Posts Tagged ‘Rainbows’

Its A Symbol 2-18-18

In this sermon, based on Genesis 9:8-17, I explore the covenant that God made with Noah and with all life following the destruction of the flood.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-a-symbol-2-18-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As a species, humanity loves symbols. We have symbols for all kinds of stuff…and rightly so. Symbols serve a good purpose…to remind of us things…to represent something specific.  Some symbols are patriotic like a bald eagle or the US flag. Other symbols work to keep us safe, like the red and green lights on a traffic symbol, telling us when to go and when to stop.

There are countless different symbols representing countless different things surrounding us at any given time…and this is true here in the church as well…we love our symbols here…the cross is an obvious one…reminding us of the hope that we find in the death and resurrection of Christ.  The ever-present Christ candle burning up here on the altar is another one, a visual reminder that the light is always shining in the darkness.

Our different liturgical colors are another symbol…purple and red, green and white and blue…all pointing towards different seasons of the church year with different focal points…

We have different traditions that act like symbols too…things that we do that mark a certain day or are intended to help us consider something specific…the candles that we light on Christmas Eve…the Ashes spread on our foreheads just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday…the slamming of the book on Good Friday, or the smell of the lilies on Easter morning.

All of these things are good things…meaningful things…and all of them, in one way or another…are symbols. (pause) Now I’ve been thinking about this idea of symbols a lot…and I also realized that there are certain things that can also symbolize an end, the finishing of a chapter in life…and as I thought about this, I remembered something that I saw quite a few years back during the 2004 Summer Olympic games.

Some of you may remember the name Rulon Gardner…He was a Greco-Roman wrestler…he had sorta come out of nowhere 4 years earlier…shocking everyone by beating the reigning Olympic heavyweight champion from Russia…and then everyone expected him to repeat and win the gold again in 2004…and maybe just maybe to go on winning…as he had said many times that he would continue to compete until someone came along that could beat him…but that when that happened, he would retire.

And then…in his semi-final match…he lost…and so he had just one more match, to wrestle for the bronze medal, a match that he did win…but once it was over, Rulan Gardner joined a long tradition of wrestlers…he walked out to the center of the mat…bent down and began to untie his shoes…finally taking them off and leaving them in the center of the mat…a tradition…a symbol to represent his retirement.

Now the cheers from the crowd were incredible…as everyone recognized and honored his great commitment to the sport…but you could see the sadness and anguish on his face, tears in his eyes as he set his shoes down, because this symbol meant something different to him…it was a reminder that wrestling was over, all the work, all the competition…it was all done.

Now that’s where I want to connect into the scripture…we have heard today the story of God making a covenant with Noah following the flood…a story that many of us know quite well. The world had grown evil and sinful…and God decides to cleanse the earth of its wickedness with a great flood…but there’s one guy…Noah…and he’s upright and righteous…and so God decides to spare Noah and his sons and their wives…so God has Noah build a great big boat…and together with his family and a whole slug of animals that God has sent 2 by 2…they float around on all this flood water while the rest of life on the earth is destroyed.

The rains fall for 40 days…but the flood itself lasts WAY longer than that…Noah and his crew are actually on the ark for an entire year before God finally remembers them and calls them to come out.  Now, with this, Noah is so happy to be back on dry ground that he builds an altar and makes a sacrifice to God…and then God starts talking to Noah.

Now the first thing we hear, just before our reading starts up today…is a reminder from something going all the way back to the beginning…as we hear that all of humankind has been made bearing the divine image of God…and then God takes look at Noah and says something that sounds, downright familiar…be fruitful and multiply…the exact same thing God has said clear back in the story of the creation with Adam and Eve…and maybe that makes sense…humanity has essentially been wiped out, and the animal population wasn’t fairing much better, so maybe it stands to reason that God would need to repeat this command to go out and do what life does…to live and multiply.

But with this, God makes a promise…and as we hear today…God must think its pretty important because we hear it repeated several times over. I establish my covenant with you and your descendants…and with all the animals and the birds…with all life for all generations to come…never again will I destroy the earth by flood.

And then again…I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall flesh be cut off by flood, never again will flood destroy the earth…And then we hear of a sign…a sign of the covenant…which covenant…the one that is between me and you and between me and all flesh…and what is that sign? I have set my bow in the clouds…and when I see it I will remember the covenant that I have made with you and with all flesh to never destroy the earth…Yes when that bow is in the clouds I will see it and I will remember the everlasting covenant between me and all flesh…

And then God reminds Noah one more time…just for good measure….This is the sign of the covenant between me and all flesh on the earth. (pause) Did you sense a trend there?

I can only think that God wants to make it abundantly clear that he is making a covenant with ALL life, not just Noah but all life that this utter destruction will never happen again…and that there is a sign for it…the bow that God has set in the clouds. (pause)
Now here’s the thing that I think is pretty important…this covenant, which interestingly enough is the very first covenant that God makes with humanity in the scriptures…this covenant is utterly one-sided. Now that’s not typically the case is it. Anytime there’s a covenant, or a contract or whatever we want to call it…both parties typically bring something to the table don’t they?

But not this time…God literally asks nothing of Noah or his sons or the rest of humanity…the only person who is beholden to anything here is God…who will see the sign of the covenant in the clouds and will remember…God will remember that the destruction of the earth is over. Just like a wrestler putting his shoes on the mat, signifying the end of all the work and the sacrifice and the competition, God remembers that destruction is over. (pause)

Now this is all pretty amazing, but it makes me stop and think just what is it that God was destroying in the first place? That’s the funny thing about this whole story…that even though this is one that we typically consider nice and cute…and we see images of Noah and the Ark and all the animals smiling under a rainbow in church nurseries and storybook Bibles…but in the end we need to remember that this is utter devastation on the part of God…and that’s sort of eye opening.

Now, at times when I’ve talked about this, I’ve heard people say that the God of the Old Testament seems to be angry and judgmental and full of wrath…but interestingly enough…that’s not what causes God to send the flood…If you don’t believe me, go home and look it up, its in Genesis 6 if you’re looking…and if we look back we find that humankind has become wicked and evil…But God isn’t angry…God is sorry that he has created us…God grieves the existence that humanity has taken on…and it has only taken 10 generations since Adam and Eve. 10 generations to move from the Tov…from the Very Good of God’s creation that has culminated in humanity to God literally being sorry that we were created in the first place.

Let that sink in…We have a God who grieves in the mess that we have made of our existence and our reality…and all I have to do today is say the words “recent events” and I’m guessing many of you out there today are going start nodding your heads…because its not hard to understand God’s grief with how humanity treats one another is it? (Long pause)

And yet…God’s not done with us yet. And we know its true because as we heard, over and over again…God has made a promise, a covenant…never again…and God has given us a symbol…a bow set in the clouds.

Now here’s the thing about that bow…for us, its become a beautiful symbol hasn’t it…the rainbow…a bright and vibrant splash of color in the sky showing us that the storm is over…now I’ve seen many rainbows in my life…but never so bright and clear as the ones that I see at camp in the mountains of Colorado. I can only think that the conditions are perfection for the creation of rainbows there…as afternoon storms come rolling down the mountain which faces west, into the afternoon soon…and the storms let loose for about 10 minutes, and then the clouds slide farther on down the mountain, out across the valley to the east that overlooks the next range…and as the clouds slide by the afternoon sun lights up those clouds and the most vivid rainbows come in to focus…sometimes doubles…and I’ve even seen a triple before…and its gorgeous and it literally serves as a sign that the storm is over and its safe to go outside again.

But the sign is different for God than it is today…and maybe just maybe it was different for our brothers and sisters of ancient times…because what if God wasn’t just talking a rainbow…what if God was talking about a weapon?

You see, in ancient times, it was thought that when a storm came over, some divine being up in the heavens, didn’t matter which culture you were a part of, but whoever your god was…they thought that god was shooting arrows at the earth in the bolts of lightning that would come crashing down…but what if that divine being has made a promise to hang up the bow that fires the arrows?

Maybe that’s what this symbolizes…that the one who is capable of bringing utter destruction upon the earth is hanging up the weapon that causes it…and if we think about that bow…its pointing up away from the earth.  Just like a wrestlers shoes signify the end of his career…the weapon being hung up serves as a symbol to signify the end of destruction.

And as we mentioned before…this covenant, this promise is utterly one sided, which if we think about many of our Biblical figures, perhaps becomes quite apparent. God made this covenant with Noah…and it took approximately 4 verses for Noah to screw up and in a drunken stupor begin cursing his offspring.  Likewise, Adam and Eve…the epitome of the Good creation of God…they lasted 6 verses.  God’s chosen people the Israelites….the ones who received the law through Moses…they were literally breaking the 1st commandment in the same instant that God was giving Moses the commandments.

I bring all this up to remind us that humanity has always been, and will continue to be broken and flawed…and yet out of God’s divine favor for those made in his image, he has promised us never again. But what is even more amazing than that…out of that divine favor comes another promise, one that is made real for each us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…that through him we have been claimed…and we have been given a sign of that promise as well…2 of them actually…one we’ll share in a few moments when we hear the body of Christ broken for you, the blood of Christ shed for you.

And the other one…interestingly enough it has to do with water as well…for our baptism serves a physical reminder of the promise that God has made on your behalf…a promise that speaks of your identity as far as God is concerned.

But, even though the covenant is one-sided…in the waters of our baptism we are also invited into something different…because we are invited into the work of reconciling this world back to God through the Good News of Jesus Christ, the one who has redeemed this broken world that we are a part of…this broken world that all too often seems dark and dreary and hopeless…especially in light of recent news.

And yet…just as the rainbow serves as a reminder of the promise that God made to the world…just as our baptism serves as a reminder of the promise that God has spoken into our lives as individuals…may we continue to find hope…and not only that but may we carry the source of that hope out into this dark broken world, so that maybe, just maybe we can begin to see the Kingdom of Heaven come near for all people. Amen.

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