Sermon text: Genesis 9: 8-17
Months ago, a curious phrase kept popping up in conversations—the phrase was “cancel culture.” Usually, the remark was something along the lines of “I’m so sick of cancel culture.” Often, this remark accompanied a complaint about some activity that was being postponed or lost entirely due to the pandemic. Sporting events, camp, school, church, graduations, festivals, parties, and just about every other large group activity that you can imagine.
On the one hand, it makes sense. All of these events were and are being put off due to Covid-19. They are being cancelled and we have perfectly good reasons to lament. But on the other hand, that’s not the definition of cancel culture. Yes, events aren’t happening, there are cancellations, but the phrase means something else entirely.
Cancel culture is an act of social censure, an act of public shaming, after a perceived or substantiated social transgression. Quite often the cases have to do with misogyny and racism, for instance, allegations of sexual harassment or old photos of white people in blackface. Think of cancel culture as a boycott of businesses or people to create social change. Since the advent of social media, cancel culture has become much more prevalent and much more visible.
Here’s some examples:
Movie producer Harvey Weinstein, singer R. Kelly, comedian Bill Cosby, and the King of Pop Michael Jackson were all shunned and ostracized for their acts of sexual misconduct and/or pedophilia. They were cancelled.
A few years ago anger flared over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. As a result many people swore they would never watch football again because of the athletes’ protest. This is a form of cancel culture.
Celebrities Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman were cancelled following the admissions scam scandal of 2019 when it was revealed that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe their kids’ way into the University of Southern California.
Football player Ray Rice was cancelled for domestic violence, comedian Louis CK was cancelled for sexual misconduct, chef Paula Deen was cancelled for using racial slurs, and Roseanne…oh Roseanne…she cratered her briefly resurrected career after going on a racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic Twitter storm. All of them, cancelled.
But all of those incidents are small potatoes compared to what God just cancelled in the Book of Genesis. We complain that Cancel Culture is this 21st Century phenomenon…well, maybe not. God just cancelled everyone and everything, save Noah, his family, and the stinky menagerie of animals who are all getting sea sick on the ark.
We cancel people, we marginalize folks and shame and boycott them when they cross a social line by doing stupid things. What does it mean for God to cancel 99.9% of all creation? And how did we get here?
Why? Because we stink. We are awful, and God knows it. Earlier, in Genesis chapter 6: 5-7, we are told:
5The 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. 6And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created — people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
God looks and sees nothing but total depravity. Human sinfulness affects all of our attempts to do good, it is saturated into all of what we think and do. God looks and cannot find anything that hasn’t been compromised by sin and out of an absolute sense of justice God decides to cancel it all, to blot us all out…for God regrets creation: “I am sorry that I have made them.” Those are some depressing words.
But, for whatever reason, God finds something loveable and redeemingly good in Noah and his family. They find favor, and the rest is history. The ark is built, the animals are wrangled, the flood waters rise, and God his the reset button, he shakes the Etch-a-Sketch and now this family and all these animals will be a fresh new start.
What we really have in this story is an epic battle in God’s judgment between absolute justice and absolute mercy. Which one will win out? If God is truly just, then the ark shouldn’ even be built and everyone would have taken the plunge to sleep with the fishes. Instead, we witness God’s fidelity to mercy and love. These characteristics of God’s character win out. God cannot bear to cancel it all.
And so God creates a covenant, an everlasting promise that God will never again destroy the earth and all flesh with flood waters. Even though nothing has really changed, even though sin remains woven into the very fabric of creation because of humanity, even though the original problems still exist, God will choose mercy over what we justly deserve. As part of the covenant God will create a sign, the rainbow, and God will use that sign to remember this promise.
God said: “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I 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.
As a result, humanity is invited into the act of repentance. Will we cancel our sinful ways or will we cancel our relationship with God? Can our hearts be changed, will we accept the promise of the covenant, or will we do our own thing?
In Lent, we are invited to attune our bodies to a different reality—the reality that Jesus proclaimed. “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Jesus offers a new way, a godly way, one where sin has not cancelled God’s original intentions. In Jesus we see mercy and love trumping the power of sin and self-interest. We see mercy overcome the rigorous absolutes of justice. That is why Jesus is here. That is why Jesus is walking to the cross. Jesus is the covenant enfleshed.
Ultimately, that commitment to love and mercy will be the reason why Jesus winds up on the cross, for humanity tries to cancel God even when God is trying to serve and save us. We really haven’t changed since the flood waters fell from the Genesis sky. God has changed. And in Jesus we will see his grieved heart poured out to deliver us, and never to destroy. AMEN