One of the realities of preaching is that one never gets to say all there is to say about a particular story or biblical text. Sometimes this shows up when someone leaving the sanctuary after a worship service shakes my hand at the door and says, “Nice sermon, preacher, but you didn’t even mention . . . ” followed by an additional point about the topic at hand.
I do enjoy these doorway conversations. They turn a sermon into a dialogue, and demonstrate that the person at least was listening. Unless, of course, their “additional insight” is actually something I said right in the middle of my sermon. Then I do find myself wondering if this particular parishioner nodded off.
Last Sunday our Jubilee Justice Intern (and multi-faceted church leader) Jan Von Lehe and I preached on the story of Noah and the ark. Together we talked about this universal story of climate disaster, this story of warning and of hope. Jan talked about her work at 350 Seattle and with our congregation’s Sacred Earth Matters group. We talked about the urgent need for action right now to address the coming global climate catastrophe. We talked about warning and about hope.
What we never got to was the story of the rainbow. And this June, during Pride Month, with attention to the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, it is good to get to the rainbow. Because climate change, and social justice, and human worth are all connected to our understanding of what matters most. And in the Genesis flood story, they are connected by a rainbow.
In the story of the Flood, the rainbow represents a promise. God promises never again to destroy the world with a flood. As the story goes, after the rain, after the flood, after the almost total destruction of creation, the Creator looks out at what has happened, and realizes what a mistake the flood was. God repents. God looks at what anger and frustration and fear and alienation has wrought and says “I’m sorry.”
Let me say that again. God says, “I got this one wrong.” God apologizes to creation.
Whatever that does to anyone’s view of a benevolent, omniscient, unerring Being in charge of everything, it certainly should humble all who think they know exactly who God loves and who God hates and who God punishes and why. In this Pride month, 50 years after Stonewall, some people still think they know that God has no room in the Kin-dom for GLBTQ+ people. They point to old words from a distant time and say, “See here, it’s clear.” As if those words and our understanding would never change. As if God is not still speaking. Then they say that disease or flood or fire- AIDS, or Katrina, or any of the many devastating wildfires- are God’s punishment. What a misunderstanding of the Sacred, within and beyond creation.
Repentance means literally “Turning around and going a different direction.” Maybe it was after the flood that God decided to turn and go a different path, to be a God of Love rather than a god of wrath. Or maybe it was us humans, imagining God, who decided to imagine God as love, and then tried to follow that love path.
It has taken us millennia to find and loose and find that path again. We get our relationship with the rest of creation wrong and become blinded by greed. We get our relationship with one another wrong and become driven by fear. Just now, even as we have made some progress, any look around reminds us that we are wandering in the wilderness once more.
In the Genesis flood story, creation is given a sign of God’s promise and God’s call to walk a different path. It is the rainbow.
There are a variety of stories about how the rainbow came to be associated with GLBTQ+ Pride. And there are a variety of ways folks today are suggesting the Pride movement itself might be ready to move beyond the rainbow symbol. Nevertheless, as a person of faith and a member of the GLBTQ+ community, I find connection in the rainbow. It reminds me that all of us are growing in our understanding God, and of what it means to be human and to be loved. It means that fear and hate will never have the final say. It means that life will find a way. It means that the common good matters.
The rainbow means Love wins.