8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” 17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”Genesis 9:8-17
Covenant is a central theme of our Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Multiple times, God established covenants with human beings, which essentially held a few simple elements: 1) I will be your God, 2) you will be my people, 3) under the condition that you will be obedient and faithful to your God, and 4) doing to others as you would have done to yourself.
Frequently, when God established covenants, human beings accepted and agreed to them; human beings then broke the covenant and separated from God (sin); prophets called people to repentance; God reestablished covenant (redemption), and the cycle repeated itself. The grand culmination of this covenantal relationship was (and is) Jesus. Through Jesus the Christ, the cycle was broken, and the restoration and deliverance of God’s people was sealed for all time.
Note that, with Noah, the covenant is between “me and all the flesh that is on the earth.” We know that shortly after this covenant was established, Noah got himself drunk, and his son Ham violated the moral code of his time and received a curse (Genesis 9:18-28). The naming of Ham’s descendants in chapter 10 have led some questionable scholars to note that many of the darker-skinned ethnicities in our world today emerged as the lineage of Ham. This sad misinterpretation resulted in a terrible abuse of scripture: a bias and prejudice against brown and black skin on a supposedly biblical basis, used to justify slavery.
An important question to consider is this: does the curse of Noah invalidate the promise of God? God’s intention to protect all living creatures on the face of the earth is crystal clear. Are our earthly disagreements and divisions greater than the will of God? I pray this is a rhetorical question.
In the midst of the global pandemic and the multiple incidents of violence and brutal force against black people throughout 2020 and before, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church met and committed to a priority of Dismantling Racism. We do this not to be judgmental or political. While there are aggressive and violently racist people, there is also widespread agreement among Christians that such prejudice and bigotry is not acceptable. The Council of Bishops is more interested in dismantling the systemic nature of racial, ethnic, and cultural injustice and ongoing harmful ignorance. This will help us reconstruct systems of equity, fairness, acceptance, celebration, and justice for “all flesh that is on the earth.” It is vitally important that we make every effort to order our lives and our ministries to contribute to God’s divine plan for beloved community and to see “God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” which we pray regularly in the Lord’s Prayer.
Thoughts, words, and actions that treat people of other colors, cultures, languages, ethnicities, or geographies as inferior, dangerous, repulsive, or contemptible based on their differences is sinful and destructive. These attitudes disrespect and disgrace the truth that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and we should spend significant time together in our communities of faith working hard to eliminate prejudice, divisive judgmentalism, and oppression wherever we find it.
Questions for Conversation
1. What characteristics, qualities, and behaviors do I tend to judge other people on? What meets with my approval? What causes disapproval?
2. Where did these standards of judgment come from?
3. How does a person’s skin color influence my thinking? How does their ability to speak my primary language clearly influence my thinking?
4. What sights, smells, sounds (think of clothing, cooking, music, decorations, hygiene, tone/volume/inflection, etc.) are most comfortable for you? Which make you uncomfortable or irritated?
Questions for Personal Reflection between Sessions
1. Where do I encounter people who are significantly different from me?
2. What are the characteristics of my family, friends, and the people I associate with most frequently that I find most comfortable, confirming, and “normal”? What characteristics and actions make me most uncomfortable, uncertain, and threatened?
3. What obstacles and/or challenges do I feel about relating to people who think, speak, or act in ways foreign to my own thoughts, words, and actions?
Closing Prayer (or one of your own):
Creator God, we offer our thanks and praise that we are part of your divine creation. Help us to view “all flesh that is on earth” as you view it. Open our eyes and hearts to see the beauty, the sacredness, the holiness, and the wonder of all you have created. We ask this humbly in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Recommended Resources for Deeper Learning and Understanding:
Book: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. Understanding our inequalities based in power dynamics and abuses of power large and small that divide us.
Film: Twelve Years a Slave by Steve McQueen.
Warning: graphic and disturbing, not easy to watch; the story of a man sold into slavery and the abuses of power and oppression that illuminate most of human history.
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