Well, this this story is one, I
think, of two stories that people will probably associate with a
rainbow. So I'm curious, just do a little test, what is the other story
we associate with the rainbow? Yes! The second story is that legend of
St. Patrick's Day, of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
It got me to thinking -- how do you combine these two stories? How do
you combine the great Biblical stories with folklore? Like we would ever
do that, you know, say for instance, take the stories of the birth of
Jesus and combine them with stories of a jolly old elf from the North
Pole who distributes presents. Oh yeah, we did that :)
So, at any rate, I was we contemplating such deep thoughts this week,
reflecting on this text in preparation for this morning, when I went up
to my sister's place to deliver her Christmas present. Now, it's not
that I was late :). But rather, she wanted for Christmas a new
back-splash above her countertop. And she knew that I've done tile work,
and so she got that would make a good Christmas present. So I gave her a
back-splash, and went up on Friday, my Dad met me there, to replace the
existing tile and put in new tile. You know, to finish her Christmas
And while I was there -- she lives up on the little North folk of the
Santiam River, way off the beaten path in the mountains -- I noticed
that she has one of Mom's watercolors. My mom, in the last few years of
her life, really got into watercolors and painting. She always had an
artistic streak, and I have three of her paintings in my office, if
you've never seen them, stop in sometime.
This particular one:
Turns out is of a rainbow. A double rainbow, and in fact this is the
scene out my sister's front window, of the little North fork of the
Santiam. So it was inspired by a rainbow that appeared there one day.
Well, seeing that painting reminded me once again of how fortunate I've
always felt, and how I wish that every child had a mother like my own. A
mother that you never doubt that love, that fierce love for you. There
are times when maybe we took it for granted, but we never doubted.
So what's that have to do with this
story, about a flood and the rainbow? Well, probably nothing, but I just
like Mom's picture :) Because it reminded me of her love, that warm
feeling, that glow you sometimes get when you feel that kind of love. So
that's just a freebie. They used to teach you that a sermon was 3 points
and a poem. Now it's 3 points and an image. So here's my image.
Now the 3 points: this covenant, the Rainbow Covenant (I'm calling it),
is the first of four major covenants we find in the Hebrew scriptures.
The others are the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with Moses, and
the covenant with David. Add to that the covenant from Jeremiah 31, the
new covenant placed upon our hearts, and you've got a nice sermon series
for Lent. And then cap it off on Palm Sunday with the Christ Covenant,
so that's where I'm going here. So this is the first in that series.
As we will see, covenants are central not just to our tradition and the
stories of our faith, but they are essential elements of our faith.
Covenants are binding agreements between two parties. They're the basis
of modern law. Remember the covenant with Moses, the central part of
that covenant is what? The 10 Commandments, right?
One of the more familiar covenants in the Hebrew scriptures is actually
a covenant between jus two parties, very personal, often used in wedding
ceremonies. The covenant between Ruth and Naomi, and remember Ruth says
to her mother-in-law: "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will
lodge; your people shall be my people; your God my God".
So covenants define the terms of a relationship. And sometimes we refer
to Christians and Jews as "people of the covenant". That is to say, that
our faith is not so much based on doctrine (a set of beliefs) as it is
based in a relationship. So that's the 'big idea' of this sermon series,
if you will -- that our faith is not just about or only about our
Think of it this way: do you determine who is in your family by what
they believe, by who they vote for, by what kind of music they like, who
they marry, or their favorite sports team? Well, maybe their favorite
sports team :)
Family, you see, is determined by relationship, whether genetic, legal,
or whatever basis. And so too our faith is all about our relationships.
Our relationship to God, our relationship to Jesus, our relationship to
the family of faith. Our relationship to all of humanity. Indeed, as we
see in this text, our relationship to all of creation.
So, exploring covenants is essential
to exploring our faith. And the Biblical story is that story of how
God's people understand their relationship with God, revealed in these
So let's take a closer look, then, at this Rainbow Covenant. Now,
everyone knows this story, right? Creation, humanity, has not turned out
so well, it's too wicked, God decides to wipe them all out and start
over again. He recruits Noah to build this ark. Now, Bill Cosby has a
wonderful routine about Noah and the flood. According to Cosby, Noah is
the one who came up with the idea of 40 days and 40 nights. You know the
story -- Noah's working in the workshop ("voomba, voomba, voomba").
Ding. "Noah". "Who is that?". "It's the Lord, Noah". "Riiiiiiiight" :).
Some of you have probably heard that before, not sure if he still does
it, but it's a great routine.
God tells Noah that he's going to destroy the world. Noah asks 'how are
you going to do it?', and God says He's going to let it rain for 4,000
days. Noah says "I have a better idea, let it rain for 40 days and 40
nights, and wait until the sewers back up" :) And God says "Riiiiight"
So here's the challenge: what do we do with a story that's been
lampooned in comedy, or relegated to the children's section of our
Bibles, is rarely taken seriously (because we can't take it literally)?
Now, I know some people do, and try to. But here's what I do with it (so
now, the 3 points):
First, I don't dismiss it as a fable, as a children's story, as
something ancient people just made up to explain rainbows.
I start with the premise that our
ancestors were just as intelligent, just as sincere, just as reasonable
as any of us. Now sure, they didn't have all the science, they didn't
have all the knowledge that we have about the origins of the universe,
but never confuse knowledge with intelligence or science with wisdom.
General Omar Bradley, the General who led our troops in Northern Africa
and Europe in World War II was a great populist, known for his
witticisms. And he famously said: "We live in a world of nuclear giants
and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace. We
have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the
You see, just because we know more than the ancients doesn't mean we're
any smarter or any wiser. So, sure, the story of Noah's Ark requires
some creative imagination to believe -- just what did those carnivores
eat for the 375 days they were on the ark (not just the 40 days, that
was just the rain)? 375 days, locked up with all that fresh meat on the
hoof, bellyaching about not enough hay. I'm sure the Lions had a
solution for Noah about those Gazelles who were complaining :)
It's only when we get away from silly debates about the factuality of
the story and we focus instead on the meaning of the story that we begin
to understand the truth of the story.
Second, I want to ask: what does this story teach us, not about events
of history, but about the character of God and the character of
Now, here's a very interesting thing that's often missed in our creative
retelling of the story in all those wonderful children's books and
comedy routines. The whole reason for the flood is what? The wickedness
of humanity, the sin, right? And so God decides to start all over, we're
going to start fresh with a righteous family. Well, I want to ask God:
so how did that work out for you, God? Have you seen any of the
Presidential debates? You know, immediately after this story, what
happens? Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and he goes to sleep in his
tent, and he's naked (I don't know why he's naked, they don't tell us
that, but there he is, naked), and his son Ham sees him, and instead of
doing the right, respectful thing, what does he do? He goes out and
tells his brother: "Hey, Dad's asleep naked, in the tent".
You have to understand that in
ancient societies, honor and shame are incredibly important, so much
based on that. This is a very shameful thing to do. So, Noah, for the
very first time speaks in the story at this point (doesn't speak
anywhere in the story until now), and when he speaks, he pronounces a
curse on his son Ham, that all of his descendents (the Canaanites) will
become slaves of the descendents of the other son.
You get the point, see, that sin and wickedness is still there. Nothing
But wait a second, God -- why did we go through all of that? You just
wiped out all of humanity, almost, most of the living creatures. I mean,
is this not genocide here? Where are you going with this, God?
Well, read the rest of the story. Indeed, something has changed. And
that is found in Chapter 8, verse 21, where we read: "God says in his
heart, I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the
inclination of the human heart is evil from youth. Nor will I ever again
destroy every living creature as I have done".
Huh. The change in the story is in God's heart. Turns out this is the
whole point of the story. It's not that we human beings have wised up --
'Oh, I get it now God, we're going to be good, never again are we going
to mess up', right? No, we human beings are the same. The point is,
human character is what it is. God is the one who changes. This is a
children's story? This is deep theological reflection on the nature of
God. It's about God's character, about God's love, about God's
We thought it was a story about how God acted to redeem humanity from
our wicked ways, when in fact it's actually a story about how the
suffering caused by our wicked ways changed God. Huh.
Grace that extends not just to humanity, but for all of creation. And if
God's concern is for the whole earth, how can ours be any less?
Third point: what, then, does this teach us about our relationship with
God? Now, I can only speak for myself, but what I get out of this story
is that it's not about me, you see. Or it's not about just me. It's
about all of us. It's about all of creation.
God so loved the world, God sent a rainbow to remind us. You see,
rainbows don't care if you're male or female, Republican or Democrat,
gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, rich or poor, Duck or Beaver. Even
if you're human or animal, rainbows just are. They are one of those
wonderful gifts of creation that don't do anything -- at least not in a
material sense. They're just there, as occasional reminders for all of
us, the good, the bad, and the ugly. A reminder that whether we've been
naughty or nice, whether we've had a good day or a bad day, that God
still loves us. God still loves the earth.
You see, at the end of that rainbow, it's not a pot of gold that I see.
I looked at that picture, and I realized that it was there, at the end
of the rainbow on that point, where we spread Mom's ashes into the still
waters of the little North Fork of the Santiam.
It's not a pot of gold I see. It's a pot of love. Of Mom's fierce love
for her children. Of God's fierce love for us, for all of creation.