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The Reverend Krystal Leedy
June 24, 2018
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 9:8-13
This is a continuation in our series of Easter Vigil texts, which cover the breadth of our salvation history. The texts are meant to do something specific during our Easter Vigil, namely to show the faithfulness of God throughout history. Even when we have failed, God remains. We also lift up the story of the faithful people of God, upon whose shoulders we stand. It is a long story. It is a story of a minority people. It is a beautiful story. Many of these stories that we hear during this summer sermon series, we heard as children. Today is no exception. The story of Noah can be told in less than a minute, but it actually covers three chapters of text in Genesis. It serves as a patchwork of sources and writings that have come together to form this poetic literature about an old man who was faithful through a flood. Pastor Matt reminded us last week about the complex nature of Scripture, and this week’s story is very complex as well. I know that we would struggle to listen to the entirety of the story of Noah in one sitting, and the Easter Vigil text pickers knew that as well. However, in my preparation, I did read the entirety of this story this week, and I need to make an addition to what has been printed in your bulletin. So, we will be starting in the 6th chapter of Genesis, verses 5-15, then moving into the Scripture listed in your bulletin because I feel like we need to know where God is before the flood. So, people of God, hear this text anew this day:
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 9:8-13 (Additional Text: Genesis 6:5-15)
The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord. These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.
And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it…
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind, every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.
The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
I consider myself to be notoriously bad at ending a conversation. I feel like there used to be clearer social cues for these things, and I missed the memo. I walked into my colleague’s office at the realization of this fact and pointed this out saying, “I really stink at leaving a conversation. Any advice?” A gentle shrug of the shoulder was all that I received. We sat there in silence for a moment. And then I said, “It’s happening right now, isn’t it? Is this conversation over?” We decided that it was, and I awkwardly left.
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one, though. I saw a Facebook status the other day. One of my friends had written, “I’m so tired that I was on the phone with my secretary and was about to hang up the phone and almost said, ‘I love you.’ I mean I do love her, but you know… Still…” I’m grateful that even on the phone, sometimes we struggle to conclude a conversation with one another.
My daughter is excellent at ending a conversation. I guess this is what she’s learned in daycare, but when I pick her up from the nursery downstairs, she instantaneously waves her hand and says, “Bye, friends!” Now sometimes this ending is preemptive. I have not thanked the people who have just spent the time wiping my child’s nose and teaching her about the love of Jesus through this service that we offer. But my baby is ready to go. She often also says, “See you soon!” which my husband and I have adopted into our vernacular as well. She’s already such a positive influence on her parents.
One of my mentors always ends every phone conversation with “Take care,” and I’m appreciative of this little benediction at the end of what is usually a great discussion. I know what this phrase means. She’s wishing me well.
But as with many cliché phrases, I have to pull this one apart.
Take care of what exactly? My bills? My responsibilities? Or maybe it’s take care, as in “give attention to?” And once again, I ask—to what? To myself? To my marriage? To my people? To my dog? To a carton of ice cream? Or perhaps it’s a warning, like take care not to… get into a wreck? Fall in a hole? Make a mistake?
And then my mind gets so full that this simple benediction becomes a burden as I begin to really think about what things I have to take care of in my life.
Because not only am I responsible for my little corner of the world with my little family in my little house, but I am responsible for this place as a faith leader. And I have Christian responsibilities, as we all do… to be kind, to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love, to bear with one another when we disagree, to stand up when another is hurting, to hold onto faith, hope, and love in the midst of all circumstances. And I have human responsibilities- to do no harm, to care for those who are below me on the food chain, to care for those who are beside me on the food chain. And I tell you after thinking about all of these responsibilities and social issues, I’m overwhelmed. There’s so much hurt, there’s so much pain. There are so many places that we can’t help. We can barely help in our own country, in our own city, in our own church, in our own family.
To what would you like me to take care, then? What responsibilities do I need to be burdened with today?
I feel as though we are good people, who want to take care of things. It’s inherently a part of us that we want to care for the things that God has created. And we are an overwhelmed people, who see how the earth once again looks similarly to the way that the writer of Genesis talks about it: wickedness, corruption, and violence. We see it. We are in the midst of it. We are waiting for the flood, for God’s judgment to heap burning coals on the tops of our enemies’ foreheads. We are there. We are angry.
And I felt like the righteous anger that I feel toward my own enemies (namely: the people who disagree with me) is exactly what God feels. And God’s wrath is poured out in the form of a flood. How dare they?!
Only the true remnant, only the perfect people must remain!
God sits up in heaven and pours out the water from the clouds, watching each person perish, saying, “Finally, I will get my perfect world!”
I don’t know why I had this picture of an evil mastermind villain as our God, but there it is.
But in the 6th chapter of this book, God is not angry. God does not pound God’s fist. The biblical Hebrew usually talks about the nostrils of God flaring when God is angry, and God’s nostrils are in place and not flared.
God is not mad; God is sad:
“And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
Even beyond being sad, God is grieved. God sees the destruction on earth and is so overcome with emotion that it hurts.
The word for grief here in Hebrew is the same word used to talk about labor pains.
So, when Eve is cursed with pains in childbearing in Genesis chapter 3, God experiences this pain alongside all of humanity only a few chapters later.
This is the pain of humans losing their humanity.
And when humans lose their humanity, we have seen what happens: corruption, wickedness, violence. And this does not make God angry; this makes God grieve with us. This makes God pain alongside of us. The rebirth of humanity that comes from this passage is not easy, it is painful.
As I am sure you have heard, in the midst of war, soldiers that are on the front lines of battle are trained not to look at humans as humans, but as the enemy. The people that they kill are not human beings with stories and families, but as a sub-human or non-human force. This desensitization is important for a battlefield and difficult to overcome when soldiers must return to civilian life. And when we talk about violence, we can easily talk about soldiers and their tactics for dehumanization.
But what about our own lack of humanization for others?
Propaganda from war-time shows the same messages that we are giving to soldiers about the enemy. Propaganda in order to promote slavery shows people, actual human beings as though they are sub-human. Propaganda to promote genocide. Propaganda to promote an agenda that places one type of person above another shows the dehumanization of another.
And I don’t know that I signed up for basic training. I didn’t sign up to be brainwashed into believing that there is one perfect type of person and everyone else must be wiped out, and somehow that is my job to be able to determine who lives and who dies.
Because it’s not my job. It’s not your job. I don’t know why God wipes out an entire population, leaving only the progeny of Noah. I don’t know what criteria God used, and I certainly can’t answer that question today, nor do I want to. Because Noah did not take matters into his own hands and wipe out the wicked people. It was the rain. The rain fell and did not stop falling.
And instead of trying to be God in this passage, we stand on the ark with Noah. And Noah had faith enough to build a shelter from the storm. Despite the propaganda, despite the story that everyone else was telling him, he built a shelter from the storm. The faith of Noah is not questioned in this passage: he did everything God had commanded him.
There’s a niche of people in this world that have an interest in church architecture. They want to know what the building says about God as much as the words we say or the actions we take. And there is much within UPC that says something. Our stained-glass windows tell the story of faith. Our 8-sided font reminds us that God’s love is never ending and that we worship a God who exists on the 1st day of the week as well as at the end of the week. Our cross stands empty because we know that Christ has been raised from the dead and overcome death and sin. But even the very shape of our building tells a story.
Where you all are sitting now, the space between the narthex and the chancel is known as the nave. Nave is from the Latin navis, meaning ship. We are all in this boat together. And the ship of the church acts as a shelter from the sea and the waves, representing things unknown, like death.
If you look up at the rafters, they arch overhead in the shape of the hull of a boat. And I appreciate that our boat of a church is upside down because we have to really turn this metaphor on its head to be able to allow it to make ring with theological truth.
After all, boats and ships, like propaganda, have been used to dehumanize people for centuries as Americans colonized a new land, destroying relationships with massive extinctions of races of people. The dehumanization associated with slave ships and with boats that brought blankets laced with disease and guns to this nation, which were used to destroy Native Americans.
I’m glad it’s an upside-down boat because we simply must flip that narrative of our own dehumanization on its head.
We must get into the boat with all of creation, with all measure of people and animals, and see the Creator within them. The rains are going to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous, and people of God, we have shelter. We have a sanctuary from the storms of life. We have a sanctuary, where we gather each week, to remind ourselves how to look at one another, how to be once again grounded with the earth and all of creation, not to escape our own humanity, but instead to fully live into it. And also to remind ourselves that the wickedness of humanity grieves God, who is ever faithful.
Because we take care of ourselves by reminding us that we do not cause the rain to fall or not fall. God determines that. Instead, we come to buoy ourselves and one another during those times when we cannot stand the fact that we are treated as though we are just another faceless person, another number, another nobody. And this is the place where we come to confess that we have treated groups of people as a label, as less than human, as nobodies. This is the place where we confess to our own violence.
We take care of ourselves. We take care of each other. We take care of creation. And we do our best to try to be faithful in the process: to be like Noah, who is a complex character himself, but in this story—he is nothing but faithful.
Noah is not just an old man of the seas, but a bearer of new possibility. He is one of the people who is called to usher in a new system, to live under a new covenant. To live under a rainbow.
The PCUSA General assembly is one of those places where it’s easy to feel as though you are just a statistic. One of the things that they do at the beginning of the assembly is flash up demographics reports about who is at the assembly based upon age. It’s difficult when you’re in a minority category, and it’s difficult to feel like you’re a person when you’re 30% or 50% or 10% of the entire body instead of just being you. It’s also difficult when you’re limited to your argument on the floor of the assembly because of time. There are many procedures and processes that our church goes through in order to keep things moving, and it can feel a tad dehumanizing. But every once in a while, something happens. A young adult advisory delegate got up in front of the assembly this week and talked about how proud he was of what the PCUSA had become and what God was doing within it. And in that moment he came out in front of hundreds of people. As he was living into his full humanity, the people of God did not shun him or spew violence at him or sit there in silence. As if he was being ordained, they surrounded this young man in a hug so large that it could barely be captured on camera.
We talk about this denomination as a sinking ship, and I think finding these moments of humanity buoy us, and we can no longer live into the narrative of a sinking ship. Turning our preconceived notions of what church will be in the midst of these chaotic seas helps us live into what God is already doing.
So today, we take care of our boat. We take care of this sanctuary. We take care of the physical building. We take care of one another. We buoy each other up in our very humanity by finding out about our stories. We live into our full humanity here and we hold one another up when we discover who God has made us to be. And then we give hugs.
In the name of the God who embraces us and who never fails to hold us up, Amen.