you [Romans 8:32]. If you haven’t been baptised, why wait? Talk to me or Pastor Bakker and we can talk more about Baptism and what God does to you in it.

This is the first sign. The second sign Christ has given you and me is the Holy Eucharist. With the rainbow, God made a covenant between all mankind and creation not to destroy them by flood again. In Christ’s true body and blood, you receive His new covenant of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Marked by Jesus’ blood, therefore, you will never be forgotten by God for salvation.

These sacraments—these signs—are a cause of remembrance for us, too, though it’s a different kind of remembering since we are so prone to forgetfulness. We can hardly remember all our passwords and the things that need doing in this life. If we are so prone to forgetting vain things such as these, how much more prone we are to forgetting God’s eternal promise! How often have you forgotten that you’re forgiven? I know I have. Or how often do you sin that you are so prideful that you forget God is God and you are not, thinking you get to define sin and tell God He’s wrong? I do this too.

This is why we gather every Sabbath, so that you and I remember our Baptism and are given the Eucharist not only as God’s particular attention to you as His saving act in Christ Jesus, but also that these signs may cause you to remember the holy life He has called you to live from Monday through Sunday as well as the promise He has already given you in Christ your Saviour.

Let us pray: May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest Himself, the Son of God, build you up in faith and truth, and in gentleness free you from anger and pride toward steadfast faithfulness, patient endurance, and purity; and may He give to you a share and a place among His saints, and to me with you, and to all those who under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in His Father who raised Him from the dead. Amen.

Bibliography

Featured image: Midsummer image over a lake in Finland. (iStock)

“Definition of Remember.” Dictionary.com (website) accessed July 19, 2021, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/remember?s=t.

Kretzmann, Paul E. Old Testament. Volume I. Popular Commentary of the Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1923.

The concluding prayer is a rewording of Polycarp to the Philippians 12.2.

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