"Beyond the Storms"            Genesis 9:8-17         September 20, 2009
 
 
Can you imagine 40 days and 40 nights of this gloomy, overcast weather? Rain, rain, and more rain—charcoal clouds rolling over a gray sky—rain, and more rain,--moisture saturated air and the forcast gives no relief for days to come. We are restless for the sky to clear and the sun to come out. After all, enough is enough, isn't it?
 
Can you imagine Noah and his clan pacing up and down the ark counting the days, no, the minutes, while waiting for the rain to cease and for God to release them from their rolling time capsule.
 
Even then, Noah had no idea what to expect once the rain stopped. All they knew was that the world as he knew it would be no more. What would that look like? He probably couldn't even imagine.
 
Where was the hope? Noah heard God say the world would be destroyed by flood waters, but gave him no indication of what would follow the deluge. The symbolic rainbow was non-existent at that time.
 
This covenant between God and humanity in Genesis 9 is unlike any other in the Old Testament. It is a symbol, its sign of remembrance. It is not a ritual such as circumcision (Genesis 17) or sacrifice (Genesis 12; 15) or even a monument such as a standing stone (Exodus 24) or altar (Joshua 22). But instead, the sign which serves to remind humanity of this covenant is a natural phenomenon — the rainbow. It is a monument God set up as memorial in contrast to man-erected monuments.
 
Our Genesis 9 passage is about the Creator’s making/renewing a covenant with the creation. Some covenants are conditional, other covenants are unconditional: The covenant of Genesis 9 is unconditional: The Creator makes a promise to the creation.
 
Amy Garner reflects in “A rainbow of promise” on the Presbyterian Church in Canada Web site,
 
God must love rainbows: He made so many of them. I’ve seen rainbows in soap bubbles, in seashells and on fish scales, in puddles of oily water, and often displayed in great glory across the rain-washed sky ....

After spending a few rainy days with my mother in her Florida home, I was glad when the airplane broke through the thick layer of clouds into the bright sunshine. Looking down upon snowy clouds, I was amazed to see a rainbow in a complete circle .... Right in the center of the circle was the shadow of our plane. I watched God’s beautiful Rainbow of Promise for several minutes until it suddenly disappeared from view ....


 
That day, when I boarded the aircraft, I was worried and fearful, but in watching God’s rainbow, I forgot my fears. All of us have troubles and fears, and will continue to have them as long as we live. Let us remember that God will see us through every difficulty.(September 26, 2000, daily.presbycan.ca.)



We don't know exactly what soured God on the human creatures he had created. “I am grieved that I have made them,” he said (Genesis 6:7 NIV). The text depicts God as being so exasperated with the human condition that he regrets getting involved.
 
The question is: How bad do you have to be to move a God of love and compassion to the point where he not only is sorry he made you, but wants to eradicate your entire species from the face of the earth and from the collective memory of the universe?
It must have been intolerable! Blasphemous!

But “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8 NIV). So Noah took to the ark to flee both the wrath of God and the wickedness of mortals. And 40 days and nights later, God hung a rainbow in the sky as a covenant with us never to so judge the world again.

Lucky for us. However, even with the rainbow hanging in the heavens, we still want more. God still doesn’t do enough for us. And while it is wrong to be greedy for the wrong things, we should remember that it’s no better to be greedy for good things, for blessings.
 
Once in Hawaii, a woman saw 15 rainbows in one week. She said to her daughter, as they left, “Don’t you wish we could have just one more?” The daughter responded with 17-year-old vigor: “Hello! Aren’t you a bit greedy, Mom? Don’t you think 15 are enough?”

The woman was ashamed. Indeed, what was she talking about? Did she want permanent rainbows? Why did she think that good had to be permanent? Why couldn’t she enjoy the beauty of the impermanent? Aren't fifteen rainbows more than enough?
 
Yet in our worship, you sometimes get the feeling that we think God is not doing enough for us. “What have you done for me lately, God?” We’re stuck thinking that good health and material blessings are security in life. We wish our path would be strewn with rose petals. Where is the next thing I'm waiting for in my life? Where is the next blessing?

 
We think that, we’ll not only lose the rainbow, but that God will send us the bread of pain and the water of tribulation.


 
When Noah walked up the ramp and into the ark, scooting the goats and pigs ahead of him, he was leaving the world as he had come to know it. The world would never be the same. It had radically changed.

Many of us have lost the world as we know it. Many have lost that world more than once. We have lost a husband and moved into the world of widowhood. Or we have lost our retirement and moved from the world of security into the world of insecurity.
We may have lost a child. We may have lost someone in a national tradgedy like the World Trade Center or war. We wake up the day after these large events and the world is different. We will never again be the same.
 
Individuals that have suffered severe personal tragedies have said, “All I want back is yesterday.” What about wanting today? What about wanting this rainbow now, rather than that rainbow later?
 
The late ’90s were financially fabulous. People looked at pensions and portfolios that were quite dazzling. Does a moment in 1998 become the norm for the rest of life? Can we really not remember that we are mortal, that life changes, that we are more than our losses?

Gratitude is the love and appreciation of what is, in the now, rather than the vicious dissatisfaction about what is not. In her book Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy says that “radical gratitude” recognizes what we have, rather than what we don’t.
 
 
In that recognition we awaken to another way of being, another kind of economy, the great economy of grace in which each person is of infinite value and worth. We stop measuring and comparing everything to everything else. We place our feet on the path of love and life. We take our feet off the cul de sac of covetousness and reflect on God's rainbow.

The truly amazing part of the story of Noah and the Flood is that God allowed the world to be destroyed. But Noah fills up the boat with a future. We, too, may lose our world. But we must fill our boat with a future, with gratitude, and keep our eyes on the rainbow.

The same God who came back with a rainbow after the storm came forth with Jesus, a human version of the rainbow whose purpose was to call us to the joy of grateful discipleship. The psalmist had it right: “So teach us to number our days that we learn wisdom.” The firemen who survived the day of terror at the World Trade Center say the major insight they took away was to treasure every day and every breath.
 
A man with esophagus cancer reflects: “My cancer is a gift. It has shown me how precious now is. I didn’t know before.” Will it take catastrophe or cancer to wake us up? Or will we learn to manage with Noah’s wit? Will we let a little count for a lot — and forget the worlds we may have lost on behalf of the worlds we have?
 
We are always more than our losses.
           
The storms of life enter every soul . . . but God promises a rainbow. God's covenant with creation is sealed with the sign of the rainbow, just as God's covenant with Christians is sealed with the sign, or presence, of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone. God is with us.
 
The rainbow guarantees the future as it guarantees our redemption. Just one rainbow will do. We do not need more.
 
When we learn to love what we have, we have boarded the ark.
Amen.
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
First Presbyterian Church
Bastrop, Louisiana
 
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