The Sunday Sermon: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 3, 2017
Scripture: Genesis 7:11, 17-24
Is There a God for This?
Let us pray … Read Genesis 7:11, 17-24 …
I’m not going to end our reading this morning with our familiar response, though it’s ringing in my head even unspoken. I’m not for reasons that ought to be clear from your hearing of this morning’s passage, or reasons that might be clear from our sermon title, but that will definitely be clear by the end of this morning’s message.
We would have to be totally out of touch with our world or pretty indifferent to it not to be thinking of The Texas and Louisiana coasts after that reading – the growing amount of devastation that the waters of Hurricane Harvey brought to the cities, towns and communities there. I suppose the amounts recorded in the last nine days on the Gulf coast states pale in comparison to those that fell in our scriptural narrative, just as our amounts from Friday and Saturday pale in comparison to Houston and the surrounding communities, but this past week has dropped more water on the United States than any week in our short history as a nation.
But I changed my focus and our scripture reading mid-week with more in mind that Hurricane Harvey, Houston, and the havoc that has led out every news story since a week ago Friday. We should read and hear the narrative from Genesis, chapter 7, in deeper and broader ways. As in all our scriptural engagement, believe whatever you want, or need, to believe about whether or not this event every actually, historically, happened. But in every case ask yourselves, “What does it mean? Speakers, listeners, readers, interpreters, preachers across the millennia must always seek to understand what our Holy scriptures mean to them in their time and place, in their – in our – time here and now.
The “flood” that began in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, represents anything in our lives that “covers us over” and brings death to “everything (or anything) in whose nostrils is the breath of life;” that “blots us out from the earth, from creation, from the life around us meant to sustain us.
The ark in this narrative then is that which “bears us up,” that which rises “high about the earth, that floats on the face of the waters. But we’re not in the ark this morning and, I’m going to suggest, we haven’t been on the ark for a while, now. We’re on the earth and the rain is falling and the waters are covering us up, blotting us out, and we are dying. And the question on our lips? Is there a God for this? Would “God” really do this?
How’s that for a Holiday weekend worship focus? Aren’t you glad you stayed at home this weekend and came to church?! Well, I’ll tell you something you already know: The Word if the Lord is coming, only moments away. But we need to spend a little time underwater first. And we are … underwater … flooded.
I’ve had conversations with a number of you and many more conversations with my colleagues in ministry, other friends, and my own family. Just this week I was talking with Matt and Shelly in the office and we found ourselves discussing a shared “sense” that we’re steeped in something in these days, surrounded by a pervasive, even ominous uneasiness. Like something is waiting just around the corner, or very soon something is going to happen that we have no control over.
It’s North Korea and Hurricane Harvey, Russia and Charlottesville. It’s neo-Nazis and hate speech, angry-contorted faces and shouting. It’s guns, and wars, and yelling, and refusals, and bans, and walls, and distrust and xenophobia.
And, yes, it is political. From our President, to our leaders in congress, to virtually all those who sit in the seats of Congress; from our own city councils and neighborhood associations to our own kitchen tables, there is an almost clinical refusal to engage in civil discourse, to agree to disagree and then compromise and communicate in ways that are seek the common good. It’s all those things. It is political – it’s about the way we organize our community life. But it’s more …
As Paul articulates it in his letter to the Ephesians, “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the powers and principalities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Those spiritual forces of evil are fear, and suspicion, and greed, and worry, and anxiety and panic. And we’re drowning, the waters are fifteen cubits deep above our mountaintops. And as I gasp for breath day in and day out, as we struggle to stay afloat, we cry out, “Is there a God for this?”
Too many turn to passages like the one I just read, or others from Exodus or the exile, or the prophetic voices of destruction and damnation, or almost any of the verses in our final book of the bible and decide, “Yes, there is a God for this, and that God will indeed rain down from heaven and destroy the earth and all the evil in it.” It says right here in the Bible. All flesh that moves on the earth will die and everything in whose nostrils is the breath of life will die. Which of course, only feeds the powers and principalities of this world, the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places – namely us. And our fear and anxiety grow and our lament grows louder: Is there a God for this? It does say there is it right here in our Bible. Our task then is to discern which god is the one of our own making and which God is not.
As it turns out, those who cry out in anger for destruction, those of us who are strangely comforted by a wrathful deity, aren’t wrong in their “yes,” they (we) are wrong in our understanding and expression of the Holy. Yes, there is a God for this, but our God is Love. A God that sustains not that destroys. A God that lifts up, not that strikes down. A God that suffers – Love must suffer to put up with us – but that finally redeems and resurrects. Our God sets a table in the midst of our fear and suspicion and invites us to share in the joy and generosity found in a morsel of life and a sip of salvation. Remember … remember. Faith, hope, and love … and the greatest of these is love. Be not afraid.
We find a strange comfort in a wrathful God who acts destructively, who destroys whatever is evil with floods and fire. Whose divine clean-up could be immediate and conclusive. There are times that even I wish we had a quick-fix solution for tomorrow, a god of thunder and lightning, of fire and rain that would change everything by tomorrow morning. But I don’t. We don’t. What we have is a God of Love that changes everything right this instant if we let that God into our hearts. Let it begin with you … Do not be afraid. Remember.
As the next chapter of Genesis begins, we hear these words: God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were closed, the rain was restrained and the waters receded.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 3, 2017