This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., Transitional Pastor, at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, January February 18th, Transfiguration Sunday. The readings and Psalm were: Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10,
1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15.
Violence and a Rainbow
It was clear to me last week as I pondered the lessons for today that I was drawn to the post flood scene of God speaking to Noah and his family. After the violence, destruction, terror, and death of almost all of humankind and creature kind, this moment with God is tender and, perhaps flowing with regret.
God was so disappointed about what had happened to God’s creation. The Garden where God walked in the cool of the afternoon with Eve and Adam is devoid of the couple.
Abel is dead. As the population increases so does wrong doing.
God is especially outraged with humankind’s corruption and violence. Those are the words…corruption and violence.
In sadness and rage, God decides to drown what God has made.
The ark is constructed; the people and animals go aboard and the torrential rain devastates the earth.
The rain ceases; the sun emerges; the water recedes; and Noah, family and the animals disembark and God declares a covenant sealed by God’s promise…and the rainbow…the rainbow. Never again.
On a late afternoon last fall I was driving home…south on I 89. Rain was falling in Lebanon and as I ascended the hill near Whaleback the sun burst through. Suddenly the rainbow appeared…not just any rainbow. It’s shape was that of the St. Louis Arch and the golden arches of McDonalds and it straddled the interstate. Stunning! One after another cars pulled to the side and children, women and men emerged with cameras and smart phones. Some applauded, some waved.
I decided to drive ahead through the rainbow arch and see if I could spot one of the pots of gold. I passed my usual exit seeking to drive through this covenant sign. Off course I failed at catching the rainbow while loving that it was ever before me.
I was musing on this memory early in the week when the horrible news from Florida pushed away the rainbow. “Oh God, no!” Teens murdered; staff gunned down; 17 families shattered; scores of students and staff traumatized by seeing their friends murdered and wounded. 150 bullets from large magazines by a 19-year-old with an AR 15 military style rifle…a weapon designed for one task: kill human beings. A weapon legally purchased by an unstable 19-year-old.
Suddenly the focus of this sermon offering shifted. The events of Wednesday could not be ignored. The promise of the rainbow dare not be set aside. Both need be held; both need to be embraced.
It is yet another time that the 20th century theologian Karl Barth’s call to Christians rings true…in this moment sadly true. We must move forward in our lives with the news in one hand and the Bible in the other…which for today is the news from Parkland in the one and the rainbow in the other.
VIOLENCE AND CORRUPTION are the words of the pre-flood Genesis story. Violence and corruption are words of the February 18, 2018 story.
The opening chapters of the Bible reveal to us that creation began in a beautiful Garden where all was in harmony. This Garden…call it Mother Earth or Gaia or Our Planetary Home…she is being subjected to violence. Mr. Pruitt of the EPA; Mr. Perry of Department of Energy; and Mr. Trump…to name but a few…are leading the current assault. And we dare not omit our names from the roster of those who assault our home. We and our leaders are brutalizing the covenant of the rainbow.
We need to pause today, in the light and brilliance and awe of the rainbow and recall the length, breadth and depth of the violence and corruption in which we live and ask those most basic of questions, “WWJD-What would Jesus do?” and “WWJS-What would Jesus say?” at this moment in time: February 2018.
What would Jesus have me/you do? What would Jesus have me/you say? About…
-the violence against the Dreamers and DACA…the 1.8 million children, women and men who are being used-that is assaulted-used as pawns in immigration debates.
-the sexual misconduct violence and its attendant corruption of relationships… happening in the secrecy of homes, offices and overlooked at the White House.
-the violence of a tax bill that aids some a little bit; others much; and does violence to all with 100s of billions in deficits and pushes the national debt to 20 trillion dollars.
-the violence of the easy availability of so many kinds, types of firearms and bullets. It is true that Wednesday could have unfurled with a rifle or shotgun used for hunting…weapons that some of you own and use in careful and responsible ways. Yet there is something very wrong with the fact that the NRA controls so much of our governance in The House and the Senate chambers of Washington and NH and Vermont…that a thoughtful and common sense conversation cannot be initiated about removing assault rifles from the scene and requiring background checks, licenses and firearms training.
Well, enough examples. You are more than able to compile your own catalogue of violence and corruption.
My friends and colleagues in ministry here in Hanover assembled in this sanctuary. Sadly, violence, corruption and assault is a fact of human life. The Genesis narrative relates a progression of God’s responses to these facts: ejecting the first couple from the Garden; marking Cain for public recognition; wiping the slate clean with water.
And, in all of those moments of drama, granting some measure of grace; leather clothing replaces leaves; protection for the murderer; saving a family and a huge boat of creatures.
Guess what?…that Ark of grace didn’t set things aright either!
No sooner did Noah and family hit the dry ground that those eight revivified humanity’s sin cycle!
Violence and corruption cost our Lord his life…no doubt he knew the consequences of his living a life of love and speaking important truths to power. And Jesus knew something that was so important: he would not allow violence and corruption to corrupt and violate his life and work.
He knew that God’s work must be the work of his hands. He would not retreat into silence; he would not cease his work of healing on the Sabbath if the need of a person was in front of him; he would always speak out against injustice and wrong doing and wrong policy. if truth be told he was a social and political (not partisan) activist.
We are the Christic reality in our time. We are the keepers of the rainbow. We are called to action. We are here to “Follow” as the Jesus stories in Mark attest.
Follow how? Each of us here has a way or several ways. Soon you will receive an e-mail that gives witness to how Paul Manganiello follows as he and others address firearms. That witness will be followed, from time to time, by other ways you share of how you are confronting violence and corruption.
Doris and I often took to the streets during the times of the civil rights marches and anti Vietnam war gatherings. I know many of you were “with us” even though we were cities apart. Recently, Some of us have traveled to New York and Washington for marches and rallies to combat climate chaos.
Here are a few words from my latest letter to Senator James Inhofe, chair of the US Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. He is a climate chaos denier and, infamously, brought a snowball into the Senate chamber. I believe his position is not about climate doubt…it is about power and fossil fuel money:
“Follow Me,” says our Lord, the doer and sayer for justice, rightness, compassion and love. I have no doubt, no doubt that our Lord would speak eloquently on behalf of the creation gifted to us…he was there to see it all unfold. Likewise I have no doubt that he is weeping and holding those in deep sorrow in a state that has no sunshine today. I have no doubt that he would be on his feet calling out to those in power to cease this nonsense that owning an assault rifle is a legitimate constitutional right and naming it for what this is: one of the many catalysts that assist in creating an atmosphere and culture of fear, violence and corruption.
We are the keepers, guardians and proclaimers of the rainbow…that which appears after the rain; that which flutters in the wind; that which testifies to our unity in our radical diversity.
We are keepers of the rainbow of loving covenant that is God’s way in the world. That rainbow took on human life in Jesus…a new covenant of presence, compassion, love, justice and the command to follow him…all the way…wherever that way leads.