weblink The Sunday Sermon: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 16, 2016
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Does anyone remember what we started out talking about last Sunday on the first Sunday of Stewardship Season? Well, that’s probably a good thing, because I began by telling you to forget! (So … well done …)
We formally kicked-off our stewardship season this month, these Sundays in October and early November, lifting up our call to provide for the mission and ministry of Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church, and I began by suggesting we practice some “selective amnesia” and forget the stewardship drives of the recent past, all of which – since 2013 – have resulted in numbers for our operating budget lower than the year before.
But we should forget those past pears not just because the results weren’t what we had hoped for, but also, and mostly because, as we read and heard from Isaiah last week, “God is doing something new … and we must perceive it.” Our own covenant with God and with one another promises newness, freshness. And in order for that to happen we need to forget about what has past and look toward a new life together.
In our scripture reading this morning and the message of giving that follows it – giving back, giving up, and giving forth – something new is happening, again.
Pray with me …
And now, as listen to the end of one of the most well known bible stories of all time …Listen for the Word of God. Read Genesis 9:8-17 … The Word of the Lord.
The rainbow bending over Noah’s ark with its doors wide open and spilling out pairs of animals into a new world is an image painted or hung on the walls of many a church nursery (Ferguson, Feasting on the Word, year B vol.2, 28). Jane Anne Ferguson says that we re-tell this story as a faith community to celebrate the central message of God’s love and hope to our children, starting at a very early age. “It is telling, she notes, “that we want them to know that, even in the midst of the worst chaos, God (is there and) will not forget them.”
But then she wonders, as do I, why we relegate this message only, or mostly, to the nurseries of the church. “Why not let the rainbow colors emanate from the nursery up the stairwells (or through the walls and across the parking lot) and into worship and committee meetings, into youth groups, adult education and mission projects, into choir rehearsals and church potlucks?”
What an extraordinary promise is made in these verses, so familiar to us that we may no longer hear it. But if we did take it seriously and intentionally, it would profoundly change us – not into a utopian society of some kind, but into a community where we are willing to let our hearts be remade – broken open – in order that we may respond to what we have been given – the possibility of a new world. But I’m confusing you a bit. You’re still thinking about a big boat, a lot of animals, and a pretty rainbow. Let me slow down.
The story of God’s rainbow covenant, currently found in these chapters in the book of Genesis, was recorded by the people of Israel in the midst of exile from their homeland, in the midst of chaos for their community. Chaos, of course, is not just an ancient phenomenon. We know chaos in the twenty-first century world through terrorism and war, through ecological and natural disasters, through the deepening inequity of the distribution of resources and wealth among people. More personally, chaos comes into our lives through relationships broken by death, estrangement, divorce, through illnesses of body or mind, and through addictions of all kinds. To see and know, and then to teach and share “One who remembers” us, in the world and in person, with love and forgiveness in the midst of life’s chaos with all its pain and suffering, is not only to discover redemption, but to open our hearts in thanksgiving to new possibilities all around us and deep within us.
This is, of course, an account of promise “through-and-out-of” chaos that spanned the ancient world. Many early civilizations preserved a story of a major flood that covered the entire world and that included some kind of cosmic battle between the forces of chaos and youthful warrior god. The bow in our biblical story most likely refers to the archery weapon of the divine warrior in other accounts who was victorious over primordial chaos. In our story, it is our God who hangs the bow in the sky, unstrung and pointing away from the earth, when the chaos subsides. This is the sign of the covenant established between God and all flesh on the earth.
But we know all this, yes? There’s nothing much new here. Until now … I challenge you to rethink our theology – you’re understanding of who and how God “is” in the Noah story. In the traditional interpretations of our scripture story, God causes the flood, causes the death, causes the total destruction of all creation, save a tiny remnant of humans and a small sampling of animals. How else is the pre-modern understanding of natural disasters and environmental catastrophes to make sense of it all? But we know different. Or we should, I believe. Not that there wasn’t perhaps a flood of water that covered the whole known earth. I mean, as skeptical as I may be about that, as prone to metaphorical and allegorical interpretations of scripture as I am, I don’t know for certain that there wasn’t a flood that covered the whole known earth at some point in history. Maybe there was. I don’t know that. But I do know that God didn’t cause it.
Whatever chaos was experienced by the ancient Isrealite writers in their exile that they wrote about in this creation story was not created by God, it was created by war and natural disasters and human beings, their own, inability to live justly and righteously with one another. Here’s your metaphorical interpretation, much more relevant to our lives today: “The flood of human chaos consumed the land and the life of all.” It wasn’t God’s doing. Is that too bold, too radical? I don’t think so.
How do we know it wasn’t God, no matter what explanations our ancients give? I’ll tell you how we know. It’s the bow … the rainbow. The sign of the first covenant that God makes with humankind and will all creation. This promise, in the rainbow in our religious tradition, in our children’s stories meant for all ages, carries far more than meteorological implications – I won’t make it rain so hard anymore! It is much more than that. And it has something to do with control over chaos itself. (… Something to do with control over chaos itself …) “Be … not … afraid” we hear later in history. “I am with you.”
This story of a big boat afloat in the midst of the sometimes total confusion and turmoil we create in our world; This story of tiny human beings and helpless animals, of mayhem that subsides and rainbows that appear celebrates the central message of God’s love and hope that reminds us that, even in the midst of the worst chaos, “God” is there – God is here – and we are not forgotten.
So, one final question: What in the world does any of this have to do with stewardship. (You thought I forgot, didn’t you?). It’s this, the most surprising part of today’s reading. Unlike the covenant made with Abraham or the people at the time of the exodus, this covenant is one-sided deal. We’re not asked to do anything when the rainbow appears (or re-appears in our lives). We are not bound by this first scriptural agreement to do anything. The assurance is, in the midst of chaos, of disaster – natural or human-made, of turmoil, pain, and fear … I’m here. It’s here … whatever it is: hope, promise, full life, love … “God,” yes? … is here. We don’t have to do anything. In fact, there is nothing we can do anyway, try as we might (and, good God, we do try). Just look up and put a bow on it – on your life, on our lives together. Take care of each other. Take care of our world, its plants, its animals, its people, all. Put a bow on it.
That’s probably the best place for an “Amen.” But … in a few moments this morning we do something tangible to respond to the grace we receive. We do that every time we care for this small corner of the earth we have been entrusted with – from Family Life Center improvements, to sanctuary renovations, to Parish House clean-outs – but this morning we are dedicating a young tree to the promise and the growth, the future, of this community as way of saying than k you, of putting a bow on the greatest gift of all – our lives together with God and one another in and through this community.
So now … Amen.
Let’s sing together of creation and presence, of Creator and promise …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 16, 2016