by Rev. Mary C. Olney
March 12, 2000 -- 1st Sunday of Lent

There was chaos. The leaders of the nation were sent away to a foreign land. It seemed hopeless. The people were filled with despair. Around them was chaos, Jerusalem was in ruins; the temple was destroyed, their leaders taken away. So, the scribes ones wrote down a story. It was the story of Noah, recorded during the Israelites, exile in Babylon.  It was given to the people so they might hope again. 

You probably know the story, God sees this wonderful creation, which God calls GOOD, has been distorted by humans. God saw evil in the hearts of humans. It was so bad that God was sorry for even making them. God was so disgusted, so disappointed with the people. God grieved for this evil, and then decided to blot out all living things from the earth.

This is awful, we see and hear the story of Noah and his ark is a terrifying story. It's a story of destruction. It's gruesome and grim. But wait that's not all. It's not the end of the story. If it were I wouldn't stand here and talk about Noah. For not only did God save Noah, his family and all the animals through them, but God does something amazing at the end of the story. Let's hear it: (read) Genesis 9:8-17

God changes his mind. God repents. God is sorry for her destruction, and vows never to bring this watery chaos to the earth again. Never again, says God.

This is good news! Isn't it curious too, God repents! God changes his mind. God says to herself, I'll try again. And I won't do that again! In other words God learns! Wow. Isn't it amazing!

God learns and then decides, I won't do that again. God says, I'll make a covenant with you Noah, and all your descendants (that includes us!), with every living creature on the earth, the birds and every animal on the earth (that's everything on earth!). I won't destroy the earth with floodwaters ever again. As a sign of this promise I set my bow in the clouds. When I see it I'll remember my promise I made to you and all living creatures.

God's bow, a weapon is put away, up in the clouds. Of course the writer here make God sound like a person, someone using a weapon. And that's what those flood waters were like, a weapon. A bow is used to kill animals for food or in a war to kill ones enemy. God hangs up the weapon,quitting the battle, and transforms its destructive power into something of beauty and a sign of hope.  A sign of hope. God gifts us with a promise to never again destroy the earth like this and offers a symbol to remind God of this promise, the rainbow.

This covenant is distinctive in several ways writes John Hayes: "it is made between God and all future generations, it is made not only with human beings but also with all creatures of the earth, and, most dramatic of all, only God speaks. This covenant is an act of a free and gracious God on behalf of a world that did not have to ask for it or earn it, or even respond to it."  (Imaging the Word vol. 3 p. 159) A promise to Noah and to us. A sign of hope.

More recently during another time of chaos the holocaust of the Jews took place. A terrible time. When I visited partner church folk in Germany last fall they took us to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women. Our hosts took us to see a concentration camp because they know it's important to remember the Holocaust, so it will not happen again. As we visited the camp we learned the women prisoners worked many hours a day sewing uniforms for the Germans. The prisoners at Ravensbruck were Jews; they were also women from the resistance movement in France, a British women soldier, even Corrie ten Boom, the Christian author, and many others. One of these women, a French nun who had been involved in the resistance, did a wonderful thing.

Near the end of the war the Germans began executing women at Ravensbruck. Earlier the Germans thought they would die from overwork. But the human spirit is tough! When the camp became overcrowded they decided to execute them. When one woman, a mother of 5 was scheduled to die the Catholic sister, Elizabeth Rivet took her place. What an amazing act of sacrificial courage! In the midst of this terrible chaos of the holocaust I find hope because of Elizabeth Rivet's sacrifice to save a mother. In this horrifying time one woman gives the gift of life to another. This gives me hope.

This is the first Sunday of Lent, the season in which we prepare ourselves to receive the great gift, the sacrifice Jesus made of his life for you and me, and the gift of his resurrection into new life. When we experience times of chaos we can remember this great gift and have hope. And remembering the great bow in the sky, a different kind of bow -- a rainbow, we remember God's promise and have hope.