Lent 1: God’s Rainbow Promise
A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church
on the First Sunday Of Lent, February 26, 2012
Genesis 9: 8-17
And then God said to Noah, “Now it is time for you to start again.” The story of the ark and the rainbow is a story about starting again. And there are times in our lives when we need to start over – to scrap what we’ve been doing and to begin again.
Have you ever begun a project and realized partway through that it wasn’t going to work out, that there was no way to repair it and that you needed to just go back to the beginning and start over?
Though it may be hard to let go of all the time and effort we put into some project or some relationship or some idea, we may find that the only way to move forward is literally to go backward; to go back to square one and try again.
When we find ourselves in a mess, we often try working around it or through it, but sometimes we realize, that we are not on a sturdy foundation, that we need to stop and completely reorient ourselves; to go back to the drawing board and begin again.
There are various reasons why we may need to start over. We may have made an error of fact — maybe we’ve assumed we understand how things work but find out later we were wrong. Or perhaps we haven’t taken the time to think things through and plan properly. Or we may have received new information partway along that completely changes our view of the matter and what we ought to be doing. Maybe we’ve been cruel or deceptive or self-righteous. Or, we maybe feel that nothing we do ever turns out right and our shame and fear keep defeating us. We may have developed habits that corrode our sense of self and harm the ones we love. Maybe we’ve been harmed by events beyond our control – a company merges and we’re laid off; a health crisis; a death of a loved one. Or perhaps we’re sleep-walking through life, just a cog in a wheel, unable to imagine another world is possible.
There are times in our lives when we need to start over. But where and how do we begin? Where will we find the resources we need to rebuild or to grieve relationships, to keep our promises, to create a better, more faithful world?
In this story from Genesis, God promises not only that Noah and his family and even the animals can start again, but that God is providing everything they need to do so. And God reminds them “You have the love of each other. You have my love!” The rainbow promise of God is that of a love so strong that it can help us start all over again.
Now sometimes when things get hard, we’d rather quit and walk away then try and work it through. Starting again at square one can be a sort of fantasy actually, when we’re overwhelmed with the weight of responsibility or the complexity of a situation. We wish we or someone could just “wipe the slate clean” so we could start over.
But if we enter into the story of Noah sensitively, that world is not a slate wiped clean, despite the flood. Noah and his family and perhaps even the animals will have the memories of the terrible storm, the uncertainty of whether they would make it, and the remembrance of friends and places that were destroyed by the flood. And God, well God needs to figure out how to live with the fact that after calling creation good, God’s own hand destroys that very creation. Is God feeling regret as well as determination while putting the rainbow in the sky? Is God perhaps wondering, could it have been otherwise? What else might I have done?
The rainbow set in the sky is not only a reminder to humanity that God loves the world and will never flood the world again, it’s also a reminder to God, of what God has done and of what God has pledged never to do again.
God’s love for us is so fierce that it once consumed almost the entire world. But the promise God makes to Noah and to us is that God will never again nurse a destructive love. Instead, the rainbow is a sign of grace – love that helps us start over after the worst has happened. Love that promises to stay with us and to provide the resources we need to begin a new life.
When we celebrate a baptism, the prayer over the water reminds us that from the flood God brought new life. That even from out of the worst destruction God can and will renew creation. And God can and will renew us too, if we allow it.
As we culminate our month long celebration of black history, which has brought us around the world for liturgy and song, and as we kick off our five week adult Lenten Series on the confession of faith which emerged out of Belhar, South Africa, I am reminded that “Rainbow Nation”
was a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe post-apartheid South Africa after South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 1994. The phrase was elaborated upon by President Mandela in his first month of office, when he proclaimed: “Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beloved country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.
The rainbow is an image of diversity (many colors together) but also of peace, a refusal to go backward, and a promise of resources for the future.
On this first Sunday in Lent, let us remember God’s rainbow promise, of love that allows us to start again, by renewing our baptismal promise that, in Christ, we die and rise with him to that new life over and over again. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.