(The text below is the sermon that I preached on Sunday morning, February 22, 2015 at Rio Rancho UMC. I hope that the text reminds you to discover and follow your signs in life that lead to the Divine.)
We are always looking for signs. In our petitions to God we ask for a signal that we might know that we are on the right path. We want a clear indication that we are heading in the right direction.
In our world we are bombarded by a number of signs. We have signs to indicate the right lane. Signs to indicate if we can walk on a path. Signs to tell us when we can turn left or right, or go straight. The list is endless.
For whatever reason, I think this appeals to us. We need structure. We need to make sense of where we are going. Don’t believe me? How many of you could exist without a church bulletin? We need them as a sign to indicate where we are headed in the worship service. I can, and have, easily lead our wonderful tech team in the back to a state of chaos when I stop looking at the signs and try to simply guess what is coming next. You’ve seen it. It isn’t pretty.
So, this morning on our first Sunday in Lent, we turn our attention to the story of Noah. I honestly sat down this week thinking that this would be an easy sermon to prepare. I mean, how many of us have never heard of Noah and the rainbow in the sky to indicate a promise to never destroy the earth with a flood? If you haven’t, please stay with me. It will make sense, I hope, in a few minutes.
So, I sit down to begin my research really not sure that there was much to be found in this story today. I know better than to assume that. As soon as I do, God steps in and reveals to me things about this text and about me and my relationship with the Almighty that I really hadn’t ever thought of until preparing for this sermon this weekend.
In re-reading the story of the rainbow this week, some interesting things came out of hiding. One, it was believed in the ancient world that the gods used rainbows as bows and the lightening was the arrows that filled the sky. To the ancients, they lay witness to the heavenly wars in which the gods went to war against one another.
To the Hebrew nation, it is believed that the Holy One of Israel took these bows and set them as a reminder of a promise. That this bow in the sky would remind God to never destroy the earth again by flood.
Yes. I did say the wording of the text correctly. The promise in the sky was not to remind us, but to remind God. Our creator made this covenant with Noah and included this sign to remind not Noah, but God that He had entered into an agreement. According to Hebraic tradition, the top of the bows are always pointed towards the sky so that no heavenly arrows will ever be directed down at the earth. The word that is used for covenant in this text in Hebrew is “berit” and it refers to the covenant made to Noah regarding the rainbow and the covenant with Abraham regarding circumcision.
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this is a major part of the story that I had usually glanced over. I mean, here we see an extremely huge sacrifice on God’s part. I could have truly named this sermon, “You are not the only one that is giving something up for Lent.”
In this covenant with Noah, it is God who gives us something. We are the receivers of the gift. By pledging to never destroy the earth in this manner again, God sacrifices himself. In this promise, he will never deal justly with the sin of humanity in this world.
Think about it. Before the flood it grieved God’s heart that He had created humanity. He only found one person who was not imploding in on himself and turning away from this incredible God. And so, out of God’s just and righteous anger, he floods the earth demolishing his own creation. To pledge to the world that there would be no more devastation like this again, He the Almighty said, “I will no longer deal with you justly.” I don’t know about you, but I say, “Amen to that.”
We see the fulfillment of this covenant much later in the Biblical story when once again God sacrifices the most sacred part of Himself for His creation. His son. Once again, God gives up something so that we may live.
This story in Genesis, as in the story of the Gospels, is not about what human kind surrenders, but it is about what God surrenders to save humanity from anything, including God’s judgment. We get so wrapped up with what we are giving up and adding to Lent, that we can’t seem to recognize the fact that God has given more. So much more.
The story of Noah is not simply a children’s story. We wrap it up in a neat little bow with neat little songs and neat little stories. It is tragedy and sacrifice at its finest. It is the understanding that God remained and is remaining faithful to His creation.
We see in this children’s story the beginning of God’s incredible and radical love for us. We see the story of Jesus revealed in the very beginning of scripture. This notion of Divine love and holy retribution.
One of my favorite children’s stories is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. If you have never read that story I encourage you to get a copy and read it. In the story, this tree begins as a tall tree and develops an incredible relationship with a little boy. As the boy grows, he demands much of the tree until, the tree is nothing more than a stump. And even as the boy has become an elderly man, the stump (now a former shadow of its majestic self, still offers everything that it is).
The love that is shared is like that of our amazing God. It is all-encompassing. Sacrificial. And will be given so that others may know comfort. God did not set the bow in the cloud so that Noah would see it, but primarily so that God himself would see it. It was a sign to him.
Thank God today that the gospel of hope depends not on what we see, on our senses, on our feelings, on subjective emotions that change with the seasons, but on firm, unshakable and unmovable realities: God in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself. We believe today in a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. Better than a silver lining over our cloud is a bow in the heavens — the knowledge that whatever darkness covers our sky, God is able to deliver us and to keep us safe within the embrace of his eternal purposes of grace.
So, on this first week of Lent, let us be grateful. Let us be grateful for creation. Let us be grateful for each other. Let us be grateful for this amazing God who continuously shares Himself with us so that we might know eternal life.
I entered this text feeling as if there wasn’t really much to say. I left it with a richer understanding that God’s plan of redemption has been in the works long before Jesus ever became human. God’s promises are constantly being made new.
I also think that this text teaches us that out of absolute disaster in life; when everything seems as if it is destroyed, God will come and be with you. That is the hope of that sign. That amazing and beautiful rainbow.
God is creating a sign for you. The way to joy. The only thing about this sign is that the rainbow has been placed within your soul. No visual reminders are needed. It is all here for you in this moment. The choice is yours.
When you look to the rainbow, what do you see? May it be the creator of all rainbows. The One, who creates within you a clean heart. Today our journey took us back to the beginning of our relationship with God. We give thanks for the creator of our paths. The one who never stops loving us.