God's protection and peace be with you wherever you go this week. What a week it has been. One that may have provoked questions like these: How can you believe in a Good God when the world is so bad? The chaos, cruelty, violence, and injustice point away from a benevolent creator. What sort of a God creates this and then threatens his creatures with the possibility of hell after death? As if this isn’t bad enough. The best we can say is that the worst hasn’t yet happened to me or to those I love. But it sometimes feels like I’m waiting for that to happen. There is a capricious randomness to the whole thing. After another mass shooting at a public school and the subsequent rage, sorrow, and powerlessness that follows, I wonder how long. How long until it gets me or how long must we live under the pall of violence and death? Do we hunker down? Protect our own? Lock the doors, arm the ushers? Should all of us be trained gunmen? This doubtful cynicism is symptomatic of a culture of death, violence, and powerlessness. And it is spiritually dangerous, because it perpetuates the dehumanizing effect of violence and makes it acceptable, even necessary. It leads us to wilderness survival against the threats around us.
In other news, in a scene of gruesome poetic justice, an infamous South African poacher was attacked and eaten by lions. Which suggests that the whole animal kingdom is hardwired toward violent retribution. All that remained was his rifle and ammunition. The world is deadly enough without those manmade killing machines. We’ve just become more efficient at it. The most efficient killers the earth has ever seen. When will there be peace? How do we make it?
The Noah story with its rainbows and doves, is the most beloved of the bible stories. You’ll never find a children’s first bible without it. And yet it is the deadliest. The flood, the ark, the animals, Noah and his family, the rainbow. Benign images in a picture book. We forget that the purpose of the flood was to cleanse the earth of the violence, cruelty, and chaos of humanity. The creator’s original blessing and intent for creation had been rejected and distorted by the image-bearing creatures, who saw God in themselves and decided to take that literally. Argument erupts over power, who’s in charge, who’s the most right, the greatest, the highest ranking. Fighting and killing ensues. Brother against brother, we’re told. A civil war among God’s first children. So, God takes action and puts an end to the violence with one violent, destructive, death-dealing act of power---a mighty flood. But, God rescues Noah and his family and all the animals. And then the God of the bible does a radical, unprecedented, and misunderstood thing. God makes a unilateral covenant with Noah. Now a covenant is a binding legal agreement, a partnership relationship, a quid pro quo. In the ancient near east covenants ended violence between warring tribes or bound two families together in mutual agreement over land or women. Typically, a covenant is conditional and requires both sides to agree to some compromise arrangement. Give and take. But this covenant is different.
The almighty, powerful creator binds Himself to his creation with an unconditional promise. Never again will I destroy the earth with a flood. God will not be responsible for the destruction of the earth and its creatures. God binds himself to them as protector and savior, not violent dictator or destructive overlord. The rainbow is a reminder, not to us, but to God. This covenant is unconditional and eternal. God will not use violence as a means to achieve peace. Ever. God will use patient forebearance and forgiveness as that means. In fact, at the right time God will descend and walk the earth, literally entering the wilderness, the chaos, cruelty, and violence of human civilization in order to rescue us from it. In Jesus Christ, God continues to live out the Noah covenant—coming not as a military messiah or powerful destroyer of evil, but as a teacher and healer and forgiver of sins. In Jesus, God floods the earth with life and love. And the wood that built the ark will also build a cross. Just as the ark once saved Noah, so the cross saves us. Jesus’ death is life for us. It is symbol of God’s devotion to our lives, God’s protection, God’s promise not to abandon or forsake us. I believe that Jesus Christ was present in that school, is present in every school and nightclub and concert venue and city street and abusive home and refugee camp and prison. Jesus joins our journey through the violent wilderness that is civilization as we’ve made it, in order to remake it “on earth as it is in heaven.” The God of the bible has not given up on this project to make a peaceful home with us. And the good news is that God continues to act.
I believe that the rain, the snowfall is not God’s destructive power any more. I believe they are God’s tears. And that God’s hope is that we will be moved by those tears to stand against the violence and the suffering and the chaos. God has given us what we need to bring peace. God has bought us time, taught us a way to walk in love and compassion with neighbors and enemies. Commanded us not to be afraid. Sent the Spirit to give us power and wisdom and courage to act for justice, to do what is right, to cry out against this culture of violence and death. This culture that idolizes guns and protects the rights of those who want to use them to commit murder, so that the best justice the culture can offer is the death penalty or life in prison or death by cop or suicide for the perpetrator of the crime. Death is what we have to offer. We can stand against this culture of violence and death. We must be rainbow people—promising never again to act with violence and anger toward one another. We must seek to understand trauma and anger and disconnection and alienation---the sin that tears the human family apart. We must enter more deeply into the suffering of others, into their stories, their grief, their shame, their fears, their despair. And we must affirm the covenant relationship—that God in God’s mercy and love has chosen to become vulnerable and human, in order to draw near to us, to show us love, to heal us, and to lead us toward the rainbow of non-violence. Lent begins with the Noah covenant of protection and non-violent peace-making, with the God who enters the wilderness with us. The rainbow and the cross. May they be for us talisman of hope and the promise of a new creation that is yet to be born, one for which we long with all our hearts and work towards with all the tenacity and courage we can muster as the covenant people of God. Amen.