Friday, February 27, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now...a sermon for Lent 1B

Rev. Teri Peterson
I Can See Clearly Now…
1 March 2009, Lent 1B
Genesis 8.6-12, 15-19, 9.8-17

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.
Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’
God said, ‘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: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

When I was a Camp Fire Girl, one of the things we did a lot of was singing. I remember learning a song about Noah’s ark—perhaps you also learned this song? The chorus is the best part—“Rise and Shine and give God the glory glory!” The verses include such classics as “the Lord said to Noah, there’s gonna be a floody floody” and “God told Noah to build him an arky arky.” It’s a classic children’s song, isn’t it? I even found verses I never learned when I checked out websites like The song tells the whole story, from the ark to the animals going in by twosie-twosies, to the rain and flood and the sun coming out again.

Well, the song tells most of the story, anyway. There are a few key parts left out. Because really, this story isn’t a children’s book, at its core it doesn’t belong in a children’s song—it would be better off starting “it was a dark and stormy forty days and forty nights…” because it’s nearly that sinister. You see, before God has Noah build the ark and bring his family and all the animals in, God looks at the world, the world God created and called good just a few chapters before, and sees only corruption and anger and violence. The world lacks compassion and hope and care. And so, in the face of overwhelming disappointment, God decides to counter violence with violence. The divine retribution is complete devastation—nothing will be left…except Noah, the 7 members of his family, and two of each living animal. That’s it—everything else will be utterly wiped out, drowned, washed away in the flood of God’s grief and anger.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember that verse in the song.

After the rain stops and the waters begin to subside, after the ark comes to rest on the top of a mountain, Noah begins sending out scouts—first a raven, then a dove. When the dove comes back with an olive branch, a sprouting twig of hope from below the tree line, a sign of spring, of new life, then Noah knows it’s nearly time to go. And then, just as all these animals come out of the ark, family by family, God speaks.

It seems that God is a pretty fast learner—much faster than we are. God looks around at the fresh new world, shiny and clean, and sees more clearly than ever before that this won’t work. Now that the rain is gone, God sees that the creation will always be slightly less than perfect, will always be disappointing because people have free will, will always contain the seeds that can grow into violence just as easily as they can grow into compassion. The question about those seeds is what kind of water they get, and the flood waters of violence will not stamp out violence. God sees clearly now that redemptive violence is a lie—fighting violence with violence will always fail. In the words of Ghandi: an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

And so God hangs up the bow—a weapon, a vehicle for violence—facing away from the earth. God chooses a different path, a path based on covenant and creation and love. This covenant to never again use violence against the world is made not just with Noah and his family, but with all the creatures of the earth too. In this dawn of the new creation, this springtime of the covenant, God promises to look forward with hope, and asks us to do the same.

You might be wondering what all of this has to do with Lent. Well, the word “lent” is an old saxon word for Spring, and refers primarily to the lengthening of the days. The word was adopted by the church in the middle ages to refer to the time of preparation for Easter (the old word was a very long Latin name). Lent, the springtime of a new covenant, the time when we sit in the ark while God prepares a new thing around us, the time when we look for twigs of hope sprouting in the darkness and chaos around us.

One of the hardest parts about Lent, I think, is the sense of inevitability. We journey through these forty days, this time in the wilderness, this time of preparation, and every year, without fail, we come to the part of the story that is all death and darkness and despair. Every year, without fail, Judas betrays, Peter denies, and Jesus prays on the cross. The story is never going to go differently. Whatever we do, whether we give something up or take something on or drape our sanctuary in black or let our Alleluias fall silent, it’s going to be the same.

This is also one of the best parts of Lent, in my opinion. Because no matter what we do, no matter how dark the world is, no matter how deep the despair, Friday will always give way to Sunday, when light rather than darkness pours out of an empty tomb. God is indeed doing a new thing, making a new creation, marking that creation with a new covenant, no matter what we do. We sit in the ark, we pray in the wilderness, we wander through the desert, and all around us God is doing a new thing, pouring out love and grace and compassion with arms spread wide in welcome, because no more will God rain destruction—the only thing that can overcome despair is hope, the only thing that can overcome darkness is light, the only thing that can overcome violence is love.

So maybe this story does belong in children’s songs and storybooks after all. It’s a story of learning and growth, a story of a commitment to compassion and love, a story of God making a promise and keeping that promise. For all the violence and destruction, for all the nonsense words of the song, there’s also hope for a new creation—even now it springs forth, in olive branches, in lengthening days, in rainbows.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


  1. A beautiful Lenten message. Thanks!

  2. i think it works Teri... the only " hitch" i had in reading was this: "In this dawn of the new creation, this springtime of the covenant, God chooses all of us as covenant partners."

    moves into this: "You might be wondering..."

    it read disconnected like the transition needed to be a bit more smoothed. Maybe hearing it, it would flow better?!

  3. Teri, IMHO, I think this will preach well. I,too have been struck with the bits left out of the story from this week's lectionary but I think you make a great job of acknowledging and somehow redeeming those. blessings

  4. Teri,
    great ideas, I love the description of the bow, a weapon facing away from earth. We created a rainbow in the front of the sanctuary and I'd like to use those words when I talk about it. may i?
    nice message.

  5. Teri,

    Something I remember being told in seminary when we visited an Antioch Orthodox Church from the priest was about the ceiling in most churches. If you notice they are commonly shaped similar to the hull of a boat which serves as a reminder of the ark. And like any boat no longer in use or needed, it is overturned (think about how you store a canoe). So our ceilings in the sanctuary can serve as a symbolic reminder of the covenant that we live under between God and creation. I used this as a children's message a couple weeks ago.


  6. Teri,
    This is good, really good. I wouldn't change it at all. I find the more I edit, the more it becomes "my" sermon and less the work of the Spirit. I'm guessing you and the Spirit got it right the first time.

  7. I like this a lot, Teri. I especially like the dual track of inevitability--darkness and light. And I agree with Hot Cup (smooth the transition), and Margaret. You and the Spirit work well together.

  8. LOVE the title/reference to the song...and how have it playing in my head. Thinking of the line about the obstacles in my way along the Lenten journey

  9. Sarah--that's where I thought the sermon might be going when I titled it...but when it was done I realized I should have used "arky arky"!!! I think if it were not a communion sunday, i might be able to get smoothly to someplace where the obstacle in our way is our continual reliance of the myth of redemptive violence, but I'm not into spoon feeding and that's where I feel like this would end up if I tried it right now.

    Thanks, friends, y'all are awesome. I attempted to smooth the transition, but I suspect at this point it will have to be done by inflection as my brain and eyes are sleepy.

    you are all fabulous--thanks for good feedback! I appreciate you. Happy Sundays to all!