Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 7, 2014
First Christian Church
For the next few weeks we are testing out a new lectionary. Since I’ve been here, we have been using the Revised Common Lectionary, which tries to get you through the major parts of the Bible in three years. My alma mater, Luther Seminary has devised an alternate lectionary which is called the Narrative Lectionary. It also tries to get you through the Bible, but it’s in four years and not three. The main thing about this lectionary is that it looks at the Bible as one large story of God interaction with God’s creation. The story starts today with what I would call the prologue of God’s story.
So today we start with a real familiar story. Many of us here are aware of this story. Maybe we were told this story in Sunday School as a youth. Maybe you read a storybook that had Noah and the ark. Maybe you sang that song “God said to Noah…” Whatever it is, the result is the same, we have this image of an ark on the waters with a smiling Noah. The animals also seemed to have smiles on their faces and the little ship bobbled along the makeshift seas. It’s a nice and pleasant picture.
That’s the story we think we know. And then you actually read the story. The earth is this horrible place and God is upset at what God sees. God regrets making creation and decides to hit the reset button. So, this flood wasn’t something that just happened, it happen because God is angry and grieving over the creation that has gone astray. We see God judging all of creation with a massive flood that kills everyone-men, women and children save a remnant of creation.
And then there’s the animals on the ark. In those children’s pictures, we see all these happy animals and a happy Noah. Okay, I’m a city kid, but even I know if you have things like elephants and sheep and horses and cows you end up with poor Noah and his family living in smelly boat cleaning up all the poop produced by the animals. I don’t imagine Noah had a smile on his face after having to clean up after the elephants.
The story of our youth is not a nice sweet story. It’s a disturbing story. God judges creation and the body count is more than any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.
But as hard as it is to come to terms with a violent, judgemental God of fury, we would only have part of the story if we only focused on the flood. Now it is important to understand that God is a just God. God doesn’t look at sin and not care. The sinfulness of creation breaks God’s heart. But the flood, God as judge is only half of the story and it would be wise that we don’t focus only on the flood- God is a just God, but God is also a loving God and even in the midst of destruction, God shows that God brings salvation and promises to do relate to creation in a new way.
This passage starts with the whys of Noah building the ark and ends with the flood ending and God speaking to Noah and his family. They would be the instruments of salvation as they would repopulate the earth along with the animals.
But that is not the important part of the story. It’s what happens next that matters. God tells Noah and his family that God will set a “bow in the clouds.” A bow, a rainbow will grace the heavens as a reminder that God would never again destroy creation. Maybe in modern parlance God is placing a giant post-it note in the heaven to remind God that God would not unleash such violence on creation ever again. God made a promise to creation; a promise that would come with a cost. You see, creation didn’t just stop breaking God’s heart. At some point people would start being evil again and God would become angry at the injustice going on. God might want to send judgement, but God made a promise, a promise to keep. What we will start to see from here on out is God trying to reconcile with God’s creation in a different way. God will use a specific people, the Jews as an example to the world to return to God. Later on, God uses God’s chosen people to bring for God incarnate, Jesus who would bring salvation to all of creation.
The symbol of the rainbow is about hope. Out of the sadness of creation comes a sign that God is still there, walking with us instead of abandoning us.
The rainbow has always been about hope. After the storms, there is a sign that God remembers.
Most of you here remember the big floods of 1997. My husband Daniel lived in Grand Forks at the time which we all remember was inundated with water from the swollen Red River. A city of 50,000 had to grab what they could from their homes and go. This was the largest peacetime evacuation in modern American history which was suceeded eight years later when New Orleans was evacuated during Hurrican Katrina. So there is water everywhere in the city. To add insult to injury, a fire starts in downtown that would damage about 11 buildings. So here is all this water and in the midst of it is a fire. The fire trucks couldn’t get through the flood waters and even if they did, the couldn’t use the fire hydrants since the city’s water system had failed. You can’t get anymore absurd than that.
There is a picture that I saw from that time that I believe was taken by a photographer from the Grand Forks Herald, which won a Pulitzer for their work even as their own building was flooded and burnt. The picture has smoke from the buildings and flood waters everywhere. But there’s something else there. It’s a rainbow. Daniel remembers that picture. It was a sign of hope. Come hell or highwater (in this case literally) hope was possible. This was not the end.
Over the next few weeks will talk a bit more about God keeping God’s promise of hope. Just remember when we face the hurts of the world, know that God has and is suffering with you and that this pain is not the last word. There is a rainbow around the corner. Thanks be to God. Amen.