18 FEB 2018
Back in 1993 Iowa, Missouri, and several other states in the Midwest experienced the worst flooding on record. Day after day of deluges. Des Moines lost its water when the levees protecting the water treatment plant were breached. For those of us who were here it was an unbelievable event. Missouri was almost cut in two as every bridge over the Missouri River went underwater. There were good things that came of it: some changes in zoning, changes in roads and other engineering fixes. For me the best thing was that one day a huge dog appeared on our front lawn, with no collar. We ended up adopting him and Leo was perhaps the best dog I ever owned.
The next year was one of the most beautiful and pleasant I could remember. Not too hot, not too cold and not too wet or dry.
Since then we have lived through other severe floods. There have been very deadly tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes. Much of the world is dealing with drought. Add to that all the horror humans inflict on one another.
But there is one constant in all of this: God. Over the next weeks we will hear of all the covenants God has made. Today we here, as we start out Lenten journey, of the very first. There had been a lot of very bad things going on in the world. Since the beginning, people had been the boundaries God had set up. It just kept getting worse and worse. So God picked Noah and his family and had him build the ark. You know the story. The song I sang was funny and it must have been funny to see all those animals crammed in the ship or boat or ark or whatever we want to call it.
But the flood has ended, and Noah and his family are now on dry land. I think at this point God may have wondered about what God had just done. As bad as things were, maybe destroying everyone and everything save for a few was not the right thing to do. I also wonder if God didn’t already realize that this was not the end of the evil. Otherwise he would not have needed to make a covenant with Noah and his family. But this beautiful thing was done by God: he said there was to be a covenant with all the creatures of the earth, every creature and not just the human ones. The very first covenant in Judaism and Christianity is not with one person, but with all of creation. And when it was given, all creation was given the command to be fruitful and multiply. God continually blesses us, even when God knows we will fall short.
You could say that this was just an ancient legend to explain the rainbow, but it is far more than that. You don’t need a story about the destruction of the world and a covenant to explain a rainbow.
You know that the bow is a weapon; the rainbow is God’s bow for God’s arrows. For a great deal of human history the bow and arrow were the most powerful weapon that hunters and warriors could use. My ancestors, the English, were considered masters of the longbow. Native Americans used it widely. It was, and is, a weapon that could bring down many a foe or animal from a long distance. So for God to hang up the bow and point it away from the earth meant that God had renounced violence towards human beings. Never again will God deal with humanity with violent force. The rainbow is there to remind us that God will never destroy humanity. For the Israelites the story is one way of telling out their god is not like other gods.
Sometimes I wonder, as horrible as things seem to be, what made God change God’s mind. We know the rest of the story, don’t we? God will try to make people listen is so many ways: a chosen people, the Torah, Moses, and all of the prophets.
The problem is that we forget. When we want things to go our way, we forget that God is the God of all people and will not deal in violence. We forget that Jesus is not coming back as a warrior to destroy all who don’t believe or oppose him. That is all our doing, not God’s.
Finally I think we need to remember that all creation is one. We are related to every other human being and we are related to all the birds of the air and beasts of the wild. God made us all and as humans we easily forget that. When we do wrong to one another and to any of God’s creation, we commit a sin and need to repent and return.
We are on a journey for 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday to Easter. For today we can remember that God so loved the world he hung up his bow and we can also remember our own wrong doings to each other and the world in which we live. God will restore us to life not with the war bow but with the Son, the Cross, and the empty tomb.
I would ask that we close with a moment of silence, remembering those who were killed in Florida this past week. I would ask also we remember all those who have died from violence anywhere and pray that we become of a mind to change gun laws in this nation and to change the world so that justice may be present for all and so that everyone hangs up their bows.