February 21, 2021 – “Sign of the Covenant”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Welcome to our worship service for Sunday, February 21st; at West Tulsa UMC.
Today is the First Sunday of Lent.
We observe the 40 days of Lent so that we can be prepared for Easter.
We observe it because accepting the fact that Jesus died with our names on His heart, and believe that He went to the Cross so that we can have a fully engaged and loving relationship with God, and THEN buying in to the fact that He actually did the impossible…
Jesus rose from the grave and overcame death…for us….That just simply requires a little “make-ready” time.
Lent is about embracing the Resurrected One with a whole and longing heart.
We’re blessed that you chose to worship with the saints of West Tulsa today.
Come! Let’s worship God, who makes and keeps covenant.
Come! See the sign of God’s promise in rainbow and rhythm.
Come! Let’s worship Almighty God! Hallelujah!
Would you join me in prayer please?
The story of Noah is one of great depths….No pun intended.
Actually, maybe it was intended!
We all know it’s a covenant story, the story of God’s attempt to establish a lasting covenant between God and God’s people.
But it’s also a story of relationship, love, bonding, and a brand-new start in a fresh, new place. A place without the turbulence of sin, anger, lifelessness, and death.
But a NEW place. A place of joy, life, new growth, and peace.
In the story ONCE AGAIN, God’s people have not been faithful. Except for Noah.
Noah is the good seed, so to speak. So, God literally transports Noah to another place, a new and fertile place. God wants to partner with Noah in order to try again, get a fresh start.
So God designs a really cool saving vessel, packs Noah and his family, along with animals and supplies, and it sails out upon the “deep.”
When Noah’s Ark emerges from the storm, the vessel and all its inhabitants, find themselves safe and dry on the top of Mt. Ararat.
Looking out over the land, God gives pretty much the same covenant instruction again that He had given Adam and Eve: “Go and bear fruit. Increase in number. Fill the earth with covenant bearers of God!”
Do you remember the story of Creation in Genesis One?
“In the beginning God created (by forming from nothing) the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
Genesis is describing of the Creator God as Spirit, or breath, or wind; they all define the Hebrew word used in the text: “Ruach.”
In the beginning, the Spirit, or Breath of God sweeps over the deep, creating dry ground on which to establish a Garden of Eden: a “place” for God’s people to exist with God, a place intended for lives of beauty, rest, and relationship.
And now, God’s Spirit does the same in this story for Noah.
There’s a fun little word-play in this story that I don’t want to get overly involved with, but they do express something important about the covenant that God established in the Noah story.
The two Hebrew words used are “Ruach” for Spirit/Breath/Wind; and “Nuach” which is the Hebrew word for “Noah,” and “Resting Place,” or “to be soothed.”
In the Noah story, the “ruach” (Breath of God) creates the “nuach” (the Rest stop).
The idea is that when we come into relationship with God’s Holy Spirit presence, we come into a mode of holy “rest.” God’s Spirit creates a place in our hearts that is peaceful. That’s one of the reasons that God commanded: “You shall observe the Sabbath, the day of rest, holy rest.”
This is a place of wholeness in our minds and hearts that defies reason but fulfills us in unimaginable ways.
You know that expression that two people in love use when they say, “You complete me.”? That’s what God’s Spirit/Breath/Wind is able to do for us: It creates a place of completeness or wholeness in our minds that calms our fears and quells our anxiety.
The Noah story gives us the hope that humankind once again can try to “walk” with God in relationship, to exist in a “place” of wholeness, rest, promise, and peace.
Here’s what we need to know about the promise God has made to us through this story. It’s the Good News: A time will come when toil ends, and we come into a time of union with God, and joy, abundance, feasting, wholeness, healing, and peace find a place within our hearts.
Our Heavenly Father wants us to experience relational peace with Him.
God wants you to know His healing peace.
God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah and said:
“I have hidden my face from this city (Jerusalem) because of all their evil. Yet I will certainly bring health and healing to it and will indeed heal them. I will let them experience the abundance of peace and truth.” (Jer. 33: 5-6 HCSB)
Health, healing, peace and truth…Don’t we all want those things?
The Lord DESIRES to give them to us…Our problem is: There’s a huge difference between us “wanting” something, and us actually putting in the effort to get our hearts ready to receive them.
We may want a brand new sports car, a larger house, or a bigger savings account…
But, are we willing to give up something in order get those things?
God has the Promised Land in mind for you and me. However, the Promised Land is not just a place in time…It’s a place within the heart.
There’s rest for the restless there. And … it’s a Rest Stop big enough for all the rest of God’s beloved humanity…There’s plenty of parking spaces.
This is Jesus’ message, the Gospel message:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30 NRSV)
And in Him, we find our Resting Place (Hebrew: nuach).
When we plug in to the peace of the Holy Spirit, we live a life unplugged from the worries and stresses and turbulence of a world without God in it. Jesus is our place of peace, our grounds for growth, our invitation into Everlasting Life.
Jesus tells His disciples on that Mountain in Galilee, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me!” “Go…..make disciples of all the peoples of the earth!” “Baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!” “Teach them everything I have taught you about God and about Me and about all the Holy Spirit can do when you live in relationship with God and Me!”
Does that sound familiar?
It should, it’s pretty much same covenant instruction that God gave Adam & Eve, and then Noah and his family…
Jesus just reworded His Father’s covenant promise for the first century people He was ministering to!
God’s purpose and presence in our lives has never changed. God desires that all the world know how to live a Garden-of-Eden-before-the-Fall-kind-of-life.
God desires that all of God’s people, bearing God’s image, should dwell in a place of peace and wholeness, joy and fulfillment.
The Creator Spirit creates the Comforting Solace.
The Spirit of Creator God creates within us His everlasting and powerful peace.
When we come into our place of peace in our communion with God, we will know it. Paul describes it: it’s a place where we feel the love, the joy, the patience, the mercy, the peace that passes all understanding and comprehension. God’s peace.
Wouldn’t this world be amazing if everyone dwelled within the heart of God and within the arms of Jesus?
Have any of you ever had a difficult experience and then come home only to have someone throw their arms around you, and tell you all will be alright?
That’s a bit like the promise that Jesus is giving us. With Jesus, no matter what dilemmas and disasters we find ourselves in, we find a place of comfort, wellness, safety, and peace at last in the arms of Jesus. It may still be storming elsewhere.
But in Jesus’ arms, there is only wellness and peace, and the knowledge of God’s eternal promise.
In Jesus, we can live life unplugged. Unplugged from the source of our sorrow.
Unplugged from the source of our pain.
The Gospel Ship invites us all aboard to live a Jesus powered life.
Like Abraham, like Noah, and many who came after them, Jesus also offers us a different kind of life than the one we’ve been living. Jesus offers us not an escape from the world, but a place with God that defies and commands the storms.
What happens when Jesus is in the boat with His disciples on stormy seas?
The storm of their stress is calmed, and they are safe in the boat with Him.
What happens when Jonah tries to run away from God, and the storms of his guilt and shame start rocking his boat? God swallows Him up and spits him out on dry land.
What happens when Noah climbs aboard the saving vessel of God’s Good News?
God transports him to a place of peace and gives his family a brand-new start.
What happens when you take Jesus’ hand? He leads you beside those still waters of the soul. He brings you into a Jesus-powered life.
You can stop peddling backward or trying to row through unmanageable waters.
You can stop worrying about all the things in life you can’t control. You can let go of those things you are trying to manage. You too can live a Jesus powered life.
Living a Jesus powered life is the true source of all peace.
But accepting God’s covenant promise, accepting God’s ticket to ride on Jesus’ saving vessel, God’s Gospel Ship of peace, means you too are given instructions for how to plant a Vineyard in the image of God’s garden:
“Go….make disciples of every people and place. Teach them what I’ve taught you.
Offer them what I’ve offered you in the Name of Jesus. Help them too to live a Jesus powered life.
When you accept God’s peace, you accept God’s bid to proclaim rest to the restless, and rest to the rest that are still lost out there in that stormy place outside of Jesus’ loving arms.
The rainbow that God painted across the sky was, and is, a covenantal sign that God is for us, and God is with us. That’s good news in a world that seems so adversarial these days.
Jesus came as the Rainbow personified. He was the sign that God is present and that God is our advocate…NOT our adversary.
Now the time has come for us to move beyond simply pointing at the signs of our Lord’s work in the world…We must BECOME the signs that God is with us.
Just as Jesus was both the Messenger AND the Message, He now depends on us to BE THE MESSAGE!
We are called to proclaim the Spirit (ruach)…that leads to the Place of Peace and Rest (nuach).
The Holy Spirit is coming, and the promise that comes with it! Rest. Not the rest of death. But the promise of Life….full of promise. To live in a new way, to plant God’s garden image in every place and space.
Come to the waters…..the still waters of Jesus’ loving arms. He will give you rest from struggle and back-peddling ….and instill in you a Jesus powered life.
Genesis 9:8-17 NRSV
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 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 a 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.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Isaiah 11:1-3 AMP
“Then a Shoot (the Messiah) will spring from the stock of Jesse [David’s father], And a Branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him— The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and strength, The Spirit of knowledge and of the [reverential and obedient] fear of the LORD — And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make decisions by what His ears hear.”
Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”