Before the Earth had lost its new creation smell, the first humans began to muck it up. It started with Adam and Eve doing what seemed ever so innocent. They just stole a piece of fruit. But it changed everything. It change their relationship with God.
As God was walking through the garden in the cool of the evening loving and enjoying his splendid creation, the center pieces of all creation were crouched in a bush trying to hide themselves from him. They were ashamed and afraid of God.
By the next generation, sin took a major leap. The first naturally born children, Cain and Abel, both offered sacrifices to God. God favored Abel’s sacrifice and Cain became so angry and jealous that he killed his brother.
What was so good so quickly became so bad. Seven generations later the violence of humanity had spread so far and so deep that when God looked upon it he saw no resemblance to his creation. He saw no reflection of himself in it. His beloved humanity had long forgotten its creator. And it grieved him so greatly he decided to destroy all life. It had become like a dog that is no good to itself and needs to be put down.
We look at the world today and shudder. It seems so bad. But it is like Pollyanna compared to the world Noah lived in. The scripture says that every inclination of the thoughts of human hearts was only evil continually. Not a single good thought, not a single charitable or merciful inclination. The goodness of creation was all but snuffed out.
Except for one man. The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. He must have stuck out like a sore thumb. The whole world walked their own way. But Noah walked with God.
Don’t misunderstand, Noah was not a perfect man. The big difference was that he had a relationship with God. I am sure he made his mistakes and had his regrets. The King James Version says, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” It’s as if when God looked at Noah he saw something of the goodness he made his creation with. And this is grace. God looked passed whatever flaws Noah had to see the goodness.
And it as if when Noah looked into God’s eyes he saw grace. Unlike Adam and Even who expected to see judgment. And unlike the rest of humanity who did not even pay attention to God at all.
You know how this story goes, “God came to Noah you’re gonna build an arky arky…” “God said to Noah there gonna be a floody floody…” Isn’t it bizarre that the largest catastrophe in human history was made into a children’s song?
All life that was not in the Ark was wiped out. The first thing Noah did when we got onto dry land was take some of every clean animal and sacrificed to God. When God smelled the pleasing aroma (just like at the Labor Day BBQ), the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.”
It is striking that God would have a change of heart. God becomes committed to redeeming humanity rather than destroying it. He becomes determined to mold his creation into its original design.
God recognizes that for humanity to be redeemed will take a committed relationship with it. So he establishes a covenant with Noah, his children and all creation. And he gives them laws to live by so that they will know right from wrong, even though humanity would continue to commit evil. God would work to redeem his creation.
This is a grace-based relationship. And it sets the course of the rest of the Bible story and human history.
Grace doesn’t come naturally to us. We tend to prefer something more concrete and easier to understand like karma. In karma you always get what you deserve. It’s simple and there can be some satisfaction in it. It’s like a good western.
I watched Clint Eastwood’s movie “Hang’em High” this week for about the 10th time. In it Eastwood’s character is wrongly hanged, but he is cut down by a marshall before he dies. The judge makes him a marshall and he spends the rest of the movie pursuing the men who hanged him in order to bring them to justice. Of course none of those men ever see the judge because Eastwood kills them all with his own gun. It’s sooo satisfying to see them all get what’s coming to them.
Wouldn’t we all love to see ISIS brought to justice like that. They must be as evil as anybody in Noah’s age. Hang’em high. And we should. But it won’t remove evil from the world. In fact it will probably just create more.
But grace is a much more radical and mysterious and challenging concept than the simple justice of karma. And Grace actually has the power to change things.
Let me give you three qualities of a grace-based relationship.
1) It redeems,
2) It empowers, and
3) It is utterly committed to love.
As we discussed in the last sermon, redemption is the act of sacrificing for the sake of freeing another. In a grace-based relationship one sacrifices for the sake of the other. Christ gives us the ultimate example of redemption. Jesus is a picture of God sacrificed for all humanity. But Christ tells his disciples that they too must take up their crosses. We too must sacrifice for others so that they too may be freed.
Secondly, a grace-based relationship empowers others. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that once we have been redeemed then God does everything for us. But that is not so. Paul tells us that we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us. Christ empowers us. Our gifts and abilities are activated and we are commanded to use them. He sends us out to become his agents in the world. We become more capable than ever before. And we should do the same for others. Sometimes in helping others we are only keeping them stuck in their cycle of helplessness. But when we empower others then they can begin to help themselves and others as well.
Finally, a grace-based relationship is utterly committed to love. The family doctor told little John that he could save his sister's life by giving her some blood. The little five-year-old girl was very near death, she was a victim of the same deadly disease from which John, her elder brother of age eight, had made a marvelous recovery two years earlier. The only chance for restoration to health was a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the illness.
Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor. "John, would you like to give your blood for your sister Mary?" the doctor asked him. The boy hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble out of fear. Then he finally smiled, and said, "Yes, Doctor. I'll give my blood for my sister."
Soon the two children were wheeled into the operating room - Mary, now very pale and thin; John, robust and the picture of health. Neither of them said a word, they both remained silent. but when their eyes met, John grinned. As his blood siphoned into Mary's veins, one could obviously see new life come into her weak and tired body. The ordeal was almost over when John's brave little voice broke the long silence, "Doctor, when will I die?" It was only then that the doctor realized what the moment of hesitation, the trembling of the lip, had meant earlier. Being just a little boy, John actually thought that when giving his blood to his sister he was giving up his life! And in that brief moment, the final decision that he had made was the greatest love of all... utterly committed sacrificing love.
That is the picture of a grace-based relationship. It redeems, it empowers, and it is utterly committed to love.
This is the relationship that God established with Noah. He redeemed him from an evil world. He empowered Noah to save others as he did by putting them in the ark. And he is utterly committed to loving Noah and all creation for all time, including you, and it is so radical that it includes members of ISIS.
It’s hard for me to imagine that people in the world like that are redeemable at all, and maybe they aren’t. But God will pursue them to the ends of the earth in order to bring them to redemption.
It’s messy work- redemption. It takes an unwavering commitment from our determined God. And he asked the same from all of us. And we will muck it all up from time to time, but through a grace-based relationship with our God and his family we will redeem the world. This is the promise. This is our story.