Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Genesis 9: 8-17
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
February 18, 2018

Noah and the Rainbow, Marc Chagall, 1966


         It never ceases to amaze me—the timing of the lectionary with what is happening in our world. Just when I’m having one of those days when I think it’s crazed or quaint or parochial to look for wisdom in a collection of books written thousands of years ago, the Bible goes and upends my post-modern, scientific, supposedly-evolved point of view. Especially the Psalms. I love that the ancient songbook of God’s people includes rage and pettiness and hubris and joy and gratitude and deep love and fear; that all of those and much more are acceptable in worship and can be brought into the presence of God. We don’t have to clean up our act to be relationship with God; we can show up as we are.

         The Psalms show us how very human we are and how we haven’t changed all that much. The psalm for today includes this verse:

“Do not let those who wait for you 
be put to shame;
let them be ashamed 
    who are wantonly treacherous.” 

       (Psalm 25: 3, NRSV) 


         I’m angry and ashamed of a seemingly wantonly-treacherous Congress who, since the shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012, since the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, has done mostly nothing to prevent gun violence in public and domestic spaces. I’m angry that it never seems to be the time to talk about and do something about reforming gun laws. I’m angry that the pleas of survivors and family members seem to fall on deaf ears and hard hearts. I’m angry that our schools do not have enough professional support of counselors, nurses, and social workers to help children deal with problems they shouldn’t have to deal with. I’m angry that responsible gun owners are vilified for owning guns. I’m angry because I feel powerless in the face of such violence, death, and suffering.


         I understand why wrath is one of the seven deadly sins. When we are powerless and angry and fearful and disconnected from each other, wrath can feel like all we have left to affect some kind of change, to do something, anything, and we are tempted to violence. Or we weaponize our words and our discourse. We lash out and hurt and wound. And I use “we” because this is a human problem, not an “us and them” problem. I use “we” because I believe in empathy to create change. I use “we” because a large part of the problem is how disconnected we are from people we disagree with, who experience life differently than we do. I use “we” because it makes it that much harder to demonize someone if we’re all in this together.


         In the Genesis story of the great flood, God had gotten to the point of wrath with human beings. God was powerless to change the wickedness of humanity, our wanton treachery, and was angry that we had become corrupt, perhaps even fearful of what we had become or what we could do. God and the creation were estranged from each other, disconnected; God’s image in humanity was obscured.

         Then God does the unthinkable. God becomes the ultimate weaponized bully, and destroys all life, save for Noah and his family, and two of every creature aboard a gigantic floating barn. It’s difficult to imagine why this story would be comforting to God’s people in exile, but for them this was a story of hope. Their homes were destroyed, their temple in ruins, friends and family members raped and killed or carried off as slaves. The destruction of a flood to lay waste to a corrupt humanity wasn’t much of a stretch. That God saved one family and started over again perhaps said to them that they had not been abandoned in exile; that one day God would start over again with them. To them, the story may have sounded like grace.

Photo by Ed Fisher
    To ensure that it did sound like grace, and hope, God made a promise to never again wield power to destroy life. God had the power but yielded it in favor of covenant and connection with God’s creation and with humankind. And God took God’s weapon, a bow, and hung it up for good in the heavens. Unlike the fearsome gods of empire, like the Assyrian god Ashur with his bow and arrow, the God of Israel would be disarmed, and not only that, there would be a covenant, a reminder of this promise of peace in the rainbow.

         And yet those who heard this story knew that there was another passenger aboard the ark: the seeds of violence and evil and all that distorts God’s image within us. It’s never been easy for us to disarm ourselves, to put down our weapons, to not act on our anger and fear and disconnection, to remember our unbreakable covenant—that we are human together, all of us born from this earth.

         Last week I lifted up words from Martin Luther King Jr., that the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence but nonviolence and nonexistence, and yet Dr. King had been known to carry a revolver. There are some who frame this debate as either/or: you’re either for guns or against guns.  So if you're black and you preach nonviolence but carry a gun, you must be a liar or a coward? Power to kill, to defend, or no power at all? I call BS. That’s not what the framers of our constitution wanted. Like the story of God and the rainbow, it’s about power but with limits, with checks and balances. And the answer to power out of whack is not to meet it with more power, to meet violence with more violence.

         It’s devastatingly ironic that this senseless tragedy occurred not only on Valentine’s Day but Ash Wednesday. The season of Lent is a time when we turn away from the paths of sin and suffering and turn toward God and the ways of peace, justice, and unconditional love, that our joy might be restored. A time to confront our mortality and the obstacles to a life fully inhabited. A time to examine our own use of weapons and power—whatever we use to strike out or withhold to injure and harm. A time that leads to a different interpretation of this story—complete disarmament on the cross and yet betrayal and desertion, death and suffering are not the last word.

         The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have formed their own covenant: we are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks…because this will be the last mass shooting in the United States.

“Do not let those who wait for you
be put to shame.
let them be ashamed 
who are wantonly treacherous.” 

         Not only our government but we all have been put on notice when it comes to gun reform. What if our Lenten fast became one action every day toward reducing gun violence and promoting connection and belonging in our nation? Call senators and representatives, write a letter to the editor, be heard at school board meetings; engage in honest conversation, give support to a teacher, reach out to someone struggling with anxiety and depression and self-acceptance, mend a broken relationship if you can; support out-of-state candidates who won’t take contributions from the NRA, speak truth to BS, and fight for what’s right— because our very lives and the lives of our children actually do depend on us taking another path. Amen.

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