"Fill the Ark"
A sermon based on Genesis 7: 6-16
“Noah was 600 years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth.” (Genesis 7:6) His father, Lamech, had died just five years earlier… at the ripe old age of 777. (Three sevens in a row on a slot machine means you’ve hit the jackpot! Little did we know that was the age of Noah’s dad when he died.) While these lifespans may seem exaggerated, it’s nothing compared with Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, who lived for 969 years! If the great Flood had not come and swept him away, who knows: maybe Methuselah would have reached 1,000 years old! Those were the old days (antediluvian “before the flood”)… pre-history.
I’m sure you are aware that some folks take the story of Noah’s Ark “literally”, instead of as “literature”. They see it as actual history instead of as the Bible’s pre-historical setting. In fact, two years ago this week, a huge 510-foot-long replica of Noah’s Ark opened for tourists to visit in central Kentucky. (!) The structure, mostly of wood, was built using dimensions given in the Book of Genesis. Inside are museum style exhibits: displays of Noah and his family, along with rows of cages containing animal replicas… including dinosaurs! (Fill the Ark!)
According to the group “Answers in Genesis” -- who built the $100 million dollar tourist attraction -- they believe that God created the universe and everything that is it in a single week about 6,000 years ago… plants & planets, birds & fish, all kinds of animals – including humans & dinosaurs – lived together until the time of the Great Flood. (Most scientists believe that dinosaurs died out 65 million years before human beings evolved.)
For $500 per person (double occupancy), a bus is available to take church groups from Alpena to Cincinnati round-trip, with four nights lodging and meals included, if you would like to visit the Ark and its Creation Museum. (Larger than Life “Ark Encounter” is ready to make a believer out of you! – faxed ad.)
As I said: some people take the story of Noah’s Ark “literally” instead of as “literature”… assuming it records actual/factual history rather than tells a “story”. (If that works for them, okay… I guess in their eyes, it was $100 million dollars well spent. !)
We are going to use the story of Noah’s Ark this morning to illustrate the metaphor of “Filling the Ark” – for the salvation of life… an on-going effort by Heifer International to save our hurting, poverty-stricken, war-making world in its time of need.
According to this morning’s text from Genesis 7: Noah and his three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth), and his wife and their wives (8 people in total) went into the Ark to escape the waters of a flood. Somehow they corralled “two-and-two, male and female” animals of every species: domesticated and wild, clean and unclean, birds of the air and everything that creeps on the ground… and got them also into the big box they had built.
As it says on week one of our Heifer Giving Calendar: “They, and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth… They went into the Ark with Noah.” (NRSV) And the Lord shut them in. (Genesis 7:14-16)
The fountains of the great deep burst forth (from below), and the windows of the heavens were opened (from above); and rain fell upon the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. The big box – the ark – was deluged from above & from below, & on all sides!
“Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.” (Genesis 7:22) It is a horrible catastrophe. When one thinks of the environmental and humanitarian disaster of a tidal wave or a flood, I’m surprised that this story is thought of as appropriate for children. Oh, yes, there are all those cute little animals, side-by-side, two-by-two, marching up the gangplank into the Ark. As in our banner, we see elephants and giraffes and chickens hanging out together on an Animal Cruise.
But the tragedy swirled around them. Death by drowning.
According to the authors of Genesis, God decided that the world needed relief from the oppressive dominance of the “mighty men of old” -- human creatures, who had abused the God-given power of "dominion" (which had been intended by our Creator to be creative and care-taking toward the common good) and turned it into a self-serving, me-first, us-versus them, power play ! (Frankly, it seems to me that there is still a lot of that going around, even after the Great Flood supposedly washed it away!)
The world needed relief from the wickedness, violence, and corruption of rampant human power-lust, selfish privilege, & social irresponsibility. "I'm sorry I have made man," says God (Gen. 6:6) "I will blot him out from the face of the ground." (Genesis 6:7).
Things had gotten so bad for so long for so many that God, apparently, intended to "start fresh" with a "clean slate." And that's where NOAH comes into the story... Noah (we are told) found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:8)
Whether it was intended as irony, or as prophetic, his name, “Noah” (in Hebrew) means "relief." The people said of Noah (at his birth): "This child will bring us relief from all our hard work, and from the toil of our hands." (Gen. 5:29)
Now, I don't know whether they meant it seriously or mockingly, but God certainly felt that the world needed "relief" from the way things were going!
"Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord"... but it was not going to be "cheap grace!" It was going to take long, hard, work to bring this "relief!" Noah was going to have to listen for God’s call (just like we have to); and then believe it when he heard it (incredible though it may seem); and then he had to go to work!
Like so many insights and "growing experiences" in our own lives, salvation was to be "hard won" by enduring a very difficult process -- a tragic, traumatic experience to go through.
The waters prevailed upon the earth 150 days. For five months Noah’s family was cooped-up in that crowded coop – surrounded by squealing animals and lots of poop! As the flood continued on the outside, think of the continual darkness inside … and the constant movement as the Ark went up and down with the waves. Think of the waiting, and the wondering… like those young people in the flooded cave in Thailand… Think of the constant feeding of the animals & shoveling their droppings!
Fortunately, there is a happy ending to the story… all eight of Noah’s family survive, ready to repopulate the newly washed earth. The animals that came aboard two-by-two “went forth by families out of the ark.” (Genesis 8:19) Apparently, they mated & begat offspring, as living creatures tend to do. (!) The fertility of the animals, as well as the fertility of the land, produced a new start for God’s good creation… a promising new future for all.
Hopefully, this time -- unlike the Adam & Eve saga, and the Cain & Abel bloodshed, and all the violence of the pre-historic era -- for the descendants of Noah’s family (us!) all will be well.
I’ll not take the time this morning to tell the story of the dove who brought back an olive branch -- a sprig of hope -- that life had resumed after the Flood was over… but let’s talk about the Rainbow Covenant (which is depicted in our second banner)… with God’s promise to “never again” reach for destruction as a solution to the problem of human sin! All of that makes for a happy fairy tale-like ending. (Kids like things that end “happily-ever-after”, don’t they?)
But, as adults (who are capable of facing the whole story in all its violence, grief, & death) I wonder if, perhaps, we prefer telling it like a fairy tale in order to avoid the deep underbelly of fear it really evokes.
We don’t want to read the story of the Great Flood for what it actually says -- forcing us to face the harsher realities of what life on earth includes. We prefer to remember our children’s version, and perhaps that little toy boat we had as kids -- whose lid can come off, and we can put little wooden animals inside...
That’s a nice Noah’s Ark! That’s fun; that’s comforting. The final promise from God to Noah -- when he worships at the altar under the Lord’s rainbow -- is “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Gen. 8:22) The Lord goes on to say:
“When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant (which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh); and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”
Did you get that?
God cares about every living creature of all flesh, not just about human beings. The everlasting covenant -- which includes “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” – applies to the entire realm of living things, not just us!
The story of Noah’s Ark (as told in our Bible) offers the earth and all its creatures a “new beginning” with new people -- redeemed, renewed, revived, reconciled -- ready for a second chance to get things right on the earth.
It makes me think of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, spoken to the Jews while in Exile, as they prepare to return to the Promised Land from their exile in Babylon:
Thus says the Lord, he who created you… He who formed you… “Fear
not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are
mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And
through the rivers; they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk
through fire, you shall not be consumed… for I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Coming out of Exile to re-establish Jerusalem from the chaos and destruction of war, those exiled priests and prophets had read the handwriting on the wall. They knew the children of Israel would have to do better in this second chance as a nation than they did on their first go-around.
Their plight brought to mind the story of Dan West, a conscientious objector during the Second World War, who saw the poverty of the people in Spain as the war ended. He helped hand out food and supplies to families who had lost everything. The children had no milk to drink because the war had killed all their cows. Parents and grandparents had died in the fighting. Surely he could do something to help the villages in poverty.
Back home in Ohio, Guernsey cows filled big red barns. Dan West had the idea to give one milk cow to a starving family, not to be slaughtered for meat, but to give them milk; and also to have calves. Much like the animals on Noah’s Ark (who came in as couples and went out as families!), these calves could then be given to more families! Each heifer would save one family… and by passing the gift along, perhaps save the whole village.
Dan (first) had to get the heifers donated, and (2nd) he’d have to arrange for a big boat to ship them overseas… like Noah’s Ark. That first shipment of cows was 17 animals in all. The first three were named: Faith, Hope, and Charity. That was back in 1944. Faith (the cow) was sent to Puerto Rico – an American-affiliated island that was badly flooded last year, and whose infrastructure is still badly damaged. Heifer International is one of the helping agencies rebuilding Puerto Rico right now.
Over the past 74 years, Heifer has sent more and more animals to feed people all over the world… and not just cows. (No elephants, nor giraffes, like in our Ark banner… but chickens!) Rabbits were sent. Goats and sheep were sent. Draft horses and pigs, ducks and geese, and even fish are being sent nowadays. Honeybees, too, are boxed up in a hive & sent.
Noah and his family made a big difference -- not only for the salvation of animals but for the ultimate recovery of human civilization -- in the Bible story of the Ark. Now we are doing our part to “Fill the Ark” with animals… in order to make the world a better place… maybe a bit more civilized… in God’s name.