Return to Sermon Archive
Dow No Tao
March 9, 2003
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Genesis, chapter 9 and follow along as I read verses 8-17. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
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."
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
About 2,600 years ago, an old man trudged toward the western border of China approaching what is now Tibet. When he reached the pass through which he would leave China, Lao Tzu was detained by the border guards. He could not leave, he was told, until he had put in writing what he believed.
According to legend, Lao Tzu sat down and stroked 5,000 Chinese characters which became the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu himself became known as the father of Taoism. Lao Tzu had some interesting ideas, but today his philosophy has been popularly reduced to the notion that to be happy in life, one must "go with the flow," or follow the Way. "Tao" means "way" in Mandarin.
Some 600 years later, Jesus, the Son of God, visited us, and as we remember on this first Sunday of Lent showed us the Way, and declared himself to be the "way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). As Christians, we admire Lao Tsu. We worship Jesus. He is the way. Jesus is the Tao. This is important to remember since weve been mired in a post-dotcom, post-9/11 economic slump for three years now since March of 2000. It has a bear market on Wall Street. Stock portfolios, once fat and happy, are now thin and sour. In this recent downturn, we have seen again how much we tie the Dow Jones average to Tao/Jesus average. We have confused the Dow with the Tao. We have thought that the size of our bank account is the measure of our inner peace and happiness.
Of course we are not Taoists. Lao Tzu had some undeniably interesting, sometimes quirky, observations on life. But we are followers of THE way, the Tao. Jesus calls us as followers of The Way to renounce the importance of the material, in favor of the eternal significance of the spiritual. "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal," he said (Matthew 6:20 NIV). And he might have added, where accountants do not cook the books, where there is no Enron.
The rainbow that God hung in the sky following the great flood is a reminder of this very principle: If you want to see rainbows in your life, youll see them, not through the lens of materialism, but through the prism of radical gratitude.
Did you know that there is a secret to remembering the order of the colors of the rainbow? It is the name of a make-believe personRoy G. Biv. The letters of the name stand for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
Once in Hawaii, a woman saw fifteen rainbows in one week. She said to her daughter, as they left, "Dont you wish we could have just one more?" The daughter responded with teenage vigor and idealism: "Hello! Arent you a bit greedy, Mom? Dont you think fifteen are enough?"
The woman was ashamed. She asked herself how she could have said something so inappropriate? Why did she always want more? No matter how many rainbows she saw it was never enough. This is the attitude of many, perhaps most, people. No matter how much they have, no matter how well blessed they are, they always want more
Perhaps it was some sort of greed and ingratitude in the ancient antediluvian economy that soured God on the human creatures he had created. In Genesis 6:7 (NIV), God said, "I am grieved that I have made them."
This text depicts God as being so exasperated with human behavior that he regrets ever creating Adam and Eve. A question we might ask is: How bad do you have to be to move a God of love and compassion to the point where he not only is sorry he made you, but he wants to eradicate your entire species from the face of the earth and from the collective memory of the universe? It must have been bad. It must have been awful beyond measure.
But Genesis 6:8 (NIV) tells us that "Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." So Noah took to the ark to flee both the wrath of God and the wickedness of men. And forty days and nights later, God hung a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of a covenant with us never to so judge the world again.
The covenant between God and humankind in Genesis 9 is unlike any other in the Old Testament because its symbol, its sign of remembrance, is not a ritual such as circumcision (Genesis 17) or sacrifice (Genesis 12; 15) or even a monument such as a standing stone (Exodus 24) or altar (Joshua 22), but instead, the sign which serves to remind God of this covenant is a natural phenomenon the rainbow.
Notice that God did not set the bow in the cloud so that Noah would see it, but so that God himself would see it. It is a sign not to us, but to God. It almost seems as if God is a little sorry for destroying everything in the flood, and he wants to remind himself never to do anything alike that again.
The gospel is also a sign to God. The cross of Christ stands ever before God to remind God to forgive us our sins. The gospel hope depends not on what we see, on our senses and on our feelings, on our emotions that change with the seasons, but on firm, unshakable and unmovable realities: God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself. What God did in part with the rainbow covenant, God has done fully with the Christ covenant.
Thus we put our hope in God and Christ not because of what we have done, but because of what God has done. And we know that whatever darkness covers our sky, God is able to deliver us and to keep us safe within the embrace of his eternal purposes of grace.
The rainbow symbolizes the bow of the archer. It is the heavenly version of the earthly weapon that shoots arrows. The psalmist pictures a warrior God who uses his bow to destroy his enemies, saying "He sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them" (Psalm 18:14).
When we put away a bow, a modern compound bow, we do not unstring it. We simply hang it on the wall to keep it from being damaged. A bow hanging on a wall resembles the arc of a rainbow. Gods setting his bow in the clouds symbolizes the end of Gods hostility toward humankind and the end of Gods war with his creation. This is not a covenant with Israel alone or even with human beings alone. This covenant exists to ensure creation that God would never again seek to "unmake" what he had made.
More More More
Yet even with the rainbow hanging in the heavens, like that woman in Hawaii, we still want more. God still doesnt do enough for usso we think. We need to learn a lesson: while it is wrong to be greedy for wrong things, it is also wrong to be greedy for good things, for blessings. Fifteen rainbows are more than enough. Yet in our worship, you sometimes get the feeling that we think God is not doing enough for us. Our prayer seems to be, "What have you done for me lately, God?" We are stuck and mired in the materialism of thinking that the Dow is the Tao, or that material blessings are the "way, and the truth, and the life," that as disciples of Jesus Christ, our path should be strewn with rose petals, and that we can not get enough blessings. Give me more, more, and more!
Too many of us hunger and thirst after a big house or a new car or a dream vacation, instead of hungering and thirsting after God. We forget that Jesus is the only one who can deeply satisfy our soul.
When Noah walked up the ramp and into the ark, herding the goats and pigs ahead of him, he was leaving the world as he had come to know it. The world would never be the same. It would radically change.
Many of us have lost the world as we know it. Many have lost that world more than once. We have lost a husband or a wife. Perhaps our world changed and we had to start being a parent to our parents. Or we lost our retirement and moved from the world of security into the world of insecurity. We may have lost a child. We may have lost someone in Oklahoma City or the Pentagon or at the World Trade Center. Even if we did not lose friends or family in those disasters, we wake up the day after these large events, and the world is different. We will never again be the same. Rape counselors say that women who have been raped often say, "All I want back is yesterday." Their world has been shattered. All they want is for things to be what they once were. But we can never go back. We must learn to live in the world that is. Instead of wanting yesterday, we must learn to want today.
If you were in the stock market, the late nineties were fabulous. Many folks looked at pensions and portfolios that were dazzling. Does that mean then that a moment in 1998 must become the norm for the rest of our lives? Not at all. Some stock brokers today are referring to the nineties as a bubble, saying that what we are doing now is returning to the norm.
In any case, the Dow Jones average is not the "way, the truth, and the life." It is just an "average," a moment in time., It is statistical; it is impressive; it is exciting; but it is not truly important. God is what is important. What God has given us in Christ is important. And our proper response as we begin our Lenten journey in 2003 is gratitude.
Gratitude is the appreciation of what is, in the now, rather than the dissatisfaction about what is not. In her book Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy says that "radical gratitude" recognizes what we have, rather than what we dont. In that recognition we awaken to another way of being, another kind of economy, the great economy of grace in which each person is of infinite value and worth. We stop measuring and comparing everything to everything else. We turn from the blind alley of covetousness and dissatisfaction to walk on the path of love and life.
The truly amazing part of the story of Noah and the Flood is that God destroyed the world, but God used Noah to fill the ark with a future. We, too, may lose our world, but we must fill our ark with a future, with gratitude, and keep our eyes on the rainbow.
The same God who came back with a rainbow after the storm came forth with Jesus, a human version of the rainbow whose purpose is to call us to the joy of grateful discipleship. The psalmist had it right: "So teach us to number our days that we learn wisdom." The firemen who survived the day of terror at the World Trade Center say the major insight they took away was to treasure every day and every breath.
That lesson continues today. In a time of economic uncertainty and personal insecurity, couples around the country have defied the pessimists and decided to have a child. Many of these couples say they were influenced to do so because of the events of September 11. "If we had begun to take each other and our child for granted, this ended on that day," says Beck Bromberg, whose wife is due in July. [Birth of hope," Rev., September-October 2002, 120.]
A man with esophagus cancer reflects: "My cancer is a gift. It has shown me how precious now is. I didnt know before."
Amy Krouse Rosenthal says, "When Im feeling dreary, annoyed and generally unimpressed by life, I imagine what it would be like to come back to this world for just a day, after having been dead for a while. I imagine how sentimental and excited I would feel about the very things I once found stupid, hateful or mundane. Oh, theres a light switch I havent seen one in so long! I didnt realize how much I missed light switches. Oh, oh, and look the stairs up our front porch are still cracked. Hi, cracks!" [Utne Reader, May-June 2002, 100].
Will it take catastrophe or cancer or death to wake us up? Or will we learn to appreciate what is? Forget the worlds we may have lost; remember the world we have.
The rainbow reminds us of what we have now. Just one rainbow will do. We do not need more. We live in a time of economic uncertainty. We live in a time when war seems a certainty. Every day we see pictures of troops embarking for the Middle East. The President was on TV Thursday telling us how close war is. Many of you have friends and family who will be directly involved in the war. All of this creates an atmosphere of dread and anxiety. We need to look on the rainbow and remember the covenant. God is with us. God will deliver us.
Amy Garner writes:
God must love rainbows: He made so many of them. Ive seen rainbows in soap bubbles, in seashells and on fish scales, in puddles of oily water, and often displayed in great glory across the rain-washed sky ....
After spending a few rainy days with my mother in her Florida home, I was glad when the airplane broke through the thick layer of clouds into the bright sunshine. Looking down upon snowy clouds, I was amazed to see a rainbow in a complete circle .... Right in the center of the circle was the shadow of our plane. I watched Gods beautiful Rainbow of Promise for several minutes until it suddenly disappeared from view ....
That day, when I boarded the aircraft, I was worried and fearful, but in watching Gods rainbow, I forgot my fears. All of us have troubles and fears, and will continue to have them as long as we live. Let us remember that God will see us through every difficulty.
[Amy Garner, "A rainbow of promise," September 26, 2000, Presbyterian Church in Canada Web site, daily.presbycan.ca.]
What a beautiful picture Amy Garner paints for usa circular rainbow and her planes shadow in the center. This shows us how God encircles us with his loving care.
On the walls of our church nursery, we have a neat mural of Noahs ark. If you have not seen it check it out. The story of Noah has an important lesson for us. After God almost destroyed us, God determined never to give up on us. From this moment on, God approaches us with unlimited patience. From this moment on, God approaches us with unlimited love.
When we are down, when we feel like life has reached an all-time low, we have Gods rainbow to remind us that God will never abandon us. When we have blown it, when we have totally messed up, Gods rainbow reminds us that we are redeemable in the eyes of God.
Before the flood, God almost gave up on us. The rainbow tells us that God will never do that again. Now God looks at us through the cross and tells us that through that way, that Tao, we are redeemable, we can be saved, and made acceptable to God.
For which we say, thank God, praise Jesus, Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 4/22/03