Where are the Rainbows Now?
A Sermon for The Eliot Church
September 24, 2017
Rev. Reebee Girash
THE WORD – Noah, the Flood, and the Rainbow Covenant Genesis 6:11-14; 6:17-22; 7:11-17; 9:8-17
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of cypress wood… 17For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. 19 And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them." 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark, 14 they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature.
15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in. 17 The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
The floods are coming.
The floods are here.
We have named them: Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria.
We live in the time of floods. So where is the rainbow?
In Florida and Texas the waters have begun to recede. On the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the power was still out from Irma when Maria stormed through.
Unnamed in the time of the deluge, are the fires which roll across the landscape like an inverse flood, wiping away nearly as much.
Drowned out in our news feeds in the time of the deluge, the floods of Nigeria and Bangladesh.
Where is the rainbow?
These are the stories we have been told, out of the storms:
The midwife who rode to a birth on a borrowed inflatable boat.
The man who gave up the last generator, because someone else needed it more.
The 80 year old who opened her sturdy home to dozens of neighbors whose doublewides would be unsafe.
The dozens of Massachusetts volunteers deployed south to help.
The 100,000+ Church World Service hygiene kits given out so people can wash their face and brush their teeth.
The silver linings to these clouds should be named after these neighborly ones.
The floods are here.
It is, we are told, insensitive to talk about - to acknowledge - to propose to mitigate climate change1 when so many people are dealing with the humanitarian disaster of these storms. I don’t think it’s insensitive, but perhaps it is simply too late to mitigate climate change enough to prevent the next great floods. The next great fires, the next great droughts.
Instead of insensitively outlining the causes of climate change, I am going to take it as a given, as an assumption, as a lived reality it is no longer possible to deny.
The floods are here.
Where, then, is the rainbow?
My friend Margaret Bullitt-Jonas writes of the Christian journey to understand, grief, and act on climate change as having three moments: an awakened heart, a broken heart, and a radiant heart. 2
Our hearts are awakened again by Harvey, Irma and Maria. Surely our hearts are broken not only by the sheer devastation but also by the injustice of storm recovery. In the Biblical flood, when the waters receded Noah and his family simply opened the doors of the ark and repopulated. It’s not as simple today.
Andy Horowitz wrote in the New York Times recently, “The wind isn’t racist, and the rain doesn’t target the poor. But when hurricanes strike and cities flood, people who were already disadvantaged tend to suffer the most.” 3
Perhaps you heard the story of Rosa Sosa on NPR: an undocumented woman in Houston whose family lost everything. 4 As an hourly wage earner, when she couldn’t get to work through the flood, her money ran out fast. She lost all the possessions in her apartment and her car. Only her child (born in the US) qualified for any FEMA assistance but with recent ICE operations in Houston, what undocumented person would give their contact information, even to get diapers? Her neighbors stayed in uninhabitable places rather than risk walking by immigration agents waiting near Red Cross shelters. Churches and private immigrant aid groups are doing what they can to serve these folks, but the needs are enormous. And with all this, folks like Rosa know that the cleaning up and rebuilding of Houston - the nasty work of mold and trash removal; the day labor construction crews that come later - will in large part be done by undocumented immigrants. In fact, they are counting on that work, so they can buy beds again.
After Katrina, “for comparable damage, homeowners in white neighborhoods were paid more than homeowners in African-American neighborhoods.” 5 12 years on, 100,000 fewer African-Americans live in New Orleans than did before Katrina. Will we allow racial disparities in the recoveries in Texas and Florida?
Where is the rainbow, in 2017?
Every culture has a Flood story, deep in pre-history. And these are terrible stories, of angry gods and massive destruction.
I cannot even try to justify through pious reflection what God did to the earth in this pre-history myth - any more than future generations will be able to understand what we have done, knowingly, to the earth in this generation.
But. What makes the Biblical Flood unusual, and worth re-telling, is how it ends: with a new covenant, declared by God, symbolized by the rainbow. “
I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
God sets the bow - the bow of battle, a weapon, in the clouds, putting away the tool of destruction and promising something new. Never again will God cause this kind of destruction. Somehow, God has changed. God has a new relationship with Creation. There is a new beginning. The very world is is resurrected.
Where is the rainbow in 2017?
In 2017, it is our responsibility to set the bow in the clouds - to put up the tools of destruction and promise something new. In 2017, we are not working to prevent the storms of 2020 - we are working to lessen the storms of 2075. But we are also helping those devastated by today’s storms.
The thing about a rainbow is that it comes after the storm. The thing about a rainbow is that it means the storm is passing over. The thing about a rainbow is that is visible for miles and miles around. The thing about a rainbow is that everyone can see it. Everyone.
This is the work of our radiant hearts:
To practice determined active hopefulness in the midst of the storms. “We focus on [the world] we truly, deeply long for - and the we take determined steps in that direction.” 6 To map the intersections and demand equity in recovery for poor folks, for people of color, for undocumented folks, for renters, for folks in Puerto Rico and folks in Texas, for folks in Bangladesh and folks in Barbuda.
To listen, with awakened hearts, to everyone affected by climate change.
To grieve, with broken hearts, the floods of 2017.
To commit, with radiant hearts, to our own covenant with the earth and all its creatures and every one of our brothers and sisters.
To imagine a rainbow that everyone will see.
To commit, with radiant hearts, to just recovery, to just adaptation, to just transition.
To never give up.
To practice resurrection.
And yet, it is not up to us alone. When we see in the sky God’s own rainbow, we remember: we are not alone. We live in God’s world. Since that moment She has never ceased calling us back to herself - And God is there when we pass through the waters. Do not fear, God whispers. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.(Isaiah 43)
Where is the rainbow in 2017? It is up to us to set the bow in the clouds. But we are not alone. Amen.
3 Andy Horrowitz, “Don’t Repeat the Mistakes of the Katrina Recovery” September 14, 2017 New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/opinion/hurricane-katrina-irma-harvey.html?mcubz=1
4 NPR’s Code Switch Podcast - September 13, 2017 “It’s Getting (Dangerously) Hot in Here” The story told above combines Rosa’s story and that of another, unnamed woman featured in the episode.
5 Andy Horrowitz, “Don’t Repeat the Mistakes of the Katrina Recovery” September 14, 2017 New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/opinion/hurricane-katrina-irma-harvey.html?mcubz=1
6 Joanna Macy, Active Hope. p.37