I am back into the occasionally writing and delivering sermons. I have given three sermons in the past five months, roughly one every two months. I would actually prefer to be giving a sermon every four to six weeks, to keep me in more of a rhythm, but I will take what I can get.
This time I was assigned Genesis chapter seven. Yes, the entire chapter. For those of you not inclined to look it up in your own Bible, or on your Bible app, or to even click the above link, there is no need to panic. I read it at the beginning of my sermon video, cutting out some of the more redundant parts on the fly.
In short, Genesis chapter seven covers the animals coming in two-by-two, as you may have learned in a song. They do this over the course of a week, which is not in any song I remember. It covers the rain starting to fall, and God closing the door of the Ark, shutting Noah in. And it ends with the world destroyed by the waters, everything and everyone not inside the Ark dead.
If you watch closely, you will notice that I start crying midway through this reading. (Actually you don't have to be super sleuth to pick up on this. I pull out my hanky and wipe my eyes, and even apologize at one point.) I had only been planning to read the text itself since just before the service started, and planning to weep in a sermon sets off the "icky" alarm in my head.
But I was having a rough morning. As usual, I was up fairly late putting "finishing touches" on the sermon. I went to bed that night with a headache, and woke up to find that it had invited friends. I also felt nauseous, right up until I told Horyon that I felt like throwing up. She told me to go do so, and it was like my stomach had been given permission to start the evictions. I felt much better after that, but not better enough to eat breakfast. We were fortunate enough to get a taxi driver who was not practicing for the Indy 500 (which is not a given in these parts), so I didn't feel worse on the way to church.
But then from the moment I walked in the door, I was in the care of my church family. I was encouraged, and prayed for, and greeted enthusiastically. I have a couple of friends who only come when I am preaching, which is both flattering and a bit scary. The Wednesday morning group I lead had listened to my ramblings and given me a clue as to which bits were fascinating and which were just not quite there yet, and it was good to see them. There are some friends who I have known for years, some for months, and some for just a few weeks. When I stood in front of them all, I didn't feel nervous at all. My head was light, but clear, as was my stomach. And that's where the video starts.
I do not go into the historical accuracy of the account of Noah in the sermon, and I will not go into it here. Whether you accept it as being factual or not, it was clearly central to the belief system of the early Jews and Christians. And I argue that it is a helpful story for modern Christians to better understand God. Even if you don't buy into the basic truth of the Bible, it can still help you understand how Christians think about God. Or at least how this particular Christian does.
Below you will find the manuscript of the sermon. I had a print-out of this with me, and stuck fairly close to it. This is a new habit for me at Redeemer, and I am finding it surprisingly helpful: when I commit to words, I am more likely to put more thought into them, making them more likely to more precisely represent my thoughts.
I am also leaving in my organizational headings. I acquired these from the book The Four Pages of the Sermon by Paul Scott Wilson. I bought this book in 2004, and highly recommend it to anyone who preaches regularly. I feel that I have only a rudimentary grasp of the process involved, but the organization behind it seems quite sound. I believe these headings speak for themselves, starting with the first one, "Introduction."
The LORD Shut Him In October 22nd, 2017
1. Introduction:I’m going to start this sermon with two spoilers: first, even though chapter 7 ends on a low note, the story of Noah has a happy ending, with a rainbow and everything. The second spoiler is that I will actually say the word “poop” two more times before the sermon ends.
There is nothing like the smell of freshly cut wood. I worked with my father building decks for many summers growing up, and quickly came to love the smells, especially redwood and cedar. Noah’s ark was made of gopher wood, and today no one is sure what kind of tree that was, but I’ve never smelled a fresh cut wood that I didn’t like. I imagine the ark smelled of sawdust, sunshine and sweat for the first few weeks of construction. Accompanied by the sounds of sawing and hammering, it must have been almost festive. And there’s nothing like watching something come together as you make it with your own hands. The ark would have felt fresh, clean and new.
2. Trouble in the Bible:But the world around Noah and his sons was not so clean, not so fresh, no longer new. As Matthew reminded us last week,
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. (Gen 6:11)
Noah walked with God, and sometimes when you walk with God everything seems fresh and new. Especially in the beginning. But it isn’t always roses and sunshine. For Noah that fresh sawdust smell faded quickly when the pitch was applied. The black, tar-like liquid smelled like a new road on a hot day, and it was applied to the inside and outside of the ark.
Then add the smells of animals. Lots of animals. In fact, what will be all the animals in the world by the end of the chapter. And let’s be clear, this is not a ferry or cruise ship, with open decks and windows. Or toilets. The Ark was a box with a door in the side. There was a half meter gap between the sides and the roof, and that was all the ventilation for the three-story structure. That was also how waste went out, over the top of the walls. You may think of Noah as a master builder, or a captain but for the five months that they were in the ark, Noah and his family spent most of their time feeding animals or getting rid of their poop. (That was the first one.) The bottom floor must have felt like living in a sewer, with no natural light, no ventilation, and the wastes of the top two floors dripping down.
I imagine Noah standing at the door to the ark in the days right before the flood. The animals have been arriving for almost a week now, boarding the ark on their own, not fighting with each other, and taking their places inside the ark as though they had spent their whole lives there.
Noah’s neighbors are enjoying this. Over the months they have at times watched intensely, mocked Noah, or completely ignored him. The days when pitch is applied are real crowd pleasers: the unpleasant smells, the cries of pain as bare skin is burned by drops of the hot, black liquid, then again cries of pain as the congealed pitch is pulled off, taking hairs and skin with it. The neighbors really enjoyed those days, but the animal parade took it to a whole new level.
Then the rain starts falling. Small drops at first, then getting bigger. The kind you feel splatting on the top of your head. Coming faster and faster. Noah’s family remembers the message from God that Noah has been sharing with them, and suddenly the noises and smells of the animals don’t seem so bad. The pitch covered walls are comforting. They come in through the enormous doors, which are still hanging open. Doors big enough for sheep, horses, elephants. Doors with no ropes or pulleys to close them.
Then The LORD shut him in. Soon the people outside realized that Noah had been right all along in listening to God. But it was too late.
The LORD shut Noah in, and there was no escaping the sounds, smells, complaints, and sticky black walls. But there was escape from death.
And then the floods came.
… all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened (Gen 7:11b).
In other words, the rains came crashing down. The streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and seas all swelled up. All life was washed away, along with any doubts that Noah or his family had.
3. Trouble in the World:When I found out that I would be preaching from Genesis 7, there were people in America going through floods that were devastating: people had to evacuate with very short notice, so much property was destroyed, and many people died. 77 from Hurricane Harvey, 132 from Hurricane Irma. Which is horrible. But in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, during this same past summer, more than 1,200 people died from flooding. Yet which one did you hear about the most? If you are like most Americans, or Koreans, or pretty much any other nationality, you have shut out that sort of news.
Why so many more deaths? The weather itself was not so much worse. You see, the most likely predictor of whether or not a storm will leave you dead is how much money you have. And we humans have decided that some people will keep most of the resources, and leave many others to live on little or nothing.
Does that sound like God’s plan for the world in action to you? Jesus himself said in Luke 17
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:28-29
When Jesus says, “The days of the Son of Man,” it is commonly thought of as the second coming we read of in Revelation, the End Times. But I have also heard it said that the days of the Son of Man began at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead. Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came to us, the Church. Pentecost, when we became a nation of priests. And so now the days of the Son of Man continue. We are living in days like the days of Noah. People do what is right in their own eyes. They take what they want: Things that belong to others. They casually use the bodies of others. They carelessly take the lives of others. And we see them not facing justice, but being rewarded: eating, drinking, becoming men of renown. When I look at our world today, these words of Jesus sound an ominous warning, as though we should prepare for the next great cataclysm.
4. Grace in the Bible:If you recall my spoiler alert from the beginning, at the end of Noah’s story, God promises that there will not be another flood to wipe all life from the earth. This is amazing when we consider how God felt as he sent the flood. Look back in Genesis 6:
And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Gen 6:6-7
Non-believers, and even Christians, so often talk about a vengeful, destructive Old Testament God, but this is a God who is feeling the pain of rejection, and is ready to give up in despair! First Adam and Eve turn away from God, shutting themselves out of Eden. Then Cain destroys God’s image in his brother, Abel, shutting himself out of society. As people spread across the world, it gets so bad that:
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (Gen 6:3)
Humans have become so sinful that God can not bear to be in our bodies. We have shut God out.
Finally the pain of this rejection is so overwhelming that God is ready to walk away from it all, and indeed in the flood,
Everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. (Gen 7:22)
Those same nostrils into which God breathed his own life during the Creation.
He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. (Gen 7:23a)
The breath again, not just the Spirit of God, but the very spirit of of life. To the ancient Hebrews, water was dangerous. They had boats for fishing, but did not lose sight of shore. The seas and the flood, represent chaos, and disorder. The nothingness that existed before creation, when God hovered over the face of the waters.
This flood in Genesis is God starting all over from the beginning. Reformatting the drive. Except that:
Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. (Gen 7:23b)
When God shut Noah into the ark, it was because God could not bear to destroy the whole of creation. In spite of the pain God feels at our rejection, God could not destroy us completely. Because that’s what love is: not giving up, not letting go, no matter how hurt you are. God is constantly, throughout history, pursuing us!
When Adam and Eve turn from God, God calls out to them!
When Cain murders his brother, God calls to him!
When the whole world is corrupt, God calls to Noah, and finally there is a positive response! Noah walks with God! Noah Obeys! God gives Noah the faith to hear and obey, and Noah is shut in the ark and saved, and through him every living thing that breathes!
One thing I love about the Bible is that while it seems like a collection of many stories, it is in fact one story told in many ways: the story of God’s glory, and how it can be reflected in the lives of people who follow God. So in the story of Noah we have a man who walks with God. He and his family alone are shut into a safe place, while the rest of the world perishes, because Noah has faith.
Floating on the sea of death, there is life.
Many years later the story of Noah is turned on its head when Jesus comes to the world. A man with perfect faith. The only man with perfect faith, because he is also God. But in this new story it is only the man of perfect faith who dies, so that all who believe in him can live. When Jesus’ body hangs dead on the cross, a soldier pierces his side, water and blood pour out! The world is not flooded, because the God-man contains God's flood of despair! Instead of life being shut inside of a wooden box covered with pitch, all of our sins are shut into this man, where they die on the cross. The blood of Jesus ends the corruption of the days of Noah! And from this perfect death, comes life!
5. Grace in the World:The Bible clearly shows that our God is constantly bringing life from death, and if you belong to God you know that! The day that you were baptized, you left your old, sinful life in the waters to die, to disappear into the chaos. God reached out to you, you stepped inside, and God shut you into the ark!
God’s ark today is God’s Church. Not just Redeemer ICC, but the Universal Church. God is building it out of us rather than gopher wood. It is held together by God’s love expressed in the relationships we build. When someone chooses to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior because of your witness, God is building the ark through you. When you stop just coming to church and start doing church, you are helping God to build the ark!
I know it’s not always easy. Sometimes when you look into the ark you see black walls, and not enough windows. You hear the animals crying out, and wonder how long you will be shut in this zoo. You smell the pitch and think about how much poop you will have to shovel. (I told you it would come up twice.) You are sure that the world can offer you a better room. A room with gold plated fixtures and marble floors. A home theater system, and a sofa that hugs you and keeps you warm, holds your drink and charges your phone. But ask anyone who lives in Houston what a fancy home is worth after being submerged in a flood. Sometimes the entire house is gone. And what good is a fine home if it becomes your coffin?
Let God shut you in the ark!
And there is more good news! God is calling all of humanity to come aboard! The price is paid! There is room for all who believe and call on the name of the LORD! Amen!
6. Application:There are three things I want you to focus on in the coming week: God, the Church, and those outside the church.
1. God: without faith in God, the ark would not have been built, and all would have been lost. Call on God for the faith to act, and for clarity. God gave Noah exact measurements, and God can give you more details than you expect. Make time to listen!
2. The Church: to not just get into the ark, but to help build it by strengthening your relationships and working in the church. This ark is not a dead, wooden box. It is a living ark, the body of Christ!
3. Those Outside the Church: Pray for them. Not as a group, though. I want you to choose one person to pray for. Don’t ask God for a yes or no whether this person belongs on the ark, just pray for their faith and yours to increase, and listen for the answer.
If you are not already on board, please talk to somebody today. Talk to me, talk to one of our elders, or better yet, talk to one of the friendly people who made you feel welcome today.
Let us pray: Lord, you alone can save us from the flood, from our own sinful nature. Give us the faith to come on board your ark, the Church. Give us the will to work and witness, and give the compassion to reach out to others. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.