“Rainbow is Beautiful”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
October 11, 2015
University Baptist Church
For the past four years or so, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists have held overlapping summer conferences. It makes sense, since there is so much crosspollination between the two groups. We share workshops and ideas for activism and we support the connection between the two movements. Both are for justice, peacemaking equality, ethics and respect. The highlight of the last few conferences has been the Thursday evening “Prom for All.” People dress up for this, often with castoffs from the local thrift shop—think poufy prom and wedding dresses and people trying out drag. This is billed as an antidote to those awkward proms of our youths. This is where you can be just as you want to be, without pretense and let your hair down, quite literally. This past year’s theme was “Over the Rainbow.” We had the yellow brick road, a green-bedecked gatekeeper, pin the heart on the tin man, and so forth. There was a king and a queen crowned. The queen was a young adult with Down Syndrome who has been attending peace camp since her infancy. The King was a student from Cuba.
A teenager came up to me at the food table and said, “Guess what? I want you to know that I’m bisexual.” The youth was so free and so happy with the announcement, and we rejoiced in mutual acceptance of a newly-embraced identity. We looked out on the dance floor filled with people letting loose and we knew that rainbow is beautiful. I think of this at this Coming Out Day Weekend.
October 11th as Coming Out Day was established in 1988 to commemorate the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. This weekend Atlanta is celebrating its pride festival. I guess it feels like June down there.
Up here, we have our own rainbow of colors in the trees. I drove up to Morris on Friday to visit my daughter Amanda. And I relished in the golds and oranges of the trees and the bright red of the Sumac. I saw farmers combining their corn and loading up for the winter. Even as I drove back at night, they were there in the field harvesting feed corn by headlights. Autumn in Minnesota.
Rainbow is beautiful. When I was being interviewed at UBC almost 15 years ago, the search committee flew in our whole family. Amanda and Becca were two and four at the time. We met with subsets of people in the congregation. I think we were at John Medeiros’ home with a group of LGBT members. One of the group took Amanda and Becca off to look at some books so the adults could focus. At one point someone asked Amanda what her favorite color was. She chirped up “rainbow!” I think she sealed the deal. No one remembers what I said at that event. They only remember Amanda and her declaration that rainbow is the most beautiful color.
Moses is told by God to bring a rainbow of color into the tent of meeting. The tabernacle of God needs gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple, crimson yarn, soft goat’s hair, fine leather and wood, gems, oils and incense. Welcoming God is an extravagant thing. It reminds us of the abundance of the earth. And the beauty of her people, in all their various hues. Rainbow is beautiful.
Jesse Jackson and others formed the Rainbow Coalition as a political force a generation ago. It was an alternative to the xenophobic and culture-based politics. It was an antidote to racism. Back thirty years ago, it had some power. We believed rainbows were beautiful. The LGBT rights movement gained some traction under that rainbow umbrella. But now a force is out there that tries to deny there’s any problem. In fact it plays to a similar racism and sexism. It decries black lives matter, by saying, well, our lives matter too. And presidential candidates and talk radio hosts pander to this side of a major political party, all but celebrating racism, sexism and xenophobia while demonizing those who don’t share their beliefs. Worse, they claim to be Christians and even though they give Christians a bad name, we seldom call them on it. We need to reclaim the idea that rainbow is beautiful, don’t you think?
We first encounter a rainbow in the epic conclusion to the story of the Great Flood. This disturbing story is one of three creation stories in Genesis. And like the other two, it has its origins much earlier than the Bible. Flood stories were rampant in the Ancient Near East. And each of them followed a similar formula. God creates the world, but the people disappoint God. So, God decides to destroy the earth. There is a great flood. The earth is wiped out all except for a righteous remnant who will start everything over. And once the earth has been cleansed, baptized so to speak, everyone can start anew and get it right this time.
The Genesis story is the only one to tag on the rainbow ending to the story. And this is where it gets interesting. The rainbow symbolizes a covenant between God and all of creation.
Today’s scripture says, “then God said to Noah…” I am establishing my covenant with you and with every living creature that is with you…as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you that never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Those two words, NEVER AGAIN are the most poignant and important words of the four-chapter narrative,
God says never again will I destroy the earth.
Never again will I let my anger so consume me that I take it out on humanity or any other living creature.
Never again will I intervene in history in such a way as to destroy the earth.
Never again will I rain down evil, no matter what humanity does.
I say Never again.
Any destruction will now be in human hands, not in my hands. Ouch. That means floods and hurricanes and forest fires, even global warming are not “acts of God.” They are human made. And we need to take responsibility for them.
And as a sign of the mighty warrior God turning around, that is, making a change, God lays down the divine archer’s bow in the sky. Like a mighty giant warrior, God has a bow of a hunter in hands who has just triumphed over all of the earth. But now God is tired of shooting arrows and making floods. It’s as if God sees a new way and says Never again.
The evil of the world can no longer be rooted in the anger or rejection of God. That is the doing of humankind, of you and I.
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 the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh on the earth.” And just to make it clear that this is an inclusive sign, I’ll make the light particles reflect and refract the colors of the world. It will be a sign that people will point at, will sing about, will pause and marvel at.
And when I see it, says God, I’ll remember my promise. And if I am tempted to pick it up again, I won’t. Because rainbow is beautiful, just as the earth is beautiful, just as its people and animals and plants are beautiful. And maybe if I leave that up there in the sky long enough or often enough, people will remember me and their need for each other.
So God’s rainbow warrior bow is left in the sky. Set down and transformed into a thing of beauty and inspiring awe.
The LGBT community, for so often maligned in the name of God by the people of God, have claimed the rainbow as a sign of a new covenant with God. No more will God do violence. That is peoples’ doing. No more will God persecute. That’s people’s doing. The rainbow is a symbol to end violence. Some have even gone so far as to put meaning to each color: red meaning life, orange for humanity, yellow for the sun, green for nature, blue for harmony and violet for the spirit.
Why can’t we lay down our warrior’s bows? How many more mass shootings do we need before we do something about not only gun control, but a culture that glorifies violence and lifts up revenge as the only viable response to violence? Why do we continue to destroy the earth? Why do we continue to think that winning elections by proving who can hate another better is a good thing for our country?
Why can’t we look at the rainbow and not simply see a thing of beauty, but see a judgment on warfare. Maybe when we see a rainbow we’ll remember the beauty of God giving up warfare. And maybe we’ll try to do the same. Imagine that!
Later on this afternoon, many of us will be gathering at Judson Memorial Baptist church for a discussion on race relations and faith communities. We are going to be led by African American preacher and scholar the Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle who serves as president of Colgate Rochester Divinity School. We’ll have a chance to remember that black lives matter, indigenous lives matter, LGBT lives matter, the lives of all those who have been marginalized matter. The rainbow of lives matter because rainbow is beautiful. But we cannot simply say a sound byte or chant a phrase to make it true. God has already put the warrior’s bow down in the sky, but we have yet to follow suit. Oh, we may not be packing heat in our holsters, but we pack the heat of prejudice in our bones, in our culture, in our privilege, in our desire to ignore what we don’t want to see. We are a long way from putting our bow down. And put it down we must.
The next time you see a rainbow, be in awe of the colors and the spectrum of light which illumines the sky. But also remember the covenant which God has with you, each of you, that you are special and that you are not forgotten, especially by God. Rainbow is beautiful, just like you.
Maybe in honor of the fact that rainbow is beautiful, we might make our own rainbow-inspired pledge:
I will not judge someone based on the color of their skin, their gender, gender identity, their economic status, their physical appearance or their ability.
I will not expect others to do things that I am not willing to do myself.
I will support policies that respect the earth and its inhabitants.
I will hear the criticism of others before seeking to defend myself.
I will lay down my sword and shield and study war no more.
I will advocate for and with the marginalized of the world.
I will work to ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
I will live simply so that others can simply live.
I will not overuse my place on this earth and seek to reduce my carbon footprint.
I will celebrate the rainbow of the people in my neighborhood and will seek to be generous and understanding to my neighbor.
Inspired by the God’s forsaken warrior’s bow, I will find ways to disarm not only my weapons, but also my heart.
Sounds like a good prescription, don’t you think? If we did just a portion of that, it would make a sign as beautiful as a rainbow.