A Sermon for the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
September 28, 2014
Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash
Psalm 24, adapted
One: The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it,
All: the world, and those who live in it
One: for God has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
All: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
One: Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, will receive a blessing from God.
1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. 7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it." 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. 16 When 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."
1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;
Surely the moment has come when we are passing through the waters. The waters, in 2014, are the waters of climate change. And I’m going to tell you right up front, I think we, as people of faith, are called to wade into those waters. But first I want to talk about rainbows.
Noah’s Ark is a classic Sunday School story and I can remember hearing it - people were sinful but God chose a righteous family to save, and told Noah to preserve two of every kind of animal, and then, the teachers said this part really fast in Sunday School so as not to scare us, God flooded the earth to cleanse the earth and start over. And after the waters receded, and the dove came back with the olive branch, God made Noah a promise. In God's infinite love, God made a covenant, symbolized by the rainbow, and God will remember, and the Bible says over and over, God will remember the covenant, and never again will the earth flood.
Oh, how nostalgic I feel for the day when I took that story at face value, with the ears of a Sunday School child. For a common interpretation of that story says that now is that it is a unilateral covenant - dependent only on God’s actions and God’s memory. And the next logical leap commonly made on cable news says, thus, everything that happens on this earth is under God's direct management. We have nothing to worry about, because the rainbow is in the sky. There's nothing we have to do, because God has taken care of it all and we have no responsibility.
And when you read only verses 9-17 that’s the easy read. Honest survey here, even of the clergy and seminarians in the room: raise a hand if have you spent much time with verses 1-8 of Genesis chapter 9. <pause> Right, me either. But take a listen again, to two phrases. “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” That’s verse one: God asking something of the people. And then in verse 9: “As for me, God said....” Hear that pairing? As for you, as for me. Listen even closer to those verses, and you hear the earlier phrases of the Creation narrative, and you hear God’s commandment, for human beings to be in right relationship with the rest of creation. The covenant God makes with Noah has two responsible parties, our Creator and us.
This ancient covenant binds us together. As part of the covenant, we have responsibility to God and God's creation. Humanity is bound to God, which means both what we do as individuals, and what we do corporately.
I went to New York last week and I marched behind a model of Noah’s Ark. As UCC Pastor Donna Schaper said before the People’s Climate March, about the Ark that she helped build to travel in front of the thousands of people of faith who came to New York: “We march as partners with Noah and God…Surely it is about covenant and covenant keeping, that which God initiates and we may yet be lucky enough to say ‘yes.’… [This] ark tells us we have another chance. We have a chance to get it right.” 
Before the People’s Climate March, I had the honor to listen to religious leaders from around the globe, come together to talk about climate change. They talked a lot about floods. It began with Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation:
“I bring you a most urgent message that was brought by a runner from Greenland. The ice is melting in the north…the trickle has grown to a roaring river running from the glacial mountain in to the ocean, and the melt continues to accelerate. This is an alarming message that requires your absolute attention….” And then he paused, and said, “I first delivered this message to the UN 14 years ago. 14 years lost as we dithered.” (His words.)
Rev. Gerald Durley, a Baptist pastor who marched with Dr. King, he spoke of working on climate change because of the injustice of environmental racism, and the floods of Hurricane Katrina.
Father Edwin Gariguez traveled from the Philippines to speak with us. He said, when we talk of climate change, we need to see the faces of real people. And then he told us the stories of people and communities wiped away by Typhoon Haiyan. I don’t have the fortitude to speak without tears the stories he told, and others told, of Haiyan. Then again he was crying, as he told us. But if you were watching the news, those faces are flashing through your mind right now.
About three years ago, I started having dreams. That summer I think I heard from the Holy Spirit, speaking as She does, in whispers and dreams. In those dreams, there was Zac, all grown up, asking: what did you do, about climate change? And I saw the face of a young Somali girl, who in the summer of 2011 had to walk with her family to a Kenyan refugee camp, in the midst of the worst famine and drought in 60 years, among a flood of over 400,000 drought refugees. Her story was told by Church World Service, which I have noticed has become increasingly vocal about climate change.
Those are the human faces that I see when I think about climate change. They are my motivation.
So last week I went to New York. And there I got to be part of a flood of a different sort. Not Noah’s flood, not the flood of monsoon or hurricane, but a flood of loving determination, a flood of witness and hope for action on climate change.
I went to New York proud to be part of Eliot Church. We are longtime members of Mass Interfaith Power and Light. We have walked in other marches, we have shown films, read books, planted trees, cleaned up the Charles River, used biomass fuel, upgraded our boiler, composted, insulated, won a Leadership by Example award. We have in our pews green saints Mary Anne and Doug and Vince and Betsy and Ginny and Penny and Fred. I was excited to see the leaves of commitment on the tree in the hallway. When Rev. Sally Bingham (that’s Vince’s boss), we green our buildings so that then we can authentically ask our leaders to do what we have done, and more, I thought: yes. This is Eliot. We can do this. I came back from New York believing even more that we are ready to build, to go deeper.
But you may not know why people of faith were called to speak out, in this moment in time. We have been called, in this moment, to live out our part of the covenant, and to do it with our bold, prophetic witness. We have been called to a new sort of flood. The March, and all the events around it, were in conjunction with the UN Climate Summit - and designed to get us ready to push even harder for strong action at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit. Last Sunday was a good start: the streets of New York were flooded with 400,000 people. Three of them were Eliot members - Heidi, Ava, and myself. Hundreds were UCC members. Hundreds were part of Interfaith Power and Light. Many thousands more were there because of their faith.
Terry Tempest Williams described the march like this:
“They just kept coming in waves, in torrents, a river of people convening on the streets of New York City in the march for climate justice. They just kept coming, hundreds of thousands of individuals, indigenous, black, white, brown, yellow, and red, a rainbow of colors winding through the canyons of Manhattan.”
But this different kind of flood was not a one-day event - the invitation is here, for you to join now and in the months to come. People of faith have a particular place in this different sort of flood. Ban-Ki Moon - the UN General Secretary - himself asks us, people of faith, to demand our leaders take bold action on climate, because “You can provoke, challenge and inspire political leaders."
We are called to change our own ways, yes, but also to bring moral pressure for the system change that is absolutely required if we are to turn the tide on climate.
Leading scientists are calling us too: “The transformational step may well be a massive mobilization of public opinion by...religions for collective action to safeguard the well-being of both humanity and the environment.” 
But as much as we may be flattered to be called on by diplomats and scientists, perhaps we are more likely to act when we hear the teachings of Jesus, as Rev. Jim Wallis puts it:
“Climate change is devastating my list of concerns as a follower of Jesus, and that converts me again. All who Jesus named as the least of these will be devastated further by climate change. For the hungry — massive food shortages and starvation. The thirsty — more droughts. The naked — stripping millions of all their resources. The stranger — dislocating millions more as immigrants. The sick — spreading more disease. The prisoner — more destabilization, chaos, desperation, and crime.”
Let me say again: I am proud to be part of this green congregation. What we have done within these walls and within our homes is good. Now, let’s use our commitments as a platform from which “to empower and pressure our world leaders to take the action needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.” (That’s Sally Bingham, again, in a recent email.)
This is our entry point into the flood of people calling for system change: calling for reduced emissions; calling for the protection of poor and vulnerable communities; calling for a societal shift to renewables; calling for a strong international agreement in 2015; calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. For in this moment, we choose between two floods: the flood of rising seas, or the flood of hopeful and courageous change.
Professor Mercy Oduyoye, an African theologian, says: “We have to be each others’ keepers or we are not human; we have to be earthkeepers or we will be homeless.” 
Surely the moment has come when we are in the waters. The seas are rising. But the hopefulness of this moment is that we can choose a new and different kind of flood.
We are looking up at the clouds and we are seeing the rainbow and we are remembering. And we are hearing the voice of God:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you...” (Isaiah 43:1-2) With the love and courage of God, we are brave enough to be part of a flood of a different sort.
I think we should tell the story of the rainbow covenant putting God in charge of this world. It’s just that, this does not mean God will take care of everything for us. It means we align ourselves to God’s commandments, we put God’s will in charge. God says, be stewards, and we will take care. God says be fruitful, and we will do that which is life-giving. The gospel says love our neighbors and we will act for their willbeing. God says do justice, love kindness, let righteousness be an ever flowing stream, and we will be the flood, the new kind of flood, the flood that turns back the tide.
This is the story I hope we will one day tell our children and our grandchildren, in Sunday School. The day came, when we could see the waters rising. And we could hear Jesus’ voice, calling us to love our neighbors, all of them, around the globe, and we could hear his voice, calling us to feed the hungry and heal the sick and work for justice, and we saw the connection to the coming flood. And we looked up in the sky and we saw a rainbow, and we knew that God remembered the covenant – and we remembered the covenant. And so we built that ark, with room this time for every single beloved child of God and every one of God’s creatures, and we became a different sort of flood. We flooded the streets to call for the healing of the earth. We flooded the halls of power with with so much loving determination that the world changed.
We turned back the rising tide.
May it be so. Amen.
 For an thorough exploration of this point see Steven Mason in “Another Flood? Genesis 9 and Isaiah’s Broken Eternal Covenant,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Volumber 32.2 (2007)
 Religions for the Earth - http://www.cvent.com/events/religions-for-the-earth/event-summary-acce9de322684b8db91a98466c4f6da9.aspx
 Not official transcripts; these words are from my own notes at Religions for the Earth.
 http://www.cwsglobal.org/newsroom/news-features/church-world-service-steps-up.html , and see John McCullough’s letter from this month: http://www.cwsglobal.org/resources/pdfs/climate-change-and-people-power.pdf
 http://www.sciencemag.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/content/345/6203/1457.full, Partha Dasgupta1, Veerabhadran Ramanathan2,3,*
 Not official transcripts; these words are from my own notes at Religions for the Earth.