Today we are talking about the last part of Noah’s story, the part with the rainbow. It has been said of NLBCC that we are a “rainbow church” welcoming of everyone who chooses to follow Jesus. And, that is true. But there is a God story in the rainbow that we don’t want to forget, a story that goes beyond the rainbow flag. The bow in the sky is not just a colorful wrapping but rather consider that it is a bow from a bow and arrow. God puts his bow in the air, leaving behind the weapon of war, the arrow. He chooses another way. God makes the earth a promise…I will keep the earth safe.
Now before we go any further, let us understand that we need not go looking for the ark to hear God’s word to us today. The attentive reader of scripture will see for themselves that the Bible has many types of writing, from the poetry of Psalms to the letters of Paul; from the history of Exodus to the Apocalyptic vision of Revelation. Genesis was not written to be a scientific discourse nor a historical document recording the creation of the world.
It is a mythic story. Myth seeks to tell the truth through our God created human imagination. In the story of Noah’s ark we have a description of what it is like for humanity and thus all of creation to be separated from God. And, we have a description of what it is like for God to be separated from humanity.
And, what a turbulent sea that creates! God rages against all of creation through the waters of the flood!
You have heard the story. God was so enraged by how those created in his own image, humankind, corrupted the world, that God let loose the flood waters. After the world was cleansed, he started a new humanity with one righteous man, Noah. Noah and his family and a male and female from all the creatures of the earth boarded a large boat, an ark. When the flood waters receded, all having been swept away, those on the ark stepped onto the dry land. And God spoke to Noah saying:
9 “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. ….
In this new beginning, humanity is given all on the earth and all in the sea by God. Therefore, all of the earth is a gift from God. Everything we eat is a gift from God. Every animal which makes us smile in wonderment, like the okapi or the big blue whale, is a gift from God.
This is a foundational truth of our faith. All is a gift from God. Let it reach deep into your soul.
Then when we look upon the things of the earth; when we bring food into our mouths; when we stop to look at a rose; or climb to the top of a tree or mountain…we see not only the horizon but we see the one who gave us this moment…we see God.
I go outside and look up…yep there is a gift from God flying high.
I look down and …yep there is a gift from God in the green of the grass.
I look sidewise…oh, there is a gift from God, in the dog held by his human.
Once we start to see the world this way, there is nowhere we can go to get away from the knowledge of God being the giver of all we see, hold, and stand upon.
Everywhere we look, there is something that tells us of God.
And this mythic story has more to teach us. After God gives to us this world and everything in it, God makes a promise to us and everything in it. The promise God makes with us and we make with God is called a covenant. That is why you have been given a covenant form…for the promise you make is not to Pastor Heather or the Board of NLBCC…it is a promise you make to God. Listen to what God promises.
And God said:
12 “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: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I 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.
It is a brilliant, imaginative, God authored movement…when humankind looks up as the sun moves through the clouds creating the colors of the rainbow…and they say “that is God’s sign that God will keep our earth safe.” “That is a sign of God’s promise to us that no more will God war against us, but will rather protect us.” It is a God authored movement when we look up at the rainbow and we hear God saying “I make a covenant with you and all the earth.”
To understand the promise it helps to know that water in the time when Genesis was written is a sign of chaos. Flood water would be equated to chaos unleashed. But you remember God parted the waters in Genesis 1 to create land.
It took an act of God to push apart chaos and create the land.
Let’s read verse 15 closely again. God says:
“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.”
Now I did my homework on this one. I looked at other translations of the Bible to make sure what I’m saying has support.
Like the King James Version: Genesis 9: 15
And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
It is exact! Meaning there is no debate about the translation.
In every translation I looked at the verb tense agrees: “The waters shall no more become a flood.”
Not …“I will never again destroy the earth” as if God now passively sits back and relaxes watching the show that is acted out by mortals.
“The waters shall no more become a flood” suggests something entirely different. The God who separated the waters to make the land will not allow the waters to become a flood to destroy all flesh. God is keeping chaos from flooding the world.
The promise told by the rainbow is that God is actively holding back the bedlam that would consume us.
The rainbow is a sign of God’s protective presence.
When a beloved parishioner passed into heaven after 12 years of living with stage 4 cancer, the church I served had a memorial. As people walked from the church after the memorial, they looked up and there was a rainbow. Many people told me of that sight throughout the years. It was a sign that our beloved friend was in the arms of the same one who protects the earth. It was a sign that chaos does not win…death does not win…God stands above it all and brings us safely home.
The rainbow tells us who is in charge.
There’s one more moment in this scripture worth noting. The first: God said…all the earth and all the creatures of the earth are yours, reveals God as the giver, the creator. The second: God said…The waters shall no more become a flood, reveals God as the protector, we sometimes call the sustainer.
But sandwiched between two “And God said” is another voice…a voice which, like a baby’s babble in response to the words from Mom, brings God joy.
Listen: God said:
14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I 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
Okay, pastor, we’ve heard that one…
16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
Look God wouldn’t say I will remember the everlasting covenant between God and ….
Scripture doesn’t say and “Noah said…” Why not?
This is the voice of humanity responding to God. We hear our father’s voice and give answer.
I will remember! I will remember that when the world feels so sick with terrorists and disease that God is at work somewhere, somehow and the world will not be given over to chaos. I will remember when I feel overwhelmed, overburdened, drowning the trouble of my life, that God is at work in me…I will not succumb. I will remember! The everlasting covenant…the everlasting promise…between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth…God is pushing back the chaos that we may be able to walk upon the earth with the confidence of knowing we will not be overtaken…or washed away…we will make to the other side!
I will see God’s bow in the clouds and I will remember…
The final verse..
And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
For your own pondering…Is God speaking of the bow in the sky or of the people who just spoke back?