Why and how are two questions that drive us as humans. Our innate curiosity has helped us to develop amazing technologies, cure horrible diseases, and make life very comfortable for many. In attempts to make sense of both the world and the divine – cultures created cosmology stories explaining how things came to be. Prominent in cosmology stories are the major natural forces one encounters daily – wind, water, earth, fire… as they were the forces understood to shape the world.
Today’s text comes after the rain, after the flood, after the messiness. It’s the punchline – the why. It’s the part we focus on and teach to the children – the happy rainbow in the sky. God’s promise, covenant, to EVERY LIVING CREATURE (not just Noah!) never again to destroy everything with water. From this, we are to understand God to be trustworthy.
There are a lot of problematic aspects of this story. A lot of details we minimize or move through quickly. The easiest parts are the beginning with the ark and the animals, and the end with the rainbow and the covenant. I urge you to let yourself absorb the whole story. Wrestle with it. Wonder.
The text highlights the covenant – a special relationship and promise that God makes to all of creation. First here – God does not make this covenant only with humans. Our theology can often get hierarchical – that first God loves us, and then the animals, and then the rest of creation. This verse clearly spells out that God is making God’s covenant with every living thing.
Second, it is interesting to wonder why God needed the sign, the reminder. We use symbols to remind us of many promises we make. Rings as a sign of our commitment to our husband or wife for example. In a world of unknown and harsh elements – this sign of God’s love I imagine to be incredibly uplifting and comforting.
Third – context determines meaning. I imagine this story being told in circles around tents, under the shade of trees, or under shelter waiting out a storm. We must remember the heritage of our stories of the faith. As our children become older and their minds develop – we owe it to them to keep returning to this story. It speaks to all of us. We owe it to them to wonder together about the people who shared this story to speak about a God beyond themselves. If we as teachers, as mentors, and as parents allow this foundational story to be only a cute nursery decoration – we do a disservice to the community of faith. There comes a time where our children can begin to see that these stories, and the bible – the library of the people of God, is not meant to be taken literally. It is a beautiful tradition that offers a window, revealing aspects of God through God’s beautiful, broken, foolish people.
I wonder what emotions you feel when you are surprised by a rainbow? I wonder how God’s promises give you assurance of the love your creator has for you? I wonder how water touches your life in a meaningful way?
Oh God of land and sea, your powerful ways are beyond us Lord yet you covenant with us as a part of your creation. Guide us in ways that lead to your Kingdom. Spirit, work within us to claim our identity as the children of God. Jesus, may your example in the desert remind us that we too need time apart to reflect. We strive, only in your power oh God, to see your hand through these stories and in the world around us. In your holy name we pray, Amen.