July 13, 2014 – New beginnings

Matthew 7:24-27

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Genesis 6:5-22, 7:11-2, 8:1-22

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord. These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.

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. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. 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. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 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.”

Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights…

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 fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, 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.

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, 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, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.

Then 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—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—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 animal, 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 humankind, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

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Pentecost 5 July 13, 2014   Psalm 46, Matthew 7:24-27, 1 Peter 3:18-22 –

Genesis 6:5-22, 7:11-12, 8:1-22        New Beginnings

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In the beginning God makes heaven and earth… and sees that it is all good and very good.

But the first humans break faith with God, and do the one thing God said not to do – eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which the snake claims will make them like God… but that’s not exactly how it works out… And from one act of disobedience – it’s a swift slide down into murder. As Cain kills brother Abel and tries to bury the truth in the ground with his brother. A few generations later, Lamech boasts of killing a man for merely wounding him. And not wanting to go there, but finally… God sees that all the thoughts of human beings are always bent in evil directions – and the earth is full of violence and corruption – and things are only going to keep getting worse, God sees….

Making these humans was a mistake, God now concludes. And we glimpse the heart of God, grieving in pain and misery, because of people-made-in-the-image-of-God turning away from the love of God… choosing evil…

And so God opens up all the spring-waters of the earth and unleashes all the clouds – and waters pour down from above and waters spring-up from below… Reversing the second day of Creation, when God separated waters above and below, to form skies and seas. And for forty days and nights without stopping, there’s a deluge of rain… And for many more days, waters keep rising and rising… And all living creatures on earth perish in the waters of the flood…

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All, that is, except Noah and his wife and three sons and their three wives… (To be saved without one’s family wouldn’t even be salvation in ancient times)…

And of course along with Noah and family, there’s also the famous boat-load of birds and animals. “God’s original endangered species act,” author Bill McKibben calls the ark… And some may remember The Prayer of Jabez book, a few years ago, based on the prayer in 1st Chronicles 4, in which Jabez (quote:) “cried out to the God of Israel and prayed, ‘O that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!’” A prayer, the book says, that we should also pray. And the fish must have known that prayer before Jabez did – because the fish are praying that prayer mightily… And God answers yes. Let your territory be expanded, O fish…

Thus even the flood is not entirely bad news for every species. Nor for the earth and seas and heavens, who, along with God and the fish, by now must have been thoroughly sick and tired of humans and their violence and corruption…

And God’s new beginning starts off with a very firm rejection of human sin and violence in every form and a watery end of the world as we knew it. And probably the fish and whales and dolphins together say, “Thanks be to God. Amen.”

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But… As the waters reach their full height and breadth, covering the earth…

God remembers Noah and all those afloat with him on the ark. In Hebrew the word remembers means more than it does in English… When God remembers in the bible it means God is preparing to act… Now as God remembers Noah and family, and all those animals and birds out at sea on the ark… God remembers also the faithfulness of Noah – and the covenant promises God has already previewed for Noah – Promises God will soon speak in detail…not only to Noah, but also to all living creatures on earth… expanding on his promise to never do this again…

And now God remembers Noah, the one righteous man of his generation. Righteous meaning in right relationship with God… Righteous meaning someone who remembers God – and does what God says to do…

Adam and Eve’s primal sin was to disobey. Now Noah obeys. Faithfully building the ark God said to build to God’s precise specifications – 450 feet long by 75 feet wide by 45 feet high. No small job even assuming all his sons help him build it….

Noah is 500 years old in biblical time when he first gets the word from God. He’s 600 when the boat is built and the flood begins.

Some ancient Jewish commentaries say Noah also planted all the trees to be cut to build the ark… and took his time building…To be very sure all his neighbors would have plenty time to notice what he was doing… and repent.

If we were to judge Noah by contemporary evangelical norms, he probably doesn’t measure up. He’s rather silent in the face of all the world’s wickedness… We don’t hear a word from Noah… Not till after the flood, and then only a curse on a grandson yet to be born for the sin of a son…a topic for perhaps another day. Maybe that little bit Noah eventually does say is why Noah is described with what’s sometimes heard as a caveat – as “blameless in his generation…” Some rabbis of old said Noah wouldn’t have been considered righteous in the days of Moses…He was righteous only in that he did the right thing in that one time and place… That’s only one strand of commentary of course, and we should notice that all references to Noah in the bible are generous and positive. But to notice Noah’s human frailties might helpfully remind us – God will use imperfect people… (In fact, that’s probably all there is for God to work with…)

And in context, Noah’s silence should always be viewed alongside his faithful obedience… As he patiently builds, over many years, a three-decker boat big enough to hold a whole village…

And perhaps Noah is silent because God’s given him a preview of Psalm 46, where God says “be still – and know that I am God.” Noah is silent perhaps because God hasn’t told him to say anything. God’s told him – ‘just build this boat – that’s all I ask’… But this one act of faithful building becomes a work of faith that still speaks volumes… to this very day…

And oh yes – Noah also feeds the animals. Some ancient rabbis in fact say this was a big part of his righteousness – that he fed each animal exactly what was needed… Giving up virtually all sleep for that whole year and a month and ten days that he and they were shut-inside-the-ark-together…. Showing the same loving care for the animals that God shows for him and his family…

And perhaps it is in remembering and watching faithful Noah… that God is persuaded to change God’s mind…

Sometimes we think of God as unchanging – which must be true on some level. But here’s strong evidence that God also does, in fact, change his mind…

Twice, in fact, in the flood story (it sure seems) we see God’s mind changing. First God changes his mind about creation… Which at first God sees is all good… But now God sees it as not-good, as the result of human disobedience. So God changes his mind, and opts out of his original plans for creation… Going now to Plan B, the flood…

And yet – now after the flood – here’s God, changing God’s heart and mind, again. Now deciding that even though human beings have not changed in the flood – even though the inclination of human hearts is still bent-out-of-shape, still tending to sin and evil – still, now God, seeing all this – nonetheless decides not to ever again destroy all life on earth…

And now, ever since, a dove with an olive leaf, and the rainbow in the clouds have been signs for us – signs for God himself also – reminders of God’s change of heart. Reminders of God’s promise that til the end of time there will be seed time and harvest. Reminders of God’s covenant promise with all species of life – from least terns to great white sharks, from giant whales to tiny piping plovers – God’s covenant promise that life will continue, always, forever, til God calls an end to time. A glorious reversal from the flood that started off as dire judgement. And there’s actually even more and better news…

The flood meant death for all but eight humans, and a few pairs of birds and animals (and yes, again, of course, the fish)… But now St Peter turns the flood itself into a powerful metaphor for new life. Peter calls the flood a preview of baptism – in which (as Romans 6 tells us) we’re first made dead and sealed in the tomb with Christ – then brought into resurrection life (as we persist in faith)…

The same flood that brought death and destruction, now becomes a sign of life eternal… So gospel singers sing joyfully – Didn’t it rain, children? Rain all day long – didn’t it rain…rain…rain… oh, my Lord, didn’t it rain… They sing with joy because they know the story continues, after the flood… with Jesus our Lord…

So too, we have the baptismal flood imagery in song – O wash me in the waters – of Noah’s cleansing flood… give me a willing spirit, a heart both clean and good

Good news! (Sisters and brothers in Christ –) God can change anything – even God’s mind. Good news! The word of God is new every morning – because God’s alive and working every day… Good news! His compassions are new every morning, as Proverbs tells us…Good news! As Peter’s letter demonstrates, the word of God is like a rainbow full of multi-hued-meanings… Good news! God is always looking to bring good news out of bad situations… Good news! God can change even really bad news into excellent new beginnings…

Good News yet again – we’re all invited to be part of God’s new beginning… With Jesus teaching and guiding us.. As we build on his word… and do his will… Each day now becomes a New Beginning… As we reach out to others with kind words and especially deeds of love and compassion… Like Noah, patiently building according to God’s word…So too, as we listen for God and obey… God’s new beginnings are made known among us…

And even when the storms and floods of all the world are raging round us… Still we’re safe on board with Jesus… Kept on course by his eternal promises… Brought through all the deep waters into blessings beyond measure…

For which we should now say again – and always –

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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