On Making a Deal

On Making a Deal

On Making a Deal

February 18, 2024
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Psalm 50: 4-10
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Genesis 8 and 9 selected verses
Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”
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.”


Today’s sermon is titled, On Making a Deal.

Do you remember the television game show Let’s Make a Deal? It aired in 1962 and ran for decades. I watched a little bit of an episode from 1969 this past week. The host, Monty Hall, chose a woman from the audience, her name was Louise. Louise had been given a box of Downyflake frozen waffles. Monty Hall told her that someone in the audience had 500 dollars hidden in their package of food, so she could either keep her box of frozen waffles and take a chance that she really had 500 dollars hidden in among the frozen waffles, or she could give the waffles back to Monty Hall and he would give her 200 dollars, or she could have whatever was behind curtain number 1. Monty Hall said, “Let’s make a deal” and Louise chose curtain number one. The curtains parted to reveal a jersey cow and I thought Louise was going to cry right then and there. She was sorely disappointed, to say the least. Next up was a man named Dave Holton. Dave had a can of Poppycock popcorn. He chose the gift behind the curtain, which turned out to be three stuffed animals in the shape of poodles, each of them 5 times bigger than the largest poodle you have ever seen. Monty Hall opened the can of Poppycock and inside were four 100 dollar bills. Dave was disappointed in his deal, too. Monty Hall then went to a woman with a bird cage on her head. Her name was Sharon. Sharon had a box of mints in her hand. Monty Hall said, “Let’s make a deal,” and she, too, chose the prize behind the curtain. It was a brand new dining room set and Sharon nearly lost her mind she was so excited.
Over the next four weeks, we will revisit four different stories from the First Testament and all of them are about making a deal with God. We will consider four instances where the love that is God wells up in the heart and mind of a prophet and they basically say to their community, “Things are not going so well for us; let’s make a deal.” The scriptures do not use the word deal. There is a much more formal word, but it means basically the same thing. The word used in the scriptures is covenant. A covenant is very much like a deal or a promise; we will study four of them over the coming weeks.
What we are offered today is the ancient story of the first covenant in the First Testament, just 8 chapters into Genesis. At the heart of the story is an ancient problem: humanity is a mess. Humanity is not what God expected it to be and God is very sad and very disappointed.
God thinks a big mistake was made. Apparently, before the flood, people lived for a very long time (like over 900 years!). God decided that was too long. In Genesis chapter 6, God limits human lifespan to 120 years and then goes one step further. I quote here from Genesis chapter 6, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” God decided to “blot out the human beings, animals, creeping things and birds of the air.” Note here that apparently God could not change the hearts of humankind against their will.
I latch onto this because it fits perfectly into my own personal idea of the nature of God. It informs what philosophers refer to as theodicy, the age old questions, “If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?” “Why do bad things happen to such good people?” We all make mistakes. Even God, apparently, makes mistakes. This is a very different portrayal of the nature of God, isn’t it?
After the flood God calls Noah and his family and all of the other life forms to come out of the ark. Noah is grateful. Noah builds an altar and gives thanks to be off that boat, to be alive, to have a chance to begin again. And in return, God says, “Let’s make a deal.” God makes a promise, a covenant, that is completely and totally one-sided. God makes a covenant with all beings that never again will God cause such death and devastation and God asks for nothing in return. God does not have to ask for anything in return. From grateful hearts come goodness, only goodness. So the first covenant is made.
The Hebrew word for promise or covenant is b’riyt *(bee-right!). The word carries more than just promise, it speaks of the quality of relationship that arises from a promise kept, the deep regard that develops in such a relationship where there is trust, goodwill, commitment and steadfastness. The more I study our Judeo-Christian tradition, the more important this concept of covenant, or divine promise, is revealed. I see now why this story of God offering to enter into the first covenant with all living beings is so vitally important to our understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus. I believe Jesus embodied this covenant, and embodied this promise to all living beings. I believe this because every aspect of Jesus’s teaching returns us again and again and again to caring for one another as if we were caring for God itself. Remember the words of Jesus we hear each time we share in Communion? “Jesus took the cup, blessed it, and said, ‘This is a symbol of the new covenant.’” (Luke 22:20)
In closing, I invite us to carry this concept of covenant with us not as something that happened long ago in another culture, but as a dynamic, contemporary way to think of our relationship with God and with one another. In this season of Lententide, may we be curious about the ways Jesus’s teaching returns us again and again and again to caring for ourselves, and for one another, as if we were caring for God itself. So be it. Amen.
* “The most profound and deeply brilliant concept of the Hebrew world view is the concept of the berit between God and his chosen people.” Translated into English as “covenant,” the word means something closer to “promise,” or “pledge.” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/berit

Pastoral Prayer
God of sunlight and snow, we are here together with all our complexities…our mix of hope and fear, trust and worry, health and illness, acceptance and resistance. Help us, Lord, to bring the disparities of our emotions ever closer together, so that we may move through the joys and challenges of our lives with equanimity, balance, and serenity. We pray your healing presence be with us and with all those in need. May we be ever attune to the ways we can serve, with sensitivity and effectiveness and in the spirit of Christ. This we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

I leave you with the following words from the prophet Micah (6:8):

“[God] has shown you, o mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”