Do you ever feel like you’re a fish swimming in the opposite direction of all of the other fish?
Do you ever feel like you’re a square peg in a world full of circular holes?
I bet Noah can relate to how you feel.
In the world after the Fall, after Adam and Eve have been removed from the Garden for eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, things are not what they should be.
It says in the beginning of Genesis 6: The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. It will later be added that the people on Earth at time the time were full of violence. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Folks, this is not a happy moment in the life of the world. God regretted that he had made human beings. God was willing to wipe out all of humanity – not all of creation – but all humankind.
And then, there’s Noah.
We don’t know exactly what Noah does prior to the whole ark business. But we know what Noah was like. It says that he found favor in God’s eyes – and that he was a righteous man. Not a bad start, right? Noah is a man after God’s own heart, a man who is for all intents and purposes, good. Noah walks faithfully with God.
And it says that Noah was blameless among the people of his time – those wicked people who God is willing to wipe out.
Noah is that fish swimming opposite of everyone else. Noah is the one who stands out.
You all know I love movies – even movies I don’t agree with. But I have a bone to pick here with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie. Noah is a man who walked with God, who was righteous – that means that when God showed up and announced the ark building project – this wasn’t the first time God and Noah had ‘talked.’
But something in Noah’s experience – and God’s understanding of him – meant that God knew he was ready.
That said, I don’t imagine that Noah walked up on Ark Day #1 and thought, “Gosh, I sure can’t wait until God tells me to build a big boat in the middle of nowhere.”
So God does show up – and I imagine Noah had a few questions – but all we get is God talking here. Maybe all we need to know about Noah is summed up in Genesis 6:22: “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”
Maybe that’s all we need to know. Maybe Noah’s obedience was sufficient.
Me? I would have had questions. Why me? How soon? Can I tell other people? Can other people come onto the ark? I read somewhere there might be a stowaway…
But none of those things matter to this story about God’s response to human wickedness. Yes, there’s judgment. Yes, there’s a divine anger we sometimes lose sight of when we recognize God’s grace. Yes, there’s a recognition that those who ignore God and God’s ways are dangerously living.
And yet, I don’t see judgment as the point of this story.
No, God shows up and tells Noah that God wants to build a covenant to promote human life on the earth, and that God is setting Noah up with everything Noah needs for success.
God wants Noah to be the First Man 2.0. And God wants to be in partnership, in collaboration, in covenant with him.
Of course, if we read through Genesis 7, we can see that it gets wet – and quickly – for the whole earth. In Noah’s six hundredth year, he spent one hundred and fifty days on a big ole boat with a lot of animals, his wife, his three sons, and his three daughter-in-laws.
I can survive a week in a beach house with my wife, two boys, in-laws, and a few more, but ONE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DAYS?
I guess the alternatives are no day at the beach. (Snicker.)
But in Genesis 8, God again speaks to Noah and tells him, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
Noah made it! The first zoologist ever just survived in very unPETA-like conditions.
Noah’s first act, upon leaving the ark, is to offer a sacrifice to God when standing on dry ground, kind of like me kissing the ground after a particularly bumpy plane ride.
And there – in his obedience and in his sacrifice – we can see why Noah was a man after God’s own heart. Noah understood that he didn’t have to be the one who made it, that he didn’t deserve God’s grace but he had received it. So God then says – in response to the sacrifice, not to the flood – “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”
God brought Noah out of the fishy crowd he was with, where he was swimming upstream backward against the tide, and made him an example we could follow.
God kept Noah from being corrupted by the sin and evil that surrounded him because Noah wanted to be more like God.
God lifted Noah up out of trouble – and kept him safe – even in the midst of the flood.
And some people have used this to encourage Christians that the world is going to go to hell in a handbasket, that those who are “in” are justified and safe, and that they don’t have to worry about what happens to those who are “out.”
I think they’re missing the point of the story.
While I read the story of Noah as an allegory – I’ve never worried about whether they could find the remains of the ark on Mount Ararat or not – I think that the Biblical truths contained there are certainly what God is calling us to throughout the Old and New Testaments.
First: God cannot stand evil and will do whatever it takes to put an end to it.
Second: God will find the good – even the needle in the haystack of one man in the midst of millions – and use it to bring life and hope to everyone.
Third: God is not about destruction but salvation, life not death, grace not judgment.
See, I believe that the Noah’s boat was an Ark – not a Lifeboat. It’s not that God was merely calling Noah up out of the Titanic as it sank, with no hope of rescue, and no plan for the future. No, God was calling Noah out of the evil mess swirling around him to the new covenant with God that would ultimately lead to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob… down the line to Jesus.
Friends, in this church – an ark not a lifeboat – there are plenty of seats. In the kingdom of God, there is infinite room for all who would call on the name of Jesus and accept his grace, and forgiveness, for their sins. Unlike Noah, we recognize that this ark has already been built on the cross of Jesus Christ and his resurrection, and we are called by God to go out and shine a light to others that they might find grace as well.
But that begs the question (or questions):
Are we walking faithfully with God in the way we live our lives, in the way we speak to others, in the way we serve?
Are we blameless in the eyes of those around us, in the way we do business, speak our minds, and interact with others?
Are we quick to open the doors of the ark, or are we counting the remaining seats on a lifeboat?
Paul says in Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time… But we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Friends, there are people all around us who know that things just ain’t right, who are dying on the inside, searching for a place where they will be welcomed. There are people who are hungry, and homeless, and under attack. This world has a way of turning to violence physically, emotionally, and mentally that still breaks God’s heart.
But God has created His Ark – the Church – and the door stands wide open, waiting for this generation of Noahs to welcome them in, two by two.
See, the difference between a lifeboat and an ark are this: When a person boards a lifeboat, they are escaping FROM something – a terrible situation usually involving the ship, literally or metaphorically, going down. They are not aimed at anything but escape, at anything but leaving what is behind them.
In an ark, there’s direction TO something. In the story of the ark, God had a plan and a purpose for Noah and his family, for the animals aboard the ark. The purpose of the Noah story was to share with us that God has a plan even in the darkest of times, that God is moving us TO something even when it appears that all hope is lost. God doesn’t give up on the situation.
And that is the truth of the cross – the purpose for the church – isn’t it?
God is calling us out of our sin, out of our self-righteousness and our ‘stuckness’ to something greater. God isn’t just about what we shouldn’t do but who we can be. God isn’t about the rules but the result.
Friends, we are the ark. We are the church. Let us move forward in faith to call others to the salvation of the ark, to the glory of God. We offer more than escape – but purpose and a relationship with God. It’s our time to share the good news of God’s love with others.
There’s plenty of room on the ark.