Saturday, March 04, 2006

B, Lent 1 - Genesis 9:8-17 "Rainbows & other Vows of God"

Rainbows have to be one of the most marvellous things in creation. Everyone loves to stand in awe of the technicolour that span the sky from one horizon to the other. Children and grandparents gaze in wonder at the sight of a rainbow.

Rainbows are a sign of life. They appear in the sky as a result of light and water. They tell us that rain is somewhere nearby; they also remind us that water will never flood the entire earth ever again. Although one might argue that rainbows appear as a result of refracted light through droplets of water, God tells us that he is the one who put them there for us to see. We can stand in awe, not just of the rainbow, but of our Creator, who promises to give life to his creation and provide for us all we need to survive in this world. We are reminded of his protection, providence, and promise every time we see a rainbow in the sky.

God makes a promise to us when he…

said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God continues, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-17)

Did you hear the baffling mystery in this text? There is something very peculiar with this covenant. When two make an agreement or have a contract drawn up, don’t the two parties making the contract, both sign off on it? So where is Noah’s part of the agreement in the text we have just heard? There is none. In fact most of the covenants God makes with humanity are binding on himself, there is no emphasis on our part. And it has to be this way, because if it were up to us to keep the promise, we would fail every time!

So Noah and his sons make no response to what God has done. In fact they were powerless to do so and not long after the flood humanity got up to their old tricks once again. Later on in Genesis chapter nine, Noah gets drunk and his son Ham sees his nakedness. But even after returning to sin, they together with all creation stand in awe of the rainbow and remember that God immersed the whole earth in the flood because of sin and violence, yet he saved them. But more importantly, every time we see the rainbow we know that God sees it too and he remembers that he will never flood the earth ever again.

In the flood God rebirthed creation. He let a chaotic world return to the near complete chaos of Genesis one by allowing the boundaries, he put in place to keep the waters of chaos at bay, to split open and flood the earth. Every time we see the bow in the sky, not only can we marvel at its brilliance, but we are led to a deeper understanding of God’s love – just how overwhelming and endless it is, in the face of humanity’s sinfulness and the effects of our sin over all creation. Although we are sinners, although Noah was still a sinner, although God still sees us as sinners, he sees the rainbow and promises never to completely destroy his creation by immersion in flood ever again.

Ironically, in the face of Noah’s flood we have Jesus standing in the wilderness. In the Gospel reading we hear that he was immersed in the deluge of baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Out of the wilderness came John, baptising Jesus, and then led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus goes into the wilderness. The Son of God is immersed into the chaos of creation and was led into the sparse dry surrounds of the wilderness. But as contrary as these two stories seem, they are very similar, from the point of view of God’s loving kindness.

Noah became the new Father of God’s cleansed creation, but he was still sinful. But even in the face of sin, God still remembers his covenant when he sees the rainbow. Now Jesus is sent, God sends this new Noah, who is without sin, to pass through the flood of baptism, and give us life, as a result of the all the covenants he had made with humanity from Adam right through to the time when Jesus was baptised and led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus is God’s love to us. Just like the rainbow, every time God sees us God remembers and sees his Son, Jesus Christ and his cleansing action over creation. God’s love for us is so great that he sent his Son to this creation of chaos to bring us to the kingdom of God.

Just like the rainbow, we couldn’t do anything to stop Jesus from coming for us. In fact there was nothing Jesus could have done to stop the Father from sending him either. And once he came he put off his privileges as God the Son, and walked in the desert a human. He was baptised into death – he was baptised into the creation of chaos. He gave up all that he had in obedience to his Father and was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

We like Noah have been saved through water. We have had the destructive nature of our sin deluged in baptism. We have been given the promise of life in Christ in whom we have been baptised into his death and his life. Just like Jesus we have been put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. And as we walk in the wilderness of this world, still living in the sin of Noah and all humanity, Jesus, God’s vow of love, still shines on us calling us to remember the life he gives us through our baptism into eternal life.

Just like the rainbow, we can stand in awe of Baptism and God who gives us this gift for life. We can stand in awe of Jesus who comes to us in baptism and continually calls us to turn from the sinfulness engrained in our beings but now has no power to destroy our relationship with God. In fact we are new creations having been made dead in the body but now given Christ’s life by the Spirit in baptism.

And as we continue to struggle in this earthly life, we live waiting for this new life to be completed, where the old will be removed forever. We wait looking forward to the day when the Spirit will take us from this life and reveal to us the hidden reality of heaven. On this day we will no longer see just the rainbow God gives us on earth, but we will see him in his radiant splendour. No longer will we be led by the Spirit in the wilderness of this life, but we will see the rainbow of heaven as the Spirit leads us home to the throne of God.

In the book of Revelation John reports what he saw of heaven; we are called to see it too, because we are a part of it now and forever.

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. …Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:2-3,8-11)

Stand in awe of God! Stand in awe of the One who loves us so much that he would give up his Son in death, he would give us his Son’s life in baptism, call us to repentance, forgive us our sins, lead us with his Spirit, and bring us to his himself, more beautiful and life giving than any rainbow we might ever see on earth. In Christ we are recreated and have our being with God in heaven, Amen.