Sunday, June 21, 2020 “The Mountain of Promise”
Join us Sunday morning for Holy Trinity’s Video Worship Service with Pastor Erik, “The Mountain of Promise.”
Here’s the YouTube link for Sunday Worship.
“The Mountain of Promise”
Summer Series on Mountains in the Bible
Mount Ararat and Noah and the Rainbow
This summer we are doing a sermon series called “Go Tell It on The Mountain: People and Peaks in Scripture.” A lot of important things happen on mountains in the Bible and this summer we are going to travel to these locations to see the interactions that occurred between God and God’s people and what it might mean for us today.
One of the first mountains that shows up in the Bible is from the book of Genesis chapter eight. The story in which these mountains show up is about Noah’s ark.
After many days of floating through the storm, the rain has finally stopped. We heard in the first reading today that, “At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”
In looking at the origins of the word Ararat, Biblical scholars have determined that it probably refers to the mountainous region on the borders between modern-day Turkey, Armenia, Iran and Syria.
There actually is a large volcanic mountain in Turkey that now bears the name Mount Ararat. Over the centuries there has been much speculation about whether or not this was the specific mountain where Noah’s Ark could have landed. Lots of would-be archaeologists and explorers have taken pictures and told stories about what they thought could have been the ark. Most of them have been disproven, however, and there doesn’t seem to be any solid evidence that Noah’s Ark is actually on the mountain, although there are people who wonder if it might still be there.
The story of Noah’s ark was always one of my favorites as a child. All the animals being saved two by two, the big boat, the dove who helps Noah find land, and of course the huge rainbow at the end, signifying God’s promise. There is a lot in the story which can stimulate a person’s imagination.
As I got older my imagination also led me to questions about the story: How did all those animals really fit in that boat? What did it feel like to be Noah and his family all alone on the ark? What about all the people who didn’t make it on the ark?
Reading the account of Noah’s ark again this week led me to a new question which I had not really thought about before. How would Noah and his family have felt when they finally came out of the ark? They had been cooped up together for many days. There might have been a sense of relief they could have felt. But the ark had also become their reality for so long there might have also been a sense of anxiety as they stepped out of the large boat. They might have been afraid of how the world could have changed since the storm started. There might have been concern about whether the waters really had receded far enough. Was it really safe to come out? There may have been questions about where they would go next. It may have taken them courage to come out of the ark.
I was thinking of this idea of the courage to come out, as I was thinking about the landmark decision that was made this week by the Supreme Court in regard to the LGBTQ community. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal law protects gay and transgender workers from job discrimination in a watershed decision that gives millions of LGBTQ people civil rights in dozens of states that they had sought for decades. More than half the U.S. states don’t cover sexual orientation and gender identity through their own anti-discrimination laws. More than half the nation’s 8 million LGBTQ workers live in those states.
This was good news this week for these workers and for those of us who are seeking to be allies of our LGBTQ siblings. But, it has been a long time coming and it has taken many brave people willing to put themselves out there to be a voice for their own rights and the rights of their community. I was listening to a radio segment this week reporting on the Supreme Court case and one of the guests they interviewed was a Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan. Her 2003 memoir, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders was recognized as the first bestselling work by an openly transgender American. When asked about her reaction to the Supreme Court decision this week, she commented on how there has been a shift in our American culture on this topic.
Professor Boylan pointed out that it took hundreds, if not thousands of LGBTQ people over several decades, willing to let themselves be fully known, for this kind of change to happen. It took hundreds, if not thousands, of people being completely vulnerable and coming out to their friends, family, and colleagues, in order to let others know who they fully are and taking the risk that they might be accepted or not. For many of these folks that risk could have literally meant putting their life on the line. That kind of coming out takes courage of the highest degree.
I have personally seen this kind of courage displayed by our Bishop, Guy Erwin. Many of you might know that the Bishop of our Southwest California Synod is openly gay. I remember being at the Synod convention when Bishop Guy was first elected. I remember being nervous about what the delegates from our church might be thinking since I knew that they were not fully on board with the idea that folks who were gay should be pastors. In fact, one of them had said he would leave the church if that ever happened. I wondered how other people in the audience were feeling. Would they be judging Guy? I remember feeling nervous for him and thinking he was brave to have come out in the church and now to be putting himself out there for a high office in the synod.
When Guy was elected by a fairly large margin, there was excitement in the room as the reality dawned on many of the participants that we had just made history. We had just elected the first ever openly gay Bishop of the Lutheran church! But it wasn’t long after the surge of excitement, that I also felt a sense of fear—a fear of the judgment that might be placed on our Bishop and our Lutheran church in Southern California. How would this announcement play out in the news? What would other Christians think? What would other Lutherans think in other parts of the US? What would our congregation back in Camarillo think? As Guy gave his acceptance speech he talked about how he didn’t have any illusions about the controversy his election could cause. He knew the first openly gay Bishop of the Episcopal church had received death threats and had worn a bullet proof vest on his consecration day. It was then I realized just how much courage it must have really taken Guy to run for Bishop.
Since that time, Bishop Guy has served a full six-year term and has preached and given communion in many of the churches across our synod. Last year he was elected to a second term. Recently he has announced that he has taken a new call to become the new president of Union Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He will be missed as our Bishop, but I am excited for him, as I know teaching and academics is one of his great passions.
Oh, and the church member I mentioned, who said he would leave the church if it allowed gay pastors? He actually publicly told our church council that he had voted for Guy because he thought Guy gave the best speech, and he is still a member of the ELCA. I had been afraid of the judgment I might hear from our church, but there was more mercy than I had imagined.
There was more mercy than Noah and his family might have imagined as well, when they came out of the ark so long ago. I think it took courage for them to first step out of the ark, because they had seen what God’s judgment could do. God had told Noah that the flood was coming because God was angry about sin. Noah witnessed the devastating effects of that storm. He had seen the villages and towns covered with water. He and his family had been drenched by driving rain, tossed by crushing waves, threatened by lightning, and pounded by thunder. They knew God had meant to save them, but I would be willing to bet that their faith had been shaken while they endured the massive downpour and flooding.
I would be willing to bet they had not always been nice to each other in the ark. At some point something was probably said in anger and frustration. At some point, they had probably hurt each other. They knew that they weren’t perfect. They might have wondered then, “What if God judged them, like the rest of the world?” They had seen what that judgment could do. So, when God opens the door and tells them to go out of the ark, I could see where Noah and his family might be a little nervous to come out.
But when they come out, they are greeted by blue-gray skies with the clouds clearing. They are greeted by the sound of God’s voice extending a promise and telling them, “I will 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. I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. ”
The sign of the rainbow indeed can be a reminder to us even today, that God’s mercy has overcome God’s judgment. There can be a new day up ahead. Just like when Jesus rose again and came up out of the grave, we can rise up and come out of our old ways of understanding and begin to see things in a new light. We can begin to see those colors of promise trace their way across the sky, revealing that grace will reign and the arc of those colors are bending in the direction of love. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner