To be sure, the early Christians argued over who Jesus was. That's why the Creeds were written. But they never settled the question of exactly what Jesus did and how he did it. We are accustomed to saying that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but it isn't immediately obvious what that has to do with our salvation. There is no clear, logical connection between his death and our life. So the cross needs some interpretation.
President Obama's favorite philosopher is a 20th century Lutheran theologian by the name of Reinhold Niebuhr. For more than thirty years, Niebuhr was a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, but before that, he was a preacher in Detroit, during the late teens and twenties.... One day, while walking past a Methodist Church, he looked up at the signboard and read: "Good Friday service this afternoon. Snappy song service." That day, he wrote in his diary, "So we combine the somber notes of religion with the jazz of the age. I wonder if anyone who needs a snappy song service can really appreciate the meaning of the cross. But perhaps that is just a Lutheran prejudice of mine."
I heard a commentary on NPR a while ago. It was about Google Maps and how it has changed the way we look at the world. We used to use paper maps and we could see where we were in relationship to the whole. And we could see that it was a big world and there was lots of it we had never seen. But now we look at a map on our cellphone or in our car and we are always in the center of everything. The world always revolves around our little blue dot. And we have no sense of what lies beyond our little screen.
Many, many cultures have legends about the origin of rainbows. Jews and Christians have their own version in Genesis Chapter Nine. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are called the prehistory or primeval history, which means they are not and were never meant to be regarded as historical. They were meant to be regarded as true, which is not the same thing. The early chapters of Genesis are mythical. As my Bible puts it: "The primary purpose of the book…is not to present straightforward history but to tell the dramatic story of God's dealings with the world…" [Oxford NRSV] We have in the tale of Noah a story that is every bit as dramatic as the legends of the Native Americans. And, for those who hold the Bible to be sacred, the story couldn't be more true.