Sermon: Never Again

February 18, 2018
Genesis 9:8-17

Let’s face it. The story of Noah is peculiar.

We often hear it as a sweet story about a boat ride with lots of nice, fluffy animals. In fact, we reinforce that image with children’s toys and baby’s linens decorated with smiling creatures riding in a cheerful ark. We remember the flight of the dove to recover the olive branch, and we sigh with satisfaction at the story’s end, right here, as God closes the matter with a rainbow spread across the sky.

Somehow, amidst all that, we manage to forget that the story is about the near-total destruction of the world by the very God who created it.

If that makes you sit up, well, it should.

God fairly quickly amended the plan. Noah found favor with the LORD, says the text, so he had to be saved, and God further instructed Noah to save all the animals as well. But God’s initial plan was, in fact, to destroy it all. “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them,” said God.

That’s where it started.

And then God’s mind changed.

That’s another of the peculiar things about the Noah story. God’s mind changed. Not just once. Here at the end of the story, we find that God has made a New Year’s resolution, or perhaps a New World’s resolution. “I establish my covenant with you,” God said, “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.” God went further. “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 that is on the earth.”

As more than one person said during Bible Study this week, it seemed odd that God would be reminding God of God’s own covenant.

It’s more strange and significant than that, however. Ancient peoples believed that the rainbow was not a simple colorful arch across the sky. It was a weapon, a bow, with which a sky god would shoot the arrows of lightning. Psalm 7 uses the same imagery.

With the rainbow, God said, in effect, “I am giving up my weapon of destruction. There it is, hanging in the sky, and I will never again use it to destroy the earth.”

Never again.

Theologies have shifted in the thousands of years since the composition of Genesis. The God whom Jesus proclaimed to be near is less judgmental while still having the power of judgement. The God whom Jesus proclaimed to be near is less capricious while still having the power to surprise us. The God whom Jesus proclaimed to be near has no need to be reminded to be loving. The God whom Jesus proclaimed to be near offers forgiveness rather than bringing destruction.

It’s a different kind of never again.

But I would like to take some inspiration from this rather reckless, violent, and ultimately repentant God of Genesis 9. I would like us to be inspired to say, “Never again.”

Never again. Never again.

On Wednesday, after the morning Bible Study, I went to lunch with some of our church members. We enjoyed the food and the company and the scenery – we could see whales playing out on the ocean – and then I returned to the office and learned about the latest mass shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This time there were seventeen dead, we learned some hours later.

It pains me that I have to say, “this time.”

What I insist on saying is, “Never again.”

I didn’t even have to change the title of my sermon.

Five years ago, I could not believe that nothing changed after the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I attended funerals for two of the slain teachers. I saw the terrible grief of the surviving family members, and of friends, and of officiating clergy, and even of political leaders who came, and listened to the stories of lives cut short, and wept.

Connecticut passed new laws, but the deaths of twenty first graders could not sway the United States Congress. Nor could more deaths in Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and those in just the last two years. I came to be one of those who wondered: if twenty children’s murders could not sway the politics of power, what would?

It turns out that surviving first graders don’t organize well. It turns out that surviving high schoolers might be better at it.

One of the things they’ve adopted is the slogan, “Never again.”

By God, may they achieve it.

How do we create, “Never again?”

We start with ourselves. If you have a gun at home, start thinking seriously about that gun. Why is it there? If it is there for hunting or sport, how are you keeping it safe? Is it securely stored? Is the bolt or firing pin removed? Is the ammunition stored separately? How easy is it for someone who shouldn’t get access to that firearm to get access to that firearm?

The people at the most risk from a gun in the house are the people in the house. In most years, nearly two thirds of the people who die from gunshot wounds die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, or another member of the household is, for God’s sake get rid of the gun.

We start with ourselves. If you have a firearm for protection, are you prepared to hold another human being’s life in your hand? Do you have the training to distinguish between a threat and something that looks like a threat? Can you keep other people safe from yourself? Some years ago the news lit up with the story of a mass shooting on a New York City street. It turned out that the murderer shot one person, then was confronted by police officers. They fired all the other rounds, which hit and wounded a number of bystanders.

Are you prepared to do better than trained law enforcement officers? Most people aren’t.

It’s probably better to listen to Jesus, who told his armed disciples “Enough of this,” at his arrest, and commanded them to lay down their arms.

It’s time to lay down some of our arms in this country. The students are right. It’s too easy to get a gun in this country. It’s too easy to kill. Let’s get behind this student movement. Let’s support them when they march and protest. Let’s inform our representatives that they have our full support as they work to reduce easy access to firearms. Let’s join their cry of “Never again.”

I know that a determined person will find some way to arm themselves and cause destruction. Let them work at it. Hard. Other countries have done it: Great Britain. Australia. Japan. We can, too.

And let’s starve the NRA of money and members until they have no influence over the leaders of this nation.

Further, let’s strengthen our resolve to live in aloha, and to share the mana’o of aloha with the mainland. We do better here than elsewhere in the US, and in part it’s because we truly do live differently, more compassionately, more wisely. But that is a way of life we must work to maintain. Just last week a man fired on a police officer in Puna. There have been shootings in Honolulu. Armed standoffs on our island. Aloha is a fragile way of life.

If we would live in aloha, we must feed that aloha within ourselves and then extend it to others, so that never again might they be tempted to reach for a gun when angered, or depressed, or in despair.

Never again. Never again.

With safe practices in our own homes. With encouragement for political change. And especially with aloha, let us declare:

Never. Never. Never again.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

The prepared text (above) and the sermon as preached (recorded) do not exactly match. They never do.

The photo is a self-portrait of and by the Rev. Eric Anderson, taken on February 15, 2018.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , , , | Posted on February 18, 2018

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283