19th August 2018 (Pride month)
Isaiah 54: 8-10
So, I’ve had a very small disaster this week. Not a major one, just a little one. But, you know, I’m Welsh, what’s the point in having a drama if you can’t make a good story out of it? It could have been a lot worse. I’m fine, Marshall’s fine, the dog is fine. It’s all OK. But some of you may have heard about my ongoing project – I built someone a shepherd’s hut, they gave me an old Transit van, I’ve been turning it into a camper. I’ve been putting a lot of work into it, I’ve been having a lot of fun. And this week I was going to go up, collect my van, bring it back to Brighton, via a couple of campsites to test it out and sleep in it, and then I’d finish off the conversion work at home. Best laid plans and all that. The whole adventure ended in a layby outside Dolgellau, where I was taken by a tow truck after I broke down going over the Dinas pass, in the pouring rain. The scrap merchant’s looking at it tomorrow.
It was just one of those things. A small disaster, not a big one, but while it was happening, especially at the point I was putting on my handbrake and getting out with my little red triangle, and finding I had no mobile phone signal, all I wanted was for God to somehow sweep down, pick me and my van up, and make it not be happening. But rescues don’t really work like that. Nonetheless, I was rescued. One way or another. By a lovely family from Northumberland who did have mobile phone signal. By a couple of very nice police officers who stood there in the pouring rain making the traffic go round me – because I tell you, that pass, it’s up like that on one side, it’s down like that on the other, it’s not a place you wan to be stuck. And by my parents who came and took everything out of the van and are storing it in their garage until I can get it back home again, and above all, there is an angel in Conwy, who smokes a pipe and drives a tow-truck, and who phoned me up this morning to check I was alright.
Now, Isaiah is talking to people who’ve been through a great disaster. A really huge disaster. Either they are there in a homeland that’s been pretty much obliterated, or they’ve been dragged away to a strange country as prisoners. And they really can’t see how it’s going to get better. And they really can’t tell how they’re going to be rescued. Some of them perhaps are looking forward. Maybe from now on it’s going to get better. Some of them perhaps are living in the past and thinking about everything they’ve lost. But either way, Isaiah reminds them of a promise made a very long time ago, to a chap called Noah. The rainbow promise, the covenant with every living thing. ‘with you, all your descendants, and every living thing on earth’ it says, that along with every dark gathering of the rainclouds, along with every threat of flood and everything being washed away, God will put a rainbow up. A sign that this will not be a final disaster. This flood isn’t going to wash us away. When you see it, you will know the sun will be back. ‘As long as earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’.
And Isaiah extends that promise. He tells them this, too, is not the final disaster. God’s promise is cast-iron, as certain as the dawn. You are still the children of the covenant, he says. And that promise holds good for us. We’re the children of the covenant that Jesus made, that we speak about every time we do communion. The covenant that Jesus spoke about when he lifted that cup. The promise of a God whose mercy and compassion overrules strict eye-for-an-eye judgment. The storm clouds may be gathering – the storm clouds are gathering – but the promise holds. It cannot be the end for us, so long as we are the children of God – and we are all the children of God.
Here’s the flip side though. God makes this promise to the earth: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though the inclination of human hearts is evil from the beginning’. So God won’t annihilate us, or curse us, or curse the earth because of us. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it to ourselves. In fact, it means we can do it ourselves. Because God isn’t going to step in and wipe out human wickedness again. And if God isn’t even going to eliminate the ones we think are pretty much the most evil human beings on the face of the earth – well then it’s our mess, isn’t it?
It’s up to us. God will answer prayers, and God will help us, but in the end, the miracles God is doing now are in here. It’s our earth. It’s our community. Because where would God draw the line? If God’s chosen compassion and mercy for all, then it’s for all.
But since we don’t all show compassion and mercy for one another, then the most vulnerable end up in situations that closely do resemble the destruction of their world. And it’s up to us to fight that.
God’s not going to punish me or destroy me. Hooray! But God’s not going to punish or destroy those who want to harm me, either. Oh.
And in a fair mood, I wouldn’t dare consider myself better or more innocent than them, or more deserving of the covenant. Because I hope I understand myself and God’s love a little bit better than that. So it’s a two edged message. You know, if you’re in the flood waters right now. If you can feel the waters rising and sweeping you off your feet. If they’re coming up to your neck, if the army is at the gate – be assured, the covenant of peace is not removed. Despite what many say, we were not created for destruction.
There’s something biblically accurate about the rainbow being our symbol. Because it’s the sign that God loves all creation. God hates nothing that God has made. And it’s the sign that God does not destroy us, for whatever anyone thinks is right or wrong.
But also, when I’m not at the edge right now, when I’ve got the strength to work and pray, the message of the rainbow is that it isn’t a swooping, heroic rescue I’m praying for. The bit where I learnt the lesson about breakdown cover, the bit where I found out how impossible it is to get a garage to look at a long wheel base transit at short notice – how would I know that if someone had just ‘fixed it’? I know now. I’ve learnt. I’ve also learned that, hey, it’s just belongings. No matter how much hard work you put into them. I’m alright, Marshall’s alright, Marmite’s alright, we’re fine.
Even Noah had to build that ark. It didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. God helped me lot. God sent angels from Conwy with tow trucks. And I did my bit too. So I’m going to invite you to take whichever half of that two-edged message -or both edges if you like – from this reading tonight, and from our rainbow. On the one hand, the promise is never broken. You’re going to be OK. On the other hand, weve got work to do.