“I 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 wonder how God’s words to Noah in today’s Old Testament reading must seem to the people of New Orleans as they sit in church this morning. I can only imagine what frightening memories these words must bring back as they recall the events of 6 ½ years ago when the waters poured into over 80% of the city and residents were left clinging to rooftops, waiting for rescue that came too late, for death and destruction that came too soon. The waters came not only from Hurricane Katrina but also from Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River Gulf outlet, and from the various canals that run through the city. The waters came not from God or a natural disaster but from poor decisions made by people on the local, state, and federal levels who put their own welfare above those of their city.
It would be easy for the people of New Orleans to remain angry and bitter – that the pumps did not work, that the levees were not built correctly, that there was no evacuation plan in place. It would be easy for them to distrust others – the insurance adjustors and contractors who swindled them, the police who did not protect them, the perpetrators of the endless litany of murder victims shot each week. It would be easy for them not to return when their friends and neighbors have relocated elsewhere and vacant lots remain where homes and neighborhoods once stood, where there is no work, and it might seem no hope.
But today’s lesson is not primarily about water and floods. It is about the covenant God made with His people, that God made a promise that the earth and its creatures would not be destroyed. In fact the word covenant (which means solemn agreement or promise) is mentioned seven times in the verses we hear in Genesis today. It is about having faith and trust that God is compassionate, that God is about love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant. It is about acknowledging that “you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long”.
And nowhere is this trust and faith evidenced more than in New Orleans. I think of the homeowners we met such as Bev, Gloria and Joe, Betty and John, Mildred, Lola and April, who opened up their homes and hearts to the countless different volunteer groups who came to help. I think of the people of St. Andrew’s who offer their hospitality and their parish hall to church groups from around the country who come to volunteer. I think of the people of St. George’s who after their primarily older congregation never returned have built a new congregation bursting with young families. I think of the people of St. Anna’s who have provided an afterschool program for children of the neighborhood to be exposed to the arts and have given them a new reason for hope. I think of the disciples at the Mission who partake in not only food and shelter but daily Bible study and prayer to provide an alternative to a life of alcohol, drugs, and homelessness. I think of the students and young adults who come to New Orleans to study and volunteer and don’t leave once their time is up, who stay to make the city a better place for everyone. I think of the people of St. Michael’s who for the fourth year in a row have opened up your wallets and your hearts to send a group down on your behalf, to offer love, and faith, and hope.
The day that we arrived it began to pour and we had to run for the house, lugging our suitcases and sleeping bags through the rain. We sat out on the back porch as the rain subsided and someone spied a rainbow in the sky, a good sign for the start of our trip. The last day we were there it also rained. I didn’t see a rainbow but I’m sure there was one, a sign of God’s everlasting covenant. Amen.