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God’s good green agreement
God loves this planet! So, is green the best colour in the rainbow? (Genesis 9.8-17)
Ideas for sermons or interactive talks
The earlier chapters of Genesis paint a picture of the intrinsic relationship between God and creation. In Genesis 9.8-17, God recommits to that relationship through several promises made at the close of the previous chapter and the beginning of this one. Essentially, God will not hold the entire earth responsible for humanity’s crimes against creation. So, as the sole-surviving representatives of the human race in this story, God’s covenant here is firstly with Noah, but extends to every living creature saved by the ark. As a sign of that covenant God places a ‘bow’ in the sky. In ancient art, a deity wielding a bow was depicted as a symbol of war, (see Lamentations 2.4; Habakkuk 3.9-11). Therefore, hanging up that bow was a symbol of retirement from battle. Noah’s story progresses to the point where God is now at peace with creation, symbolised by the rain-bow. When we see it we are reminded of God’s love for creation.
Nearly fifty years ago the world of retail woke up to a marketable way to love creation. The Body Shop was founded by Anita Roddick in 1976, built upon the principles of pioneering ethical trading and taking a strong stance against the testing of products on animals. Whilst other high street shops tried to follow or simply paid lip service to these ideals, for many years The Body Shop stood out as a lone beacon of light in the dark world of high street consumerist trading. But the brand has struggled to keep up with its own founding principles (let alone its rivals) since it was sold by its founder in 2006 and now risks getting washed away by financial floods as it goes into administration.
As a teenager growing up in the 80’s I can relate to Dearbail Jordan’s description of the good times of The Body Shop on the BBC as: “a magical emporium called The Body Shop. Inside you would find piles of colourful soaps, jars of shimmering bath pearls, rows upon rows of intriguing lotions and, if it was a Saturday, gaggles of teenagers spraying themselves silly with White Musk eau de toilette testers. For children of the 1980s and 1990s, The Body Shop was a Willy Wonka-esque treat.” And what was more, you could shop and feel that you were showing your love for the planet and all its inhabitants. Those simply designed bottles with their rainbow-coloured contents were like a promise contained within a purchase - that things could be put right with the world.
I often describe the covenant within the service of Holy Communion as ‘a living promise’. In other words it is God’s promise that lives and grows with us, whilst its founding principles remain the same. Unfortunately the promise of The Body Shop did not continue to grow, and so we now see its founding principles drowning. This is sad to see, but it is also a startling reminder of what happens if you do not keep your eyes open to see what you are doing to the world around you. It would be fair to say that there have been many times throughout its history when The Church has lost sight of its founding principles. Some might say it is a miracle we’re still here too! But, fortunately, God’s love is bigger than the church. That is good news worth celebrating. And the rainbow is a symbol that God will never stop loving this whole planet.
In the first week of January, Andrew Roberts also wrote about water being a symbol of life and renewal. Many churches begin the year with an invitation to share in a Covenant service or the renewal of baptismal vows service. It is worth remembering this week that both water and the rainbow in Noah’s story are powerful symbols of Covenant, as Roots carries the theme of Covenant throughout Lent this year. So let us take the opportunity in this season of Lent to start afresh as Christians, helping God to love and care for this earth and all its inhabitants.
Questions for discussion
If we are meant to be reminded of the promise of God’s love for creation whenever we see a rainbow in the sky (Genesis 9.8-17), what symbols remind us of God’s love as we read the gospel passage (Mark 1.9-15).
How does it strike you that the gospel account of Jesus' baptism (Mark 1.9-11) takes water as a symbol of new beginnings, yet this image contrasts so strongly when used as such a destructive symbol in the old testament passage from Genesis (9.8-17) in the waters of the flood. A connection is made in 1 Peter 3.18-22, as Noah’s family are saved through water, so baptism becomes a symbol of being saved. How might the symbol of a rainbow (already used as positive symbol in many varied ways in our society today) also be used as a sign of the covenant of baptism, or elsewhere within the church?
- Is your church an Eco Church or Eco Congregation? Look on A Rocha UK’s website to see how your church might promise to live with greener principles. How much does a green agenda drive all that you do as a congregation to love God’s creation more and more each day?
Tim Lowe is a minister of the United Reformed Church, serving in the Leeds URC Partnership. He has felt privileged to write for Roots since Noah’s time and before Roots' creation as a member of the formational editorial group.
Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people
If you catch the news this week, you’ll find a number of signs that the UK and the US are in an election year. This means lots of talk about promises. The UK prime minster, Rishi Sunak, made five promises last year which some people are now assessing him against. The Labour Party have changed their policy to invest £28 billion in ‘green technology’ if they reach power – their answer to criticism being that they don’t want to make a promise now that they can’t keep if they come into power.
Joe Biden and Donald Trump are both making promises about what will happen if they are re-elected as president of the USA this autumn – and also what disaster will likely happen if their opponent gets elected!
Lots of people are very cynical about promises made by politicians because of past times where they have quietly dropped their promises once elected. Mary Poppins talks about ‘pie-crust promises’ which are, ‘easily made and easily broken’ as she refuses to promise Michael that she’ll never leave.
Our story today is about God’s promise to Noah. It’s not a promise that God has to make as it doesn’t affect whether Noah obeys or not – it comes once the flood has gone. God chooses to promise Noah that he will not destroy the Earth again - not so that Noah will worship him or like him, but because God chooses to.
Whose promises do you trust? Have people broken promises they have made to you before? Today we’re looking at the good news of God’s promises for you. Promises made by someone who will never break them, never change them. Will you trust God’s promise for you?
Steve Taylor is joint-vicar of St James Alperton CE near Wembley. He shares the job with his wife, Ali, and shares his house with their two children, two cats and numerous fish.
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