Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sermon: Rising Waters and a Rainbow

Genesis 9:8-17

I read recently that the Arctic ice is melting at the highest rate in at least 1500 years. ͞Not wanting to accept one group’s assessment of the issue, I looked at the Nation Snow and Ice Data Center, who state that arctic sea ice in 2017 has been declining 3.7% per decade since 1978 when satellite imaging began. NASA’s estimate is considerably higher, suggesting that arctic sea ice is decreasing at 13.2% per decade. The Pentagon has argued that we need to update our defense strategy to deal with the diminishing ice levels.

As our global climate changes, rising seas, superstorms, and devastating floods are a very real and ever-present threat.͟ I am not trying to be political here; rather, what I want to observe is that we live, like Noah, on the edge of a world with dangerous waters. Noah received a warning that a flood was coming, and he was the one who listened, while others mocked him. While we may not be worried over a worldwide flood, we do know that the changes in our world have resulted in more frequent flooding, with water and storm damage devastating people’s lives.

I personally have never experienced the true horror of a flood. I have been caught in storm runoff that stalled our car when the water became over a foot deep, and we have experienced the flooding of our church basement here.

But I have never experienced what Mike and Michaelann Hammods experienced.

“As darkness descended one May evening in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, rain fell in sheets on the ranch-style house where the Hammonds family lived. Around 10 p.m., Mike and Michaelann Hammonds went downstairs to check the basement and found water seeping under a window along the basement’s south wall. The couple began to push boxes of clothes, toys, and household items toward the center of the room.’

“Minutes later, without warning, the basement’s west wall gave way, and a flood of cold, muddy water rushed in, engulfing the room and the couple and covering the stairs. By the time the surge ended a few seconds later, Mike and Michaelann were caught in eight feet of water, pinned in place by debris on opposite sides of the room. They had to hold their faces just above water. The smell of natural gas permeated the room.’

“Go get Don!” Mike yelled to their kids, Emma, 14, and Matthew, 13, who were standing at the top of the basement stairs. Don Molesky, 49, a long-haul trucker, and his mother, Helen, 75, lived across the street.

“Don was mopping up water in his own basement when he heard the kids yelling for help at his back door. He waded with the kids across the street, where they led him to the basement stairs. When Don saw what was happening, he called to Matthew to dial 911, then ran back across the street to get a saw.’

“John Underwood, 29, vice president of a development and property-management firm, had stopped his truck behind a disabled car at the flooded intersection just outside the Hammondses’ home. When he got out to check on the driver, he heard a girl scream, “My parents are trapped!”

“John, a retired Marine, ran toward the house. Once inside, he realized that he’d have to cut a hole in the floor to reach the couple. He sent Matthew to grab an ax from the garage.’

“Where are you?” John yelled through the floor.

“Here!” Michaelann responded from an area under the front door.

“John pulled up carpet and yelled out a warning to Michaelann, then swung the ax and hacked a line across the living room floor. Don returned with his circular saw, and the two men cut out a rectangular panel. John pulled back the wood and heating ducts and thrust his hand into the water. Michaelann grasped it, and John and Don pulled her out. Then Don wrapped Michaelann in a coat, and a neighbor ushered her out of the house.’

“The men were dizzy from breathing the gas, but they went back for Mike, who’d been in the freezing water for about 45 minutes.’

“John called down to Mike, who was found in a space under the hallway between the living room and kitchen. As John and Don began to cut, three firefighters arrived; together, the five men broke through and pulled Mike to safety. “I couldn’t stop saying thank you, ” says Mike.’

“Three days later, city authorities condemned the Hammondses’ house. The couple didn’t have flood insurance, but county officials agreed to buy the house for the amount the family owed on their mortgage. They’ve relocated to a furnished rental house close to their old neighborhood for the time being.’

“John and Don didn’t consider for a moment that their lives were in danger,” Mike attests.

“As for the heroes, they were simply happy to help their neighbors. Says John, “Now we’re all connected.”[1]

And here perhaps is the greatest similarity with this story and the story of Noah. You see, Noah experienced the flood and then the rainbow.

It wasn’t until after the storm, after the flood that he knew that God deeply and truly was committed to creation and saving it. Like Mike and Michaelann, Noah first had to face the horror and devastation of the flood itself. And he must have been worried in the midst of it. It isn’t until after going through the deep waters that he is shown the promise of the rainbow and God’s promises for the future.

And how symbolic is that of our lives regarding how troubles in our life occur? Most of the time we face the deep waters, the problems, the heartaches of school shootings before we ever experience any of God’s promises that it will be okay. The pain and the trauma come first, and then the hope.

And yet, one of the things that we often forget is that we live in a world where the rainbow promise has already been made. We already can trust that God is going to protect us, even in the midst of the storm. We shouldn’t be worried. As one commentary says, we know that ͞”The rainbow reminds us God is the saviour, not the one from whom we must be saved. Always. Because – more than anything else – God is love. Full stop. And that love is mightier than a raging river and deeper than a roiling chasm. It pierces the night like a bolt of lightning illuminating the cloud filled skies. It rumbles over the face of the earth shaking the ground with its message – a message not of fear, but of love; a message not of judgment but of grace; a baptismal message, a covenant promise.”[2] ͞

Noah did not have the luxury of the covenant until after the flood. As the waters rose and the torrents rushed about, as the waves tossed the ark, would he have known that he could trust God? Probably not. God hadn’t made any promises to anyone else at that time. There was no Abraham who God told he would have descendants as numerous as the stars, there was no David whose Son would reign forever over Israel, there was no Christ with his promise of eternal life – no rainbow in the sky – just a warning from God that a flood was coming and he should get ready. Could he trust this God? We know he could, but he didn’t. In the same way Mike and Michaelann had to trust that their kids would find help, that these neighbors that they had never had to rely on in an emergency would be the kind they could trust. And fortunately, they could.

And I could end my sermon there with the basic message that we live in a time when we know we can trust God and we can hold on to that. However, that isn’t really enough.

There is also a challenge to us from that passage. We must be people who also claim responsibility for that promise that God made to creation.

God said the earth would not flood again, and we have a role in being the flood preventers, flood responders, and rainbow rememberers. Alongside God, we are meant to be ones who are protectors of the promise. As followers of God, we have always been co-workers in God’s history of salvation, we are the Noah’s who build arks, his children who collect and preserve animals, and in the process sharers of God’s love. We should be the Johns and the Dons who cut through floors to save our neighbors, we should be the people who respond to cries for help, we should be people who help those who are in the horror of the floods of life, and are searching for rescue. Like I said, we are the flood preventers, the flood responders and the rainbow rememberers.

The rainbow reminds us that God’s intention is not to destroy through flood, it reminds us that God is the savior not the one from whom we must be saved, but it also reminds us that we have a role in that – just as Noah did -- a calling to hard work to bring salvation not just to other people, but to all of creation.

There is a call to action in this story. A call to action based upon the hope that God gives us, that God is a God who saves. God is a God who can be trusted, and often we are the eyes, hearts and hands of God in the world who make God’s salvation real. So when the storms hit, and they will; when the floods come, and they will; be people of the rainbow. Bring healing, bring hope. Be agents of God’s goodness even in the face of rising waters.

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