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Who would you make a covenant with? You see a covenant is a binding irrevocable agreement. The Hebrew word “berith” means bound or tied. They were often made by a sovereign with his subjects in which case there were terms and conditions to be met; the levels of superiority and inferiority were carefully maintained and there were penalties if the inferior did not comply. Sometimes, they were made between equals in which case there were always terms and conditions on both sides, much as there would be in our modern agreements and contracts. This morning though we are concerned with Biblical covenants made between God and his people. These are special in the sense that people of course cannot impose terms on God so these are agreements made by God through his grace with us. In the case of our reading from Genesis this morning, the covenant with Noah is both unconditional and perpetual.
There are simply no terms and conditions for us to meet: “I establish my covenant with you. Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And that’s it a solemn permanent promise, freely made.
On one corner of the ducal place in Venice is a striking sculpture, crowning an elegant column dating from the early fifteenth century it shows this same Noah in his drunkenness (which we read about in the next chapter of Genesis) now partly covered by the cloth placed on him by his older sons Shem and Japheth to cover his nakedness. Somehow the artist has captured the inebriation, the debauched slumber of Noah so well that we are led to wonder “was this then the righteous man blameless among the people of his time” who God instructed to build the ark?
Would you I wonder have established a covenant with Noah? After all he was good but not perfect.
In our modern world the idea of an irrevocable permanent agreement is almost forgotten. We are not very good at sticking to our agreements. Just think about employment or have any of you had an insurance claim recently? For all our lawyers, contracts, terms and conditions, and precisely worded small print, we seem to be always renegotiating, especially when things change and when things do not turn out as expected.
In this context, that is to say things not turning out quite as agreed, it is time to introduce you to Rupert. Rupert is a chestnut or bay or copper or tan or perhaps hazel; well in any case a brown horse. The covenant was made with my number two son Christopher. Rupert belongs to his fiancé and he, the horse, now lives in my paddock. (Actually before Rupert it was known as “the field” but now it is “the paddock”) In return for lodging they (Christopher and Gemma) are to exercise Rupert, feed him and see to all his other creature needs and comforts.
Well that was the idea but then it was explained to Mum that letting him out first thing in the morning would mean quite a detour, and when there is snow on the ground someone has to consider the ice there is to be broken on the troughs and buckets of water and the slices of hay that are needed and then again they, Christopher and Gemma, have to work late you see and Rupert has to be stabled at night and so far he cannot work the bolts by himself.
But then Christopher is one of our children and covenants with children stand and so the horse is looked after no matter what the small print said as it is part of the bigger agreement that, perfect or imperfect, we look after our children (and our children’s children for that matter). And the symbol of the covenant that Frances and I have made is a beautiful horse among the green grass that we can enjoy from my library window.
We are all God’s children, like Noah or Christopher, we may be somewhat imperfect and find it difficult to keep our side of the bargain but God you see unlike humans does not renegotiate, he has promised us forgiveness for repentance of our sins, he has promised that his love will endure forever and whenever a rainbow appears in the clouds we will see it and remember our everlasting covenant.