Sermon - 9th September 2018
Somewhere over the rainbow
Scripture - Genesis 9:8-17
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Without doubt, the rainbow is one of the most beautiful sights in nature. When it appears on a grey and cloudy day, following a fall of rain, the brilliant colours in the sky cause many of us to stop and look for a time. Some of us, myself included, like to stand and watch the rainbow until it fades away, giving us an unexpected pause for reflection and to be blessed through the beauty of God’s creation, the sign of the promise which God made to all living beings.
Some rainbow facts… Rainbows occur when sunlight shines through rain droplets in the air, and it is refracted into the many colours. Sometimes, we are doubly blessed when we see a double rainbow: notice how the secondary rainbow’s colours are the other way around!
Did you know that angles are very important… a rainbow cannot form if the sun is higher than 42 degrees above the horizon. This is why we see more rainbows in the darker months of the year, when the sun is lower.
In some special circumstances, a rainbow will appear as more of a circle. Those of you from Zimbabwe may have seen such a rainbow over Victoria Falls. Finally, here is one rainbow that humankind saw for the first time, when we learned to build aeroplanes. From the air, if one is flying high enough, a rainbow will appear as a full circle!
As LGBT people, the rainbow has special significance. It is a metaphor for the diversity of God’s creation in sexual orientation and gender. Like the beauty of the rainbow, we are God’s beautiful rainbow people. We may have the experience of being grey, downcast and overwhelmed, but in learning to accept ourselves for who we are, we leave the grey, rainy day behind and come out into the light.
But as many of us know, that journey can be far from easy. Our Bible reading today is the end of Noah’s journey: the rainbow is a sign of God’s promise, the first of five key promises that appear in the Bible. The Bible has a special word for God’s promises – a covenant – the Hebrew word being “b’rit”. We mention God’s final Covenant each week – the New Covenant - when the celebrant speaks the words of consecration at Communion. The Hebrew word “b’rit” implies cutting and shedding blood. We see this at Communion.
Many of us will have fond memories of having a Noah’s Ark as a child, and maybe we might consider Noah as nothing but a nice little story for children. The story has its soft, presentable side; the animals going into the Ark two-by-two, the dove returning with the olive twig. But it has a darker side, one which we prefer not to think about. There was certainly blood shed: apart from Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, everyone else - millions of people and animals - was killed in the flood.
Also, the easy version of the story is rain for 40 days and nights, but if you read the text more closely, they were in there for just a few days short of 1 year and 2 months! Many of us know the pain of having to wait: waiting for court cases and decisions; waiting until certain family have died before truly and fully coming out, a choice born both out of love and fear of rejection.
The Covenant with Noah came at a high price, just as the New Covenant with God was bought at the cost of Jesus’ blood.
This is a picture of the real Noah’s Ark, well a full-size replica built by the Dutchman Johan Huibers, following the description given in Genesis. It took him 20 years to build. While we might dismiss Noah and his ark as a myth and an allegory for children, a massive, catastrophic flood is reported in stories from around the world: Fuhi in China, the Epic of Gilgamesh (tablet XI), the story of Manu in India, the Dreamtime Flood of the Australian aborigines, the ancient Greek story of Deucalion and Pyrrha, the Aztec Tapi, the Pa-cha-cha-ma Incas of Peru, and the Ojibwe Native Americans’ story of Waynaboozhoo.
We all have in common that we have to live with our pasts which have shaped our lives; we live in the present moment; and the future lies open before us. From the perspective of today’s reading, Noah’s past was a hard one, living among people who rejected God, made fun of Noah, enduring the many months on the Ark, seeing everything and everyone destroyed. Noah’s present was the moment of God’s Covenant promise. At that moment, his future was bright and full of hope. But sadly, the next final account of Noah is not a good one, and a lesson in the dangers of alcohol!
There are many ways of looking at the Bible as a whole, but one way which has always appealed to me is that it is a love letter from God to us with the constant message from our Creator to return to God’s never-ending, unconditional love.
Throughout history, as revealed in the Bible, the first Covenant was to Noah, followed by God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses and David. In the birth of Jesus, God drew a line under the Old Covenant and began the New Covenant which was paid for some thirty-three years later when Jesus died for our sins on the Cross, and a new beginning dawned on that first Easter morning when Jesus rose again. We need not wait for any sign in the sky: God is ready for us to begin afresh at any time.
The message of the Bible is for us to become caught up into God’s story, and the new song we will learn today is “I Cannot Tell”. It speaks of God’s story – past, present and future.
Before we leave the rainbow, whose are these shoes?
They were worn by Judy Garland in the 1940s film “The Wizard of Oz”. If you know the story, or have read the book, it’s about a young girl, Dorothy, who lives with her aunt and uncle and is rather miserable. One day, a tornado whisks her off to a magical place, where she makes new friends and helps defeat the wicked witch. Ultimately, however, she just longs to return home. That longing is also in all of us, put there by our Creator to return to God.
One song from that film – Somewhere Over The Rainbow – has won a special place in the hearts of the LGBT community. Today, at the front of church we have the Noah’s Ark, an umbrella, the rainbow flag, some candles, and of course, Communion ready for later in our service. As we listen to the song, which will be followed by a few minutes of silence, I would invite you to reflect on your past, your present and your future.