This sermon was preached on the 18th of February 2024, the first Sunday in Lent.

Text: Genesis 9.8-17

I’m going to start today’s sermon by telling a story. So let’s take a moment to imagine.

Imagine that you live in a village on a plain. You share your occupation with that of most of your friends and neighbours. You farm. Your life is tied to the seasons. You sow, you tend, you reap. And so you rely, utterly, upon the seasons, the climate, the ebb and flow of sun and rain.

You pray that each year it will rain at the right time, and in the right quantity, so that your crop of wheat will be bountiful, and will not spoil. And then one year… one year, there’s so much rain that not even the great river that flows through the land, can contain it, can take it away.

The river breaks its banks and washes away everything… everything that you care about. Everyone that you care about. But you survive. And you wonder. Where is God in this? Where could God possibly be in this?

The story of the flood is truly ancient. Back in 1873, an archaeological discovery was big news. A curator at the British Museum, George Smith, had pieced together hundreds of fragments from broken clay tablets, and read, for the first time in perhaps two thousand years, an ancient telling of the flood.

That telling forms part of one of the most ancient stories still preserved in written form: the Epic of Gilgamesh. The discovery of this ancient story was big news because it was uncannily similar to the story of Noah and the flood.

‘I, Uta-napishti, brought out a raven, I let it loose: off went the raven, it saw the waters receding, finding food, bowing and bobbing, it did not come back to me.’

Just like Noah, in this telling the narrator sends out birds to determine whether the flood has receded. Again alike to the tale of Noah, once the flood leaves, the narrator offers a sacrifice. The discovery and translation of this ancient, ancient story was big news. It was covered worldwide – the news broke here in 1873, with a substantial article in the West Australian.

And it was a challenge for some people of faith. It was a challenge to see that the story of Noah, told in the Book of Genesis, drew upon earlier myths, earlier stories. It was a challenge for some to think that the story of Noah itself might be a story, a myth that drew upon and retold earlier myths, rather than literal history.

That we should be bothered by this at all is a problem of modernity, which has brought with it a very literal approach to life, to myth, to story. It’s one of the problems of our age: how often have we heard people dismiss something as just a story, just a myth? And yet, storytelling is no small thing; it is a gift, a charism that human beings have been given by God.

I started this sermon with a story. A simple story of an ancient farmer, washed away by a flood, losing everything, and wondering where God was in that. Maybe that story, or one like it, lies behind the early myths of the flood. Maybe all those stories began with an ordinary person asking where God, where the Divine, is in a flood that has just washed away everything that they cared about.

An ordinary person asking: where is God in a flood? Or in a bushfire? Or in those other experiences of chaos breaking and overwhelming the order that we human beings try to impose on the world?

To ask those big questions, to look for God is even in tragedy, or to remember God even when things are going very well… and then to share what we come to know – that is to look for the deeper meaning of life. This is a gift, a charism, that God has given us.

It’s a way that we can, each of us, encounter God. And it’s a way in which God can encounter us.

God inspired human beings to write the texts that form the Bible. God inspired human beings to seek God out, and to speak of what they learned. The authors of the Bible contemplated who God is. And they used all the richness of human language, of narrative, of metaphor, of story, in order to convey what they had learned.

We too can ask where God is in the world, in our lives, in our experiences, in our joys and in our tragedies. The ancient Israelites came to see the rainbow as a symbol of the covenant that God had made with humanity, and with the world: a covenant in which God agreed to limit chaos, to preserve creation, to curb the destructive forces of nature.

Our modern understanding tells us that a rainbow appears when water – rain, or mist – reflects and refracts the light of the sun, sending it back towards us, shining into our eyes. What colour is a rainbow? How can we describe a the colour of rainbow? Red, and yellow; green and blue. That’s the old rhyme. A rainbow holds before us every colour, all at once, hanging in the sky.

If we try to describe a rainbow by listing off colours, we’ll rapidly run out of words. A rainbow encompasses every colour. We cannot describe it as anything but that which it is: a rainbow. A rainbow simply is.

And so a rainbow is an apt symbol for God: God who we can never totally describe, never totally experience, never totally comprehend, but who simply and wonderfully Is.

It is the call of humanity to look for the meaning in the world, to look for God in the world. Perhaps the great purpose of God’s creation is to tell of God. God discloses who God is through creation, and most of all through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

Over the course of Lent, we turn away from ourselves, and look instead to God. We look to the self-disclosure of God, in creation, in scripture, in our hearts: God’s self-disclosure everywhere we look. If we look for God at work in the world, with faith, then we will find glimpses of God, glimmers of God. If we look with right intention, God is everywhere. Even in a rainbow.

This coming week, take some time to pause, to pray, to read the Bible. Go to a favourite spot: somewhere that you feel calm, and safe. And ask yourself where God is in your life, in your community, in the experiences of the day. Ask yourself that big question with an open heart, and an open mind.

And find a way to express what you learn of God. Perhaps, you might write a story, make a work of art, write in your diary, perhaps write a poem, or sing a song. Whatever comes of your efforts, it won’t be just a story, just a piece of art, just an entry in a diary, just a poem, just a song… just a myth.

It will tell of God.

And you will have played your part in that which humanity has done as long as it has existed. The task of daring to look for God, and then sharing what we learn, sharing what God shares with us with joy: the gift of God’s infinite abundance and hospitality.