People of the Promise
- September 3rd, 2018
Happy September and welcome back to the blog! Join me here each week for reflections on the Narrative Lectionary text. Together we will get ready to get more out of worship.
First, let me say a little about the fall. We are People of the Promise, and that will be our focus for the next several weeks. It is going to be an extraordinary season in the life of our church. We will celebrate 25 years as an Open and Affirming congregation. We will continue to live into our new commitment to Anti-Racism (including hanging the Black Lives Matter banner for 10 days in October). And the new FocUS gatherings will invite us into new conversations about who we are and why we are here. We will grow closer to one another and (I hope) more faithfully follow our call to grow in love of God and neighbor.
But what does any of this have to do with being People of the Promise?
All this fall, the Narrative Lectionary will lead us through stories about God’s promise: Noah and the rainbow, the call of Sarai and Abram, the dreams of Joseph, the deliverance at the Red Sea. When we worship together, we will be repeatedly reminded that promise is the way God works in the world; promise is the process God prefers.
We will begin with the sign of God’s promise: the rainbow
8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and 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. 11I 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.”
12God 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: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I 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. 16When 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.”
17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Noah and the Ark. A strange story, a familiar story, a story that concludes with the sign of the rainbow.
Noah’s flood comes in the opening chapters of Genesis, where the focus is on the history of the entire world and the medium for the message is mythology. The word “myth” is not meant to be pejorative. As a recovering religion major, I am using it in a neutral sense.
Consider Merriam Webster:
1a : a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon
- creation myths
b : parable, allegory
- Moral responsibility is the motif of Plato’s myths.
2a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially: one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society
- seduced by the American mythof individualism
- —Orde Coombs
- the utopian mythof a perfect society
b : an unfounded or false notion
- the mythof racial superiority
3: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
- the Superman myth
- The unicorn is a myth.
4: the whole body of myths
- a student of Greek myth
When I say that Noah’s Ark is a myth, I am using definition 1, NOT definition 2b. To say part of the Bible is “myth” is to say that it does not present itself as historical but rather as a story of timeless truth. So our friend Marcus Borg liked to say that a myth was something that never happened and is always true.
In this case, the story is so traditional that you can find it outside of the Bible. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Mesopotamian poem that is far older than the Book of Genesis. It includes the story of Utnapishtim, a righteous man who builds a ship so that he, his family and animals can survive a worldwide flood.
So is this an instance of sacred plagiarism?
I don’t think so. The author(s) of Genesis take this ancient story and adapt it to make a profound theological point. Chapter 9 is making a statement about the character of God: God has decided to never again destroy the earth. Yes, we are sinful. Yes, we are violent. Yes, we may deserve to be punished for our sins.
But God is going out of the revenge business. The rainbow reminds us this is so. (Most biblical scholars believe that the rainbow is thought to be God’s weapon, now forever hung on heaven’s mantle. God the Warrior has officially retired).
Walter Brueggemann puts it this way: “What has changed is not anything about humankind or creation or waters or floods. What has changed is God. God has made a decision about the grief and trouble of his own heart.” (Interpretation, p.83).
From now on, God will bear with and work with us and refuse to give up on us until we get it right.
We belong to a God who promises to stick with us until we get it right. That is what it means to be People of the Promise.
See you in church!