(Audio) Proper 12 B: Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 6:45-56
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When you see a rainbow in the sky, what’s your first thought? Is it trying to find the leprechaun’s pot of gold? Do you sing “Somewhere over the rainbow” with Judy Garland? Or is it more along the lines of Care Bears, My Little Pony, or even a particular Pink Floyd album? Are you struck by the sheer beauty of the raw colors of nature projected into the sky as the sun reflects through the rain drops of the storm that passed? Do you pause and remember why the rainbow is placed in the sky in the first place? The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky show the wonder of God’s paintbrush in the order of nature! It is the bow placed as a reminder of God’s promise, His protection for the faithful in the flood, His promise to not have the world flood again.
Or perhaps your thoughts are to that which many in our culture have now taken the rainbow as a symbol of Pride. Ironically, these rainbows are being displayed for a purpose completely contrary to nature’s order, contrary to God’s Word. Also ironically, a rainbow is used as a symbol of pride, one the seven deadly sins. The Scriptures constantly call Christians not to a life of pride but to a life a humility and repentance, to turn from our inclinations.
It’s why we confessed as we did at the start of the service, I am by nature sinful and unclean, in thought, word, and deed, in things done and things not done. Our nature, our natural inclination, our desires, our hearts are sinful. It why I chuckle at the notion of following one’s own heart. Why would we do that? For as Jesus reminds us, “out of the heart comes all matter of evil.”
We forget what the purpose of the rainbow was in first place.
Most of the world had stopped trusting God’s Word and promise, they had accepted sin as normal. Sin became acceptable, sin became something to embrace. All to often our culture would rather put words into God’s mouth than hear what He has to say for Himself and His rainbow or why it came about in the first place.
When a society takes a signal of salvation from God and makes it synonymous with practices that are not of God, it shows how wicked and contrary to nature we can be. From Genesis 6, “The LORD saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of his heart was only evil continually. And God was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved His heart… the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and filled with violence.”
Sin is no joke with God. He is the sort of God, One jealous for you and your devotion, who does not let the wickedness of those who turn away from Him go unpunished. Sin, especially pride, is saying that I know better than God. That is the definition of idolatry, and action of faithlessness. Sin originates from unbelief and our natural inclination toward evil.
We don’t have a count of the world population before that Flood—but we do know that the count was down to eight afterwards. For many, this serves as a reason to deny that God is merciful or loving. In response, we make note of a couple more things that we know. For one, we know that the ark was not built overnight. It took years to build—80 years or so. The ark was no secret, and there’s little doubt that word about it got around. Furthermore, Noah is described as a preacher of righteousness, as a herald in that place, he made known to all the message of the Flood and the ark: the message of destruction and salvation, the message of death and life. It is not that the world population was ambushed when the waters came; rather, the people simply didn’t believe in deliverance from a flood they couldn’t see, in a boat they couldn’t understand.
It’s true that the Flood demonstrates the wrath of God against sin, and that is what sinful hearts will see for an excuse to reject God. But by the eyes of faith, you wonder at other news and rejoice: although the vast majority of the world had turned its back on Him, the Lord did not forget the few who were faithful. He saved them. We’d ought to take note, that never has a majority of people been faithful, always have a majority rather wanted to live life their own way and rejected God’s Word. Even throughout the Old Testament, the faithful are always noted as a remnant.
As terrible the threats of God against sin and unrighteousness are, much more powerful is the comfort in His promises which assures all people who cling to Him alone for His mercy that His sheer goodness and blessing are for thousands of generations! For God even still places the rainbow in the heavens even to this day!
And what is the rainbow actually for? Think back, for a minute, to the situation of Noah and His family: Scientifically speaking, there’s a pretty good chance that no rain ever fell from the sky until the floodgates of heaven & the wellsprings of the deep were opened up by God. For 40 days and 40 nights water deluged the earth. Then, it was another 250 or so days before the water subsided from the land and Noah and His family could disembark from the ark. Imagine what the freshly washed earth looked like: quiet, renewed, cleansed. But to be so purified, the whole earth and mankind with it, suffered the wrath of God- undergoing a flood in which every living thing drowned and died: all but Noah and His family- 8 souls in all.
After experiencing that destructive flood, can you imagine the terror Noah and his family might have felt the next time they noticed dark clouds gathering in the sky? THAT is exactly why God placed the rainbow in the sky! “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations…” God told NOAH. “…when I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is in the sky, I will remember my covenant… and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
The rainbow is a sign of salvation- a Covenant God Himself established and still remembers! By His covenant, God is saying to all creation “you are mine. I will protect you and save you.”
In its place, the Lord has sent to you another Flood. In 1 Peter 3:20-22, we read, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
The Flood, says 1 Peter, pointed to Holy Baptism. The Flood separated the sinful from the righteous. By the Flood, the Lord killed and the Lord kept alive. The sinful flesh killed and the new man emerges, forgiven, renewed, cleansed, and given new life before God. It’s the daily flood that we live in humility and repentance. Daily remember your baptism, where sin is crucified with Christ and a new inclination, a new man, is raised with Him in purity.
Though the wickedness of mankind continually increases on the earth, the rainbow still shines at the end of the storms. As the terrible dark clouds of God’s wrath gathered over the land as Jesus was crucified. The shining sun was blocked out. But from the cross, Jesus remembers you and says, “Father, forgive them.” Then He died, for you. And from His pierced side flooded forth water and blood, the very elements by which God shows you that you are His. On the third day, the light of life arose, and God’s promise was fulfilled. The bow in the cloud gave way to the bright shining light of resurrection glory. The promise fulfilled, you will not die you have new life and resurrection.
You’re safe and alive in the death and resurrection of Christ—even as Noah and his family were safe in the ark during the Flood, and still in the Lord’s care when they emerged afterward. But remember the scene of our text: the family was, doubtless, shocked at the devastation, the aftermath of the Flood. So the Lord kept repeating His promise that He would never send another Flood to judge the world again.
You’ll be like that sometimes—shocked, devastated. You will, at times, doubt that you really are alive in Christ, maybe even wonder if there is life in Christ at all. It might be strife and violence in the world—or in a congregation or family. It might be injury or disease to body or mind. It might be grief. It might be the guilt of past sins you’ve done, or the shame that others have imposed upon you by their sins.
All of these temptations remain to slap you across the face, shock you, devastate you, guilt you into doubting God’s promises of life in Christ for you. That is why, as He did for Noah, the Lord keeps repeating His promises to you.
“I forgive you all of your sins.” Thus the Lord repeated His grace for you; and if you are forgiven, all of His blessings are yours in Christ.
And in the Supper soon to come, the Lord repeats this promise again: “This is My body…this is My blood…for the forgiveness of sins.” With those words, He announces He is here to be in communion with you, to forgive you once again.
As God sealed His covenant with Noah and all creation with a rainbow, so does He also seal His promises of the cross, water, and blood by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And to remind you of His mercy, His faithfulness, His promises, and your salvation, He pours out generously the water, bread, wine, and yes, even the rainbow. As are the Word and Sacraments, it is a visual promise of God’s mercy and grace as He remembers you, calls you His treasured possession, and points you to the fulfillment of His promises in Christ that you may live by faith in Him.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.