Restoring God’s Good Name

On February 23, 2015, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Restoring God’s Good Name Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Lent 1 (2015) Psalm 136 says, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Remember that. Also, later in the sermon, I’m going to need your help. We’ll sing a chorus from a great old hymn of the faith. I’ll sing a line, and then I’ll point to you and […]

Restoring God’s Good Name
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Lent 1 (2015)

Psalm 136 says, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Remember that.

Also, later in the sermon, I’m going to need your help. We’ll sing a chorus from a great old hymn of the faith. I’ll sing a line, and then I’ll point to you and you’ll sing the next one (you’ll know it). But first, let’s get a running start at the flood narrative and the rainbow promise.

In Genesis chapter 1, the earth is created. The story doesn’t tell us what’s going on in other planets.
And then, again, in chapter 2, the earth is created. Anything worth doing is worth doing twice.
Actually, Genesis chapter 2 is an older version of the story than Genesis chapter 1. They come from different times, different communities, different storytellers.

In the older version, which is chapter 2, God creates a man out of moist clay and breathes life into his nostrils. Almost a week later, God takes a rib out of him and made from the rib a woman. We don’t know if this elective surgery was covered by the man’s insurance. Eventually, on the advice of an unusually chatty snake, the young couple eats some magic fruit which is a deal breaker for their lease and they get kicked out of the only home they had ever known. Who kicks them out? The God whose steadfast love endures forever?

In the younger version of the story, which is chapter 1, God creates the earth and everything in it. At the end of the creative process, God creates humans. God doesn’t make a clay man and a rib woman, but makes two humans simultaneously out of nothingness, or perhaps, out of God’s own Life, as it is Genesis 1 that tells us, “God created humanity in the divine image, male and female.” And then, the story says God looked at everything God had made and found it all to be very good.

Two very different stories, though people often conflate them as if they were the same story. When so-called creationists claim to believe the biblical account of creation, I always wonder, which one? There are two contradictory tales; you can’t take them both literally (and, please, don’t take either of them literally).

By Chapter 4, this man and this woman, however they came to be, have had sons, and these sons somehow have found wives. Wives?! Where did they come from? Had God pulled off another creation in the neighboring county that no one thought was worth mentioning? These details never seem to bother the so-called literalists. Historic and scientific inaccuracies and internal contradictions or inconsistencies are simply glossed over as people declare they believe every word from Genesis to maps.

In any case, the sons of the original mythic couple are named Cain and Abel. They have the pettiest of disagreements and Cain kills his brother, Abel. Family values, don’t you know. Cain’s punishment, such as it is, for his unprovoked murder is remarkably light (he has to become a nomad), while fortune telling (Lev 20), children being habitually disobedient to their parents (Deut 21), and doing work on the Sabbath (Ex 31) are all punishable by death. As decent human beings, we cannot unquestioningly accept those ethical codes today!

These ancient tales try to teach life lessons, such as choices have consequences, jealousy leads to pain, we are part of a divine order, etc. They are not detailed, unbiased accounts of history.

By chapter 6, male angels seduce human women, and their children were giants. There really isn’t any smoother transition than that. God doesn’t approve of this angel/human courting, and so God punishes humanity by limiting their lifespan to a mere 120 years. Still a good run! Oh, and yes, humans are punished, not the angelic seducers. Not terribly fair.

I am totally convinced that supposed biblical literalists have either not read the bible or they are not being honest about taking it all literally, because, you know…giants and magic fruit and talking snakes and angelic Casanovas and murder getting a divine finger wag while doing chores on the seventh day gets you stoned to death.

The story continues by telling us that God is sad that humanity (after the mixing with angel folk) has become pretty low rent. And so, like you do when you’re disappointed with folk, God says, “I will wipe out from the earth the humans whom I have created, and not just humans but also animals and bugs and birds, because I am sorry that I made any of them.” I’m mad at you so I’ll kick your cat? God, ease up on the sugar and switch to decaf, or at least try to gain some perspective.

Nevertheless, a man named Noah found favor with God. So, God tells Noah how he can survive the upcoming aquatic apocalypse. Noah could build a big boat for his family and some animals, and after the lethal flood, they could repopulate the earth. But this kind and merciful deity that was so willing to spare Noah doesn’t want anyone else to be spared. When Noah’s friends and neighbors beg to be saved, to be allowed on his big boat, Noah is to tell them to talk to the hand and watch them drown.

“God’s steadfast love endures forever.” If we take these stories too literally, then we are not left with a very loving God at all! If that’s love, who needs it?!

Shot through the heart and you’re to blame,
You give love a bad name.
I played my part and you played your game,
You give love a bad name.

Noah is said to have lived 950 years (so, you know, another red flag that this story isn’t meant to be taken literally). His small family and a few animals survive and repopulate the earth, and we are expected to overlook the problem of the tiny gene pool from which this repopulation is to take place. But whatever, it’s only a problem if you take the story literally. But we don’t take it literally; we take it seriously…seriously enough to not diminish it by pretending that it could be literal.

Well, after wiping out the entire earth except for one family and some animals, God gets a bit of a conscience and says, “You know what, that might have been harsh. Here’s my promise; I won’t ever flood the entire flat earth again. And so that you will remember my promise, every time it rains, I’ll put a rainbow in the sky.” And God seals the deal with a rainbow because apparently before that moment light had never once been reflected, refracted, or dispersed through water droplets. Hello??!!

Why is it important, and indeed a faithful act to deconstruct these stories and make a point of naming what any mature reader of literature could deduce? Because by not doing it, we have allowed the most extremist, the most abusive, the most oppressive factions of society to commit atrocities in the name of religion. Gay children have been robbed of their self-esteem, their dignity, their homes, and sometimes, their lives. Women have been condemned to abusive marriages and kept away from altar and pulpit. Slavery, war, xenophobia and genocide have all been committed in the name of God whose love, we are told, endures forever.

We must read our stories critically to protect them from those who would use them in vile ways to abuse the planet, oppress LBGT people, silence women, mistreat children, or wage senseless war. If we choose to believe that God is LOVE, then we must beat biblical swords into ploughshares and scriptural spears into pruning hooks! We cannot allow our sacred stories, some of which are funny, most of which are not literal history, to be the excuse used to oppress and marginalize people any longer. We say God is love but then we let the most aggressive and abusive factions of our faith give divine Love a bad name!

Shot through the heart and you’re to blame,
You give love a bad name.
I played my part and you played your game,
You give love a bad name.

Now, there is something to be salvaged from our deconstruction today. The prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God being like a rainbow (Ez 1.28): Many colors. Beautiful light. Overarching. Always present on the heels of storms. A symbol of diversity, of peace that returns after troubled times, something that can be experienced by anyone, anywhere. God isn’t limited to harsh, angry, mean-spirited readings of ancient texts from cultures very unlike our own. God is like light, always available, appearing after times of distress and hardship to renew our hope and restore our peace. We must stop reading our prejudices into the bible and then worshiping the misunderstood bible as if it were God. God is bigger than the bible. God is Love, but when we don’t think critically about religion, we give God, divine Love, a bad name!

We long ago reclaimed the rainbow, that beautiful symbol of the beauty of diversity. Now it’s time to reclaim the bible for ourselves and no longer let it be used to give the love that God is a bad name. If the bible has been used to torment you, then I’m here to offer some hair of the dog, or maybe the hair of the god, that bit you. We are going to take back the scriptures, see what they say directly to us in our own contexts, find our lives in the stories, and not give the bible over to those who only wish to use it as a weapon. God is all-inclusive, unconditional Love and from this moment on we will not let divine Love be given a bad name! And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015

Rainbow God of all-inclusive Love…
I am made in your image.
I am loved, lovable, and loving.
And I am blessed.
Amen.

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