This is Not the End

Inspired by Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29

So how did we get here? How did we get from last week’s story from Joseph’s life, to this story commonly known as the Exodus. You’ll probably notice me ask that question often, as we sail through the great stories of the Bible this Fall, skipping a few along the way. How did we get here? Well, for those of you who are following the daily readings printed in the bulletin insert, you know exactly how we got here but for those of you who haven’t, shame on you! Kidding! I’m kidding! I do highly recommend them though, and there is also a daily devotional to go along with those readings that you can find at the website listed in the insert. But I think if you read them you will get an even better picture of how all of these stories are going to eventually lead us to Jesus’ story.

Last week we had the story of Joseph being thrown into prison after being accused of sexual assault. Funny how timely these old stories can be right? In spite of being in prison Joseph still finds success there and is given charge of the whole prison. Eventually he catches the ear of the Pharaoh, the king himself. And in a scenario that was made for movies, he ends up becoming the ruler over all of Egypt, second only to the king!

If you aren’t familiar with this story, or haven’t read it in a while, I highly recommend you do. It’s the last 14 chapters of Genesis and it’s just one of the greatest dramas in all of scripture! So, long story short, Joseph is ruling over Egypt when a famine hits the entire region. In fact, his leadership is what saves them from starvation. He reunites with his brothers, yes those brothers, the ones that threw him down that dry well and then sold him into slavery, and invites his whole family to join him in Egypt to weather the rest of the famine. However, his family ends up staying there.

Well, his family didn’t just stay there, they grew! Remember that promise that God gave to Abraham two weeks ago? “I will make of you a great nation.” Well, God wasn’t ly’n! They grew…like rabbits! They grew so big, that they became a threat to the nation of Egypt, who wondered how they could keep them under “control.” What once was a blessing to Egypt in the form of Joseph, was now thought to be a curse. And so, Egypt devised a plan to deal with the Jewish question. Slavery.

Slavery was how they were going to keep them under control. Slavery was how they would keep them from rising up against them. Well, that plan backfired. There’s only so much a people can take before they resist, or fight back, or run away. And that’s exactly what they did. They ran. After much arguing and fighting, Egypt’s king finally gives up and lets them go. And under Moses’ leadership, with God at his side, they run, fast and hard, to freedom’s waters.

And that’s where our story picks up. They have run as far as they could run, to the edge of the sea. Meanwhile, the Egyptian king changes his mind and had begun to ran after them with his armies. The Israelites look back and see them coming. And to them, it looks like the end of the road. On one side is the sea, and on the other, one of the world’s mightiest armies, to come and reclaim their property. And so, they think, “Well, this is it. This is how it ends. This is how we end. It’s either give up, or meet our maker.”

And that’s exactly what they try to do. They argue with Moses saying, “This is what you brought us out here for? To die? Isn’t slavery better than death?” It’s a very human reaction. Don’t judge them to harshly. Judging them is tantamount to judging the mirror. We humans have a tendency to react very pragmatically, very logically. We tell ourselves, if something doesn’t make sense then there must be a reason, and that reason probably spells doom! It’s simply a survival instinct. And it’s a hard instinct to fight.

But that’s exactly what Moses tells them to do. Fight that instinct. Our brains tell us to choose fight or flight. And God tells Moses, there’s a third option. An option that only God is privy to but it’s there nevertheless! This is not the end. This is not your end. And all they have to do, is shut up and sit still. Well, easier said than done God! Have you ever been backed into a corner, those times in your life when you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place?

I don’t know about you but I either come out swinging, or recoil into my turtle shell to wait out the danger. But standing my ground? Being still and waiting for an option that I can’t even fathom to come to light and save me? Mmm, no thanks. That sounds like ridiculousness. And then I’m reminded of these old stories, handed down to us by our Jewish siblings, to learn these hard lessons that they endured—to shut up, and be still—because this is not the end, this is not your end.

This story became a pivotal story for our Jewish siblings. With the foundation of that promise given to Abraham, this story became what defined them as not only a people, but defined their relationship with their God. As we will see in the coming weeks, they will have to endure much strife, nothing will come easy for them. And if they thought this Egyptian king was bad news, they hadn’t seen nothing yet. That is why, returning to this story, every year at Passover, and especially in the midst of each struggle, was so important to their survival—remembering, this is not the end, this is not our end.

Oddly enough, this story was just as important to American slaves. And I say odd because they clung to their master’s religion. You would think, that any religion that a cruel slaveholder followed, must be just as cruel. But somehow, they saw something in their Christian religion, and this story in particular, that their white American slavers clearly did not—hope. We are going to sing two slave songs today. The first one is O, Mary Don’t You Weep. The song draws from two different Bible stories, the Exodus and the raising of Lazarus.

Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, and in the Gospel of John, he died and Jesus went to go visit them. Mary weeps, and Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise, that this is not the end, this is not his end. She thinks that Jesus is talking about the afterlife, because that would be the logical conclusion right? No, Jesus shows her another option, and raises Lazarus back to life. We sing this song at the Vigil of Easter, when we return to these old stories, as a reminder that new life and hope have been happening since the beginning of time, and can come out of nowhere.

The other slave song we will sing, is Wade in the Water. This song too was sung by slaves, and this one had a secret code in it. Harriet Tubman used this song to teach escaping slaves to travel off the paths, and wade through streams and rivers, so that their scent would be hidden from the dogs that their slave masters would sic after them. This song too uses imagery from both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Troubling the waters comes from the story of a healing pool from the Gospel of John. The sick would wait for the waters to move, to be troubled, and that would signal that an angel was flying over waiting to heal someone. Though quite mystical in nature, the story was filled with the hope of another way, an option to life that may not be obvious, hope that this was not the end, this was not their end.

I don’t think any of us here can really understand what slavery is like, but I imagine that hopelessness and despair are around every corner. And that I know that many of us in this room can relate to that, at some point in our lives. And if you can’t, I’m guessing you know someone who can. These stories, these songs, are ways that humans, over the centuries, in the midst of the worst of times, have held on to hope, have clung on to hope by the whites of the knuckles.

These stories and songs, have communicated to people—this is not the end, this is not your end. As dire as your circumstances my seem, as hopeless as that rock and hard place may feel, as evil as the world around us looks, please remember this—because of God’s promise, because of God’s presence, because of God’s power—repeat after me, this is not the end…this is not our end…thanks be to God…Amen.


This Is Us

Inspired by Genesis 39

Many pastors this morning are going to address sexual harassment with this story. It’s certainly a hot topic these days, and it’s a topic that’s worthy of a pastor’s time in their pulpits. However, I chose to go down a different path. Maybe we will talk about it in the Sunday school class for adults, or at the Wednesday evening Bible study, or maybe in some other sermon but not right now. What I would like to address today, is this seemingly simple question, “What does God’s presence in our lives look like?”

As it turns out, it’s not a simple question by any means but before we get into all that let’s first take a moment or two to find out how we got to this story in the Bible. We are only in the third week of our journey through the great stories of the Bible and we are already at that story of Joseph. For you Bible geeks out there, you know that means we’ve skipped a few stories.

Last week we had a story from Sarah and Abraham’s life, and so that means we skipped stories from Rebekah and Isaac’s life, Abraham’s son and wife, as well as stories from Rachel and Jacob, Abraham’s grandson and wife. So, as we’re going through the great stories of the Bible and you notice us skip one of your favorites, don’t fret, odds are it’ll come up in a future year’s readings. Remember this is a four-year cycle of readings and each Fall we will return to Genesis and work our way through the Bible once more with a new selection of readings.

So, how do we find ourselves at this story of Joseph in Egypt? Last week God called Abraham out of his family and homeland, to become immigrants in Canaan. God tells Abraham that his family line will end up being a blessing to the entire world. Abraham follows those orders, has a son they name Isaac, Isaac has a son they name Jacob, and Jacob has a huge family, 12 sons and one daughter!

As I said, there are a lot of stories between last weeks and this weeks, from the time God gave that promise to Abram, to Joseph getting thrown in prison. We don’t have time to recap them all for you now, but I can say this, this family, from Abraham to Joseph, did not have easy lives. They struggled throughout. Many of the stories that we skipped are stories of heartache, death, natural disasters, infertility, rape, famine, tribal warfare, you name it they went through it! But the one thing that was common throughout each generation of this family was…family drama!

Oh my goodness, this family fought like cats and dogs! They were brutal with each other! And the lying and deception within this family is off the charts! Now, I bring all this up for a reason but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Now, Joseph was one of those 12 sons of Jacob—the great-grandchildren of Abraham. And as is the case with many siblings, especially in this family, the sibling rivalry was like nothing you have ever seen.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the Joseph story arc, what you are about to hear is pretty awful. I mean, Joseph’s brothers were the worst! However, to be fair, Joseph was a spoiled brat! And this wasn’t all his fault either, his dad, Jacob, clearly favored him. The author states point-blank that Jacob “loved Joseph more than any of his other sons” and that it was visibly apparent to everyone, and as such, his brothers hated him for it! And when I say “hated”, I mean hated. So much so, that they end up stripping him of his clothes and throwing him down a dry well to die. But then they change their minds and sell their baby brother into slavery instead—which is where our story picks up and how Joseph found himself in Egypt.

His roller coaster of a life doesn’t end there though. He gets sold to Pharaoh’s chief officer and becomes the most important, powerful, and influential person in his master’s house. Though still a slave, things are looking up for Joseph! And just when he thought his luck had changed, bam, he gets thrown in jail, framed with a false accusation. And that’s where our story ends today, with Joseph sitting in a jail cell.

Now, he does find some success in jail, as much success as one can in jail. The commander there does give him lots of responsibility, but he’s still in jail! That’s where we stopped reading. And I found that odd at first. I mean, to be truthful, I found the selection of this part of the Joseph story to be odd. The entire Joseph arc covers the last fourteen chapters of Genesis! And there’s plenty of other stories in those chapters that I probably would have picked from Joseph’s life!

But this is the story that the creators of this lectionary chose and I began to wonder why. I mean, they didn’t even start at the beginning of the Joseph story, which I had to sum up for you in this sermon! So why this story? Well, I think it’s because there’s a truth within this story that has not only been important for this family up until now, but will be vital for God’s people in the stories that we will hear throughout these coming weeks. And that truth is this, this is what God’s presence looks like sometimes, like Joseph sitting in a jail cell, wondering, “How in the world did I get here?”

You remember how I said that Abraham’s family had struggles ever since he first left his homeland, and that those struggles had plagued every generation? Well, many of us would probably just call that “life”, right, one struggle after another? That may very well be a common thread in many of our lives, but what I think the author is really trying to drive home here, is that God is present in those struggles.

In this passage alone, the author states three times, “the Lord was with Joseph.” At one of the lowest points in Joseph’s life, maybe second only to sitting in the bottom of that dry well, God was there. God with Joseph when he was his dad’s favorite son, and God was with Joseph when his brothers threw him in that dry well to die. God was with Joseph when his brothers changed their mind and didn’t kill him, and God was with Joseph when they sold him into slavery. God was with Joseph when he rose to power in Potiphar’s house, and God was with Joseph when he threw him in jail. Are you noticing a pattern here?

God was with Joseph. No matter the predicament that Joseph found himself in, and no matter whose fault. God was with Joseph. And not because he was an angel—remember he was a spoiled brat at the beginning of this story, and I can’t really say he changed all that much at the end of his story, but you’ll have to read that for yourself. God was with Joseph, not because he deserved it, but because God made a promise to his great-grandfather many years ago. And God keeps God’s promises.

So, I love photographs. I get that from my Aunt Ann and my mom. They always made sure to capture every moment on film. I hated it as a kid, but I’m thankful for it now. Anyway, it’s not just my own family photos that I love. I love photographs in general. One of my favorite things to do when I visit people at home is ask about any photographs I see around their house. And if I’m really lucky, they will pull out an old photo album, remember those? And sit with me to look through them. And a common phrase I hear as we do that is, “This is us…” This is us at a ballgame. Or, this is us at our wedding. This is us fishing. This is us at the Grand Canyon. This is us. “Us” usually means family, or whomever is in the photo. This is us.

Isn’t it kinda funny how we have lots of photographs of the good times in our lives but very little, if any, of the really horrible, darker times in our lives? Remember how those old photo albums would say in large print on the cover “Photo Album”, as if we didn’t know what it was? Well, what they really should have said was “Good Times.” Because that’s what they really were right, page after page of good times captured on film.

Now, humor me for just a moment, and try to imagine what a photo album of “Bad Times” would look like. If you had a collection of bad times from your life, dark times, all captured on film, what would those photographs include for you? I don’t know about you but as I think about the various dark times of my own life, a common element in them is loneliness. Many times self-inflicted loneliness, because I often withdraw into myself during bad times. But regardless, many of the photos I’m thinking of, that would be in my Bad Times album, would include just me in the photos.

At least, that’s the way it would look to an outsider. But imagine actually sitting with someone and sharing your Bad Times album, I know, that sounds like a nightmare to me too, but just humor me. As you’re flipping through those pages, of all the bad times in your life, you could still say, even in the photos that only include you in them, “This is us…” Only this time, “us” is you and God.

This is us in the unemployment line when I lost my job. This is us crying in my bedroom after my husband died. This is us in therapy after my son attempted suicide. This is us being served divorce papers. This is us taking that last drink before getting sober. This is us. This is us. This is us. As painful as a Bad Times album might be to flip through, imagine how powerful it would be to hear that phrase over and over, this is us, as you remembered those bad times—and recognized God’s presence, with you, in all of them.

I really do believe that this is the major point that the author was trying to get across in this part of Joseph’s story. God was with Joseph in the good times and especially in the bad times. And not just Joseph, but his whole family. And not just his family but every family at that time. And just at that time but even now—with you and me. I think this truth is a thread that runs through every story in the Bible. In fact, if you think about it, the whole Bible is like a big Bad Times photo album.

Think about all the Bible characters that you know. They all went through some horrible times, the worst times! But in every story, in some way, the author shares how God was with them. It’s easy to put together Good Times photo album. But don’t forget the Bad Times album. That album can be just as powerful, even if it’s just in your mind’s eye, as you remember those bad times, saying to yourself, “This is us.” “This is us.” Thanks be to God. Amen.


Power in Promise

Inspired by Genesis 12:1-9

Our Bible story for today from the twelfth chapter of Genesis is a pivotal one. For one, it marks a shift from some very fantastical stories to a more down to earth one—from stories with talking snakes and angel/human hybrid beings, yep those are in the Bible, to the ordinary, simple family of Sarai and Abram, who we will later come to know as Sarah and Abraham. Now don’t get me wrong, we will have our fair share of fantastical stories later on, like fire that doesn’t burn human flesh, or a talking donkey, yep, that’s in there too. But for now, we get a break from those kinds of stories, and focus in on this one family. Imagine a giant wide-angle lens that’s able to capture not just mountain vistas, not just the entire planet, but the whole of the cosmos, that’s where the Bible begins, only to rapidly zoom in on this one family.

But why this family? What was so special about this family, or for now, this couple? Sarai and Abram did not have any children, he was already seventy-five years old, and they hadn’t done anything of note thus far. They were just a typical Mesopotamian couple in what is modern day Iraq. Now contrast that with last week’s story of the Flood. In that story, Noah was chosen why? Because he was the most holy and righteous man in the world! The author just gushes over Noah and how amazing he was!

So, of course, Noah is the one that God chose to bless by saving his family from the flood. So, in a sense, Noah was rewarded for his good behavior. What I love about the story of Abram, is that he was chosen, not for his good behavior or his holiness, but out of God’s pure grace. And this becomes a pattern of God’s, choosing ordinary people and families for extraordinary purposes, all the way up to choosing the ordinary family of a carpenter from Nazareth, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Another reason why this is such a pivotal story, and probably the most important reason is because of the promise found in it. Out of nowhere, God says to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.” The promise is threefold: there is a promise of land, a promise of children, and a promise of blessing for the entire planet through said children. And it is this threefold promise that the rest of the Bible is based.

For a visual, the promise found on this page, is the foundation for all the other writings found in this book. This promise is going to come up again and again throughout the Bible as a reminder. Sometimes it will be us who are the recipients of that reminding, and sometimes it will be God who gets the reminder. Which is why these old stories that we think we know so well are all the more important to return to as our foundation. Because, this promise of blessing to the entire planet that we read here, all the way back in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, but again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

So, we’ve established that this is a pivotal story, and maybe the most foundational story in all of Hebrew scripture, and if that’s all that we took away from this that would be a lot. But I think we can get even more from this story, particularly something that is a little more useful for us in our day to day lives. So, I’d like to share something that stood out to me, that in all my previous readings I had just glossed over—which is the beauty of scripture isn’t it, no matter how many times you hear a story, you often hear something that you never heard before, or that just wasn’t important before. At least, that’s the effect scripture has had on me.

And with this reading of this story, it was the two altars at the end that stood out to me. You may have missed it, toward the end of our story the author writes that “the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshipped in the Lord’s name.”

The mention of an altar in the Bible is quite common, so common it’s easy to just skim right over them. More often than not, they were quite simple, often just a pile of stones, placed together, usually square in shape. They could be very ornate but usually looked more like the one pictured here, which was discovered in Israel. Small altars like this were made, not for sacrificial purposes, but to remember, to commemorate, to celebrate something that had happened.

And in this case, Abram is simply celebrating God’s appearance to him with that three-fold promise. Now, what strikes me about Abram doing this is, he had no idea if God was going to make good on that promise. It’s not like God was handing out a guarantee with each promise that said, “If you are not happy for any reason please contact me for a full refund.” No, and let’s not forget that Abram is already in a vulnerable position having just been asked to leave his family, his only home he’s known, his country even!

But none of that keeps Abram from commemorating, celebrating, God’s presence and promise. For Abram, that is enough for now. Whether or not God will come through is secondary for him. Abram is content to recognize the power in the seemingly simple act of promise, without the need to wait to see if it is kept. Now, this seems like a pretty super-human act of faith but, we are not only capable of this, but we do this too. Marriage is one example of this.

Think about it, we make a big fuss over weddings, spend lots of money, celebrate it ‘til we’ve run out of credit. And what exactly are we celebrating? A promise, a promise between two people, before their friends and family and God. But here’s the kicker, no one in that room knows if the couple is actually going to keep those promises! No one at a wedding, including the couple, can guarantee that those promises will be kept, and that all that money they spent was worth it. But that doesn’t stop us from celebrating it does it? Because there is power in a promise and it’s worth celebrating. That and people just like to throw weddings and then get drunk afterward but I like to think that there is power in promise!

Another way that we practice this is at every baptism. We stand around that font, the baptized, their family and friends, and we hear the promises of God as water is poured, and we make promises too. But just like at a wedding, no one in this room knows if any of these promises are going to be kept. We don’t know if the family will keep their promises, we don’t know if we as a congregation will keep our promises, we don’t know if the baptized adult or baby will keep or live into those promises, and to tell you the truth, we don’t know if God will keep God’s promises! That is where hope and faith come in.

If our baptisms came with a money-back guarantee, there’d be no need for faith. But that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate each baptism right? We bring out our Sunday best, and white gown, and have a big white cake afterward! Why? Because there is power in a promise, and it’s worth celebrating. Like Abram of old, who was called out of his home, away from his family, to a different country, out of his comfort zone with nothing but a promise to guide him, we too are called out of our comfort zone, expected to risk much, with nothing but a promise to guide us. And like Abram, we don’t know if that promise will be kept. But also like Abram, we recognize that we don’t have to, to celebrate a promise just for what it is, a gift that gives us hope, and feeds our faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.


God Commits

Inspired by Genesis 6:5-22; 8:6-12; 9:8-17

Today, we begin our journey through the great stories of the Bible with one of the most horrifying, violent, catastrophic stories of all the books of the Bible! It continues to astonish me that we have turned this disturbing, murderous story into a cute little children’s tale! My firstborn’s room was covered in Noah’s Ark scenes! The wallpaper, mobile, stuffed animals, blankets, pillows, all had selected scenes from this story. Selected scenes! There were some scenes of course that were intentionally left out.

Now, at this point of the sermon, I was going to share with you some graphic scenes of how I imagine the flood taking over the land and people and animals, but then I reconsidered. But this is a sad story! Imagine if this was filmed? You think those SPCA commercials are sad? You know the ones, with Sarah McLachlan singing her song Angel in the background? Now imagine that song only with scenes from the flood! Yeah, that kind of sad.

But for some reason, all the horrifying aspects of this story, have traditionally been glossed over. And I think they did that for at least two reasons. One, it’s easy to, because we are on this side of the flood. Meaning, we are on the winning side of this story. So it’s been easy for people of faith over the centuries to dismiss the violence. But the other reason they have done that, a deeper reason mind you, is because they didn’t like to dwell on what this says about God.

Think of it this way, if we just took this story at face value, then we are saying that God, disappointed in God’s very own creation, decided to murder everyone, animals included, except one family and the animals they brought. And we’re just supposed to be ok with that? I mean, is that really the God we believe in? Is that really the God you and I have come to know? I’m arguing with an emphatic no! That this kind of behavior is actually contrary to what we have come to know about our God.

So, how do I reconcile that with my love of scripture? And I do love scripture! And not just as a piece of literature, but as a vehicle that God has used, through humans, to communicate some of God’s most precious truths. But the key phrase in that sentence, for today’s purposes, is through humans. God did not write the Bible with God’s own hand, but used human hands to craft it, which meant human minds, which meant that humans got to interject their own truths as well, and some of them are false truths. So, what does this have to do with the Flood? Well, one of those false truths got inserted into this story. Tell me if this sounds familiar because we still do this to ourselves: something bad happens, and so we must have deserved it.

As a pastor, I come across this bad theology all the time. Whether it’s after an unexpected death, or some other life tragedy, or maybe after a natural disaster like in our story for today, so many of us ask the question, “What did I do to deserve this?” We skip asking, “Did I do something?” and go right into, “What did I do?” Or, what did we do to deserve this?” But, whether we get that answer or not, the question implies that there is some outside force that caused this bad thing to happen to us, as punishment for whatever we think we did to deserve it.

And what outside force do we attribute these punishments? God! And why do we do that? Because of stories like the Flood, that give us a scriptural basis to believe such false truths. And I ask again, is that really what we believe about God? Is that really how we believe God works? I don’t. And you don’t have to either. In fact, you can refuse to believe that and still continue to love scripture! How about that!

Because when we remain in such false truths, all we do is set ourselves up for failure and despair. Because the hard truth of life, as many of us know, is that at some point, at many points for some of us, bad things happen! It’s inevitable! There’s no escaping them. Some are worse than others sure but we all have them. As my Hebrew professor used to say, sometimes stuff happens! Only she didn’t say “stuff!” And there doesn’t have to be some cosmic reason why “stuff” happens. But if we allow ourselves to believe that, that one, we deserve it, and two, God did it, how are we supposed to climb out of that, and then continue in this relationship with God as if nothing happened? Too many cannot, and then we wonder why people aren’t going to church these days, or have given up on religion altogether.

Well, at least one reason is because so many of us maintain these archaic ideas about God, and we do so because they’re supported in scripture. But here’s how I and many others approach the Bible that can make all the difference. It is a collection of writings, of all different genres, poetry, drama, comedy, romance, fantasy, political, song, you name it, it’s probably in the Bible somewhere, but all of them are there for one purpose, to try and figure out who God is, and who we are. And some of those writings are successful at that and some of them fail, and some of them do both. I’m guessing that most of them do both. And this story of the Flood is an example of just that.

The stories found in the Bible are the ones that survived for hundreds of years as oral stories before they were finally written down. Imagine that, being only spoken for hundreds of years before someone finally thought, “Maybe we should be writing these down!” And so they did, and here we are reading them thousands of years later. And so we have to ask ourselves, why these stories? What was so important about these stories that survived? What were the ancients of our faith trying to communicate to us about God and ourselves? What was God trying to communicate through them to us? And where did they succeed in that transmission and where did they come up short?

Some fascinating questions, that can lead to some very fruitful and life-giving conversations if we let them, if we aren’t afraid of them. In this story of the Flood for example, if we can get past the fact that God may in fact not be a murderous perpetrator in this story, and that there may be other reasons why the author would put that in there, if we can get past that, then we can ask, what else can this story teach us about God and ourselves? Are there Godly truths here to be gleaned, in the muck of the human false truths that got slipped in there? And most importantly, is there gospel to be found here? Is there good news to be found in this story?

And the answer, of course, is yes, and here are two that stood out to me, but of course there are more than two in a rich story such as this but I’ll leave those for you to glean and chew on this week. The first is this, we are not perfect, and we never will be. In this story, God realizes just how imperfect we are. So imperfect, that we have made a mess of creation. And so God, according to the author’s interpretation of things, comes up with this final solution to wipe out 99.9% of creation and restart from there.

Now, again, if you can get past that, and I know, it takes a few leaps and bounds—by the time we get to our Gospel readings in Advent, we’re gonna be in great shape let me tell you, we’ll be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!—but if you can get past that, you come to the part where God has another realization, after the Flood, unfortunately, when God realizes that humanity is going to be just as imperfect, and will always be so, no matter what God does, and so comes to a decision.

God could have completely started over at this point right? We would have never known! Many other cultures have their gods doing just that in their creations stories! Completely starting over! The Aztec gods took five tries to get it right! But that’s not what our faith ancestors were trying to communicate to us about our God. They wanted us to know that our God, instead of starting over and trying again, decided to just love us, imperfections and all. And so, God does a very ungodly thing, compared to the gods of other cultures, and sets God’s bow down in the clouds.

Now, remember how I said that we have turned this story into a cute little children’s tale? Well, one of the ways we have done that is read the word bow and thought rainbow. Because rainbows are pretty! Who doesn’t love a rainbow? If you don’t like rainbows you better check for a pulse! Everybody loves rainbows! However, I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s actually not a rainbow that the author is writing about.

In the original Hebrew, it’s actually a bow, as in the weapon kind. Not a pretty rainbow. But what I love about that is, again, what were the ancients trying to convey in this image of God setting God’s weapon down in the clouds, never to be used again? That our God is so committed to us, in spite of our imperfections, faults, brokenness, sin, whatever you want to call it, that God is permanently setting down God’s weapon of war. God has committed to not fight with us over this.

God is committed to not trying to make us into something that we are not, that we will never be—perfect—and instead, commits to loving us just the way we were created. And so, as one Luther Seminary professor put it, God is changed in this story, not us. God is changed because that is how much God loves us, and is committed to us. It is not our commitment or faithfulness that is going to see us through the floods of our lives, it is God’s commitment, it is God’s faithfulness to us that will. Thanks be to God. Amen.