GENESIS 8:13-17; 9:8-17

JUNE 22, 2008



            Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high

there’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow, sky’s are blue

and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake where the clouds are far behind me,

Where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops,

that’s where you’ll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly,

birds fly over the rainbow, why, then oh why, can’t I?


            So sang a fourteen year old girl named Judy Garland, playing the part of Dorothy in the movie The Wizard of Oz.  Who would have guessed, however, that the song would be prophetic and come to capture Judy Garland’s life?

            Unlike Dorothy, Judy in real life never got over the rainbow.  She went through five husbands in rapid fire succession, and in June of 1969, at the age of forty-seven, Judy was found dead in her London home.  The New York Times said there was nothing to suggest suicide, but the Times pointed out that she did have a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

            And there was Jack Parr’s story, the forerunner to Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, told about Judy.  He told about the day he went to pick her up for lunch at her home, and about how her house was in foreclosure, and as they talked there was a knock at the door.  It was a man who had come to repossess her car, and how she said to Jack, as this embarrassing scenario unfolded in her living room, “Remember, Jack.  Behind every cloud is another cloud!”  And Jack Parr laughed and the studio audience laughed at Judy’s wit and grit, except that comment may have been a window into her life and she died not long after that. 


Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly,

birds fly over the rainbow, why then oh why can’t I?


            This morning as we continue our sermon series on the Book of Genesis, we are going to look at rainbows and hope and God, and if there really is a land that Judy heard of once in a lullaby.

            Think about it.  What did our sea-going ancestor Noah need when he stepped off the Ark?  He needed a big dose of hope!  He had been the first of many whom God would later call out of this world to save the world, and like those whom God would subsequently call, Noah’s job was tough.

            For nearly a year Noah had been cooped up on the Ark, battling seasickness, mediocre food, and the smells below.  Then, when he finally climbs off the Ark, he is met by the sight of what remained ... bloated corpses and rotting vegetation.  God must have caught the look in Noah’s eyes as Noah remembered what it had been like after it started to rain: the water rising over the kitchen linoleum, the people wrapped in blankets, sitting on rooftops, and the screams of friends to let them in the Ark.  And now, what did the future hold?  What guarantee would there be of this not happening again?  Noah knew what people were like.  Why keep going if the pattern was only going to repeat itself?  One trip on the Ark was enough.  One experience of having your friends beg you to take them in will last a lifetime.

            In the midst of Noah’s despair, God makes him a promise.  It was the first of many promises God would make with his followers.  The Bible calls these special promises “covenants.”  This is the first promise or covenant and some bigger ones will follow such as the Abrahamic Covenant dealing with land and descendants, and the Mosaic Covenant dealing with the behavioral ground rules of Israel’s relationship with God, and of course, the biggest of them all the New Covenant that God will write on our hearts.  The covenant with Noah, however, is the first covenant that God makes, and that reason alone makes it noteworthy.

            Now I want us to note two things about this covenant.  First, note even though we call it the Noahic Covenant, referring to God’s promise to Noah, it actually extends far beyond Noah.  We read in chapter 9 verse 8,


            Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, as many as came out of the ark ... that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”


            As covenants go, this is the only one that extends to all living creatures, dogs and cats, cows and goats, birds and lizards, you and me.  The other covenants are limited to God’s people.

            But in addition to the extent of the covenant, also note the sign given as reminder it.  It is an interesting symbol.  The Hebrew word for rainbow literally means “bow of war.”  In Noah’s day a rainbow was a seen as God’s bow and lightening God’s arrows, so the sense here is that God will lay down his weapon.  He will, according to verse 13, “set it in the clouds,” and never use it again. 

            The rainbow, then, becomes an enormous sign of hope for Noah.  It’s a constant reminder to Noah that he can now plan for the future with confidence knowing that no matter how terrible things get, this will not happen again.  God will choose another method for dealing with the sinfulness of humankind.  As sure as God makes little green apples, God will make a new green world blossom out of the wreckage.  Noah can count on it.  

            Hope.  We all need it.  It is as essential to life as oxygen.  Someone summed it up well.  He said, “Take from a man his wealth and you hinder him; take from him his purpose, and you slow him down; but take away from a man his hope, and you stop him.  He can go on without wealth, and even without purpose for awhile, but he will not go on without hope.”

            I think of the research on rats at Duke University.  They conducted an experiment to see how long rats could swim.  In one container, they placed a rat for whom there was no possibility of escape.  He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown.  In the other container, they made the hope of escape possible for the rat.  The rat swam for several hours.  The conclusion?  “As long as there is hope, there is life!”

            We see this in marriages.  What ultimately destroys a marriage?  Mental cruelty?  Unfaithfulness?  Lack of communication?  Irreconcilable differences?  Granted, these things take their toll, but what ultimately destroys a marriage is the absence of hope.  It one of the partners does not believe the marriage can work, if he or she does not have hope that it will get better, then it’s over.  As one woman said, “It wasn’t until I lost all hope of recovery that I finally gave up.  When the hope vanished, so did my energy.”

            A marriage can survive anything if hope is alive.  If hope dies, so will the marriage.

            Hope ... we talk a lot about it, but what is it?  Webster says hope is “to desire with expectation of fulfillment.”  Lloyd Ogilvie says it is a sign of authentic Christianity and it involves believing more in the future than in the past.  Chuck Swindoll said, “Hope always looks to the future.  It is always on its tiptoes.”  I like all those definitions, and let me suggest another.  “Hope is a confidence in the future based on what Jesus Christ did in the past.”

            Now, let me tell you what it is not.  It does not encompass “troubles melting like lemon drops away above the chimney tops.”  It’s not that easy.  Hope does not eliminate the presence of pain or disappointment or sorrow.  At least not on this side of eternity.  Rather what hope does is rise from the carnage of pain, disappointment and sorrow exclaims, “He that is in me is greater still,” and then it fixes its eyes on the future looking for what Jesus Christ can bring out of it.

            Listen to a letter written by a nineteen year old boy/man, written to his mother.  The mother gave me a copy of the letter years ago.  She said of the letter “It was an amazingly sensitive letter for a nineteen year old to write.” 

            Let me explain the context of the letter.  The family had just lost a child, a six month old boy named Steven, and the nineteen year old had seen his mother weeping in the park, and he penned these words.  His words capture the kind of hope to which I am referring.  The kind of hope that is vibrant in pain, consistent in grief, unassailable in life’s pressures.  He wrote,


Dear Mom,


I had a dream about you last night and I thought it might lift your spirits a bit.  Thinking of you down in the park all day and all alone was a sad thing indeed and maybe that’s where this dream came from.


I was at the house in Omaha.  We all were except you.  I looked out a window and saw you down in the yard, about where the cherry tree used to be, looking sad.  So I went out to you and you were almost lifeless in your grief.  Moving as though in a daze, and when I held your hands they were as limp as rubber bands.  “Look,” I said.  “This is crazy.  You have it made!  A big house.  Wonderful marriage.  A great job.  Life is for the living.”  But you only looked at me and my heart nearly broke from the sadness I saw in your eyes. 


“Don’t feel so bad for him,” I said.  “In his way he had it made too.  Too small to ever feel the deep hurts you and I have felt.  He’s in heaven now.  There have been times myself when I wished my life would end so that I might find comfort in eternity.”


You said not a word, but only looked at me with sad, sad eyes.  And the sky grew dark above us, and a rainbow appeared, and then another, and another until the sky was filled with their brilliant color.  “Look,” I said.  “See this signals better times.  Noah had only one rainbow, you have the whole sky filled with them.”  I held you close, and then I awoke from the dream.  I don’t know how much stock you put in dreams, but that felt to be more of a vision than a dream to me.  So take hope.  Don’t let this defeat you.  Things can only get better.





            Nineteen year old Marty is right.  We do have it so much better than Noah because over our rainbow stands the cross.  When we look at the cross we know that at the center of the universe is a giving, forgiving, unlimited love that will never let us go.  


Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high

there’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow, sky’s are blue

and the dreams that you care to dream really do come true.


            And someday Jesus Christ will take us there.  Amen.