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Genesis 9.8-17

Sirach 43.1, 9-12

Rainbow Promises

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

          In 1978 Harvey Milk, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and one of the first openly gay people elected to public office, invited artist Gilbert Baker to create a symbol of pride for the gay and lesbian community.  Baker decided that a flag would fit the bill, because flags have a way of drawing the eye and making a statement.  And as he thought about things that draw the eye best, he thought of rainbows and the thrill they evoke any time we see one.  And think about it:  how does seeing a rainbow make you feel?  It never fails to evoke a bit of wonder in me, and gratitude for having seen it.   Baker also thought of a rainbow as a flag from the sky, so he adopted the symbol and imbued each color with its own meaning:  red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.  Baker assembled a team who made the first rainbow flags by hand, and in 1994 he commissioned one that was a mile long.  But mass production issues led to the elimination of turquoise, and indigo was replaced by basic blue, producing the Pride flag that flies in so many places today.  And even though it has been around for forty-three years, it is still not always understood.  In our Open and Affirming conversation in my former church, one member, a very dear and thoughtful woman, got hung up on the flag:  “I’m all for becoming Open and Affirming,” she said on more than one occasion, “but are they going to make us fly a rainbow flag outside our church?”  Glad to say, once we started flying the rainbow flag outside, she was as happy – and as proud – as could be, that her church was making a statement about inclusion and equality.  I’ve also had some folks tell me they feel somehow excluded by the rainbow flag, which kind of puzzles me;   how does a symbol that essentially says, Everyone’s Included! exclude anyone?   And what I sometimes think but never say is, “Perhaps it is you who have excluded yourself.”

          Today is the capstone to Pride Week – which seems to have evolved into Pride Month, and I say this in a good way – and I look back on Pride Sundays past and wonder, What more needs to be said from the pulpit on the topic, at least from a biblical point of view?  Think about it:  together, you and I have already taken a deep dive into all the biblical passages that historically have been used to exclude the LGBTQ community from covenant and communion and shown those passages to be either toothless or misunderstood; we have talked about how crazy it is to try to weaponize the scriptures against any of our sisters or brothers; we have noticed how Jesus never said one word condemning same-gender love; we have considered how Philip, in the book of Acts, baptized a transgender member of the Ethiopian court.  I understand that some folks today still remain uncomfortable with people whose sexuality differs from their own, but that discomfort does not come from the Bible nor from the God of whom it speaks.

          “I have set my bow in the clouds,” God said to Noah after the flood, “and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  You may have noticed as Claudia read this morning, the word covenant is used no fewer than seven times in these ten verses.  Must be kind of important, don’t you think?  The rainbow represents the covenant between God and Noah - the theological term for this is “the Noahic covenant” – and as we heard it is also a covenant between God and humanity, and between God and all creation.  Simply put, a covenant is a promise – the rainbow is God’s promise never again to allow a flood to cover the earth.  Whenever a rainbow appears, it invites us to remember the promise God has made to us and to every generation.  So when folks drive by the United Church of Chester and see our own rainbow flying over the sign that tells people who we are, well, the flag itself also tells people who we are:  it says we are a congregation who welcomes everyone, a congregation who goes out of our way to be both inviting and welcoming, a congregation who is eager to walk the walk with anyone who wants to journey alongside.  Our rainbow is our promise, our covenant to be this kind of people.

          I wanted to include our United Church of Chester Open and Affirming Statement this morning because it too is a covenant, or a promise.  It has been twelve years now since you all made a solemn and holy promise as the body of Christ to extend a Jesus welcome to people of any age, gender, sexual orientation, economic, educational and marital status, physical, emotional and mental capacity as well as those in so-called “traditional” and “non-traditional” families.  This is important, because choosing to be an Open and Affirming congregation makes a statement that goes considerably beyond matters of sexuality.  And I think there is a lesson in here that we want to pay attention to:    stepping up as allies during Pride season is also an exercise in inclusion that strengthens our inclusive muscles, if you will, for more and deeper opportunities to welcome folks whose lives may not look exactly like our own.  You may be blue, your neighbor might be red, your co-worker may be purple, your cousin may be orange, your best friend may be yellow or green, but together we are a rainbow people even if we are on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Or maybe especially if we are on opposite ends of the spectrum – the light still shines on us, in us and through us, and together we represent the promise of what it means to be one human family.  You may have noticed the bumper sticker on my truck, that reads “One Human Family – Unity, Equality, Diversity.”  I was at White Sands Beach last weekend, and had just settled into my beach chair and opened my book when a young man approached me to say he noticed the bumper sticker, he extended his hand and shook mine, and said thank you for that statement.  It’s gestures like that, he said, that make the world a better place.  And as he turned and walked away I thought to myself, “Yes, and it’s gestures like that that also make the world a better place.”  It is all part of that Rainbow covenant, that rainbow promise.

          I had never come across the passage we heard from the apocryphal book of Sirach until this week when I began working on this morning’s sermon, but I love the way it marries Pride with rainbows.  The first verse I read is like a topic sentence for the rest of the chapter.  Listen again:

“The Pride of the higher realms is the clear vault of the sky,

  as glorious to behold as the sight of the heavens…

Look at the rainbow, and praise the One who made it;

  it is exceedingly beautiful in its brightness.

  It encircles the sky with its glorious arc;

  the hands of the Most High have stretched it out.”

These verses from Sirach are similar to the Creation psalms in the psalter that celebrate the creator and creation all in the same beath.  God’s rainbows are glorious and beloved it declares, because the Creator is filled with glory and love.  Likewise God’s children in every expression are glorious and beloved, and like the rainbow, we are because the God who created us is filled with glory and love. You and I and all God’s children reflect the glory and love of the creator because the divine light shines in us and through us - the refracted light of love and glory can only create a rainbow that is at the same time unity, equality and diversity.

          I will never forget, one late summer afternoon when I was on sabbatical in Scotland, I was driving to the train station to pick up my cousin, when I saw the most glorious and crystalline double rainbow I have ever seen.  Perhaps it was the crisp Scottish air, but every edge, every contour, and every color of the rainbow was sharply defined, and I had to pull over to the side of the road to drink it all in.  It was spectacular.  May it always be, when you and I look heavenward to catch the sight of the bow in the clouds, that we remember the ways that it speaks of the many different shapes and sizes and colors and loves that make up humanity, and give thanks for the God who created us all.

          Amen.

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