Toorak Uniting Church

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The colours of God

Genesis 9: 8 – 17
Rev. Ian Brown
9 March 2003

When a person has revealed themselves in some profound way, when something deep or particularly pertinent comes out by way of what someone may have said, or more often done - we use a very interesting phrase to describe that event.
We say that the person has "shown their true colours"

There are some people in the Christian church who have triumphalist aspirations; they will think of God only in terms of the bright colours; red for the shed blood of Christ, yellow for the gold of heaven and the triumph of Christ as King.
There are others in the church who seem to see only the darker tones; purple for suffering and sacrifice, dark tones to represent a dark world and a dark image of God.

In the context of today’s story of Noah and the covenant that God makes with him and all people, the action shows all the world the true colours of God’s love, represented in all the colours of the rainbow.
In the gospel story too, there is a contrast of light and dark in the story, as well as in the action of God; where Jesus is driven by the Spirit of God out into the wilderness and tempted. He then appears proclaiming that "the Kingdom of God is at hand."
Darkness and light. Suffering and new hope.
Variation of colour.
There is nothing mono-tone or monotonous about God.
Both the rainbow at the end of what must have been the most harrowing of times for Noah, and the experience of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry show an entire spectrum of God’s character.

I was reflecting - how often is it that I see a rainbow?
I remember when we lived in the Wimmera and how struck I was by the number of rainbows we saw on the Wimmera’s wide horizons. Truly stunning colour against the backdrop of dark clouds in brilliant clear sunlight.

And what do you think of when you see a rainbow I wonder?
This pre-history story from the early part of Genesis tells us that for Noah and his small family - for this group who had just been through the most terrifying calamity - the rainbow was given as a sign of reassurance! It is a bright symbol against a dark backdrop. For Noah and those on the ark everything was lost, the past obliterated, friends, family, homes all gone - and all that remained was the hope of a new beginning.

The rainbow said to people who worried that God might still wipe them out because of their sins - no, God was still with them, God cares, in fact this covenant that God makes tells us that God cares for all living things!!

The rainbow promise shows the colours of God’s love as real compassion for all living things. It is a promise that despite human weakness, despite calamity, disaster in nature and diabolical disobedience in people, God’s love and care is still there for all.

Imagine if you were a Noah figure, imagine if you had just survived weeks in a tree top in the often flooded Bangladesh, imagine if you had just had all your stock wiped out by floods on your North Queensland cattle property, or if life was so bad in your home country that you felt you had to sell up all your possessions and take a risky trip on a dodgy boat with only the glimmer of hope of a better life in a new country before you, or imagine you had just survived the brutal murder of most of your village in Ambon, or Chechnya or from the shelling in Gaza.
- .... and try to imagine what an assurance like this rainbow promise of God’s might be like for you.

There are many situations and many people - not just people far away, who desperately need a word of encouragement - a sign of assurance, a positive affirmation or brightened outlook.
One of the most powerful words of hope is that Jesus also faced the darkest of our experience himself and knows first hand what we face. And on this first Sunday of the season of Lent we come to the story of the facing of his first testing times.

The Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness. In Mark he says the Spirit drove Jesus The Spirit of God drove Jesus out of comfort, out of control and into a lonely, frightening place. He was between the wild beasts and the angels, It is very much the opposite to the way we expect to live. Driving people out into the wilderness is a bit of a hot topic in our land still, but that’s another story, with a different set of temptations - we all face temptations!

In the Bible the wilderness is a place that’s associated with supernatural powers, with demons and angels, a place where we encounter God and our deepest selves without masks or pretense to hide behind. It is a place of vulnerability and testing.
A lot of important things happen in the wilderness.
Israel was tested in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the promised land.
John, the baptizer appeared in the wilderness and now Jesus spends 40 days there, facing his temptations. In a place apart from the normal structures of life one can be most open to things which are beyond one's self.
In the desert Jesus faced and struggled with the powers of evil. And then we see Jesus emerge from the wilderness, out of the dark backdrop to begin his ministry with the proclamation that the Kingdom of God is at hand - a bright promise of hope.
But if we ask where is God in both of today’s stories, ? To be honest we have to say God is In the flood and with Noah as well as in the rainbow promise, God is with Jesus, driving him into the wilderness and as much with him in the promise of the kingdom after. God stands with us in the darkness as well as giving us the bright hope to lead us on. A God of many colours!

It’s good for us to be reminded of this truth, and there will be many others who need to hear it - because of the darkness they are in, because of their need of hope. You can think of many - I’m sure - and we will pray for some of them later.

But firstly I want to mention a point that is often a frustration.
We see a need and we feel helpless to do anything that will make a real difference - thousands starve, millions have no home, refugees abound, atrocities continue and disasters make us despair.
I find it reassuring that God does not offer Noah a compensation package that includes restoration of things as they were. There is no payout for loss. No magic wand to make it all better - that is not God’s way.
Neither is Jesus spared the wilderness, the temptations or the cross.

God’s way is to reassure people of the reality of his love and care. God’s way is to stand there with us in our troubles, identifying with us through Jesus.

God’s way is to give a sign of hope - a bright reminder of better things to come, a promise that reaffirms a relationship of covenant.
Relationship, hope and reassurance are things we all need and all can give.
May we be people of the rainbow covenant, may our colours reflect God’s hues, may we live in hope and peace under the multi coloured, all-encompassing love of God.


© Rev. Ian Brown, 2003

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