|The Rev. Dr.
Kristin Johnston Largen
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
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March 4th, 2009
“God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’”
These days, I find that I am feeling a little—I’m not sure of the word, exactly—I suppose “discouraged” comes as close as anything. You see, I am teaching a course this spring on the seven deadly sins, and while I love discussing other people’s sin as much as the next person, I really don’t like thinking about my own sin. And, as I think the students in the class can attest, if we have learned anything thus far, it is that sin—my sin—is poisonous, insidious, and absolutely ubiquitous. Everywhere I turn, my sin is ever before me, and I cannot escape it.
In one of the texts we are reading, Will Willimon tells a joke—it’s a bad joke, I warn you: “Two old men sitting in their synagogue during the Sabbath service overhear the loud lament of another worshiper near them: ‘God, be merciful to me, a nobody! God, forgive me, a nobody! God, help me, though I’m a nobody!’
One of the men looks at the other and asks, ‘Who’s this, who thinks he’s such a nobody?’” Kind of silly, I know, but it makes the point—we can find sin even in the midst of confessions and prayer. It is all awfully discouraging.
That’s why as much as I would love to think otherwise, I know that if I had been living at that mythic time of Noah, even though I would have liked nothing better than being on that ark with all those animals—I wouldn’t have been. I would have been washed away in the flood. And, as much as I would love to think otherwise, I know that if there were another flood, and another ark today, I wouldn’t be on it, either. I would be washed away with all the other people whose lives are permeated by oversights, peccadilloes, and transgressions. I couldn’t escape those floodwaters any more than I can escape my own sin.
But then, in the midst of all this discouragement, I look at the rainbow, and my heart rejoices. God’s rainbow is a clarion call to lift my head up from my dark cloud navel-gazing, and look up, look out, and see God and the world of my neighbor through new eyes, with new hope, in a new light. This rainbow reminds me that sin—my sin, your sin, the sin of humanity—does not have the last word.
God has chosen to respond to the deadness, the dullness, the grayness of sin with glorious, kaleidoscopic light—the light of God’s eternal promise, and never-ending love.
In this way, the rainbow becomes the larger context in which to interpret not only my sin, but the sins of my neighbor, and the sins of the world; the rainbow becomes the lens through which I see myself and my neighbor as loved by God, redeemed by God, preserved by God in the face of—and in spite of—all the sins that pile up around us every day.
That’s why when I look at the rainbow, this beautiful, wonderful symbol of God’s love for us, I also see the face of Jesus Christ shining in and through all these gorgeous colors. Because the promise God makes to creation, the covenant God establishes not only with Noah, but all the animals, too, is perfectly embodied in the incarnation. In Jesus, this promise that God makes—to remember God’s creation, to preserve the everlasting covenant with all flesh, and to never again destroy the earth—this promise comes to life. In Jesus Christ, God’s promise is personified, as the living, breathing Word of God enfleshed and dwelling among us. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then, reveals the fullness and the depth of God’s promise, and incidentally, makes perfectly clear that God’s promise is nothing like human promises.
You know what I mean, those promises we make to our friends, our spouses, our children after we’ve had the same fight we’ve had 10 times before, and we’ve said or done the same thing we promised we wouldn’t do 10 times before—and then find ourselves in the awkward position of saying once again, “I promise I’ll never do that again, but this time, I really mean it.” Thanks be to God, unlike us, God really does mean it! Seen in light of the life of Jesus Christ, the rainbow reveals the will and love of God to make good on God’s promise in a spectacularly new way, to do something radically different, something we could never have imagined or envisioned on our own.
It must have been clear to God early on that, even with the freshest of fresh starts, it would not be too long before creation all fell apart again. If left to our own devices to try and keep everything running smoothly, to love God & love our neighbor in unbroken peace and concord—well, how long could it last, really? A few months, a year, two years—it would have been only a matter of time, and certainly God would have been faced again with a cosmos groaning under the weight of sin, and the human community tearing itself apart. It would have been only a matter of time.
So, God does a new thing. God comes right down into our messy, broken existence and takes life among us, with us, embedding Godself into the very mud and grass of creation, in the very blood and flesh of humanity, thereby refusing to be without us. In this way, in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the world becomes God’s ark, and a little boat is transformed into a great cosmic ship that never runs out of room, whose door never shuts. And the waters of the flood? Those death-dealing waves become the life-giving waters of baptism, waters that wash over us to clean, not to kill; to restore, not to destroy; to make new, not to annihilate. In our baptism, the promise of God shown forth in the rainbow becomes born in us, and that promise for all, becomes a promise pro me. The word of the rainbow and the word of baptism are the same loving word of God—one writ large on the cosmos, the other engraved indelibly on the depths of the human heart.
It turns out, then, that while theological and spiritual reflection on sin is important—don’t put away your books just yet, dear students!—we can’t get stuck there; we can’t stay there. Instead, in the face of—and in spite of—all the sins that pile up around us every day, we are called to be on the move, and put into action what God has revealed to us about God’s love and mercy.
With the rainbow over us, with the sign of the cross marked on our foreheads, and wet with the water of our baptism, God calls us to go forth, out into the world to love God by loving our neighbor; to witness to God’s love and care for the entire creation; and to share the joy that comes from knowing that this rainbow is not just for the church, it’s for the world. This bright, beautiful light shines over the face of the whole world, and promises God’s love and care for all creation, all people, at all times and in all places. And where God loves, so should we. AMEN
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