Genesis 9:8-17 (NRSV)
By Tuesday of each week I try my best to have somewhat of an idea about where the scripture I will be preaching on is taking me. It seems this has become the best rhythm for me in my still relatively new bi-vocational life of your Senior Pastor and Attorney to my legal clients. Now, some weeks are better than others and I am so very thankful for those weeks. In fact, when Sunday morning comes I ask myself why each week’s preparation can’t be the same, but the same they are not.
I want you to know that by Tuesday of this past week, I felt certain this was going to be one of those good weeks of preparation. I had an inkling of an idea about where today’s scripture was leading me, and that inkling was confirmed and affirmed with my Tuesday Lectionary Reading Group of Pastors - something that always makes me feel good. I even settled on a sermon title, which for me is a wonderful starting point because once the sermon title comes to me, I know where this week’s journey will be going. And I must tell you, it feels good to know where you’re heading in those early moments at the beginning of the journey.
Then, the events of Wednesday happened, and as hard as I tried to stick to my Tuesday decisions, the pull to journey elsewhere with this scripture wouldn’t let up. I’m certain all of you know at least one of the events I’m referring to when I say the events of Wednesday, and yes what happened in Parkland Florida is in that category, but there is something else I experienced this past Wednesday that belongs in that category too, and that is the Ash Wednesday Service we had here at our Church.
For me, taking part in that Ash Wednesday service took on new meaning and profound significance precisely because of the vicious, some might say heartless, destruction that occurred in Parkland, Florida just hours before. I didn’t know these two events would connect in such a way, because I had always thought of only the “dust” aspect of Ash Wednesday. You see, to that point in my life, my experience with the imposition of ashes was limited, and one of the limitations was in the words the minister said as he/she placed their thumb on my forehead and marked me with the cross. This is because the only words I had ever heard were “Remember that you were once dust, and to dust you shall return.” Now there is good biblical reason for a recitation such as this, but this past Wednesday I was taught a completely different set of words and I am forever grateful to Mark Ashworth for it.
“Remember you are mortal, and remember you are loved”
Mark first shared this with me, Becky and Daniel during our weekly worship planning on Wednesday morning, and as soon as he did all three of us felt their power. And even though Mark said we could each say whatever we wanted, I knew that for me there really was no choice. For one, I wanted to make sure people stood in my line so that I could impose the ashes on some of you who were able to join us. After all, it would have been lonely standing there watching Mark.
Really, though, the power of those words resonated with me and where I am mentally this Lenten Season. Remember you are mortal, and remember you are loved! Isn’t that beautiful?
Then Thursday came, and Friday after that, and those words took on new power… Remember you are mortal, and remember you are loved. You see, by Thursday and Friday anyone who watches or reads the news, as I do every day, couldn’t escape the fact that human life is fragile and humanity itself is mortal. For most of us, human mortality is something we give our intellectual consent to, but we never really giving it our full consent. As Mark shared in his Ash Wednesday Reflection, we act like human mortality is something other people have to deal with, not us. Yet around every corner we turn, it seems, the mortality of life smacks us in the face… And it breaks my heart!
It breaks my heart to know that just a week ago, Margaret Angel traveled to the funeral of her aunt, especially since it was her last one living.
It breaks my heart to see my mom fight back tears on Wednesday night as she learns about a bad diagnosis for a longtime friend.
It breaks my heart to hear about Brady Mitchell, the 17-year-old son of my cousin, Chad Mitchell, cancer diagnosis. A diagnosis that has changed rapidly in the past week.
It breaks my heart as I sit last Thursday following the chat-room like communication of the ever-growing police presence at Grimsley High School while my two boys were there.
It breaks my heart to watch a mother, so overwhelmed by grief and pain, cry out for changes, any kind of changes, so no other parent in the US has to spend two hours of their life planning the funeral arraignments for their teenage child who happened to be one of the seventeen victims in the latest school shooting in our country.
And it breaks my heart to learn more about the ways Nicholas Cruz’s heart had been breaking for some length of time, and maybe it had been breaking for so long that he no longer could even give his intellectual consent to the mortality of human life.
MY HEART BREAKS!
And in the midst of its breaking, I cry out for change. Sometimes those cries are internal, and sometimes they are external, but I cry out for change. So, as I cried out this week, when yet again I found myself not knowing what to do as everywhere I looked I saw senseless and heartless death and destruction, today’s scripture passage took on new meaning. It was today’s passage where I found hope. Today’s passage is a most powerful example of how someone or something can change… how witnessing senseless death and destruction can bring about positive change that is rooted in love.
It was today’s passage where I was reminded, yet again, of the numerous and various ways we are created in the divine image. An image with traits like the ability to change and limit oneself, especially when faced with senseless and heartless destruction and death.
God changed and in doing so limited God’s self.
When face to face with wide-spread death and destruction, God changed.
This God, our God, that is revealed in this passage is adaptable.
This God, our God, is touched to the heart by creation, and willing to accept hurt to keep hope alive. And this God unilaterally imposes self-limitations for all of eternity and provides a sign as a reminder. A sign grounded in Love and offering hope to all of creation.
A sign we call a RAINBOW.
God keeps the future open by self-limitation, which is risky… self-limitation always is, but it’s also what TRUE LOVE requires. God takes this risk because God’s heart is touched by creation’s suffering. The God who makes this covenant is not an objective judge delivering a just sentence. This God, our God, is a lover grieved to the heart at the violence and precisely because of that grieving seeks reconciliation (6:6, 8:21).
“This act of self-limitation and investment introduces a new and distinct facet into the character of God as portrayed in Scripture. Along with power, justice, patience, and love, the ancient Hebrews also perceived that God was inherently self-giving, willing to enter into a relationship that put limits on even God’s prerogatives. This is, of course, the way it is with all genuine relationships. Parents bound in love to their children make all kinds of sacrifices that would have been difficult to imagine prior to having children.”
The rainbow bending over Noah’s ark with pairs of animals all around is an image painted or hung on the walls of many church nurseries. Just in case anyone here is wondering, yes our nursery is included in that group. We offer this story because it seems central to the message of God’s love and hope to our children, and we start offering it at the earliest ages. It’s as though we want the children to know that, even in the midst of the worst chaos, God will never forget them.
Why, though, is this image and its message relegated to the nursery? Why aren’t the colors of the rainbow emanating from the nursery up the stairwells and into worship and committee/team meetings? Why aren’t they emanating into youth group, adult education and mission projects, into choir rehearsal and church potlucks?
Is there really a more powerful promise the church can offer? When taken seriously and intentionally, it would profoundly change a faith community into a place where people were willing to let their hearts be remade in the image of God’s heart. It would be changed into a place where people would let their hearts be broken open, with grief over their own hard–heartedness and the hard–heartedness of the world and its chaos. And when their hearts were broken open the people would be moved to partner with their Creator through patient, forgiving, loving, and prophetic action for the renewal of all creation.
We cry out, oh God, for your Rainbow!
Even, and especially in the midst of the chaos of this world, we cry out for your Rainbow because we want to know that you Remember. We cry out for your rainbow so that we can yet again be reminded that redemption is possible.
We cry out for your rainbow to remind us that we too are created in your divine image. An image that lets us know we too can change. We too can part with you and all humanity in ways that brings about life instead of ending life.
We cry out for your rainbow so that we may be reminded that we too are called to self-limit so that life will flourish.
We cry out for your rainbow because here we are again with our hearts breaking and we desperately need hope. We cry out for your rainbow as we remember that we are mortal and we cry out for your rainbow because we desperately need to be reminded that we are loved!
 Lose, David J., Feasting on the Word Commentary – Gen. 9:8-17 – Homiletical Perspective