A Rainbow of Promises
Before I begin my sermon I have something stuck in my ear that I want to talk to you about.† Acoustically, one of the issues always in a large room is music versus the human voice.† Iím not going to go into the history of that, but there is 2000 years of church history on that issue, believe it or not.† One of the things that I love about this new space is that it carries music well.† Some of the best musicians in this town have been really amazed at this space.† Now that Iíve said that, because of the activity of this room, sometimes the human voice is difficult to hear for people with hearing problems.† Just to remind you that Iím not insensitive to people with hearing problems, I had an appointment with a doctor about three weeks ago, and I am having some hearing loss of my own.† This means that sometimes if I tell you to repeat something, itís not because Iím not paying attention.† Itís because Iím not hearing you.† Now with all that said and done, we have been in the process of trying to make sure that everyone is comfortable in worship and that worship is a good experience.† I would assume with as many older people and people like me, who maybe arenít so old but who have hearing problems, that we need to make sure that worship is a complete experience for you.† What I want to tell you is that this little instrument that we have is our attempt to make worship okay for people who may have a difficult time hearing my voice or anyone elseís voice.† We have four of these to be used during worship, and if youíre interested in having your own, you can sign up and order them.† Three people are using them this morning.† There is this one.† Is anyone interested in using it?† Okay, Iím going to get on with my sermon, and Iím going to assume that you can hear me; I gave you your chance.
As always itís important to me to give you somewhat of a history and understanding of the biblical text that have become themes.† Earth Sunday is something that has not been around for long.† Earth Sunday serves as a reminder to us where Christians are on the issues of stewardship and management of resources, which God has given to us in His created world.† But what I want to say to you is there has been a long-standing tradition in the biblical faith that we need to take a look at.† There are a couple of assumptions that have come out of our modern world that we need to debunk and understand.† At the same time, we must understand that the Bible puts forth a different notion.† One of them is that somewhere, thousands of years ago, that the world was created and that the creative process stopped at that moment.† The biblical understanding of life is that its started at some point of creation and it is moving in a process toward the Kingdom of God in which Godís perfect will will be known and established.† The Apostle Paul said to us in one of his most beautifully written passages (and Paul had many passages) that all of creation was moaning and groaning with the coming of the Christ.† Paul makes it clear that Christís resurrection and the new life that came from Godís redemptive love is not something limited to the human experience, but it somehow involved the totality of Godís intention to redeem the entire created world.† I said something a few weeks ago about original sin actually translating, in modern times, to narcissismóa psychological term.† Narcissism is an inability as human beings to pull out of ourselves and our own needs.† To be narcissistic is to be self-centered in how we view things in life.† The world really hasnít been created just for us, you know.† The Christian faith has always maintained, across a broad spectrum, that all of creation was created for Godís pleasure as well as for the manifestation of Godís grace and not just for ourselves.† When Paul speaks to us about that cosmic event of the coming of Christ in its place in that creative process, he reminds us of that dynamic of movingófrom the beginning of creation to the culmination of history.† This is a process in which we still find ourselves.††
I want to kind of set that to the side and go over to Genesis for just a moment.† The story of Noah is one of the most ancient stories of human civilization.† Do you remember that Abraham and Sarah, the patriarch and matriarch of the Hebrew people, came from a place called Babylon? † Babylon is an interesting place given its recent place in historical events.† We are reminded that the story of Noah was deeply imbedded in the Babylonian culture long before the Hebrews became a people.† Now I want to set the stage for the story.† You all remember the cute version you got of it in Sunday school, right?† You know the version of the animalsí going into the ark two by two.† There is hardly a nursery in a church anywhere that doesnít have the animals going up into the ark.† Thatís all right for children.† But you need to understand the underlying story of faith and the profound understanding of God, Godís relationship to life, and our relationship to God in that life.† The story of faith is primary to our biblical understanding of creation that we need to understand if we are to have a proper understanding of how we, as Christians, deal with ecological matters.† First of all, I want you to imagine for just a moment a world thousands of years ago in which you didnít have all this scientific data.† People were remarkable and ingenious in the way that they would observe the world around them, and then they would make some assumptions.† I was reading an article this week about the Egyptians.† The Egyptians had the wonderful Nile River that ran through their country.† On a few miles on each side of the Nile, it was fertile and green, but beyond that few miles, it was barren and dead desert.† The Egyptians would observe each day that the sun would come up in the east, and it would rise and shine and life would grow, and that at night it would be dark as the sun went down and rested.† By looking at the sun and observing its patterns, they made up this story: The sun god rode a chariot across the sky and went to be with the dead in the west.† By the way, that is the reason why all those pyramids are on the west side of the Nile ó because of this belief.†† And there was an underlying sense of gratitude because what they observed was that everyday, the sun came up in the east and went down in the west.† Somehow the sun god was showing favor on them.† Now a common assumption of the people of that time is that there was water in the sky, because when they would look up into the sky, they saw blue.† We see a lot of blue in Arizona because we have very few clouds.†† And sometimes the thought would come to their mind: What if God were to decide to just let that water fall?† What if he were to remove the force that is holding it up and just let it come down?† All of life would be destroyed.† What we see and what we know is that profound struggle of understanding of who God was in the Hebrewsí life.† Their struggle to understand is a reflection of the ancient, ancient story.† Itís hard for us to imagine what that must have felt like back in that day and age.† After all, we live in a day and age in which most of what we eat somebody else grows, and most of that comes from half way around the world.† Itís true; itís an amazing time in which we live.† We donít worry much about whether or not it rains or snows.† After all, we have houses that are airtight, and we have air conditioning.† We thank God as those who live in Arizona that we have air conditioning to keep us cool when itís hot outside.† We have furnaces that keep us warm during the cold times.† In many ways we as modern people face a schism in our life.† We forget that we are still very dependent on the natural world and that we are a part of it.† Ancient people never guessed that that wasnít true.† Natureís impact on their lives was literally in terms of life or death.
Last year I read in a book about all the deaths that occurred at the Grand Canyon.† The book contains a descriptive scenario for each death.† By the way, the reason I bought that book was because the very first death mentioned in the book was one for which I had done the funeral.† What is interesting to me is 3/4 of the deaths at the Grand Canyon were preventable.† The deaths occurred because people did silly things that they were told not to do, but they did these things anyway.† Iíve often said the problem with our national park service is that they have done such a good job of promoting our parks that people think they are going to Disney Land when they go to the Grand Canyon.† People forget the power of nature and what it can do with people that donít understand or respect that power.† The sad thing in the book is that the deaths occurred from cataclysmic, natural events that one could never have predicted.†† A father and son were walking up a side canyon, and a 30-foot wall of water smacked against them.† They only knew that wall of water was coming for about three seconds before it hit.† That fast their lives were gone.† We remember the incident in Page just a few years ago when so many were killed by a flash flood similar to that.† A humbling reminder to us that nature, in all of its power, is not quite so subjective to human beings.† A wildfire last spring saw many of you in this church leaving your homes.† And the bark beetles, which have terrorized our forests, have reminded us that we are not quite as in control as we might think.† Nature has a way of humbling us.† So as I tell you this, Iím trying to get you to somehow relate to those people who heard the story of Noah in that ancient Hebrew world.† The ancient Hebrews were concerned that somehow God in Godís power might just wipe life all out with all that natural force.† The significance of the story of Noah is that there was a covenant made by God with the Hebrew people.† Most biblical scholars refer to the covenant as the as the universal covenant because it doesnít just cover the Hebrews or the people of Iowa.† The covenant covers the whole of the created world.† God makes a promise that God will not destroy the life that God has created.† And thatís what all the rain and water is about.† People of that day could not imagine God any other way.† And by the way, the rainbow reminds us of that covenant every time we see it.† But the biblical understanding of a covenant is that God makes a deal with us as human beings.† God will always be faithful to Godís side, and we are required to be faithful to our side.† The biblical narrative tells us that we fail to keep our side of the bargain time and time again.† By the way, that is a theme that just rolls though the bible.† There is some subtlety in this Noah text that we never talked about in Sunday school.† Even today, an Orthodox Jew will always believe that an animalís blood must be completely drained out of it before it leaves the butcher.† And that funny thing with Jehovah Witnesses about blood transfusions (they wonít take them) comes from where they pick up on this passage.† Now Iím not advocating that interpretationóthat is a whole other sermon and a whole other story.† But what I want you to understand is that for the Hebrews, the very essence of what God has given us in life was founded in blood.† Somehow there was a sacred respect for the life that was taken or that life would be preserved.† And that was the reason why the blood could not be with the animal when people ate.† I remember my father, who was a great ecologist, but just did not know it.† My dad hunted a lot when I was a kid, and most of that hunting brought in most of the meat that we ate.† It was clear to my father that you never killed unless you needed that meat to eat.† You understood that when you took that life, it wasnít always something that you celebrated; the price often in life is that life must be lost.† Iíve never seen a good hunter, by the way, who didnít have that same sense that my father had about that struggle between life and how we preserve it for the long term.† And by the way, this is not to advocate vegetarianism; itís just a reminder to the vast majority of us who eat meat all the time that we can avoid being squeamish about it because we are not the ones doing the killing.† Meat comes to us neatly prepackaged in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores.† We forget that killing takes place because we are not that close to nature today.† We forget about that struggle between life and preserving life, and we forget about that ancient covenant that was made with Noah.† That covenant involved respecting life even when life is taken for a greater good.† Now where does that place us?† Noah reminds us that weíve been created in Godís image, and we have a special place in the created world.† All of creation is a gift from God, and God has created all life in this order.† All life is to be loved and to be cherished.† And if you donít believe that the Hebrews cherished life, then take a look at the Psalms.† We have a new place as those created in Godís image to be co-creators.† What I mean is weíve been given stewardship in a way that no other creature has.† We are responsible for the preservation of life.† And I remind you that the promises of the rainbow are not only the promises that God has made to us.† They are also the promises that we made to God though our father Noah.† The question for us is, how sacred is that created world in which we live?† What are we as human beings doing that we may observe that sacredness and see it as a blessing?† Do we understand that how we care for that life and preserve it ultimately is how important we think future generations are to us in terms of what we give them.† Now Iím not going to give you a detailed map of how we ought to handle that, because quite honestly Iím not an ecologist and Iím not a scientist.† For me to do that would be very difficult.† What I do want to say to you is that we, as people of faith, need to think hard about how we live our individual lives.† How do we pass along to the generations that come after us the sacred covenant, as evidenced by the rainbow, that God made with Noah so long ago?† That rainbow is the reminder of the redemptive new life that came to us.† Indeed, that is what the Apostle Paul means when he tells us that Godís redemptive love through Jesusí resurrection is for us and all of creation.† It is important that in our life and faith we acknowledge the sacredness of life and preserve it.† May God be with us all. Amen.
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