Saturday, September 24, 2022

“The Lord Was with Joseph” - September 25, 2022

Text: Genesis 39:1-23

Last week we looked at the call of Abraham and Sarah.  God called them to a new land that God would show them, and God was with them as they ventured toward an unknown future.  

Today we are with Abraham and Sarah’s great-grandson, Joseph.  A lot has happened in the time in between.  Sarah gives birth at age 90 to the child of promise, Isaac.  Isaac and his wife Rebekah have the twins Jacob and Esau, rivals with one another all of their lives.  God’s favor falls on the scoundrel Jacob, who as he ages matures, at least a bit.  He wrestles with God and leaves the experience changed.  And his name becomes Israel, which means “Striving with God.”  The nation is named for him.

But the family dysfunction is palpable as we read the pages of scripture.  There was favoritism in Jacob’s family of origin.  Isaac favored Esau while Rebekah favored Jacob.  The family suffered because of it, but unfortunately Jacob did not learn from this.  He clearly favors his youngest sons, children of his favorite wife Rachel (which is quite a story in itself.)  He especially loves Rachel’s oldest son, Joseph.  This leads to all kinds of issues.

Jacob has a beautiful coat made for Joseph, the coat of many colors – or if you are watching the Broadway musical, the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Rather than being embarrassed by it, Joseph flaunts his favored status.  He tells his brothers about his dream in which they are all bowing down to him.  It had been a long time coming, but with the coat and then the dream, his brothers reach their limit.  

They mean to kill Joseph but his brother Reuben convinces them to throw Joseph into a pit instead.  In the end, they pulled him up out of the pit and sold him to Midianite traders who were passing by.

They took Joseph’s coat, his coat of many colors, and dipped it in goat blood.  They took it back to Jacob, who was absolutely distraught that his favorite son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

The Midianite traders went on to Egypt and sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s high officials and captain of the guard.  Joseph goes from favored son to a slave in a foreign land.  But he does well in Potiphar’s house.  He is not only strong and able; he has a good mind.  He organizes.  He plans.  He is good with people and proves to have excellent leadership qualities.  

Before long, Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of the household.  He is over the other slaves, he is in charge of purchases and upkeep, everything.  Joseph becomes a trusted advisor and overseer in Potiphar’s house.  God blessed Joseph and God blessed Potiphar because of Joseph.

And then we read that Joseph was handsome, a good-looking guy, and Potiphar’s wife had a thing for him.  She tried to seduce him, tried to interest him, but Joseph would not think of it – Potiphar trusted him completely and he would not betray that trust.  

We can speculate about Potiphar’s wife’s interest in Joseph.  Was it purely a physical attraction?  Or was it maybe about power?  Joseph himself says, “No one in this house is greater than I am,” kind of weirdly echoing his dream way back when.  

We think of Joseph as completely morally upright, but it is also true that Joseph understood his situation and knew that the way to survive and make the best of it was to work as hard as he could for Potiphar – to look out for Potiphar’s interests.
Potiphar’s wife’s advances continue and one day when Potiphar was away and none of the household servants seemed to be around, Potiphar’s wife tries again to entice Joseph and grabs his robe.  Joseph runs out of the room, and she still has his robe in her hands.  So she calls all the members of her household and says, “My husband has brought this Hebrew into our midst and that man made advances toward me.  I screamed and look, he ran and left his robe!”  Potiphar comes home and she reports the same thing.

I wonder about Potiphar’s wife here.  I mean, she didn’t have to say anything.  Nobody knew what had taken place except for her and Joseph.  But out of embarrassment, maybe, or because rejection hurts, or maybe she just didn’t want to face Joseph again, or maybe she has a problem with this slave that she could not control running everything, for whatever reason, she makes this accusation.

And did you catch what she said?  Among other things, there is a racial or cultural dimension to it.  “This foreigner, this Hebrew, tried to take advantage of me.”  That little detail of pointing out that Joseph was a Hebrew was important, and very intentional.

Now, in a sense this episode is not the way it usually works.  It is usually the man taking advantage of the woman.  That happens all the time.  But in another sense, this is the way that it usually works because what we have is a case of someone with power preying on one without power.  The male boss makes suggestive comments to a female subordinate because he can get away with it.  In this case, Mrs. Potiphar makes suggestive comments and then escalates it to physical advances – because she can.  

And did you notice that Joseph doesn’t even have a chance to deny it?  No one would believe the word of a Hebrew slave, not even one who was known for his responsibility and character.  Mrs. Potiphar’s accusations line up with the way outsiders are perceived.  For even a “model” Hebrew such as Joseph, those biases are close to the surface.  Of course this Hebrew would do that.

Now the text says that when he heard this news, Potiphar was enraged and had Joseph thrown in prison.  Which makes Joseph exceptionally lucky.  Yes, lucky.  We might expect that a slave would be executed for this.  Joseph suffers wrongfully, to be sure, but by the standards of the day he got off relatively easy.  I wonder if Potiphar actually felt some mercy toward Joseph.

What could Joseph had done differently here?  There is absolutely nothing he could have done.  He does everything right and still he winds up in prison for it.

We have probably experienced that.  Not prison, but we have experienced suffering through no fault of our own.

This may raise the question, “Where is God in all of this?”  When we are treated unfairly, unjustly, when we suffer because of the evil intent and actions of others, where is God?  

We read time and again, “the Lord was with Joseph.”  “The Lord blessed Joseph.”  

I don’t know about you, but when I think about Joseph’s life, it doesn’t exactly scream “blessing.”  I mean, if this is blessing then count me out.

In his life, Joseph suffers one injustice after another.  He was a victim of human trafficking, betrayed by his own brothers and sold by those who had power over him.

He was a victim of human slavery.  Although he was apparently treated well and given responsibility, we can’t forget that he was a slave, owned as property.

He is a victim of racism, stereotyped because of his background and culture.  Potiphar’s wife said, “Look what this Hebrew did,” and she didn’t have to explain what she meant.

He was a victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault.  You may not think it was all that bad, but what if we flipped the story around?  There is a translation of the Bible – a Gender Switch translation – in which all the male characters are switched to female characters, and vice versa.  I mean it is probably not the Bible you would want to use on a day to day basis, but it can be helpful in thinking about gender dynamics.

So imagine that Josephine was a household slave and a man said, “Hey, my wife - your boss - is away for the day and no one else is around.  Why don’t we get together?  And he grabs her, and she struggles and gets away, but her robe is ripped off in the process.  You might think about that differently, and that may put things in a different light.  

Joseph was wrongly accused and wrongly incarcerated.  No one even bothered to hear his testimony.

So again, where is God in all of this?

Romans 8:28 is a wonderful verse.  It is often translated, not all that accurately, as “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.”  But a better translation is, “in all things, God is working for good.”  It does not mean, “Everything works out for the best.”  It does not mean that whatever happens, it’s what God set up to work out for the best in the long run.  God is not responsible for everything that happens.  Things happen in life that grieve God’s heart.  But whatever happens, in all things, God is working for good.

There is a saying that I’m sure you have heard.  “God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.”   

There are times when we may wonder about that.  Is God good when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer?  Is God good when there is a tragic death?  Is God good when you lose your job and you are left wondering how you are going to make it financially?  Is God good when someone you trust betrays you?
God is good, not because God is a spiritual Superman that comes in and saves the day and not because if we follow Jesus everything will be sunshine and roses.  God is good because we are never forgotten by God.  God is always there, always for us and always with us.  And God did not forget Joseph.

In prison, Joseph again rises to a place of responsibility.  In time he is freed and becomes a trusted advisor of Pharaoh.  He eventually rises in position to become the second most powerful person in the land of Egypt.  He reunites with his brothers, whom he forgives.  In a time of famine back home, his whole family moves to Egypt, and Jacob is reunited with his son Joseph, whom he thought had died.

After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers are fearful and wonder if he will bear a grudge.  But Joseph responds, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”  In a time of famine, Joseph’s position and prominence in Egypt made it possible to save the family.

We are all blessed by God.  We are blessed in the good days, in those times when future looks bright.  We are blessed in the difficult times, when the outlook may seem bleak.  We can give thanks that in all of our days, God is with us, working for our good and for the good of all.  And we are never forgotten by God.  Amen. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

“You Need to Go” - September 18, 2022

Text: Genesis 12:1-9

Last week we began our fall excursion through the Old Testament scriptures.  We heard the story of Noah and his family and the animals in the ark, and God making a promise to all the creatures of the earth and giving the rainbow as the sign of that promise.

Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The oldest son, Shem, is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (that’s seven greats!) of Abram.  Now Abram had two brothers.  One was named Haran, who died leaving a son, Lot.  We don’t know about Lot’s mother, but she seems to be out of the picture and has apparently died as well.

Abram and his wife Sarai, along with his father Terah and his nephew Lot, set out to travel from their home in Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan.  But they don’t get very far.

They arrive in the city of Haran.  This of course was the name of Abram’s brother who had died.  Haran was Lot’s father.  We don’t know if they city was named for him or another Haran but it is striking that the family stopped there and apparently could not bring themselves to go any further.  They don’t move on.  And eventually Abram’s father Terah died there.

That brings us to the scripture that Barbara read for us from Genesis 12.  “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”  

Did I mention that Abram was 75 years old?  We are not told how long the family had been in Haran, but they may have been there for some time.  Rather than moving to a new land, Abram may have been more interested in looking into a retirement community.  But God speaks to him and says, “Go to a land I will show you.”  

Of course it is difficult to just up and leave.  And of course it is shocking that Abram didn’t even know where it was that God would show them.

But I can’t help but think, maybe, that deep down Abram knew that he needed to go, that he needed to move on.  His family had set off for the land of Canaan, but they had never got there.  Not long into their journey they had stopped.  The place that they stopped – Haran - was a reminder of their loss, a reminder of their grief.  They stopped in Haran and somehow they never got back on the road.  And while Abram did not know it yet, the place they had originally set out for – the land of Canaan – was exactly where God would wind up leading him.

Now the text is interesting here.  It says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”  There are actually a couple of Hebrew words that together are translated simply as “go.”

Lech lecha is literally go “to yourself” or go “for yourself.”  Go for yourself to a land that I will show you.  It’s not very smooth.  Maybe this is something like “Get yourself up and go,” but it’s not surprising that most English translations have this as simply “go.”  I looked at several, and I did find one that said, “lit. go for yourself” in the footnotes.  

But I wonder if there is some value in thinking about this as “go for yourself.”  This is not a case of God just arbitrarily telling Abram to head off somewhere.  Abram and his family are kind of stuck.  They began a journey but never got to where they were headed.  Whether out of grief or loyalty to the memory of Abram’s brother Haran or whether they had just become kind of settled in this place, or maybe just out of inertia, they were sort of stuck.  The more time that passed by, the tougher it was to get going.

God asked Abram to go, not only to fulfill God’s purposes, but to go for himself.  This was something Abram needed to do.

Now I have heard this story many times, preached on it more than a few, but I had never caught this little tidbit before.  Go for yourself.  But I think it can resonate for all of us.

We can all get stuck.  We can all have trouble moving on.  Leaving behind old ways is not easy.  There are those times when we need to go physically, but there are also those times when we need to move on mentally and emotionally and spiritually.

Abram and Sarai and Lot pack up and go, along with their household – they may have had servants, may have had herdsman who worked for them.  They loaded up all of their possessions.  It’s not just packing for a weekend trip.  They have the 26 foot U-Haul filled to the brim and it is a one-way rental.  Abram goes all in on following this God that as far as we know, he barely knows.

Did I mention Abram was 75 years old?  They don’t know where they are going, what they will find there, what life will be like.  They don’t know how long this journey will take.  They can only imagine what danger may lie ahead.  

A lot of us do all we can to minimize, if not eliminate, the unforeseen.  We plan ahead for trips.  We use our navigation system to tell us exactly where we are and how to get where we are going and exactly when we will arrive.

Most of us do not do well with risks.  If you are signing up for classes for the next semester, you definitely want to get a scouting report on the professor.  We want to know what we are getting into.

But for all our trying to control things, life just cannot be controlled.  For all our efforts to minimize risks and figure out the future and manage what is coming down the road, we can’t do it.  We may not be quite as clueless as Abram and Sarai, but there is a good chance we don’t have as good a handle on the future as we may think.

There are all kinds of doorways to the future in life, moments when things change.  Going off to college, graduating, getting married, seeing your children go off to college, starting a new job, buying a house, retirement.  These are events that can change the course of our lives.  So can events that we don’t necessarily choose, like illness or divorce or getting laid off.

If we look back on our lives, most of us would not have come close to predicting the twists and turns our lives would take.  Most of us would think we have very little in common with Abraham and Sarah, as they come to be known.  Setting out, not knowing where they were going?  At an advanced age?  We cannot imagine that.  

But looking back, we realize that we are more like them than we might think.  And like Abram, there are those times when we are called to something new – for ourselves, for our own good.

Abram and Sarai were headed to a land that God would show them.  That is exactly where we are headed.  We do not know where we will be at some point in the future.  Many of you did not know that the land God would show you would be called Iowa.  And it is even possible that a few years from now you will live here in Ames, perhaps living in the very same house you are in now, and yet things will be so different you will for all intents and purposes be living in a new land.

There was an incident involving a bus driver in the Bronx.  He simply drove away in his empty bus one day and kept going.  He wasn’t going anywhere in particular, he was just going.  No one knew where he or the bus were until he was picked up by police several days later in Florida.  He told police that he was just sick and tired of driving the same old route, day after day, month after month, year after year, and he decided to drive a different route and go on a trip.

As he was being brought back to New York, it was clear that the bus company was having a hard time knowing what to do.  This story was in the news and by the time this driver arrived back in the Bronx, he was kind of a folk hero.  A crowd of people was on hand to welcome him.  When the company announced it would forego legal action and give the man his job back if he promised not to pull a stunt like that again, cheers went up in the Bronx.  Clearly, there were a lot of other bored and unhappy people around who would have loved to do what this man did.

Sometimes, we just need a change.  We need to do something different, go somewhere different, be someone different.  We need to go “for ourselves.” Often, God can be in these times of feeling unsettled.  Choices we make and changes we make often come in God’s Time.  As God led Abram and Sarai, God leads us in making choices and making changes and setting out on new journeys, whether it is a journey to a new place or a journey to a new way of living or a journey to a new understanding of God and ourselves and others.

Pam Tinnin said that as she was considering entering seminary at age 47, the idea of graduating and trying to get a church at age 50 was overwhelming.  She remembers talking about this with her older sister and saying in a rather anguished voice, “But if I go now, I'll be 50 years old when I graduate.”

Her sister asked her, “Well, how old will you be if you don’t go?”  That seemed to help put it in perspective for her.  She went to seminary, and has now served churches in Kansas and California.

Of course, setting off on a new journey isn’t easy.  It can be scary.  Novelist Stephen King, who knows a thing or two about scariness, said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

And so God gives us grace and courage for those journeys.  For Abram, God’s call came with a promise – a covenant.  “Leave your home, go to a place I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation.  In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.”  

It is an amazing promise.  But we couldn’t really blame Abram if he had said, “God, I think you’ve called the wrong person.  Sarai and I are too old.  We are too set in our ways.  And more to the point, God, it seems like a really bad plan to have an older, childless couple be parents of a great nation.”   

We may feel overwhelmed by what is before us.  But if God has called us, God is with us, and we are up to the challenge.  Harry Emerson Fosdick, the great Baptist preacher, said, “Always take a job that is too big for you.”  How’s that for a philosophy of life?  If God has given us a dream, if God has given us an opportunity, God will be with us.  

Now, there is a lot to be said for permanence, a lot to recommend it.  There is certainly a lot to be said for stability.  There are those times when God says, “You need to go,” and there are also those times when God says, “You need to stay.”  But it is possible to be so focused on maintaining things as they are, so committed to preserving things as they always been, that we can lose sight of what really matters.  

And this is not only true for individuals.  It is true for institutions, for schools, for communities, for churches – we can get stuck.  It is possible to make caring for the institution more important than caring for souls.  

If you think about Jesus, one of the things that characterized his ministry is that he was on the go.  He goes from place to place, sharing and embodying the Good News.

The place we are called to may be far away or it may be the very place that we live, but either way we are called to journey with Jesus.

Go for yourself on that journey.  Amen.

“The Rainbow Promise” - September 11, 2022

 Text: Genesis 6:11-22, 8:6-12, 9:8-17

If we were to ask people to name a fun Bible story for children, more than a few would say Noah and the ark.  And if you focus just on part of it, the idea of all these animals together on a big boat, of course it’s fun.  More than a few church nurseries have Noah’s Ark designs with animals all over the place.

If you actually read the Bible, however, it becomes clear that this really isn’t a story for children.  I mean, this is something like one part kid’s story and 4 parts post-apocalyptic nightmare.

I’m not even sure where to start, so maybe a bit of background information on today’s text is in order.  The first eleven chapters of Genesis, that portion of the book that comes prior to the story of Abraham, have a unique quality about them.  They are not so much historical accounts as they are stories told down through the years, down through the ages, stories that convey deep truths about us and about God.  Some of it is downright weird; try reading the first part of Genesis chapter 6 and we can talk about it later.

Another thing to point out is that there is more than one source for what eventually became written down as the Book of Genesis.  You may remember that there is an account of creation in chapter 1, and then in chapter 2 there is another account, and they are not the same.

You can see a bit of this in Noah and the ark.  Our reading today says that two of each animal got on the ark.  But in Genesis 7 it says seven pairs of clean animals and just one pair of unclean animals boarded the ark – never mind that nobody knew anything about clean and unclean yet.  This came from another tradition.  And then was it a raven flying out to see if the waters were receding, or a dove?  Two different sources, two different traditions handed down for generations, and we get both together here.  

Some of the material in the earliest part of Genesis is designed to answer foundational questions that people had – and that we still have.  

“How did the world come to be?”  The story of creation tells us that God created the world and all that is in it.  Why is there sin and evil and violence in the world?  The story of Adam and Eve in the garden tells us that humans choose to disobey God.  We have free choice and we can often make choices that have real consequences.

Why are there so many different languages?  Why do people have trouble understanding each other?  The story of the Tower of Babel gets at that question.

And so, we have to wonder, what question is the story of Noah and the ark trying to answer?  What is this all about?

Our scripture this morning says that God saw that all the earth was corrupt and filled with violence.  Just a few verses before our reading for today, it says that “the Lord was sorry he had made humankind and it grieved him to the heart.”

This is about 10 generations past Adam and Eve, and humanity was not doing so well.  Right off the bat you had Cain killing his brother Abel, and it did not get a whole lot better from there.  God had begun this creation thing with such high hopes.  Do you remember the very first chapter of Genesis?  God creates the heavens and the earth and what does God say?  It is good.  The seas and dry land: it is good.  The trees and plant life and then animal life - and it is all good.  And then human beings, and God said, “It is very good.”

But just five chapters later, God is regretting the whole thing.  It is not all good, it is all corrupt.  It is all evil.  It is all messed up.  And humanity is turning to violence.  God is ready to wipe it all out.  It is like the whole creation experiment had gone south, and God was willing to cut his losses, to just end it right there.

But there was Noah.  Noah alone was righteous.  So God had Noah build a great ark, and Noah and his family and every kind of animal boarded the ark.  The rains came and it rained 40 days and 40 nights.  Save for those on the ark, all living creatures were wiped out.  This is really not a kid’s story.  Months later, the ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat.  The waters subsided over time and eventually a dove returned to the ark with an olive leaf.

It is really a terrible story.  What question is the story of Noah and the ark trying to answer?  At first glance, we might read today’s scripture and think that it explains the question of where rainbows come from.  That is part of it, perhaps, but the question is much deeper than that.  Maybe the question is, given all of the problems in the world, all the evil, why doesn’t God just wipe it all out and start over?

You know, there is something very appealing about making a fresh start.  You start out putting an idea to paper, but it just isn’t going anywhere, so you wad it up and toss it in the trash can and start with a nice clean sheet.  Golfers can’t resist taking a mulligan every now and again.  Or maybe again and again.  

There are all kinds of fresh starts, getting rid of the old and starting over with the new.  Maybe you have embarked on some project, some big idea, but it is obvious it is not working out.  There are those times when we just want to cut our losses and be done with it.

What about God?  Does God ever get so aggravated with humanity – with the sin, the selfishness, the corruption, the hatred, the violence, that God just wants to shake the world like an Etch-A-Sketch and start all over?

That is the feeling we get from our scripture today.  It is as though God had this creation project going, but it wasn’t working out the way God had imagined.  The free will that these creatures had was leading to all kinds of terrible choices.  It got to the point where God wanted to just scrap the whole project and try something different.

God did not quite go that far.  Noah and his family and these animals are a remnant.  But do you know what happened along the way?  The project became less important than the people, the project became less important than the flesh and blood creatures God had created.  

And so God came close to just chucking the whole thing, but our scripture ends with a word of hope.  It ends with a promise.  The world might seem to be going to hell in a handbasket, but God is still there, and God’s purpose is redemption, not destruction.  God makes a covenant with Noah.  The rainbow is a sign from God, a promise that the world will never again be destroyed in a flood.  It is not just a sign from God, it is a reminder to God – the rainbow is to remind God to have mercy on us.

Many ancient civilizations had stories about a great flood.  Archaeologists and anthropologists have made some interesting findings related to a widespread flood.  But the Biblical account is not simply a rehash of what we might find in early Babylonian literature, for example.  What is different is the meaning attached to the flood and what it tells us about the nature of God.  And what it tells us is that God is not in the business of destruction, but God is in the business of redemption.  The rainbow is a sign of God’s grace and love, and a reminder that even through the storms, God is there.

We face all kind of storms in life.  We can face storms of grief, storms of desperation, storms of anxiety, storms of illness, storms of fear.  All of this and more can come at any time.  The rainbow is a promise that in the midst of these storms, God is with us and God is for us.

It is interesting that the covenant is with all of creation, not just humans.  God will not destroy creation, but what about us?  We seem to be giving it our best effort.  After years of drought, Lake Powell and Lake Mead are half of their typical levels, threatening the water supply for millions of people in western states as well as a lot of agriculture that depends on irrigation.  Massive wildfires have become a regular seasonal event.  

While there are places suffering from prolonged drought, we remember the terrible flooding and loss of life in Kentucky.  And Pakistan has been inundated with weeks of monsoon rains leaving a wake of destruction and a million people homeless.  Both the drought and the flooding are brought on and intensified by climate change.  Water can be life-giving, but like in the days of Noah, water can also destroy.

Then you can add terrorism, war, cycles of violence and retribution, racism, bigotry, and rising hatred.  The description of corrupt hearts and evil and violence in Noah’s day doesn’t sound all that different from today.

If God cares for all of creation, and if God seeks the redemption of the world, not its destruction, then maybe we ought to think about getting on God’s side.

Living under the sign of the rainbow means living by God’s grace.  It means knowing that God is for us, not against us, and that even in the midst of the storms of life, God is there.  God’s purpose is not to bring destruction but to seek our welfare.  As flawed as we all may be, there is that rainbow promise.

Well, like I said, this really is a tough story.  God saw that everything and everybody was evil and wanted to destroy it all.  I have a hard time fitting that idea of God with what I read throughout the scriptures.  I have a hard time fitting that with the God I know.  The Biblical writers saw God as changing God’s mind about how to deal with a wayward humanity.  This may also represent a changing human understanding about the nature of God.  

It may be helpful to go back to that very first question: what is this story trying to tell us?  What is the bigger point?  I think it is saying that within the heart of God, there is a struggle.  There is a conflict.  A conflict between God’s justice and God’s mercy.  Human beings are capable of doing awful things.  They can and they will do terrible evil to each other.  We know this, we have seen this.  If we are honest, we have in some way participated in this.  And God is a God of justice.  The evil that humans do is deeply offensive to God.  It can make God just want to start over.

But as strong as God’s justice is, God’s mercy is even greater.  God’s compassion and forgiveness and God’s desire to give a second chance to us is even greater.  God’s love wins out.

Years ago there was a PBS program about the book of Genesis hosted by Bill Moyers.  Anybody remember that?  One of the participants in that conversation was a newspaper editor.  Bill Moyers asked him what would be the headline for an article that would tell the Noah story, and he responded with something like “GOD DESTROYS WORLD.”  But quickly, another panelist, Samuel Proctor, who was the retired pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City (and an American Baptist) offered an alternative.  He said the headline would be: “GOD GIVES HUMANS SECOND CHANCE!”

Daniel Migliore has done a lot of work with inner-city kids in Trenton, New Jersey.  One day in re-telling the Noah story to some children, he asked them where they saw rainbows.  “In the street!” several replied.  Migliore thought they misunderstood the question, but he found that they understood perfectly.  These kids lived in high-rise tenements and there were not a lot of open spaces around.  About the only place they saw rainbows was in street puddles that had become slicked with oil from cars with leaky engines.

There’s something sad about that, but there’s something hopeful as well.  In the midst of daily life, in the midst of the difficulties and hardships around us, there is grace.  These children need to see a rainbow in the greasy puddles of their everyday world.  

Like those children, we need the vision to see God’s rainbow in the messiness of our lives.  In many ways, these are difficult and uncertain days.  But even in times of worry and anxiety, even in times of hardship and loss, God’s rainbow is there.  

In the very early pages of scripture, even knowing what humans are capable of, God makes a commitment to this broken world – this beautiful, wonderful, messed up, corrupt world.  The rest of the Bible is essentially the story of how God will care for this broken creation, leading finally to the incarnation – to God becoming one with us in Jesus to heal the brokenness in our lives and in our world.

A Note to the Reader

 Hey Everybody,

It has been a good while since I have posted a sermon.  Part of the reason is that our weekly services are now posted on the church's YouTube channel and so the sermon is accessible that way.  (Another reason is that I was on sabbatical over the summer and not preaching anyway.)  

 As we begin a new year of the Narrative Lectionary, this seems a good time to start posting sermons here as well again.  I hope that you find these sermons helpful.