“Obedience like Noah’s”
(Genesis 6-9 Excerpts)
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up, and it shall serve as food for you and for them. Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.
The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark, they and every wild animal of every kind and all domestic animals of every kind and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth and every bird of every kind.They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him, and the Lord shut him in.
The flood continued forty days on the earth, and the waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. And all flesh died that moved on the earth. Only Noah was left and those with him in the ark. And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days. But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the rain from the heavens was restrained,and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared.
In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth, and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh so that they may abound on the earth and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives, and every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humans, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” 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. 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.”
For as far back in my life as I can recall, rainbows have held a special place in my heart. When the sun appeared after a rainfall, I would look up in the sky across from its shining rays in search of that great horseshoe of beautiful color a rainbow would strew across it. As a child, I enjoyed the search for rainbows, especially when the sun was overshadowed by clouds, making them more subdued and harder to find. I did not yet understand that rainbows hold a unique spiritual significance in addition to their beauty. Rainbows are a lasting symbol of God’s covenant, God’s promise made to all creation back in the days of God’s faithful servant, Noah. Noah’s story is the subject of our message for this morning.
The scriptures tell us that in the time of Noah corruption and violence had overtaken the earth. God determined that it was the proper time to destroy the earth in order to stop the reign of terror upon its soil. God found Noah to be the lone “righteous” man of this time. And so, God spoke to Noah about God’s plan for the earth. God was going to send forth a great flood over the earth to destroy all flesh living on it. But, it was God’s intention to preserve Noah, his family, and two of each kind of creature God had made as the basis for a new generation of God’s creation. God shared the plan for how these events would take place with Noah; and also just what God had in store to save Noah, his family, and the animals from destruction. God told Noah to build a giant ark to preserve and protect them from the great flood that God was sending.
Noah was obedient to God’s instructions, and he built an ark for his family and the animals according to the instructions God had given to him. The flooding rain came, the strong winds blew, but Noah, his family, and the animals they had gathered were all kept safe and protected inside the ark. After the forty days and nights of rainfall when everything on the earth except Noah’s ark had perished, God ceased the storm, and the water began to recede. When the land finally became dry, Noah brought his family and all of the animals he had kept out of the ark. Then Noah built an altar to God and made sacrifices of some of the clean animals to God for the safety of his family throughout the time of the great flood. The odor of the sacrifice reached God, and God was very pleased with Noah. God said, “I will never again curse the ground because of humans, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” God then said to Noah and his family, “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. 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 [rain]bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When the [rain]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 made a covenant, a promise, with Noah, his family, and all the creatures Noah had kept safe in the ark never again to destroy the earth. The symbol of this covenant promise God declared to them was the rainbow God placed in the sky. The rainbow stands as our lasting reminder of God’s promise always to be with us and never again to destroy all flesh, no matter how far we may stray from God. Unlike the fickle weakness of our human flesh, God always keeps God’s promises. No matter our state of sin and selfishness, God is faithful to God’s covenant promise never again to destroy the earth. Rainbows abound after storms have passed, continuing to remind us that our God is faithful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love in spite of us as much as because of us. Throughout the generations, our God has continued to be a strong covenant God, saving Moses and his people from Pharoah’s oppression in the land of Egypt. Through the prophets of old, God made a covenant promise to send us a Messiah to save us and atone for our sin.
In the fullness of Time, Jesus came to us. Nurtured in the water of a womb, Jesus knew himself to be both the Son of God and the Son of man. Through his ministry of compassion and healing, Jesus brought God’s mercy to us. By sacrificing his life on the cross for us, Jesus was the atoning Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. His resurrection showed us the power of the love of God for us, for it conquers even death. We now know, as Romans Chapter 8 reminds us, that there is nothing in all of creation that can ever separate us from God’s mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love. We have a home in God’s eternal kingdom, a kingdom not built by human hands.
God’s atoning love for us, as it was shown to us in Christ Jesus, has made a world of difference in my life. Through many of my life’s storms, When I have asked God for guidance or help, God has shown me a rainbow in the clouds to remind me of God’s promise that God’s love is always present with me—even in the darkest of hours. One such experience occurred when I was on my way to Local Pastor’s School in a remote New York town. Wondering what the dickens I was doing, I turned the corner and saw my first bright and beautiful double rainbow in the sky above me. I remembered God’s promise to always be with me, and I was bolstered for my new journey into ministry. I suspect that if you look back upon the events of your life, you will recall some of your own “rainbow experiences”-your symbols of God’s comforting presence with you. All it takes to know this comfort, this eternal peace that passes human understanding, is for us to surrender our control. Like Noah, we must submit our own will, our very life, trusting in the one who offers us the only true and eternal life we can ever have or know. So, church, when it comes to the place where the rubber truly meets the road of my life’s spiritual journey, I pray to God for the grace to know the obedience of Noah in following God’s will, and so live in the world with the grace and love God has shown to me. Amen.