Sunday, February 26, 2012
God Gives Us Rainbows
GEN. 9:8-17 February 26, 2012Today’s gospel, for the first Sunday in lent, is mark’s quite concise account of the temptation of Jesus. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is faced with sin. This was the subject of this morning’s bible study.
Our OT lesson is the story of Noah and his ark. In it, we are reminded that at the beginning of the history of humanity, the Creator faces the appalling sin of the human race. Our text, Genesis 9:8-17, is the conclusion of the story of noah and the great flood.
After the flood, a new covenant is made with humans. In solemn language, God makes a covenant and the rainbow is named as a sign, a seal of the new covenant that God has made with all humanity. It is important to note that the covenant is made with all humanity, not just Israel. It is made with all creatures on earth, including the animals, and it is made at God’s initiation. This is God’s attempt to work with human sin, to make something out of human history which, up to this point, appears to be going in decidedly the wrong direction.
The repetition of “never again” (9:11, 15) sounds like a toll- ing bell, God’s repeated promise never again to respond to human sin with such devastating judgment. The earth will never again face this threat from God. Nature, the great killer through the flood, is now presented as stable, pre- dictable, and ultimately benign because God has promised.
Thus our story is an honest one, honestly embracing the reality of human sin and depravity. Yet it is also a hopeful one in which God takes the initiative in response to human sin. Out of the chaos of human sin, God makes a great covenant. Just as God devastated through water, God also preserved human ity on the waters in the persons of Noah and his family in the ark. Thus we come to baptism, that water that drowns our sin and gives us birth for eternal life. The early church saw Noah as a prefigurement of the story of Jesus and our story in baptism. As we begin these 40 days of Lent, it is a good time for us to remember our baptism and what God does with our sin.
Our first lesson this Sunday is not a pretty one. It is the story of the great flood that wiped out every living thing from the face of the earth with the exception of noah and his family. There are lots of children’s stories, and children’s pictures, and songs about Noah’s Ark, but the story is a very adult one. It is the story of a creative God who made a world, a world that was pronounced, “Good, very good.”
And yet, in just a few chapters the world has gone from good to bad because of human sinfulness. Human beings, created to be obedient creatures in the Creator’s world, began to act like creators of themselves, gods unto themselves.
And it was then that God regretted the world that had been created, particularly God’s human creations. In anger and regret, God made the rains to fall, and the waters to rise, and the waves to beat. The water rose and obliterated every living thing. Only one family was preserved, one family and their collection of creatures.
It is a terrible, terribly frightening story, this story of Noah, when you think about it. There is lots of death and destruction in this story. We may try to turn it into a cute little children’s story. But we can’t, not with all the death-dealing water MAKING IT a sad, horrifying story.
It IS, HOWEVER, an appropriate story to read at the be- ginning of the season of Lent, our 40-day time of honesty. This is the season when we confront our sin and confess our guilt; THAT We have lived in such ways as to make our Creator regret having given us life.
The rest of the world thinks that we are making too much of our sin. Focusing upon evil,sin, AND wickedness might lead us to negative thoughtS, might CREATE in us a bad self-image. IT APPEARS AS IF We live in an age that believes, not in the reality of sin, but in the need to go along in order to get along. Who am I to judge, WE ASK? We’re all doing the best we can. Why must the church dredge up this sordid story of our ill-fated, misbehaving ancestors? Why must we, their heirs in sin, admit to our continuing wickedness?
Because, I’d say, the church is not only about reconciliation, love, and comfort. The church is also about the truth. And this ancient story tells the truth about how we got to where we are today. We have been wrong, from the first, YES, from the very first. Read this morning’s newspaper, check out a book on the history of our age, and there’s so much death, so much chaotic destruction. Not by water, not through the punishment of God, but through our own wickedness.
But the story does not end in our terrible sin and God’s terrible judgment. The waters recede, the clouds fade, the sun comes out, and a rainbow arches over the whole muddy mess. The last word will not be our sin, but rather the Creator’s awesome love. Humanity is forgiven, the human saga begins again, and a rainbow is given as a sign of God’s promise that the flood will be “never again.”
The story ends in good news because God is determined to have the last word in our story. Our sin, our chaotic wickedness that made such a mess of the good world, is not the last word. God continues the conversation, resumes the journey with us, all under the rainbow.
God resumes the journey with us through our baptism. In our baptism our old self is drowned so that our new self might arise. That’s what Paul says of baptism. Just as in the great flood, when water washed away a terrible past and made possible a bright future, so in our baptism God pronounces judgment on our tendency toward wickedness, and mercy on our future. We SURRENDER, in baptism, the flood and the rainbow, AND God makes possible a new creation.
Luther once said something to the effect that baptism takes only a few moments to do, but your whole life to finish. We keep dying to our old, mistaken past so that we might arise to a new future. We keep being dependent on God to take us back, to forgive, and to enable us to begin again. AND, Time and again, God does this. Baptism is a sure promise that no evil we can do is great enough to defeat the purposes of God for our lives.
So, when Saint Paul spoke of his conversion to Christ, he knew not whether to speak of it as being killed or being born; it felt like both at the same time. In order for us to come to God, to be with God, something must die in us in order that something might be born, something must end in order that there might be a new beginning.
Let this Lent be an opportunity to renew your baptism, once again to embrace the mystery of a God who both judges us and loves us at the same time. What needs to be washed away from your life right now? What bad habit, sinful inclination, or dark secret needs to be drowned? And what sun needs to shine, what good work needs to be undertaken, what new practices need to be ventured?
If we are being honest with ourselves, we know our sin is serious. Our alienation from god is severe. Storm clouds gather and waters rise. Yet so is the goodness and grace of god — over us all, over humanity in its heights and depths, over the valleys and peaks of your life. God sets a rainbow to remind us that we can be born anew. Reaching for rain- bows!
I keep reaching for rainbows…
Thinking one god’s morning i will wake up with rainbow ribbons in my hair, with hurts painted over in hues that only angel wings could brush, black obliterated, chaos hurled beyond the rainbow and my vision, the world created in a myriad of colors:
The hungry fed, the dying held, the maimed walking, the angry stroked, the violent calmed, the oppressed freed, the oppressors changed, and every tear wiped away.
I keep reaching for rainbows, but instead of colors in our storm, gray and black infiltrate, dirtying the sky, and I hear human voices wailing in the darkness, the never-ending darkness….
Just the same i know the promise of the rainbow.
I keep thinking i’ll turn a corner one day and find a litany of rainbows flung across the sky, hosannaing back and forth through all the ages and out into eternity forever amen!
Every tear wiped away---
It’s a promise --- when we become rainbows to each other.
Ann Weems - Reaching for Rainbows
Children’s SermonAsk, “what is your favorite color? What color is my robe today? This is the first Sunday of lent. For the next 40 days the church will be dressed in purple to mark the church season of lent. What other purple things do you see in the church? If you’re wearing purple, stand up. In the bible, purple is the color kings wore. It is the color of royalty. During lent we get ready for Easter, a celebration that Jesus is our king of kings. We hear stories that remind us o god’s promises to the people, promises that god always keeps.
Tell about the promise that god made Noah. All of these promises are found in the bible, a book that has many stories about god’s love.”
Let us pray: dear god, today we give you special thanks for purple, a color of kings and queens, and also a color that reminds us o f the preparations we make as we follow Jesus. And, thank you for the promise you made to Noah that we are reminded of through the rainbow.