All Aboard

The Sunday Sermon:  Third Sunday in Lent – March 4, 2018

Scripture:  Genesis 7:1, 6-7 and 9:8-13

All Aboard!

We’re trying to get home this Lent. We are way, far out in the wilderness, along way from who we were created to be not because we keep doing something we aren’t supposed to do, but because we aren’t doing something we are supposed to do. We are not admitting that there’s something wrong, that we’ve done something wrong, that we’re doing things wrong, that we’re messing with the created order in our refusal to acknowledge that we have a role to play in this world for this world’s good and the good of all its creatures, especially one another.

Last week we realized that, while we’re pretending it’s working for us, things aren’t going so well for us out here. In fact, there are waters gathering that threaten to consume us, to cover us, to wash us away completely. With our own personal experiences of the literal flooding of the Ohio River last week, we spoke metaphorically of the rising waters of denial and refusal, of discrimination and indifference, of thoughtful or thoughtless ignorance, no less destructive to human life, I suggest. Our infidelity to the purposes of creation, intentional or not, is diminishing Life, our own and all of life around us.

Last week – poised before the deluge, confronted with the divine assessment that the “thoughts of our hearts are only evil continually,” on the verge of drowning completely – we heard this: But Noah found favor …

Our familiar wisdom story from the Hebrew Scriptures, reveals the way out, a deliverance, from the sorry situation which our human ingenuity has wrought: Humanity itself. Our humanity, as it was intended to be, is the answer to the inhumanity, our inhumanity, that is destroying and drowning us.

The figure of Noah is the bearer of an alternative possibility, a fresh alternative to living as we are out here, separated from creation. And we ended last week’s leg of the journey home wondering: Will we embrace our true humanity, get on the boat, and rise above the flood that will most certainly destroy us?

This morning, if only through the words of a humble parish minister’s sermon, we will. We do.

Let us pray. And listen for the Word of God …

Read Genesis 7:1, 6-7 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

I could not, for obvious reasons, get the story, the “joke,” of a man caught in rising flood waters out of my mind this past week. You know it well, so I won’t draw this out, but … The flood waters were rising in a particular community and as they reached the top porch steps of one man, he fell to his knees and prayed to God.

“Please help me God, please send me deliverance from this flood, please save me from drowning, I am your servant and you are God almighty. Please …”

In the middle of his prayer there was a knock on the door and the homeowner, more a little annoyed at this interruption got off his knees to answer and when he opened the door he found a man standing there in a raincoat and rainboots with a rowboat behind him.

“Get in,” the man said. “We’ll get to higher ground.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” replied the homeowner, “but God will save me. I’m praying even now.”

The man with the rowboat was a bit perplexed, but knew there were other doors to knock on. So he moved on.

The homeowner went back to praying, but the waters kept rising. He moved to the second floor and kneeled in his bedroom never stopping his words, his pleas, his prayers. Presently there was knock on the window and when the homeowner opened it he saw the waters were right up to the bottom of his window and there was a woman in a canoe just outside.

“Get in,” she said. “We’ll get to higher ground.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” replied the homeowner, “but God will save me. I’m praying even now.”

The woman in the canoe was a bit perplexed, but knew there were other windows to knock on. So she moved on.

The homeowner went back to praying, but the waters kept rising. He moved to the roof, climbing out the attic window never stopping his words, his pleas, his prayers. Presently a powerful wind blew up and the unmistakable sound of a helicopter drowned out his prayer. He looked up and, sure enough, a helicopter hovered above him. As he watched a rope ladder was lowered a voice from a bullhorn called out. “Climb up! We’ll get to higher ground!”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” replied the homeowner, waving the helicopter off. “God will save me. I’m praying even now.” He pointed to the sky and put his hands together, pushing aside the rope ladder.

The men in the helicopter were a bit perplexed, but there were many more roofs to visit. So they moved on.

(Maybe I am drawing this out a bit, but …)

The story doesn’t have a particularly happy ending. The man died, drowning in the waters that very quickly covered even the roof of his house. He stood at the pearly gates with St. Peter demanding to see God and when God arrived he started screaming. “I have only done what is good in your sight all my life. I have been a good and faithful servant in my service to you. I prayed without ceasing for you to save me from the waters of a rising flood, but you did nothing!”

To which God replied, “What are you talking about? I sent a rowboat, a canoe and a helicopter to you!”

That’s not really a joke. It’s a wisdom story in its own way. Our salvation is before us, too. But it’s not an ark, not in itself. It’s us. It’s that which the ark could contain: faithful creation, including faithful humanity. We’ve talked about Noah as the bearer of an alternative possibility, as righteous and blameless, Noah as the “new being.” Why? Because, in the Genesis story that we are breaking open to better understand who we are, where we’ve wound up, and how we’re to “get back,’ Noah is the first character, the first human being to be fully responsive to the love-harmony-unity, to the God, of creation. Not Adam or Eve, Cain or Abel, Seth, Lamech or anyone else yet. Noah is the “model of faith such as has not yet appeared in the bible” (Brueggemann, 80).

Noah has done “all that God commanded him to do.” We read that over and over again in the flood narrative, from the first to the last command, Noah accepts his role in creation and lets God be God, doing all that God says, allowing the love-harmony-unity intended for creation to direct Life. It is ironic, Walter Brueggemann notes in his beautiful commentary on the book of Genesis, that at the moment of impending doom and death, “embodied faith” first appears in the world.

I know that this is a much, much deeper reading and exploration of the Flood Story than any of you have ever engaged in because it’s a much, much deeper exploration than I have ever engaged in. Noah and the flood are left to children’s Sunday school lessons and corkboards full of animals, a big boat, and a rainbow. But this is what this story is about – the possibility of doing something different, of doing things a new way, of finding our way home by being what we were created to be – a part of it all, not apart from it all.

What happens next is what everyone thinks they know about the flood story. Ask almost anyone who is even remotely familiar with this Judeo-Christian bible story and they will tell you: God gets angry and causes a flood to punish. But this story, like all others in our scripture are meant to be read through the eyes, heard with the ears, and experienced in the heart, of faith. In the Christian’s faith, “God” is love-harmony-unity. As such, the deep wisdom of this story cannot be about destruction and death. It must be about creation, re-creation, about this Love’s determination to offer Life, to insist on Life.

Our command is to be like Noah, to allow God to be God, to get on board the ark that will raise us above the waters of destruction that we have created, that we unfaithfully embody. Get on the ark. All aboard! For here’s what happens when we are obedient to our created nature: Read 9:8-13. Again, the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God …

Here, aboard the ark, committed to living faithfully, journeying home to the Life that we were created for, we’re still likely to ask the wrong questions. No, evil has not been eradicated from creation. Yes, death and destruction still exist. But we are reassured through the eyes, ears, and heart of faith that these realities – evil, death, destruction – are not rooted in the anger or rejection of “God.” They are embedded in our refusal to live in the love-harmony-unity that was, is, and ever will be intended for creation. It still exists, the reality of chaos, of death and destruction – emotional and spiritual, as well as, if not more than, physical, It’s not just an ancient memory of people so primitive they had to make up stories about a supernatural, vengeful god. It is a memory of all of us even today. And we turn to the stories of ancient people like those in our scripture to find the more-than-literal truths they contain for us. Faithfulness is possible in this world.

Our salvation is before us, staring at us from across the aisle, from around the dinner table, and out of the looking glass. Humanity is the answer to our inhumanity. The table reminds us of the one whose humanity was so complete we call him divine. This table set among us this morning is an ark all its own, calling us to climb aboard, to follow the ancient wisdom of the world itself, to remember who we were created to be, by remembering the one whose love-harmony-(and)unity is our own … when we live as Life itself intends.

All aboard! Our journey home is beginning to look possible. Let us sing together and prepare.


Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 4, 2018