September 9, 2018 // Narrative Yr. 1 // First Congregational UCC Ashland, Oregon // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // “God Says, ‘I’m Sorry’”: Genesis 6:5-22, 8:6-12; Genesis 9:8-17

Intro

The God-Who-Is saw that humanity had become completely corrupt on the earth and that every thought of their hearts was corrupt, continually. God was sorry that She had made human beings on the Earth. It broke God’s heart. So God-Who-Is said, “I will wipe off the land the human race that I’ve created… because I regret I ever made them. (Genesis 6:5-7)

 

This is an origin story. In fact, the story of Flood and Promise is probably the oldest bit of narrative in our Bibles, older probably even than the Creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2. It shares plot details with other Flood and Creation myths of the Ancient Near East, echoes and archetypes, similarity and originality.[1] It may not be your favorite origin myth. It is not mine. What’s fascinating for us, in 2018, about the Story of the Flood and the Rainbow is what the storyteller is trying to tell us about God and humanity and the Earth and their relationships with one another. (Pause)

 

I.

Genesis chapters 6 through 8 rewind Creation to tell a story of Re-Creation. So, it will help to have a better sense of how they thought the World worked. Perhaps you know the story that begins, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the Earth…”? The same cosmic architecture is at work behind the scenes here at the Flood. The world begins in water, primordial water that the Spirit of God (the ruach), the breath of God hovers of the face of the deep. In the first story of Creation that breath of God turns into speech that separates the water above the earth from the water below the Earth by constructing a dome that we call sky. This dome keeps the two great waters from rushing back together and flooding the Earth. Hard for us to imagine in our current moisture-starved state of being, but in the ancient worldview, water was both threat of death as well as a source of life. In this story of Flood, “…creation is being undone, and the world returned to chaos.”[2] In the Flood myth the storyteller knows what we today are rediscovering: Human corruption and violence threatens to crack the very foundation of all life in this world, “all flesh,” everything with breath. The storyteller in this Flood story also believes God-Who-Is is not an aloof God who leaves the human beings to figure out how to survive the cataclysm on their own, as in some of the other ancient Flood stories, but “walks with Noah” and talks to Noah and provides for Noah all throughout. There are other differences and similarities. In other Flood stories, the heroes bring gold and silver on the boat, or save a few possessions, whereas in this Flood story God and Noah care only about the living things. Here we see a spiritual ancestor wrestling with the spiritual condition of their time, trying to figure out who God is, how God might feel about the corruption that literally threatens the planet, the entire balance of Life on Earth, and wondering out loud, dreaming out loud, about what God might do about it. And here in this story is a heartbroken God. Heartbroken God. (Pause)

 

II.

God is not indifferent to the violence and corruption on the Earth. Rather, God is “grieved in God’s heart.” The storyteller repeats the word “corrupt” seven times by way of saying this corruption is complete and total. Humans are corrupting the Earth – which was pronounced “good, very good” just a couple chapters ago – and it is literally breaking God’s heart. This week, I can relate. In the abstract version, I imagine I’ve painted a beautiful painting, something I’ve poured love and energy and joy into, something that hasn’t just delighted me, but others also. A joyful work displayed in a public place, with my name on it. But someone has come by and sprayed a revolting hate symbol all over it. And in sheer emotion, hurt, anger, I throw the whole thing on a bonfire because its ruined. This good thing I made to bless is being used instead to harm. Heartbroken God. Or, to leave the abstract, I remember a Mother who is a friend of mine whose 9yo admitted to his 4th grade schoolmate that he had a crush on him, and the school mate immediately stopped talking to him and started telling everyone else to stay away from him because he had a disease and was a harm to them and their families. The little boy loses 40 pounds in 2 months due to the isolation and bullying and his Mom has never in her life felt like physically harming a 10-year-old child, but now… maybe you can imagine what she feels. They change schools. Start over. Heartbroken God. (Pause)

 

III.

The God in this story feels the deep heartache we might feel hearing one more devastating story of violence or corruption at human hands. And at first, the God in this story thinks that by preserving one heroic family and wiping the slate clean HeShe can restore the Good. That’s the first plan. The bigger picture of this story is that the cost ends up being too high — and it doesn’t work anyway. (In the next chapter, Noah gets drunk, his sons act like jerks). By the next chapter, we know that it never really works to destroy life, to destroy any living thing, in our attempt to get rid of evil. Even the God in this story recognizes that in the end. “Never again,” says God. “And so that I don’t forget to keep my end of the bargain, this bow will appear after every storm.” The God in this story makes a promise to always preserve and protect space, room for life, room for all life, even the marred, broken and corrupt lives, under that bow. “I will set up my covenant with you,” this God says, introducing a word that is going to become more than a word, that is going to become a spiritual reality to our faith ancestors. And we first get introduced to it here. (Pause)

 

Trans.

You may want to pause and consider: Would you make even a pinky promise with this God? As I was sitting with that question this week, another origin story helped me.

 

IV.

The other origin story goes like this: In the beginning, there was Skyworld.

She fell like a maple seed, pirouetting on an autumn breeze. A column of light streamed from a whole in the Skyworld, marking her path where only darkness had been before. It took her a long time to fall. In fear, or maybe hope, she clutched a bundle tightly in her hand.

            Hurtling downward, she saw only dark water below. But in that emptiness there were many eyes gazing up at the sudden shaft of light. They saw there a small object, a mere dust mote in the beam. As it grew closer, they could see that it was a woman, arms outstretched, long black hair billowing behind as she spiraled toward them.[3]

 

When Robin Wall Kimmerer begins at the beginning, she begins this way: with the story of Skywoman’s fall and of the animals whose gifts, together with hers, help make the Earth where we live. She tells this story in Braiding Sweetgrass, a book in which she weaves together her indigenous spirituality, her scientific knowledge as a botanist, to reveal the ways in which plants teach us how to recover life. In her book, when SkyWoman’s offspring meet the children of Eve, cosmologies clash, leaving that Earth scarred. And yet… there are some ancient resonances. As she’s recovering her own language, the language of the Potowatami, Wall Kimmerer writes there is a “grammar of animacy.” It’s not a bunch of subjects that are all feminine and masculine, with numbers. It’s the verbs. Everything is a verb. And the word for being is nearly the same as in our ancient texts: Yawe. He/She/It is… It’s the same sound our spiritual ancestors heard the Holy One give to Moses at the burning bush: I Am. I Am Who I Am. I will Be Who I Will Be. God is God-Who-Is. “Isn’t this just what it means to be, to have the breath of life within, to be the offspring of Creation?” Wall Kimmerer writes, “The [Potawatomi] language reminds us, in every sentence, of our kindship with all the animate world.”[4] In our spiritual tradition, God’s names does that, too. God-Who-Is. (Pause)

 

V.

“I will set up my covenant with you,” God-Who-Is tells Noah. And the first time we hear that from our storyteller it’s a little ambiguous at first who all is involved. Noah? Noah’s family? Only the boys? Mammals? The whole planet? The first time God-Who-Is makes this promise, the storyteller leaves it a big ambiguous. But by the end of the story, under that magnificent bow, God-Who-Is makes the covenant with “all flesh” – “all living things.” At the end of this terrible story, it’s not humanity that’s changed, scared into obedience by the Flood. By the end of this story, it’s God who’s changed. God grows up, if you will. And God’s children can, too. (Pause)

 

My friend recently updated me: The new school is great. And her son is thriving. Not only to the teachers and staff there get it, but the kids do, too. And in fact it’s the kids who have been the most affirming and encouraging of all toward her son.

 

Concl.

The God-Who-Is, who made humanity in God’s own image, is not indifferent to the corruption of this Earth and the life in it. But the God-Who-Is may have the most lenient HOA covenant around. Under this Bow, God says, under this Dome… you, and you, and you, and you, and not just you who are two-legged, but the snakes and the fish and the spiders, too… Under this bow, under this dome, you are and always will be home.

 

That’s the first promise.

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Nahum Sarna, Genesis: The JPS Torah Commentary, Vol 1, (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 48-49.

[2] Sarna, p. 55.

[3] Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013),

[4] Wall Kimmerer, p. 56.