SCRIPTURES – Genesis 9:8-17; Eph. 3:14-21; Mark 6:45-56; Ps. 145
God said, “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 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.” Gen. 9
This reading gave me an idea: how about if we light up the exterior of the church at night with rainbow colored lights? The White House did this recently, and it was pretty. Didn’t you think so? We could also do this inside, put a large rainbow above and behind the cross that is behind the altar. Doing these things would emphasize who we are: people who believe God’s promises, and so know that a flood of water will never again destroy all flesh on the earth! Since we live by the ocean, this would be good to emphasize. So, should we decorate our church with rainbows? Well… perhaps not.
God is teaching us something today. Already here in Genesis 9 – early in the Bible and early in the history of the world – we see how God interacts with us: through signs that have a word of promise connected to them. Sign and word are both vital.
What is God saying by giving us and communicating with us through signs, tangible things that can be seen (a rainbow), or heard, or touched and felt, and sometimes even tasted? He is saying that He is not distant. Even though we cannot see Him, He is present among us and is working for us. And so, your faith in Him and interaction with Him must also not be distant, a matter of spirit only. God made us physical beings and placed us in a physical world, and so interaction with Him must involve what is physical and tangible. It must involve the physical signs He gives and through which He speaks to you; and, it must involve you physically. A relationship with God must involve your body – your hands; your feet; your eyes; your ears; your mouth – as well as your mind and your heart. If your faith and worship do not involve your body, then your faith and worship are not pleasing to God. They are not following what He Himself does and also commands.
It all begins with the physical, the sign. But, especially important is the word of promise that is connected to the sign. No word, or a different word with a different meaning, and the meaning of the sign can be completely changed, as we see so clearly today with the rainbow. Putting rainbows on our church would say something quite different to most people than what God says in Genesis 9! We need the correct word, then. We need to proclaim and hear and understand and believe what God says about His signs. Only then will they bring His blessing to us.
This is especially so with God’s final sign, His ultimate “rainbow”: His Son Jesus Christ. I refer to Him this way because of how today’s Gospel presents Him. Think, first, of a rainbow. Only as the sun begins shining does it appear in the sky. It announces the end of the storm. And, when we remember what God said of it – “When the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” – we know that the rainbow is a sign of forgiveness. The storm of God’s judgment is over, and God sends down His blessing.
Now, consider Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. The disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee in their boat, laboring against the wind and waves. Matthew, who was in the boat, says in his Gospel that it was “beaten by the waves.” They are dealing with a dangerous storm of wind, if not also rain. But then, Jesus comes to them. He rises over the wind and waves like a rainbow, for He is walking on the sea, as casually as if He were taking a stroll in the park. When the disciples see Him and cry out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” (for no flesh and blood person could do this) Jesus responds, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He then gets in the boat with them, and the wind immediately stops and the waves subside. The storm is over and the disciples are safe. Like – and greater than – a rainbow, Jesus announces, and brings, the storm’s end.
This is a preview of how He will be when He returns to end this world. Chapters 8 and 9 of Revelation picture the world increasingly afflicted with devastations falling upon nature and upon mankind. The last devastation is an enormous demonic army that is released upon the earth. When all seems lost there suddenly appears “a mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.” (Rev. 10:1) Jesus comes and saves His people from the storm of evil by putting an end to it!
When Jesus is present, the mercy and blessing of God is present. Ah, but to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness and love through Him, you must be like the people who came to Him after He came to Gennesaret. They recognized Him as the great Rabbi and Prophet of God who brought God’s blessing, and so they ran to Him with their sick so that He might heal them.
Be like those people. Run to Jesus when He comes. Run to Him above all with your sins, for they threaten not only your life here; they threaten you with eternity in hell! Do not forget the reason God destroyed all life with a flood in Noah’s day. He saw the people’s sins, the hatred and violence and oppression they brought, and He was grieved that He had made man. In anger and judgment God destroyed them all, sparing only the believing Noah and his family. Well, is not our world today filled with hatred and violence and oppression? They are present in our own lives, also, for they are in our minds and hearts, even if they are not evident in our actions. As surely as our Lord while on the land saw His disciples in the boat, laboring against the waves, so surely does He see you and know the sins that you labor against.
Repent and turn to Him! He comes now with mercy and forgiveness. Now, like a rainbow, He stretches over us, announcing the end of judgment and the beginning of a new day. But, that day comes only after the storm. It comes only after you confess that you are sinful and deserving of judgment, and then look to Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. It comes only after you receive in faith the signs which convey the blessing of His forgiveness. Through them Jesus comes to you and enters into the boat with you. He ends the storm and brings you God’s peace.
Long ago, through the sign of the rainbow and the word of His promise, God proclaimed His peace, the end of His anger and judgment. Through the signs of Christ’s Sacraments and words He does so to this day. He has not changed. Sign and word still bring His blessing. Hold to Him through His signs, and Jesus will stand over you with His salvation until He brings you into His eternal peace. To Him be praise forever! Amen.