September 6, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15
16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.[a] 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I 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.
What do we do with this story of Noah and the flood? When encountering the flood story, we usually gravitate to either the image of the animals, two-by-two, or the beautiful covenant of the rainbow. We avoid Genesis, chapter 6, at all costs, and its story of wrath and destruction. But here it is before us today. What do we do with a story of absolute desolation and destruction, of genocide on a global scale? What do we, 21st century progressive thinkers, do with a story that sounds like myth, a worldwide flood story? After all, we worship a God of love and compassion. We worship a God who scripture lifts up again and again with words like those found in Psalm 86, “because, my God, you are good and forgiving, full of steadfast love for all who cry out to you.” In the midst of all that is happening in the world today, the God of Psalm 86 is the One we wish to spend time with, not this God of Genesis 6. But bear with me, my beloved family in faith, for the God is Psalm 86 is EXACTLY the God being proclaimed in the ancient flood story of Genesis, chapters 6 through 9.
The book of Genesis is indeed a book about beginnings, about creating and forming and molding. And one of the things being created and molded and brought into being is God’s people, and the relationship between God and God’s people. Though the rich and vibrant stories of the Book of Genesis serve many purposes and teach us many things, one major purpose is to lift up God, lift up Yahweh, and identify our God, differentiate our God from the idols and pantheon of gods worshiped by the neighboring nations and tribes. The neighboring nations follow many gods, gods of water and earth and air and lightening and storms. These gods are contentious and difficult. But let’s look at how our God is different.
The great flood story—so many ancient cultures have a great flood story as part of their history and identity. In the vast majority of these ancient flood stories, including the ones told by ancient Israel’s neighbors, the many gods—those gods of water and wind and storm and lightening and earth—in their battling with one another, send a great flood. The flood is a punishment for misbehaving humans, and an offshoot of the divine squabbling, and sometimes just a sign that the gods are bored. The story ends with the message that this is just how the gods are. At any moment they can just strike you down or make your life miserable, so set up your little house altars. Lay out your idols. Make your offerings. Appease the gods. Whatever you do, don’t make them angry! You wouldn’t like them when they are angry. The gods are difficult and contentious. There is no way around it.
But Israel’s flood story, OUR flood story, proclaims something very, very different. Ancient Israel was an oral culture, like so many of those neighboring nations and tribes. The beloved stories of God and God’s people were handed down through the sacred telling of the stories long before they were ever committed to paper (papyrus). Picture this: It is the end of the day. The tribal village is done with all their work and ready to reset. Everyone gathers in the center of the village, around a lovely fire. The sacred storyteller takes their place before the families—elders and parents relaxing, ready to hear again a beloved story. Children lean in eagerly, the stories still so new to their ears. The story begins much like the neighboring nation’s flood story. People have been bad, doing horrible things, evil intentions in their hearts. A flood is coming. But here the first difference arises, unlike the neighbors story, the water and earth and storm are not bickering deities. They are created elements, fellow creations, held in the hands of God. The hero arises—Noah. He stands righteous before God and follows all of God’s directions. But as the story reaches its climax, the real and shocking difference arises. The story does NOT end with resignation, that is just the way it is with God. No way out. NO, the story shows a God not filled with anger and wrath, but deeply grieved, suffering loss. The story tells of a God who changes God’s heart, who is willing to limit God’s own power and actions in order to be in relationship with a misbehaving humanity. Our story does not end with resignation, but with rainbow!
“I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant…” God takes the bow, the weapon, and hangs it up. God puts away the very idea of weapons and punishment and destruction and retribution. Instead, God paints the sky with color and promises that life wins, not just with Noah, not just with Noah’s family. Who receives God’s colorful promise? All the earth! Every living creature! No one is excluded from God’s lifegiving promise! Ever! In our children’s sermon book, “Rain before Rainbows,” the story rhymes, ‘rain before rainbows, clouds before sun, night before morning, the old day is done.’ The story speaks of mountains to climb and long journeys. It tells of battling dragons and overwhelming waves. But it concludes in joy, for a new day begins, a day filled with light and hope and joy. That is our flood story too. With God there is always a way out. Our God will always help us find a way out of no way! God will float us above the waters that seek to pull us under. God will shine a colorful light even in the darkest of storms. As the children’s story promised, God sends footsteps to follow, maps to guide, words of wisdom, courageous friends, a rope to hold on to. Our God is the God of rainbows!
“I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature…” We are a rainbow people! This is a rainbow world! Our God IS a God of goodness and faithfulness, of steadfast love and mercy. This rainbow—this covenant of color—calls us to do and be the same. We are to be a people of goodness and faithfulness, steadfast in our loving, at whose tables mercy always has a seat. We are called to continue Noah’s work of caring for all creation, including one another…especially one another. We are called to be those who leave clear footprints for others to follow, to be maps for those lost in the dark, to be courageous friends. We proclaim with all that we are that our God is the God of rainbows—the God who makes a way out of no way! Isaiah reminded Israel of this promise when they too were lost in the dark, facing dragons, struggling to leave exile and slavery only to return to a ruined Jerusalem:
9These are like the days of Noah for me,
when I promised that Noah’s waters would never again cover the earth.
Likewise I promise not to rage against you or rebuke you.
10 The mountains may shift,
and the hills may be shaken,
but my faithful love won’t shift from you,
and my covenant of peace won’t be shaken,
says the Lord, the one who has compassion for you.
11 My suffering one, storm-tossed, uncomforted,
look, I am setting your gemstones in silvery metal
and your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your towers of rubies,
and your gates of beryl,
and all your walls of precious jewels.
13 All your children will be disciples of the Lord—
I will make peace abound for your children.
14 You will be firmly founded in righteousness…
Though the mountains may shift…though the hills may be shaken…our God remains our firm foundation and the rainbow shines amidst the clouds. Thanks be to God! Amen!
Children’s Sermon: “Rain Before Rainbows” by Smriti Prasadam-Halls
Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun.
Night before daybreak. The old day is done.
There are mountains for climbing. Journeys to take.
Dreams that are hopeful. Decisions to make.
Dark days may shake us and worries creep in, with dragons to duel and battles to win.
Thunder will rumble. Lightening will flash.
The wind will start blowing, and tall waves will crash.
But…there are footsteps to follow and words that are wise.
There’s a map that will guide us when troubles arise.
There are friends who will help us, courageous and kind.
A rope to hold on to… and treasure to find.
Sowing and planting. Roots before shoot. Stem before flower. Leaf before fruit.
Rain before rainbows, clouds before sun,
night before daybreak…a new day’s begun.
A day full of promise, a day full of light…
The morning is breaking…
and the morning is bright.