A Good Sign … or Not?
Pentecost 16 – Narrative Lectionary 1
September 9, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
Genesis 6.5-22; 8.6-12; 9.8-17 & Matthew 27.32-37
A few weeks ago, I was walking out of the Mayo Clinic Health System Hospital here in Mankato after visiting hospitalized and heard a loud noise, more like a roar. Looking up, I saw the Mayo Clinic Health System Hospital air ambulance helicopter coming in for a landing on the roof. A nurse happened to be walking out at the same time and looked up as well. “That’s never a good sign,” I remarked to the nurse. “No, it isn’t,” she responded. However, as I walked to my car I had thought more deeply: was this a good sign or not? One the one hand, the helicopter was a sign of someone in dire medical distress, not a good thing. On the other hand, the helicopter was a sign of hope and possible healing.
The signs of the rainbow and cross in our readings today reflect such a tension. We begin our journey through the Bible via the Narrative Lectionary not with the creation story but with the re-creation story in Genesis. The story is a familiar one, a favorite of Vacation Bible School children everywhere, the stuff that children’s toys, nurseries, wall hangings, and nick nacks are made of. Unfortunately, the cuteness factor of Noah’s Ark has undercut the power of the tale. We hear that God has created all things—including humanity created in his image—only to have humanity muck the whole thing up. God is so distraught at the corruption of creation because of humanity that he sees no other choice but to get rid of it. It’s important to say, as someone noted, that humanity is punished not so much for our sins as by our sins. We reap what we sow.
Yet, the most important part of this story has to do with God. This is a God who is so upset at what has happened to his creation that he is willing to destroy it, but yet who loves it so deeply that he doesn’t. God not only changes his mind about destroy creation he doubles down in his commitment to it. God not only promises never again to destroy creation, he will find other ways to deal with sin. In fact, we’ll see that story unfold in the months ahead as we make our way through Testaments both Old and New. God will continually work to bring all of creation back to his intention for it. Meanwhile, as a good-faith gesture of that promise, God gives us the rainbow, for both us and for him.
Like the Mayo Clinic Health System Hospital air ambulance, the rainbow is a sign of both brokenness and hopefulness. The power and magnitude of God’s mercy and promise seen in the rainbow is domesticated unless we recognize the necessity of the rainbow in the first place: we need saving from ourselves. As Lutheran Christians, we cannot look at the sign of the rainbow without seeing the cross of Christ. Both rainbow and cross are pointed reminders of our need for God’s redemption, but they are also poignant reminders that God will go to any length to bring life out of death, for all our sakes.
There are constant reminders all around us about how our lives are mucked up and fall short of God’s intention. So we need the rainbow and cross as reminders that God will not abandon us. Furthermore, the words from Isaiah 43 are a life vest: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you. … For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.” Rainbow, the cross of Christ, and Isaiah’s words, those are all good signs. Amen.