Friends, our Lenten sermon series was called “Forty-Day Journeys,” and we preached on various stories in the Bible where people experienced something over 40 Days (just as Lent is a 40-Day Journey).
“Right…What’s a cubit?” Now, who knows where that comes from? Right. I discovered this Bill Cosby comedy routine when I was in Middle School and would go to my cousins’ house in South Dakota. We would listen to that tape for days on end, over and over again, laughing our heads off at this picture of Noah and his reaction to God’s command to build an ark at a time when the earth supposedly knew no rain. Noah’s story is the first of the forty day journeys that Laura and I will be looking at over our 40 day journey to Easter during Lent. It rained 40 days and nights. But this is also a story that most people outside the church also know. Because of people like Bill Cosby, Far Side cartoons, and modern movies like “Evan Almighty” and the upcoming movie called “Noah” staring Russell Crowe as Noah that help keep this story alive in the modern psyche, whether it is the churched or un-churched. The new “Noah” movie is slated to come out on the big screen in 2014, but has already run into snags due to, you guessed it, flooding. Hurricane Sandy’s “rains of biblical proportions” brought the production to a temporary halt last year.
From what I’ve found, there are generally two images that come to mind with the Noah story. The first is this pretty picture, especially directed at children, of all the animals on the ark, and rainbow hanging in the sky. It gives you this warm, fuzzy feeling inside. There is even a camp song singing about the arky, arky. I have to admit we actually have two quilts hanging in the boy’s room with images of Noah, his animals, and the ark. It has become a pretty picture of church nurseries and toy sets.
And then there is the darker side, the side of God getting angry enough to wipe out all of creation and save a remnant of humanity and birds and the beasts to repopulate the earth. During the middle ages, this story was not taught to young children. It usually was taught to people until they were 12 years old or older, because of the mass destruction that is pictured. We have a friend from seminary who said she cried for days when she found out what God did to the animals. She wasn’t that worried about the people. It’s this image that I know I’ve struggled with over the course my time as a Christian.
But to fully get into this story, I think we actually have to step back on several different levels. First set aside your modern sensibilities. If your first thought was, “Since there was no flood and people didn’t live that long, I don’t have to listen to this.” Then you might miss out what the ancient tellers of this story were saying about us and more importantly about God. All these stories are here for a reason and if we just discount them because they don’t fit our modern mind, we may miss out on some good news.
So where do we begin? Let’s start with Adam. Based upon the genealogies in Genesis and how long it says people lived, Adam was still alive when Noah was born. Can you picture it? Little Noah sitting on great-great-great-great-great-great grandpa’s lap and Adam telling him, “Let me tell you about the time I used to walk with God in the garden.” But Noah grew, and he could see the world around him wasn’t a garden anymore as he experienced first hand the brokenness of the creation. I can picture Noah going up to Adam in his rocking chair and asking, “What happened?” “You are old enough now, Noah. Let me tell you about the time I broke God’s heart.”
And that’s what happened to God. His heart was broken. You would be hard pressed to find through this portion of scripture that God was angry. God was saddened by what he saw happening on earth. The bite of the apple that Adam and Eve took was just the beginning of the violence that was corrupting God’s “very good” creation. Things spiraled out of control after that. Proper human relationships were being violated. Animals went against their created nature and turned upon their human stewards. Everything was out of balance in struggles for power. Grieving over his creation, God resolves to destroy the destroyer. God grieves because he loves what he has created. What’s at tension in God’s heart is his unstoppable purpose to create a peaceful cosmos and his immovable compassion for destructive, violent humanity. So God, in heartbroken love, determines to drown it all in the void of watery chaos, a void that is reminiscent of the chaos that existed at the beginning. Do you remember the first creation story? God moved over the formless void while his Spirit swept over the face of the waters. And it is there that God begins to create, giving light and form and life to the chaos. In the flood, the watery chaos is allowed to come rushing back in and destroy the creation. And as the waters subside, God recreates his creation, but with a new understanding of what humanity and creation are capable of, and a new promise of how he, as God and Creator, will deal with his fallen creation that he loves dearly.
God commits to new relationship rules with Noah, his family and descendants, all life, and the earth itself in the covenantal promise that God seals with his rainbow. Nothing is required from creation. The covenant only sets limits on God. “As for me…never…never…never will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God pledges to set in the sky his war bow, unstrung and pointing away from the earth. Next time you see a rainbow, notice that it points up and remember that every time God sees it, he is remembering his covenant with creation and humanity.
The covenant that God gives shows how creation, the plants, the animals, all that God has created, including humanity, is one and is interconnected. What affects one affects all. The deep purpose of nature is diversity in unity under God’s possession and God’s purposes. Yet humanity continually and consistently fails to accept the limits placed upon it by God. We were created to live in harmony with all of creation, but we continually attempt to take possession of what is God’s. All creation suffers the consequences of the resulting violence, (PAUSE)
but this is not the last word to Noah and those who survive the deluge: “Abound on earth and multiply on it.” In spite of the evidence to the contrary, humanity and creation are blessed because God remains loyal to the disloyal. Since humanity does not and maybe cannot end the downward spiral toward violence, God covenants to do so.
Some of us may not like the picture of God that this creates, a God who is adaptable and changing. But it also paints a picture of God who is touched to the heart by his creation and willing to accept the hurt that we direct toward him, each other and all of creation, in order to keep hope alive. The God of this covenant is unchanged only in refusing to give up on humanity and creation. He steps into this covenant not as an objective judge handing down a divine sentence, but a lover grieving their beloved’s violence while all the time seeking reconciliation.
Friends, God’s purpose for a unified, harmonious cosmos remains in conflict with humanity and our corrupting influence. Lent recognizes this imbalance. We can repent, accept our finitude, and stop grasping for control, or will we continue the violence that so breaks the heart of God? As we turn our faces toward the cross, we find God again saying in love, “Enough!” But instead of giving a watery chaos, God gave of himself, stepping into creation in Jesus Christ. In his love for us and all that he has created, God goes so far as to overcome the greatest result of the violence we have brought upon ourselves, and that is death. Christ invites us on that journey to the cross and the void of the grave with him, so that we can be recreated with him to live into the love and purposes God intends for our lives. It is there we see and experience the Easter dawn, whose resurrection light will reveal a rainbow in the dark western sky behind us.