ZION LUTHERAN SERMON FOR 23.AUGUST.2015
“THE RAINBOW PROMISE”
(E. Lahti Rosensaft, Chaplain)
Genesis 9:12-17: And God said, “I am giving you a sign as evidence of my eternal covenant with you and all living creatures. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my permanent promise to you and to all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with everything that lives. Never again will there be a flood that will destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this is the sign of my covenant with all the creatures of the earth.”
I love these verses! I will let you in on a secret, when Pastor Bill asked me to do a sermon again; he threw in an added enticement of me getting to pick the scripture. I knew I wanted to share these favorite verses of mine and their meaning and comfort to me. I hope that they will become a source of comfort to you, too.
SCIENCE: Before I get to that, what exactly is a rainbow? Scientists explain it as an arc of several colors in rain or spray opposite the sun. Optically it is a distorted image of the sun caused by light reflected and refracted through a rain drop. It is said that the brightest and most spectacular rainbows occur after big thunderstorms and the heaviest of rain. (It’s always darkest before the dawn?) They say that no two people see exactly the same rainbow, even if they are standing next to each other! Why? Apparently the few inches between each person’s eyes makes a difference in what you are viewing. (Don’t we all see things from our own subjective point of view? Gives new meaning to the term, “Seeing things Eye to Eye”!) They also state that if you are driving and following a rainbow; look first with one eye only and then the other. You will see a different rainbow. (We look at things differently at different stages of our life...as you will learn in this sermon, something that is just pretty to look at took on greater meaning to me as I got older.) Something surprising: A rainbow is actually only a portion of an arc. If you were skydiving, you might see the whole ring. (A rainbow is a perfect, permanent, unending circle of God’s love for us.) Double rainbows occur when light bounces around inside a raindrop more than once before making it out. It is even possible to see 3rd, 4th and multiple rainbows. Each raindrop acts as both “prism” and “mirror.”
HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: Homer thought the rainbow had only one color- purple! Aristotle said the rainbow had 3 colors: purple, yellow green and red. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that they decided rainbows had 4 colors: red, blue, green and yellow. They still had no idea where rainbows came from. Isaac Newton finally said there were 7 colors. His rival, Rene Descartes, came up with the idea that colors came from the sun being split into different colors by rain.
THE IDEA OF “7”: 7 Appears to be a significant number. Pythagoras felt the universe ran the RULE of 7: 7 days of the week, 7 notes in a musical scale, 7 planets (at that time) and 7 colors in the rainbow. Biblically, God created the earth in 7 days, He made the Sabbath the 7th day, 7 is the number of completeness and perfection; both physically and spiritually. Also of interest, seven is mentioned 735 times in the Bible, but nowhere more prominently than Revelation with discussion of 7 churches, 7 angels, 7 seals, etc. There are also the famous 7 Hills of Jerusalem.
RAINBOWS & OTHER CULTURES: We all know about Leprechauns, rainbows and the “pot of gold” in Ireland; but what do other cultures say about rainbows? Ancient Greece thought that Iris, wife of the god Zephyrus, caused rainbows. Iris was a messenger between mortals and the gods. She ran back and forth, dressed in shimmering multicolored robes. The word “iridescence” comes from Iris’ robes. In Medieval Germany, many believed that for 40 years prior to the end of the world, there would be no rainbows. The Germans were always relieved to see the rainbow and know the end was not near. “So the rainbows appear, the world has no fear, until thereafter 40 years.” Native Americans saw the rainbow as a “Pathway of Souls” and believed the rainbow forms the hem of the sun’s coat. The Japanese called it the “Floating Bridge of Heaven” and Polynesian legends call the rainbow the “Path to the Upper World”. In Norse religion, the “Burning Rainbow Bridge” took only good or virtuous warriors (Vikings) and royalty to the afterlife. Other cultures saw the rainbow in negative ways. In ancient times, Slavic people believed that looking or pointing at a rainbow would bring bad luck or even death! Amazonian cultures associated rainbows with evil spirits who caused harm such as miscarriages and skin disease. There is even an old saying that a house that is over arched by a rainbow will soon experience disaster within a year.
OTHER: Kermit the frog and Judy Garland sing about them, groups identify: Rainbow Coalition or Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland to name a few. Dolly Parton once said, “If you want the rainbows, you gotta put up with the rain!”
NOW WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WHY WE ARE HERE TODAY? Let’s go back to Genesis, where it all began. (Read portion of the scripture). God makes a covenant or a promise to Noah. What is a “covenant”? The preferred meaning in the Old Testament is “a bond”. God promised all people and all living creatures, that He will never create a global flood again. Noah and his family were the only people left after the Flood. The comforts of civilization had been washed away and they had to start over; kind of the way I feel after having communion…I am starting with a “clean slate”. God gave Noah His special blessing; and through Noah it is given to us. It is every bit as real and present today for all of us as it was for Noah then. This is real “show and tell” for God’s presence: in the RAINBOW! God is reaching out to us in the form of a beautiful rainbow. How cool is that?!
God presented Noah and all his ancestors the ultimate blueprint for healthy living. God gave Noah a new start and the Rainbow is our reminder in 2015 that God is with us and will be with us as we stumble through life. I love Noah because he was a “regular” guy, he wasn’t perfect, even had some issues with alcohol. (Remember, man was made at the end of the week when God might have been tired!) God still saw Noah as a righteous man, despite his flaws, and used him for good. Noah, despite his failings, listened to God. He built the ark amidst ridicule in his society. Maybe some of us think God doesn’t use us in His plans; maybe we think we’re not important enough. Nonsense! Think again…we have seen many people in the Bible who stumbled but went on to greatness; “Ordinary people doing extraordinary things”; how about David or Joseph? As a Chaplain, I witness God hard at work through the caregivers on the Oncology floor where I work. I started a support group and Drop In center for the nurses and staff. There is nothing glamorous about some of their jobs, but they have the biggest hearts and show God’s love in all the details.
AS Christians we need not look for the “pot of gold” as the Leprechauns did. The rainbow, God’s covenant with us, is much more valuable; it IS the pot of gold. Jesus continued God’s covenant. God gave His only Son to us who would later die for our sins. God couldn’t have given us more. As a Mom, I can’t imagine the sacrifice God made. The rainbow is a beautiful reminder to ALL God’s creatures of His love and promises.
I have my own Rainbow story. Ten years ago, I lost 2 people in my life, coincidentally on the same summer day. I was devastated. “How could this happen?” I thought, “such a cruel blow for me and for others”. I was standing in my living room in Barnegat Light which faces the ocean. For some reason, I felt compelled to go outside on the deck. I needed to catch my breath after such awful news. I shuffled outside feeling down cast. It was then I saw people walking towards the beach with cameras talking excitedly. “What’s going on?” I wondered. As I continued to puzzle this mystery, I lifted my head up and my eyes suddenly went wide. Wow! The biggest rainbow I had ever seen, seeming to stretch across the horizon over the ocean! I started to run back inside to get my camera when I noticed something else, there were TWO RAINBOWS; the 2nd one, a little fainter above the primary rainbow. I excitedly called to my daughter Mia to bring my camera. I stayed outside for a long time that day, looking at this gorgeous, natural phenomena; not wanting to leave because I felt I would never see such a spectacle again! Slowly I realized this double rainbow was God’s promise to be with us, His covenant to care for us all as he brought comfort to Noah and his family. I felt His presence with me that day. God was reaching out to me in the form of these beautiful rainbows. There were two rainbows and for me they represented each of my loved ones who had passed away. Instead of being sad, despite my tears and red nose by now, I felt joy that they were with God, enveloped in the incredible beauty of His Rainbow Promise.
Years later, I was feeling down about a situation in my life. It might have been trivial to others, but for me it was upsetting. Lost in thought as I watered my hydrangeas, I silently prayed to God for wisdom and direction. Suddenly I noticed a rainbow inside the bushes. My face went from a frown to a smile as God, once again, reminded me He was with me, His Promise, in good times and bad, no matter how small. I called my Cousin Sarah and she said the story gave her chills and hope.
As many of you know, I have a wheelchair bound Dad I visit every 3 weeks in Massachusetts. This past week, getting him from rehab after the latest fall, his condition continuing to deteriorate, I was at my wits end with all the jobs that I inherited. Maybe you can relate to feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and feeling like you are only one small person with the workload of many? I heard my new IPhone ring and saw I had a text coming in; it was from Ed. He had taken a photo from the deck of my house of a giant rainbow over the ocean, reminding me that God was still with me even though I was feeling alone. Again, my spirits lifted. God works through others.
A few days ago I was talking to a friend. She asked what I was doing this weekend. “Well…actually I am preaching the sermon at my church, it’s about “rainbows”. “Say no more; I have a story for you,” she said. It seems years ago my friend was suffering hard times, living as a single Mom with her parents. Her 2 year old daughter was just diagnosed with Leukemia. My friend was very down as she drove back from her daughter’s latest chemo treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a spiritual lady and prayed as she drove the 90 minutes back to the Jersey Shore. “Dear God, things are so bad. Please show me a sign that You are with my daughter and me; that You will get us through this.” As my friend steered around the curve she had the surprise of her life; on the horizon was the biggest rainbow she had ever seen! God was reaching out to my friend in the form of a rainbow. With tears in her eyes, she thanked God and was amazed that He had heard her and responded so quickly! Today, that little 2 year old girl is a healthy 17 year old young lady! YES!
Today I am filled with joy when I see a rainbow; I feel it is God reaching out to me and to others. I am always amazed at how the timing is so perfect. I always remember to thank Him for reaching out to me and I never feel alone.
I pray that you are feeling hopeful today. In every big and seemingly trivial moment, God is with us, from the time of the Flood and even when we see glimpses of Him as we care for our plants. The promise to Noah is still as strong for us today. Now go look for your own rainbow promises.