Genesis 6, 7, 8, selected verses (Briarwood, October 2012, Noah’s Ark (‘I’)
This summer my uncle lent us a boat. We thought it made a lot of sense to have a boat, and at least try to use it, once and while, being so close to the lake. The boat was about 15’ long; just fit in the garage. It had a little motor on the back, which meant Dad wouldn’t have to paddle.
Our summer slipped by rather quickly, one long evening fading into the next. But we did get out into that little boat and onto Lac St. Louis. It was a calm day, or so it looked, when I said to the family, who’d like to go out in the boat? But by the time we hooked up the trailer, loaded the lifejackets, packed our swim suits, and finally arrived down at the boat launch, the wind had picked up. Nothing else to do but to carry on. So we went out in that little boat onto the lake. The waves had white caps, and they splashed over the front of the boat. We were soaked.
There was one spot, though, where it was dry, up behind by the front seat on the floor. And it was there that one our kids curled up, flat against the boat bottom, away from the wind, peacefully humming to themselves to the tone of the motor; dry, clear of the spray, safe.
The parish union of Helsinki, Finland, recently commissioned a chapel to be built in the busy Narinkka square. The Christians of that city caught the vision to provide in the middle of busy city life, the hustle and bustle of a thousand directions a day, and the mix of countless lives passing by – lives each one filled with different joys and stresses — they caught the vision to build in that square as a place of calm, an oasis, a chapel. It was not to be used for Sunday services but for people 9-5, as a place they could go, a place away from everything, the chaos of the day around them, a place that was safe. And can you guess what the design team tasked with building a chapel for this purpose used as their model? You guessed. An ark. Right there in Narinkka square. In the chaos a church. A safe place.
And that’s what Noah’s ark is. A safe place.
But only if you were on the inside, right?
We need to remember that the story of Noah’s ark is in the section of the book of Genesis known as the primeval history. That means the things we find in this part of Genesis have a special kind of history. They are a special kind of story. The stories in the primeval history are, when it comes to history as we understand it, a little murky. People live, for example, to be 900 years old in the primeval history. Snakes, talk. All the languages of the world appear at once. And there is water. Ominous. And there are rains that cover the earth. And there is the wiping out creation, and starting over again.
And so as we look at story of Noah’s Ark, we look at it as a story in this unique mix in the first part of the book of Genesis. And we have to ask ourselves, as we do with all the stories in this part of the Bible, less questions about how they happened in the sense we understand things to happen today, and more about what they are saying about God and about being God’s people, today.
And so we meet a God in the story of Noah’s ark who is vulnerable. Whose heart is broken. What God sees in his creation is brokenness and alienation, a life far from the garden God made. And the build up to the story of Noah’s ark isn’t about an angry God who floods the earth – not so good if you’re outside, right? – but speaks to the ongoing distance of Creation from its Creator, and how this widening between God and his good creation, actually grieves God’s heart. And the image of the whole world being wiped out is not told in anger, by a God who punishes, but instead, as one scholar puts it, more like an alienated parent who will do anything to set things right. The wiping out of the creation is not about a God who kills. It is about a God whose heart is affected by the pain around him, by a broken creation, and who will act in powerful ways to restore unity, harmony and order.
There are some quaint lessons from the story, that need mentioning: Number 1: don’t miss the boat. Number 2. Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. Number 3: Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old someone may ask you to do something really big. Number 4: Don’t listen to the critics, just get on with the job that needs to be done. Number 5: Speed isn’t everything: the snails made it on board with the roadrunners. Number 6: When you’re stressed, float awhile. Number 7: If you’re discouraged; Remember the Ark was built by amateurs, and the Titanic by professionals.
But the bigger message is about God and humanity, and God’s desire for Eden again. And the ark, the ark is that vehicle, where people are saved, where lives are preserved, where the chaos of painful relationships, broken marriages, haunting decisions, mid-life anxieties, and the grip of sin, where all of that, and what the flooded creation represents, where all of that is stemmed. And where there is, literally, salvation.
The waters that the cover the earth, are theologically, waters that cleanse. And that’s why, in the baptismal order of service of this branch of Christ’s church, the waters of Noah figure right into the sentences, and into the prayers. The image for us, and also for God’s people then who first heard this story, is an image of new beginning, new birth and forgiveness. The waters of the flood for us, are the waters of baptism, that remind us, that we are made new in God’s grace. That that brokenness evident in creation after God called it good, that power sin, does not rule our life or our lives any longer.
And the Christian church, even as we’ve received new members joyfully to this community today, the Christian church is a place where that brokenness and that sin, that alienation from a loving Creator, rule no longer either. Instead, in Jesus, in his death went down into the waters and was flooded even to death; instead, in Jesus, in his resurrection rose up again, through the waters of the flood and of chaos – instead, this Jesus whom we serve, has saved us and is sanctifying us. Our lives are ruled instead by his love, by his grace and by the power of forgiveness. And it’s in this way, that we reject all the powers that oppose God’s love in the world, and strive to be the church that is big, that is for all who seek a new life of faith and hope; that is different.
But like Noah, there is an audacity to being a people of the ark, and to being a church.
On this EPIC Sunday, on this new members Sunday, on this Brunch Sunday, I’d like to thank you for your daring.
First, because the leg room on the ark was a little sparse, there were a lot of people in close quarters and a lot of lives lived, a lot of stories, a lot of personality. And I’d like to thank you this morning for your daring in being part of a church when each of us is so different – yet we work together for God’s glory. On Friday night we had a few new members over to Moira’s house, and it was fantastic. I asked people to share a few sentences about where they came into the universe, exactly, and how they ended up at Briarwood, and what we got were a whole lot of great stories of peoples’ lives. Really interesting themes. All of us, come from different places, different backgrounds – I’d like to thank you for wanting to be part of this church.
Second, I’d like to thank you this morning for your daring, among some other things in the last few years, in starting a second service at this church. That hasn’t been all easy street. But it’s been a journey we’ve made together because we heard God calling us to it. And it’s been an amazing journey, where we’ve seen talent spring up musically, including those fantastic electric drums we heard from Justin, and where we’ve seen a different need and interest in worship setting and style being met in the community. And once and while we all come together for a service like this.
I’d like to thank you for your daring also in the last year or so, in supporting the vision for even more ministry to kids and youth. Remember it or not, we plucked up the courage two years ago as a church to ask the Presbytery of Montreal for $50,000 towards this initiative. And between 20 and 30 households have been able to pledge towards the Naomi Fund program another $96,000 over five years. So that the mid term plan is to invest over $150,000 into children and youth in this community and church. And today we rejoice not only in the daring of Tisha McComb and Judy Pemberton in this work so far, but also in the daring of Danielle Pierre to come here to Briarwood and be full-time in this ministry. And for a while by God’s grace, we’ll exist as the only Presbyterian church in Quebec with two full-time ministry workers.
I’d like to thank every person in this congregation for the ways you contribute, in prayer, energy, time and your financial resources, in making the ministry of Christ here stronger. In so many ways that I never hear about. Or that we will never hear about. Because you work quietly, faithfully and cheerfully for God’s glory.
It is daring. It is a little like building an ark when it comes to strengthening our witness – because there are no clouds in the sky; because we know, we live in a time of huge transition for mainline churches in North America, and that many have closed. But friends, today we rejoice in the opportunity we have to live like Noah, to live a life of faith. Faith, in particular, that God is not finished with our lives, whatever our age or place in life.
And faith, in particular, that this ark that God keeps calling us to build, this church – that God is not finished with it either. That in Jesus Christ, and with faith in Jesus Christ, and with lives centered around the person and the word of Jesus Christ for us today – that this Jesus is not finished with us either. But that this Jesus whom we proclaim has plans for us yet. Plans that have to do with sharing his saving work on the cross, and eternal hope that brings.
Somebody once explained to me the reason for the shape and design of this building, originally. They said the round nature of it, one big room in the middle surrounded by three other rooms was so it could, if necessary, one day be converted to a library. A library. If things didn’t work out. But you know, I see it differently. I think if you look closely at this place, it looks a lot more, like an ark. Thanks be to God.