Noah – More Than a Children’s Story
Text: Genesis 9:8-17
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 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." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 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." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
The biblical story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood, is told today solely as a children’s story. We tell it to the preschool children in Sunday School or at Vacation Bible School. However, few sermons delve into its depths.
The result is that the whole story of Noah and the Ark becomes a fairy tale that no adult takes seriously. The reason adults do not want to take it seriously is because it has a dark side to it. It tells of humanity’s inhumanity to each other. It tells of creation gone awry. It speaks of people having lost their way. Even the animals have seemingly gone awry. Most poignantly, it tells of the Creator’s anguish over a Creation that has gone horribly wrong. “What to do? What to do?”
Yet, it is easier to have children make cardboard arks, and place plastic animals going up the ramp two by two.
Of course, it does not help if we follow two paths in reading this story. One path is that of taking the story literally as if it is a detail by detail account of an historical event. It is then that people ignore the truth in the story and spend their time agonizing over whether wood found on Mt. Ararat in Asia are pieces of the ark. The other problem is when people forget the truth in the story by dismissing it as a myth. By myth they mean a fictional story to amuse people.
They forget what a myth really is. A true myth tell us in ways we can understand truths about ourselves. The story forces us to deal with truth we do not want to hear. The story of Noah and the Flood is such a profound and meaningful myth.
Therefore, something is wrong if we leave this story to children truncated to an ark, a flood, and animals two by two. We miss that darker and more sinister story the Bible tells in Noah and his family’s dilemma. It is like confining “Moby Dick” into a boy’s adventure story or “Cabaret” into a nice musical with nothing to say about a nation and world headed to suicidal catastrophe.
So what are the truths we can grasp in this story of Noah? Before dealing with these truths, let us review briefly the story.
Many ancient cultures had stories about great floods in Egypt, Asia, Persia, and Africa. But the story of Noah is unique in that it combines the story of a great flood with the anguish of creation and its Creator.
In a time after humans multiplied and inhabited the earth, humans were found to be so cruel to one another and to creation that no one was found to be without fatal flaws. God the Creator was pained by what he saw. God even regretted creation. So God decides to destroy the creation by a great flood that would come from waters not only from above, but also from beneath the earth. So great was this catastrophe to be that only one person – Noah – and his family were to survive because of his apparent righteousness. God was going to start again.
So the ark was built, the animals gathered, and the rains came from above and from below. All was destroyed that was not in the ark. Eventually, nothing but water – reminding me of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s great poem “The Ancient Mariner” – “Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink.”
Like a lone sea man Noah must have felt a sadness. Perhaps even survivor’s guilt. The only survivor of it all with the burden of having to be the one to start it all over again. And, of course, there is God the Creator. After the waters subside, and Noah and his family settle in the small place of dry land – God makes a promise – a covenant – with Noah and with humanity – that never again will God destroy the earth such as was done. That covenant – that promise that God makes with Noah and humanity – is the “sprig of hope” (Fredrick Buechner) or glimpse of a better future that helps us to move through these days of Lent through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and to the Empty Tomb.
What can we gain from this ancient story we have known since childhood, but that can help us live today? (For people to read who have thought much about Genesis, the Noah story, and the human condition, I would have them read books by Reinhold Niebuhr, H. Richard Niebuhr, Walter Bruggemann, Frederick Buechner, Soren Kierkegaard, and fiction by F. Dostoevsky, E. Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” Paul Tillich. I’m sure there are many other more modern authors whom any one could consult. We should always keep searching for those contemporary profound thinkers.)
One thing we know is this – this story of Noah – the one we tell to children, is about us as adults. It has a harsh and bitter truth to tell us that is as old as the Scriptures and as new as the shootings in our schools, the 24 hours news we hear and see daily. The truth is that within us we are meant for greatness, but we fall inevitably far short. We are flawed. Or as one person has said – we are “doomed.”
We have times when we can reach out to do great deeds of love, honor, and courage. Then we can do acts that destroy ourselves, those around us, and all the best dreams we have. We are a strange creation – and left to ourselves – we have an uncertain and mortal future. That is why God’s promise and covenant in our Scripture lesson means so much. If God were to turn away from us, then where would we be, where could we go? We can have the noblest intention of freedom for others but like in Vietnam even the best and brightest among us cannot save us from hurting what we try to save. If God were to abandon us, and leave us adrift on a sea where no dry land existed, what hope would we have? What makes us this way, people have tried for centuries to explain. But the fact is we are divided. We are honorable, but fallible; we are courageous, but we are fearful. We love, but we hurt. So this truth about ourselves is why we remember this story of Noah, and why we do not let it fade into forgetfulness.
The second truth tells us something about where we live – the ark, the world – where we live out our daily existence. Certainly, for Noah and his family – the ark with all those creatures was not much. It was confining, nerve-wracking, and smelly. As that old quippit says - “If it weren’t for the storm without, you couldn’t stand the stench within” (Buechner).
Our world – what God has given us – may not seem like much. We may always wonder for other horizons. But this world is enough.
The ark was enough for those within because they learned if they were to survive, they had to get along as a family – creatures, and humans, male and female, young and old. The ark was enough for the time they needed it. It served them well. But they had to learn to get along with one another.
Our world is enough if we can break down the barriers, and be sources of healing and help to others and them to us. The idea that this ark of ours will become a utopia with progress going ever upwards is an unrealistic illusion. But we can make it a place livable for all of us. It will not be in any way easy. But we do not have any other world or ark to which we can go. Let us make the most of this ark God has given us.
And perhaps the greatest truth gained from this story of Noah is not about us or our world, but about God. After the flood, Noah soon showed his very human side. Humanity once again showed its flawed, destructive self. Except this time there is a change. But the change is not in humanity. The change is in God. The story implies that somehow in some way, God changes. And we are the beneficiaries of that change. Instead of destroying us, God becomes one of us. Instead of condemning us to death, God takes death upon himself. Instead of disparaging of creation, God embraces creation and all of us in it. And in rising from the dead, God does not send us to the depths of the sea (flood), God raises us to new heights with God. That is a God beyond what we could imagine.
And it is wondrous to behold. Amen!