This morning we begin a new series. This will be our second year of following a Bible study plan called the Narrative Lectionary. You have a new bulletin insert to help you during the week. From now through the season of Advent, we will be exploring stories from the Old Testament, related to the idea that we are guided by God's promises. Now you might think that if we are going to begin at the beginning, we would start with the one of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 or 2, or the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. But this morning we're going to skip those stories and go right to Genesis 6, to another story about creation, although you might not realize it is. This morning we are looking at the story of Noah's Ark. This story is all about creation, destruction, and recreation. As we hear these Old Testament stories, we often ask, "Are they true?" To which I would say, "What does it mean for a story to be true?" Some people in this room believe that Bible stories could have been recorded on video exactly the way it is described. Other people in this room believe that Bible stories contains insight about humanity and God, and wisdom that we recognize as true. So as we tell these stories, I'm not going to spend time on whether they were factually true, because at Zion we have room for lots of opinions. I'm going to focus on how they are authentically true in what they reveal to us about ourselves and God, because there we can find some agreement. So what can we learn about God and ourselves from the story of Noah and the ark?
Scripture Reading Genesis, Chapters 6, 7, 8 & 9 NIV
(Genesis 6:5-22/7:17 & 24/8:1 & 3b & 4/8:6-12/9:8-17)
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said,
“I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah,
“I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening 18 inches high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.
Noah did everything just as God commanded him….
(7:17 & 24) For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. ...
Narrator 2: (8:1 & 3b-4) But God remembered Noah ... and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.
At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
(8:6-12) After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him. (9:8-17) 8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
VOG: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.
11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” … 12 “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds,
I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth. This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.Message —
The Bible is a group testimony of faith. It does not recount one person's experience of God, but the ever evolving experience of the whole people of God. And there is an arc to this story. It's headed somewhere. Christian author Brian McLaren says it's like a play with six acts: The first one is creation, where a totally loving and totally good God creates a good world for the sheer enjoyment of it. The next act is Crisis, in which humans get the knowledge of good and evil and use their God-given free will to choose evil. This morning's story falls in this Crisis section, and leaves God in the position of deciding what to do about the evil in the world. I invite you to follow along in your own Bibles.
The first thing we notice is what humans are doing and how God is feeling. Verse 5 says that "the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth." That word "wickedness" is the same Hebrew word that is translated "evil" in the first couple chapters of Genesis, as in "the knowledge of good and evil." In the 10 generations since Adam and Eve, people have filled the world with the evil we choose to do. The story of the Garden of Eden describes humanity's fall from innocence and once we begin to choose evil, we keep on doing it. Verse 5 also says "every inclination of the thoughts of human hearts was only evil all the time." Which is a pretty strong statement, an overexaggeration designed to make a point.
And how did God feel about this? NOT angry. Hear this very clearly: God. Was. NOT. Angry. Instead, God feels sadness, grief, pain, and regret. The evil that we choose to do breaks God's heart, grieves God. Did you know every inhabited continent has an ancient flood? But the gods in other stories send a flood because they are angry or annoyed that humans are too loud and are breeding too fast. The Ancient Hebrews wanted to teach that their God was not like that. Our God was not eagerly waiting for us to make a little mistake so that God could smash us. God was hoping that the creatures made in God's image would choose to mimic God's goodness, but instead we chose evil and God was devastated.
So what did God do? God decided to blot out life. There's no getting around that the text says that. But we see something interesting in how God decided to do it. Do you see that verse 11 says that the earth was corrupted and full of human violence? And then verse 13 says God is going to destroy it? Those words "corrupt" and "destroy" are the same words. God's intention to wipe out life was the same thing we had already been doing. You may have heard the phrase that we aren't punished FOR our sins; we are punished BY our sins. Often, but not always, our suffering is a direct result, a more intense version, of what we have already been doing. God was so heartbroken and discouraged over what we were doing to ourselves and one another the story says that God sent the same thing back on us.
God did this by revoking the act of creation, by sort-of uncreating the world. Before life appeared on earth, the earth was formless and dark and all that existed was a watery chaos. By our violence and corruption, we were already undoing the work of creation, so God took the earth back to a state of watery chaos.
BUT God refrained from total destruction by keeping a remnant, a small group of humans and animals as a seed of promise for a new world. God made a way for them to stay safe and survive during this time of un-creation. This story is a reminder to us that our actions have consequences. The evil that humans chose then affected animals and plants, just as our evil does now. Everything in our world is connected. Sometimes the consequences of evil are long-lasting. The rains came down for 40 days and the water rose for another 150 days. But the God Who Creates and Loves the World was still around and chapter 8 verse 1 says, "But God remembered Noah and the animals." Even as we suffer the results of our own choices, God does not forget us. God is a good creator who is always seeking an opportunity to create something new. So God sent a wind to dry up the water, the same word in Genesis 1 for the Spirit that hovered over the waters before creation. Even after the boat landed on a mountain, Noah still had to wait for the waters to go down and the world to dry out before his family and the animals could leave the ark.
And look what God said when they leave, chapter 8 verse 21 "I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth." It's the same thing said about humanity before the flood! What's so amazing about this story is that the flood doesn't change humanity, but it does change God. Now some of us have been taught that God is changeless, so before you accuse me of false teaching, hear me out. What we see in this story is that God wants to be in relationship with us. And we know that to be in relationship is to risk being hurt. We cannot be in relationship without choosing to be affected by the other person, and the same is true with God. Real love is vulnerability and vulnerability leads to change, and God chooses to be vulnerable by being in relationship with us. Total changelessness is not perfection, it's prideful stubbornness. Instead, God demonstrates the maturity and strength of choosing to be changed in loving relationship with others. The Old Testament has other stories where God changes God's own mind about a course of action because of a desire for relationship.
Here in this story, God makes the first covenant with all of creation. A covenant is not a legal agreement, although we sometimes treat it like one. A covenant is a promise to be in relationship. In a covenant, each person freely chooses how they will treat the other person in the relationship. And look what happens in this covenant. God asks the people to be fruitful and multiply, which is exactly the same invitation God gives to Adam and Eve. Being fruitful and multiplying is the opposite of violence and corruption. Even though God knows full well that we can and likely will choose evil, God invites us to live a state of renewed creation. Here's what's so wild: God promises that even when we again choose corruption, God will never again choose destruction. The first covenant God makes with the earth is to not answer violence with violence! And the rainbow is the sign of that.
The word rainbow is actually just bow, as in bow and arrow. God hangs up God's weapon of violence. Now this does not mean that God is not concerned about evil. Our evil continues to grieve God, but after seeing that God's destruction didn't change our corruption, God decides to find another way to deal with evil. How can God destroy evil without destroying the ones who do the evil? That is what the rest of the Bible is about.
After the flood, God chooses to respond to evil with covenant love, both in this story and in all the ones that come after it. God knows that we won't always choose good, but by promising to never again destroy us, God chooses to suffer the pain and grief that our evil causes. In fact, if someone were to fire an arrow from the rainbow that hangs in the sky, the arrow would "hit God" and not us. From this point forward, God chooses to absorb our violence. And while we know that the original authors of this story had no idea who Jesus would be, we can see the beginning of the Jesus story right here. Thousands of years later, when we still choose violence, God chooses to finally conquer evil in the body of Jesus. The life of Jesus shows us what it looks like to only ever choose good and not evil. The death of Jesus demonstrates God's total commitment to absorb our violence. And the resurrection of Jesus puts an end to our fear of death, enabling us to choose good regardless of what might happen to us. When we see a rainbow, we do not fearfully remember destruction. We joyfully anticipate sacrificial love. Amen.