Genesis 6:5-22; 8:6-12; 9:8-17
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: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.’ Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal 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.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that 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 see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one where the Lord came to Noah earlier this year and said, “Once again, the earth has become wicked and overpopulated, and I see the end of it all flash before me. Build another ark and save two of every living thing along with a few good humans.” He gave Noah the blueprints saying, “You have six months to build the ark before I will start the unending rain for forty days and forty nights.” Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard-but no ark. “Noah!” he roared. “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the ark?” “Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed. I needed a building permit. I’ve been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbors claim that I’ve violated the neighborhood zoning laws by building the ark in my yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the Development Appeals Board for a decision. Then the Department of Transportation demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions to clear the passage for the ark ‘s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us but they would hear nothing of it. And getting the wood was another problem. There’s a ban on cutting local trees in order to save the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls-but no go! When I started gathering the animals, an animal rights’ group sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued that the accommodations were too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. Then the EPA ruled that I couldn’t build the ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood. I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I’m supposed to hire for my building crew. Immigration and Naturalization are checking the residential status of most of the people who want to work. The trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only union workers with ark-building experience. To make matters worse, the Tax Office seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species. So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least ten years for me to finish this ark. ” Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?” “No,” said the Lord. “The government clearly beat me to it.”
What a particularly timely joke in this post-pandemic time, eh? For 2.5 years, the world seemed to be at the mercy of human governments instead of a virus. So many restrictions, so many obstacles to our daily living. Are we going to be able to gather for worship or not? Are we going to be able to go into the office for work or not? Are our kids going to be able to go to school or not? Are we going to be able to travel or not? Are we going to be able to leave our homes or not?! And when we’re able to do any of these things, what restrictions will inhibit our full participation? What a nightmare these last few years have been for so many of us and not because of a virus but because of a disjointed government. It’s no wonder Noah’s frustration resonates with several of us! The world felt like it was falling apart over these last few years.
Of course, the world wasn’t falling apart. It was simply adapting and becoming stronger. Organizations and people in general have become stronger as a result of the pandemic. Relationships have become stronger. People value the time they spend with others in-person more. The virtual world provided a satisfactory substitute for in-person communication but it by no means replaced it. People need the connection of in-person gatherings and virtual communications can never fully satisfy that need. We are not virtual beings. We are sentient beings with actual bodies that feel and respond to the world around us. The virtual world doesn’t accommodate for this. Organizations and people alike are living things that need to become stronger for the sake of the world and I believe we rose to the challenge during the pandemic.
Now then, enough reflecting on the pandemic. It’s just interesting the correlations we can make between it and Noah’s great flood. Unlike during the pandemic, the world did, quite literally, fall apart for all living things except a select few during the flood. And why did it fall apart? Because of the pervasive wickedness of man. God was greatly grieved by his creation, so much so that He thought by destroying most of it it would somehow correct itself. To help the odds of it correcting itself, God chose a “blameless and righteous” man and his family to lead in its re-creation. But just because Noah and his family were righteous didn’t guarantee their offspring would be righteous as well. The seeds of sin are planted far too deep within us to ever be fully uprooted. Wickedness inevitably took root in our world since the time of Noah despite God’s manipulating the odds. Surely God had to have known his manipulation was all in vain! He knows the power of sin. He knows we are forever tainted by sin. Rather than destroy us for it, God needed to find a better way to accommodate for the sin of the world so He sent the Son to die on our behalf. Our sin can exist but God loves us nonetheless, the idea behind Luther’s so-called “happy exchange” in which Jesus traded his righteousness for our sin.
But before God sent the Son into our world, He used a great flood to punish us for our sin. A pretty unfair response considering He allows for sin to exist! Don’t destroy the people, destroy the sin, God! Sheesh! Well, God has a purpose for sin. Some say to keep us humble, others to keep us vulnerable. Some say to keep us separated from God. I don’t know why we have sin, only God knows. What I do know is that our sin brings out some pretty revealing characteristics of God. It brings out a mighty anger that almost destroyed us. More importantly, it brings out a binding mercy and compassion. Yes, God was angry with us and our incessant sin but God was also deeply grieved by how He acted on that anger. He shouldn’t have brought the flood and He knew it so He made a promise never to behave as such towards us again. The covenant of mercy and compassion became forever binding. What a gift to receive from our good and gracious God! We could live in constant fear that He might almost destroy us. For many who don’t know the loving mercy of our God, they do live in constant fear. We know that living in fear is not living at all. God wants us to live. God wants us to thrive! So God is merciful to us and promises to always be merciful to us. Lamentations affirms this, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22-23)
The flood most interestingly reveals God’s mercy for us. Our God is a merciful God and He wants us to show mercy to each other. Jesus said in Luke, “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (6:36) We are called to be righteous just as Noah was righteous and being righteous involves being merciful. Being righteous involves being obedient and trusting of God. When we obey and trust, God is merciful to us. Titus says, “he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (3:5) God’s mercy is a gift, free and unearned. Let us always be mindful of his mercies and give thanks for them. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.