How many of you know the story of Noah?
We learn it in Sunday School and in song, but rarely hear it in worship, so let’s review.
Tell me what you remember.
God told Noah to build an ark.
Why did God have Noah build an ark?
There was a flood!
Do you know why there was a flood?
People were being bad?
It seemed like everyone on earth was evil. So bad that God couldn’t even find good buried deep in people’s hearts. And God couldn’t stand it any more, and decided to wipe out EVERYone and everything. Except Noah. Somehow he managed to still put God first, so God decided to keep him.
So Noah built the ark. Do you remember what God told him to do with it?
Save the animals!
So Noah put all the animals in the ark, and his family, and plenty of food, and then it rained. The water rose up higher than the highest mountains. It rained for forty days, then the flood lasted for months and months and months, a long lonely time, before it was safe for Noah and his family and the animals and their families to leave the ark.
Do you know what God did then?
Made a rainbow.
Made a rainbow.
God talked to Noah and his family, and told them a promise, “I am never, ever, going to flood the whole world again. No matter what. No matter how bad you human beings get. It’s a covenant with you and all the animals and birds and critters, too. A promise that I can’t break, even if you all screw up….again.
Look, you can even see the covenant. This rainbow is going to remind me never to wipe you all out again. ”
Did you notice just how that works in today’s scripture story? God points out the rainbow to Noah and his family as a symbol of this solemn promise, but not to remind them that God won’t do this again. It’s to remind God.
The rainbow is like a string tied around God’s finger.
(Or in the 21st century, the voice in your iPhone that reminds you of something you want to do).
It’s a reminder for God, a visible symbol of God’s promise to us, that God will never give up on us again.
I wonder if Jesus remembered that, out in the wilderness.
I wonder if Jesus saw rainbows.
Mark tells us almost nothing about what happens.
He might almost have been writing for Twitter:
“Holy Spirit enters Jesus at baptism,
“Holy Spirit enters Jesus at baptism,
drives him into wilderness for 40 days.
Tested by Satan. Wild beasts with him. Angels take care of him.”
140 characters is all it takes.
Mark leaves a lot to our imaginations.
So Jesus might have seen rainbows, or some other reminders of God’s generosity, to sustain himself during a long, lonely time of testing; to sustain his trust in humanity and his divine commitment to us.
Forty days - a bit less than six weeks - isn’t that long in a human life-span, but it’s long enough to for us to need reminders of even the things that are most important to us.
Think about what it would be like in a marriage to go forty days without hearing, “I love you.” Or forty days without freedom, forty days without laughter, forty days without sun….
Christian tradition urges us to give something up for the forty days of Lent - not usually something as dramatic and essential as freedom or love - but something meaningful.
We don’t do that because we want to be miserable (that really doesn’t make you holier - a lesson I learned when I gave up coffee - once!), but to remind ourselves of how we want to act toward God.
To remind ourselves that no matter how easy it is to satisfy ourselves with sweets and habits and things, we won’t use those as a substitute for God.
It’s like tying a string around your finger.
Or looking at a rainbow in the sky.
Reminders like that are important.
They give substance to our good intentions, create anchors for trust, and give us practice at being the people we want to be.
It might be nice if making a promise was really all it took to keep it.
But in real life, and in faith, we need reminders, guideposts, and practice to keep our promises, to keep our relationships strong, to keep acting the way we want to act, keep believing in God and in ourselves.
Do you have any rainbows like that?
Any things, or words, or actions that remind you of how you really want to relate to God, and others, and yourself?
I have a picture of the North Carolina mountains that I bought after a retreat there years ago. I keep it to remind myself that I want to be always as open in prayer as I was on that retreat. And that my spirit will heal, no matter how wounded I get.
Do you, perhaps, wear a wedding ring? Like the rainbow, it’s a symbol of a covenant, a visible, physical reminder of your promise to trust and honor and love - no matter what.
Do you have a mantra, a phrase you say when you’re facing a challenge, or a slump? A reminder to yourself, and maybe to others, that you’re not willing to give up on yourself, no matter how much of a mess you’re in?
Do you have keepsakes? Gifts or objects that remind you of a relationship that matters, a way you want to be with others? Or reminders of the beauty and grace that others have seen in you? Or reminders, like the original rainbow, that God is never, ever, giving up on you and us - no matter what?
If you don’t have those, it’s time to start.
It’s time to collect rainbows, this Lent.
Collect reminders that trigger generosity, trust, hope, and faith - in one another, in God, and in yourself.
Because we’re human, after all, and it’s easy to forget.
It’s easy to slip into indifference or dissatisfaction, cheerful ignorance or bored resignation,
to forget who we want to be
and how we want to be with God.
God chose the rainbow as a reminder of how God wants to be with us.
Because when God forgot that, the world drowned.
When we forget, the disasters are smaller, but just as real.
So this Lent, let’s collect rainbows.
Start here, with a rainbow you can tie around your finger, a symbol of God’s promise never to give up on us, and let that remind us of how and who we want to be, for ourselves, with one another, and with God.