Saturday, 27 September 2014

Old, old story

Exodus 14:10-14;21-29
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

As you know, the Bible Readings we are looking at in church this autumn are taking us into the ancient stories from the Old Testament.
Although we can only read a snippet each week, we are being reminded of the story of God's people, the heroes and the villains. And the readings must rank as the first ever Horrible Histories.
On Friday, I spent some time with the Primary 4s at Forehill Primary School, talking about Passover. For the past few weeks, during RE, they have been learning about Moses.
About how he had to be hidden when he was born because the king had ordered that all boy children born to Israelite women must be killed - because they were becoming too many in number and might one day decide to rebel and overwhelm their overseers.
The two midwives who cared for Moses mother, however defied the king and let him live.
But he had to be hidden away.
Moses mother decided that she would make him a basket and float him in the river, hoping that one of the Egyptian women might rescue him and care for him when she couldn't hide him any longer.
They learned how it was, in fact, the princess who found him and had him taken to the Royal palace where he was brought up.
They told me the part of Moses story where he was out tending to his sheep when God spoke to him from a burning bush and called Moses to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt.
And they took great delight in telling me about all the plagues God sent on Egypt to persuade the Pharaoh to let the people go.
Plagues of locusts, of boils, of frogs, of water turning into blood - all of which convinced the Pharaoh that he should give the people their freedom - until, every time, he changed his mind.
So my job was to tell them about the final plague that God sent.
The one where the eldest child would be killed unless the blood of a lamb was painted over the door of a house.
That finally persuaded the king to let the Hebrew slaves leave.
It was called Passover because the angel of death passed over the houses painted with the blood of the lamb. 
And the p4s already knew the next bit of the story - the bit we read today - where the slaves were escaping and the Egyptians tried to get them back. There was a huge sea between the slaves and freedom. When God's people tried to cross it, the waters parted and they crossed in safety. But when the Egyptians went after them the waters flowed back and drowned them.
The story of Moses in 30 seconds!
It's the sort of story that the eight and nine year olds to whom I spoke on Friday just love.
Full of blood and gore.
And that was a tamed down version!  
There were some fascinating questions.
One of which was: Why do we still read these stories today? 
Good question!
In trying to explain something of the Passover to the children, I talked a lot about how Jewish children, from earliest days learn the stories of faith - and especially this story - the story of when Gods people were freed from slavery and travelled to their own land - a journey that took a long time, that had many setbacks along the way, but a journey in which they became established as the people of God, laying down markers, setting up traditions, discovering the God who gave them life.
In the Passover meal, this story is told and symbolised over and over again, so that it should never be forgotten and so that it can be handed on from one generation to another.
But why do we still celebrate these stories?
Why are they still important to our faith?
I'm not sure that I want to follow a God such as that depicted here or in similar stories that describe God interacting with people.
A God who takes sides.
A God who rescues some people and allows others to drown.
Although such a God might well suit our government and world leaders today as we are dragged into more and more conflict, this is not the nature of God.
A God not of war but of peace.
A God not of hatred but of love.
In these ancient stories, folk were trying to fathom God.
Trying to work out the nature of God and the relationship that humans might know with such a God.
Like every human discovery, the nature of God's interaction with human beings has been revised and refined with fresh insight as time moves on and as circumstances change.
God is continually reaching out to us, trying to reveal to us how we might enjoy the intimacy of a relationship based on love.
I saw one of those Facebook memes this week that said: Jesus is God's selfie.
A bit cheesy perhaps - but helpful in our understanding of who God is.
It is by looking at how Jesus reveals God that we might get a picture that is more helpful for us in embracing faith today.
Jesus revealed God as a God who would hang out, not with the in crowd but with those marginalised in our communities today.
Not taking sides - but certainly being more comfortable with the poor and the homeless, with those on benefits than with those in government.
More at home in our kitchens than in our front rooms.
A God who journeys with those who take risks - whether that risk is in the daily fight for survival or whether the risk is in putting our hope in a God who is constantly being redefined in relationship with people today and yet whose faithfulness is for every time and generation.
That is why the ancient stories are important.
They speak of a journey.
A journey undertaken by the people of God through the ages as they come to know the love of God in every age. 
And for us today, rediscovering that God involves us being prepared to risk.
To risk putting on hold what we think we know.
To risk leaving the security of the things we hold on to.
To risk putting our toe in the water to see where God leads us.
To risk travelling light into the future that God has for us.
Some of us are ready to take those risks.
Some of us are too busy holding on to hurts and grudges or even memories of how things were, things that hold us back from moving forward into the path of God for now.
God is revealed to us in new ways every day.
If we're too busy looking back, we'll miss that fresh insight.
We'll miss those new horizons that await.
We will miss the promised land and repeat the pattern of the slaves freed from Pharaoh's oppressive regime in Egypt, wandering about in circles In the wilderness, afraid to risk stepping out onto unfamiliar paths, taking new directions.
The ancient stories are not told to keep us in a time warp.
But to free us to be the people of God today.
Developing a new relationship with a God who loves us and leads us down dark alley ways and through scary places to discover that we have what it takes today to stand up to injustice and oppression, to speak,out against evil, to say "Not in my name" when our government leads us into war. 
We are free to stand up and be counted , a force to be reckoned with, living out and passing on faith to a new generation.
"Tell him of his baptism, unfold to him the treasure he has been given today"
Those are vows not just for our new parents this morning but for all of us as we go forward in an ancient faith made new every morning.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Digging deep for faith

Genesis 39
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife
​ Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favour in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”
When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favour in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

This morning, in baptism, we have witnessed promises being made.
And we, too have made promises.
Promises have been a feature of our lives recently.
In our National life.
And in our church life.
It's been all about promise.
As you know, we are moving through some of the big Old Testament stories in our worship.
Stories that some of you might remember from Sunday School days, stories that you might have seen in animated films - like today's story of Joseph.
We've got the  Dreamworks animation - Kimg of Dreams or  Andrew Lloyd Webber's Musical, Joseph and his amazing technicolour dream coat 
We've been exploring these old stories to find signs of God's promise or covenant.
And,so far, that's been pretty straightforward.
In the story of Noah and the flood, we discovered the promise of God never to destroy the earth again.
And in the Abraham story last week, we saw how God called Abraham to leave all that he knew and travel to a new land where he would be blessed and where he would become a blessing for all the world.
So fairly big, specific covenants that God made with people.
How does the story of Joseph, and especially the part of the story we read today fit into that theme of Covenant?
It's  a humdinger of a story.
A tale of trust and lust and enticement and exploitation with a lot of integrity and revenge thrown in.
It has echoes of a tale as old as time itself. 
Of power being abused for a moments pleasure. 
Of reputation being besmirched to cover tracks of deceit and lies.
This story reminded me of a book I read this summer - 12 years a slave by Solomon Northup - the memoirs of a free man taken as a slave during the American civil war era. 
What kept him going through all the brutality and despair of enforced slavery was the knowledge that, in another world, he had a wife and children.
His mission was to return to them.
He knew of a different life and the memory of that sustained him and enabled him to keep on going and to keep on hoping that one day he would find a way back to that life.
Joseph, the hero of today's story, also knew  a past in which he was not a slave but lived in a privileged position. 
Was it that memory that gave him the confidence to move beyond the impossible situation into which he was thrust?
Were the tenets of God, on which he was raised, so well ingrained in him that instinct kicked in, preserving him from succumbing to the temptation laid before him?
This is the child, now grown, who shared his dreams of greatness much to the chagrin of his brothers.
Remember Joseph told his family that, in his dreams, all his brothers bowed down to him?
This is the child, now a man, favoured and protected by his father.
Remember his father gave him a coat of many colours?
This is the young man, now matured, who was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery.
As far as his family knew, Joseph was already dead - after selling him to passing traders, Joseph's brothers took his blood soaked coat of many colours back to his heart broken father.
Injustice, suspicion and envy were familiar refrains in Joseph's life.
But so too was the knowledge of a God who honoured promises.
Joseph's great grandfather was Abraham, whose story we considered last week.
Abraham who packed up everything at the age of 75 and travelled because God asked him to.
Abraham who, although childless then, believed God's promise that he would be blessed as the father of a great nation.
And now, here is Joseph, his great grandson, believing in that same providence of God.

As well as discovering a God who honours promises through these old, old stories, it's also clear that being blessed by God, indeed being faithful to God, does not mean that life will go smoothly. Stuff happens, whether we honour God in our lives or not.
And things don't always turn out as well for us as they do for our Old Testament heroes.
As the story goes on, Joseph's sojourn in prison after rejecting the advances of Potiphar's wife, placed him, eventually in a position of privilege and trust. 
Once again, his skills of dream interpretation come into play, this time a skill received more favourably than it was when he practiced on his brothers.
After interpreting the dream of one of his jailers, he went on to interpret the dreams of the king and helped the nation plan for an anticipated famine.
So Joseph didn't quite end up at the bottom of the heap as may have been expected in the light of the allegations made against him.
But we know that that is not always the way things work out.
Some injustices are never put right.
Joseph couldn't have known how things would pan out for him.
But he was assured of a God who honoured promises.
And that kept him going through all the darkness he endured - in the scorn of his brothers, in his time in slavery and in his imprisonment.
A God who honours promises.

This is a text that speaks to us today, people of faith in this age.
Blessed people.
Blessed to live in this land where we have the freedom to vote on our future government.
Blessed with the resources to make a difference to the lives of others for good whatever the outcome.
So whether this weeks Referendum result was the one that you wanted - or whether it wasn't,
Let's recognise ourselves as the blessed people we are.
And let us move forward in grace.
Moving forward requires trust and integrity, leadership and responsibility.
It requires confidence in our ability and in the goodness of God, a confidence that we can move forward, facing whatever trials may come.
None of us is assured of an easy passage in life but we are assured of the presence of God with us.
How we weather difficulties or disappointment may force us to dredge deep,to resurrect the faith we once knew. 
Moving forward also involves us adapting the tenets of faith to an ever changing landscape, taking ancient wisdom and allowing it to speak into new situations, to see potential and to grasp opportunities, refusing to be side tracked by deceit and lies but maintaining confidence in a God who has seen it all before and goes on loving people into fullness of life.
Moving forward involves us believing in the promises of God and living into those promises for good that we make in our lives. 
Not just for our sake but for the sake of our children and all who come after.
May this ancient story of Faith today, inspire us anew, to seek justice, to practice integrity and to embrace our neighbours as we move forward together, united in our love of God, our country and one another.
Thanks be to God.
(Music - Joseph - Close every door)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Covenants and Cairns

Genesis 12:1-9
The Call of Abram
​ Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As we move through the Narrative Lectionary, recalling those old, old stories of ancient texts, we are re-examining the Covenants that God made with people through the ages and how people then and we, the people of God today, live into those promises.
Nine chapters into Genesis, just a few chapters after the story of Creation, we find a God so disturbed by the evil in the world that destruction follows and creation is wiped out by water. 
But, even as the flood waters are receding, this God makes a covenant with the world - to never destroy the world in such a manner again - the symbol of that covenant - a rainbow in the sky.
So, a God who makes a covenant with the world and all its people.
In today's story of Covenant, God's promise appears more specific.
Between God and one man, Abram. God said to Abram;
 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.
The same God, who makes a covenant with all the world, promises Abram, I will make of you a great nation.
But we know well that anything that affects one person cannot help but affect others.
Abram, at 75 years old, starts a journey into the unknown.
He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew, Lot, all their possessions and all their hired help.
There was probably quite a tribe as they set off from Haran to go to Canaan.
So, it's not just about Abram, this covenant.
It's about Abram and Sarai and Lot, their staff and all their families.
But, even with the whole entourage, doesn't it seem like God has scaled down the Covenant?
From making a Covenant with the whole world - to making a Covenant with a particular group of people, singled out for a peculiar blessing.
That doesn't seem fair somehow.
But let's look again at the Covenant God makes with Abram.
"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
It's not just about Abram, not even about Abram and all his family but about all the families of the earth. The Covenant God makes with Abram is a Covenant through which all the earth will be blessed.
This story of Covenant we're considering today is a Covenant offered in 3 stages.
Firstly to Abram, then to Abram's descendants and then to the whole world.
Blessing leading to blessing, leading to blessing.
Last week, we considered that God's promises usually involve a journey.
And that blessing comes, not when we've reached our destination, but along the way, as we move from what we know to discover what God has in store.
For Noah, the journey involved building a boat, taking his family into that boat, neither knowing how the journey would be or knowing where it would take them.
God's covenant involves us going on a journey - physically and spiritually.
That is even clearer in this wee section of the story of Abram and the covenant with God that we read today.
The story of Abram, who became Abraham and whose story is told over the next twelve or so chapters of Genesis is a remarkable story, full of twists and turns on the way - until we read in Genesis 25:
Abraham breathed his last and died ... an old man and full of years (175), and was gathered to his people.
Even this wee bit of Abram's story that we read today describes a journey made in stages.
From Haran to Canaan.
From Canaan to Bethel.
And then, in stages toward the Negeb river.
A journey made in stages with lessons and blessings along the way.
There's something else that becomes clearer in the Abram story of covenant.
Gods love for us, God's promise and God's blessing is not dependant on us completing the journey or even on accomplishing tasks along the way.
God's love, God's promise and God's blessing come to us anyway.
Our response to God"s love enables us, or compels us to embark on or to continue the journey with God.
But we are assured of that love and blessing accompanying us on the way.
Even if we backtrack.
Or wander off the track.
God continues to bless us with love.
If we traced Abram's path, it would show what a circuitous route he took, with lots of stumbling along the way.
We tend to idolise Abram and his journey with God.
Yet when we look at some of the events in his life - twice he tried to pass off Sarai as his sister, rather than his wife. He cast out his concubine and her son to die in the desert. 
He didn't always get it right.
But it is his faith that we admire.
It is Abram's faith, not his ability to do everything right that we hold up today.
And the wondrous thing is that it is just such folk that God uses to bless the nations.
Not those who have it all sewn up.
Not those who behave impeccably (thank The Lord)
But folk just like you and I.
Folk who have faith.
And God uses our faith, however limited it is, God uses our faith to bring blessing to others.
Remember the outcome of Abram's daring?
He was blessed - but so were those around him.
Through Abram's faith, a whole nation was blessed.
In fact through Abram's faith,the world was blessed.
Imagine we had the audacity to believe that the world might be blessed through us?
Blessing the world!
On our journey with God.

It takes faith to embark on a journey, 
especially a journey not of our choosing.
It takes faith to make the first step 
and then another and another.
It takes faith to clamp down our fears and boldly go.
It takes faith to embrace what is new and different, 
unfamiliar or downright scary.
It takes faith to journey with God into the unknown, 
with a spring in our step and a song in our heart.  
It takes faith.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

It's not about us...

Matthew 18:15-20
Reproving Another Who Sins
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

When West Sound stopped broadcasting Pause for Thoughts each morning, I was approached by another radio station - Irvine Beat FM to see if I'd be prepared to write and deliver some material on their wavelength.
So, last week, I broadcast a series of thoughts on " Things I wish Jesus had never said".
I was talking about all those instructions that Jesus gave us, instructions that are so hard to follow.
I'm sure that's something we can all identify with.
Things we wish Jesus had never said.
Jesus said some pretty harsh things.
And gave us some pretty tricky instructions.
There are times when life would be a whole lot easier if Jesus hadn't said certain things.
Things like: 
Love one another
Forgive one another
Pray for those who persecute you.
Your faith has made you well.
And I am the way the truth and the life. 
All of these words, that shaped communities after Jesus died are useful words for shaping communities today.
Communities that are loving, forgiving, that are inclusive, that are infused with healing and hope.
But they are not easy to live up to.
And this passage, instructing us on how to deal with those who hurt us is particularly difficult.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
How often do we follow that?
A contemporary approach would be to always have a witness to any difficult conversation.
Or, more likely, we'd rather talk to others about the difficulty instead of confronting someone directly.
So the conflict resolution outlined in our gospel passage never really gets off the ground.
Because too often we fall at the first hurdle.
Why would Jesus give us such a difficult model to follow?
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
Perhaps the next words, the instruction after this, shed a lot of light on Jesus teaching here.
After we meet in private with the one who has wronged us, Jesus says:
If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 
The purpose in confronting someone is not to condemn them or to alienate them, but to regain them.
If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
The purpose in confronting someone is not about us, it is about them.
It's not about airing our hurts.
It's about regaining their friendship.
Each step that Jesus gives here about conflict resolution is not so much for the person wronged but for the one who caused the hurt.
The focus is on them.
And the purpose of engagement is to bring them back into relationship.
We are good at making so much all about us.
In this passage, Jesus encourages us to shift the focus and be concerned with those who are causing hurt.
And how hard is that?
We might, just might be able to follow Jesus instructions if we felt that we would get some vindication.
If our hurt were to be acknowledged and if there was some kind of apology or plan for compensation of hurt feelings and bruised ego.
But, if the purpose of following through in this scheme of resolution is simply to restore to community the one who  has wronged, we have little appetite for that.
It's much easier to leave them outside the community and take every opportunity to remind folk of why they should not be included.
Mud sticks.
Jesus doesn't make things easy for us in resolving conflict.
And the reality is that sometimes folk have to be left behind.
Sometimes the only option is to part company, to go our separate ways.
Sometimes reconciliation is just not possible.
Jesus acknowledges that - but only after all avenues of resolution have been pursued.
This gospel confronts us with a hard teaching of Jesus, one we could happily live without.
But a teaching that Jesus shared to help us build a healthy community.
A community where there is love and where there is forgiveness and where those who make mistakes are given the opportunity to find their way back.
And, when they have found their way back, to discover God in the midst.
And that is community, community built on the hard sayings of Jesus, community built on love.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Covenant of love

Genesis 6:11-22
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
Genesis 9:11-17
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.” 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: I have set my bow in the clouds, 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. 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.” 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.”

The story of Noah and the ark has been done to death, hasn't it?
We teach it to children from earliest days.
Nursery toy boxes will almost certainly have a Noah's ark play set buried somewhere in there.
And the rainbow is sung about in all tempos and genres.
Big boats, animals and rainbows - all make a pretty story.
Look again.
God, having created a beautiful world, sees how evil and corruption have affected creation.
And decides, like a child with an etch a sketch board (remember those?) to erase what has become and start over again.
Sounds like a pretty easy thing for God to do.
But then God notices Noah and decides that he is OK - and his family.
So he devises a rescue plan for Noah, along with the animals that inhabit the earth.
An ark that will keep them afloat while the rest of creation and humankind is destroyed by floods.
And so, the first question that this story raises for me is:
What kind of God creates human beings to make choices and then destroys them when they make the wrong choices?
What kind of God simply gives up on creation?
And then, when the earth is destroyed, when folk have been swept away by floods or have led their loved ones to higher and higher ground and been forced to watch others drowning before they, too, have no place else to go and succumb to a watery death, what kind of God chooses the symbol of a rainbow as a reminder of the wrath of God and a promise that this angry, vengeful God, will not destroy the world in this way again?

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.” 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: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 

Who would want a symbol of Covenant with such a God?
Somehow, beyond Sunday School, this story is a horror story.
What are we to make of this God, portrayed in Hebrew Scripture as a God of such contrasts?
Angry, loving, vengeful, remorseful?
Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring the nature of a Covenant God.
A God who makes promises.
A God who offers relationship.
We'll look at the nature and terms of that relationship.
And what those promises might mean for creation and for the people of God today.
We'll also look at the burdens and responsibilities, the hopes and the aspirations that living in Covenant with God might bring to us.
Perhaps one of the first themes we might explore is that establishing covenant with God involves a journey.
A journey, often portrayed in Hebrew Scripture as a physical journey.
God tended to call people to leave all that was familiar and journey to a new place.
And, in this story of the Ark, God calls Noah to leave behind all he has known, to journey with his family to a place inconceivable and unrecognisable.
And it is often on the journey, not at their destination, but on the journey that God's people learn most about themselves and about the God who calls them out of all that is familiar and into relationship.
Fred Beuchner, writes this of that journey in the ark:
".., just about everything imaginable is aboard, the clean and the unclean both. They are all piled in together helter-skelter, the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin. There are sly young foxes and impossible old cows. There are the catty and the piggish and the peacock-proud. There are hawks and there are doves. Some are wise as owls, some silly as geese; some meek as lambs and others fire-breathing dragons. There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together, and there are times when you could hear a pin drop. Most of them have no clear idea just where they’re supposed to be heading or how they’re supposed to get there or what they’ll find if and when they finally do, but they figure the people in charge must know and in the meanwhile sit back on their haunches and try to enjoy the ride.”
(from Whistling in the Dark)

Wow! What a picture. Everything imaginable aboard, all piled in helter-skelter. No clear idea how to get there or what they'll find when they arrive, figuring the people in charge must know...
Is it just me, or does that seem like a description of our Scottish Referendum?
Except I'm not sure that we have that much faith in the people in charge!!!

But there is a huge element, as we'll discover in the weeks ahead, as we navigate these texts on Covenant and as we navigate a post Referendum Scotland, that, often, we're skiddling about not sure where we're going, but travelling in hope, sometimes with a healthy dose of scepticism,doing our best to enjoy the ride and the community along the way.
That seems to me an apt description of the church in the world today.
Comprised of people raising mighty big questions with the God who is in charge, but settling to the journey, building community where we can, and living in hope of relationship that is not destructive but builds up and sustains. Of course it will be a bumpy ride. Trusting that the God of floods and rainbows will lead us out of what we know to what we will be. Perhaps we won't recognise the landscape at journey's end. Perhaps we won't recognise ourselves, changed as we must surely be by the journey. But we put our hope in God who makes a covenant with us, a covenant shot through with love.
Thanks be to God.