God’s Covenant with Noah (8:30am)
Topic: Strength & Kindness Scripture: Genesis 9:8–9:17
In advance of the storm, Florida—like Noah—has had to make preparations for the animals. Zoos from Miami to Tampa have activated their emergency plans to shelter as best they can. The Miami Zoo is taking no chances with Peanut, a critically endangered white-rumped vulture, or with its pink flamingos for that matter. All have gone to fortified bunkers to ride it out. The large mammals—lions, tigers, and bears…oh my…and gorillas—are in enclosures that were strengthened after the ordeal of Hurricane Andrew. We hope and pray for them, dogs and cats and pets and all animals, along with human residents. At Gatorland in Orlando, 2000 alligators have been secured, with a promise from the owner that they won’t escape. We’ll see.
A story comes from a couple who are members of our church. Their expectant granddaughter in Miami is due any day now. She and her husband were ordered by her doctor to evacuate to the hospital for safety. They report that the hospital hallways are filled with expectant parents. This granddaughter must be an amazing person, for she sees their upset situation as a chance to make new friends!
Our passage, and the news headlines, bring a reality home: we’re all in this together. All of us, human and otherwise, are on board Noah’s ark. We’re all in this together. We are responsible for the care of our fragile ship, planet earth, and for each one on it. Somebody has to have cleanup duty too. There’s no time for fighting against those who look different from us. We’re all in this together.
Some have focused on the punishment part of the story. Why would God send such devastation? Were innocent children and animals equally to blame as the wicked? Did the massive purge need to include all but a few?
Today, not many still attribute natural disaster to divine wrath—except for the occasional rabid preacher or radio talk show host. We could examine where we choose to build in these latter days, or rebuild. Common sense—which isn’t all that common—would suggest that the government can’t afford to subsidize those who want to live directly on the beach. My hometown of Manasquan, NJ, had its first several streets swept away by Hurricane Sandy. Recently, the New York Times reported that it’s all been rebuilt with federal funds, only what once was a nice summer place for middle class folks is now an enclave for the wealthy. A mile inland, the house I grew up in—which was a bit of a dump in those days, and which my parents paid $16,000 for—is now on the market for $1,050,000. Location is everything. But I digress.
An old but beautiful song from the 1945 musical, “Carousel,” urges, “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark; at the end of the storm there’s a golden sky, and the sweet silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on with love in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone.”
When the flood had done its worst, God made a covenant with Noah. It was quite one-sided, and came entirely at God’s initiative, requiring nothing of Noah—who soon enough went out and got drunk. Misuse of drugs and alcohol is typical of those who have been through trauma. It is an attempt to self-medicate by people with PTSD. The Lord spoke out of the heart’s compassion and declared, “Never again!” God does not add, “As long as you behave.” It’s totally free grace and unconditional love. It’s not a bargain, it’s a promise.
The sign of this covenant is the rainbow, God’s spectacular signature in the sky. “I’ll see it, and I’ll remember.” Does God need a reminder? I don’t know. But we do. This memory device is visible to all. When our sky darkens, and we see only clouds, we too need to stop and look up: the rainbow! The promise! God is for me, and for us all.
Have we seen our rainbow lately? Have we felt hope during a storm? When the howling wind subsides to a quiet whisper, and the lashing rain becomes a gentle mist, have we received hope and courage from the colorful sign? A better day is coming. You’ll feel better one day—you will. Your hurt, though devastating, will heal. Your pain, severe as it is, will diminish.
In the book of Colossians, we read this challenging language: “Christ is the image—the icon or sign—of the invisible God. In Him, all things hold together, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile all things, making peace by his blood through the cross.” God’s promise is to all in Christ. It’s universal…extending no doubt even to other planets, solar systems, and galaxies. The flood water of our baptism is the sign of our own deluge and resurrection.
Perhaps the passage asks us to recall our rainbows. Sometimes a rainbow is literally a marker for our lives. Maybe that’s why the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow” is meaningful for so many. After the terrible shooting in Orlando, a vigil was held the next day in that place. Thousands came to share their grief and seek some sign of hope. A large intense rainbow appeared over the city, and it had special meaning for those gathered and for millions around the country. Uncannily, the same thing happened the next day at a vigil in Bloomington, IL. It seemed to materialize from nowhere. Those who saw it stood in awe. What have been our rainbows in life—and have they pointed us to the promise, the covenantal care of Christ?
Our daughter Larissa from an early age was drawn to all things Hawaiian. She wanted hula lessons. She listened to IZ’s (Israel Kamakawiwoʻole) version of “Over the Rainbow” continually. When it came time to choose a college, only the University of Hawaii would do. The state is sometimes called the Rainbow State. Their license plates feature them. Their teams are the Rainbow Warriors—which doesn’t sound very fierce—kind of like the Fighting Artichokes of Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. After we dropped off our little girl (18 years old at the time) at her dorm room on the UH campus, we drove our rental car back to the airport, and boarded the plane for the return trip to O’Hare. I was feeling forlorn. As we taxied down the runway for takeoff, a brilliant rainbow appeared in the hills right about where the University is. As the plane lifted toward the clouds, my spirits lifted too, and I felt in my heart, everything’s going to be okay. It was a sign, a reminder, that I’m not in control, our loving God is, and it’s all good.
The New Covenant is Christ: God’s sign of the forgiveness of sins, new life in the power of the Holy Spirit, and eternal fellowship with our Creator and each other. It embraces every living creature. The biosphere is the object of God’s covenant love.
I close with these words of Maya Angelou, who had more than her share of storms as a young child and as an adult, but found grace to rise:
“An African-American song of the 19th century proclaims, ‘When it looked like the sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.’ I’ve had so many rainbows in my life. I’ve had a lot of clouds, but so many rainbows. And one of the things I do when I step upon a stage, when I go to teach my class, when I go to direct a movie, I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me—I bring them with me: black, white, Asian, native American, gay, straight, everybody comes up on that stage with me in my heart. “Come with me, I need you now.” So I will always have help. I’ve had rainbows in my clouds. And the thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself, so that you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. Somebody who might not call God by the same name as you do, or by any name at all. You see, I may not eat the same dishes prepared the way you do, I may not dance your dances, or speak your language. But: be a blessing to somebody, be a rainbow. That’s what I think.