To watch a video of the sermon click (here)
Opening words: World’s End
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 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.[d] 11 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.” 12 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:13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 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.
Music: Somewhere over the Rainbow by Masters of None
Ah rainbows! We really love rainbows here. This week we celebrated National Coming Out Day, so it is quite appropriate to sing the song we just heard from the choir. Did you know that back in the bad old days, when almost everyone was in the closet, asking someone if they were a “friend of Dorothy” was a safe way to find out if they were gay? Sometimes it takes a wizard.
Today we are going to talk about Noah and his ark, and what meaning that ancient story might hold for us today. The topic is one I chose in response to a comment made on facebook from someone who has been attending this church a fair amount. He said that the first time I told the story of Noah and the flood as if it were actual fact would be the last time he came to this church. So in case you are worried, and you know who you are, the plan today is NOT to drive you away.
The Noah story is an interesting one, but our earlier reading is not the most interesting part even if it is the most popular. The interesting parts you have likely never heard in a more traditional church. They are frankly more than a little awkward.
In Genesis 6 it says,
6 When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose.
3 Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide[a] in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
Say what? The “sons of God” had children with human women! I thought there was only one Son of God? This is where we need to understand that the concept of God changes in the Bible. In the oldest sections, there were many Gods and the other religions in the region had a great deal of influence on the ideas and stories of the wandering tribe that eventually developed the Jewish faith tradition. Another example is from the Ten Commandments the one about having no other gods before me. Monotheism, the belief there is only one God is a fairly new invention in terms of human history.
There really is a lot of history in the Bible. It just isn’t literal, and you have to read between the lines if you want to understand it even a little bit.
The story goes on to say:
“5 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. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7 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.” God’s creation was evil, and the children of his Sons evil too. So much for the idea of a perfect deity, here he is apologizing for his mistakes. The next line is one I don’t like very much:
“8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.” I don’t like it because it implies that God likes some people more than others, which is something that makes absolutely no sense to me.
Noah is also a very questionable choice for an example of virtue in my opinion. I’ll get to that in a minute.
In the story, Noah builds his boat and follows God’s instructions, which were very specific as to how big it should be and what kind of wood to use. He gathers his sons and their wives and every creature on earth. He tells Noah to have seven pairs of clean animals and only one pair of unclean ones. Funny, the toy ark I had as a child only had two of each animal and there were only about six different animals. At least they all fit in the ark, something that would clearly be impossible if we wanted to believe this story as actual fact.
Later in Genesis, it doesn’t mention the seven pairs of clean animals. This is more evidence of what almost all real Biblical scholars believe to be true. The Hebrew Scriptures are a collection of ancient writings, many of which have conflicting information.
The different sources were put together in a way that seemed to make the most sense to the compilers but it is why there are two different versions of the creation story for another example. The same is true in the New Testament with the four gospels having very different narratives of the life of Jesus, including those about his birth and resurrection. They cannot all be factually true at the same time. Some followers of modern Christianity have attempted to blend them all of them together. It is a tough job. I am so glad not to be a Biblical literalist!
I could go on, there are a lot of metaphors in the story of Noah, the forty days of rain just meant it rained for a long time. Quite often, the number 40 is used in Bible stories to mean a long time, whether it is the 40 years wandering in the desert as Moses did, or the 40 days in the wilderness in the case of Jesus. Similarly, there were of course floods in ancient times just as there are today. “It covered the whole world” is perhaps how a really big flood would likely be described.
I could go on line by line but I need to mention one more part of the story of Noah. Remember that God liked Noah, and said that he alone was righteous. After the flood, he told him to be fruitful and multiply.
But if you think Noah was so good, then how do we explain the following passage that follows the sweet story about the rainbow in the heavens.
20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
21 He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.
23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”26 He also said,“Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.
Please correct me if I am wrong, but the way this story reads to me is that Noah got very drunk. He got so drunk that he took off all his clothes. Who knows what else he was doing in that tent of his. Then his son Ham goes into the tent, sees his drunk, naked father, and tells his brothers. Because of this his son Canaan is cursed and so are his children. Is that righteousness? Is that justice? Hardly, all Ham did was see his drunken father. His son Canaan did not do anything at all. Does this mean the Bible is telling us we should ignore the failings of the powerful, that we should turn our backs so we don’t see their vulnerabilities and shame?
Who knows what it is in fact saying? It is likely another metaphor. Ham’s son is named Canaan and Canaan was another nation in those times. Perhaps that story was meant as an explanation of why the Canaanites were considered bad people.
It is a weird story though, and it doesn’t make Noah look fair or just or righteous. What was God thinking to save only him and his family?
But what can the story of Noah mean for us today, if anything? One, we need to understand some of the traditional interpretations because so many people believe them. Some of the deniers of human caused climate change say they aren’t worried because God promised Noah that floods would never destroy the world again.
Somehow that doesn’t reassure me and it probably doesn’t reassure all the people in Colorado who lost their homes to the horrible flooding there last month.
But more important than knowing that some people take these stories literally and act as if they really happened, is taking to heart the underlying message of the story.
We need to look around and see what is happening in the world and to our planet. We need to prepare for the floods, both literal and figurative, that are coming. We need to see the signs that tell us we are close to killing the earth that sustains our lives and the lives of all the creatures that live here with us. We need to build an ark and begin to start saving what we can. The promise of the rainbow to me is a symbol of hope, a hope that humanity can find the strength and the wisdom to connect with a spirit that can save us from whatever disasters we have created for ourselves. Humans are not inherently wicked and our hearts are full of so much more than just evil.
We aren’t completely righteous either. We too, like Noah, can tend to blame others for our own mistakes. We ignore the signs of coming floods and other disasters because it is often easier to turn our backs and pretend not to see.
Look to the rainbows, friends. We will find our way to dry land. Amen and blessed Be.
Closing Hymn “Blue Boat Home” Click (here) to see a you-tube version