Faithlife Sermons

Whose story is this?

Autumn 2018 Narrative Lectionary  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  12:39
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At first the story of the Flood and Promise can be interpreted as a simple, nostalgic children's story. However it is much more complex than that. Ultimately it is a story about God's love for the world, and how God chooses a better way (in the end) than returning violence with violence. That is our calling too.

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This is a children’s story

I love this story. It brings back fond memories — not of Sunday School, but of actual school — grade school. I went to a four room school that had six grades in it until I was in Grade 5, and we moved. One of the regular supply teachers would teach us biblical stories. This wasn’t a religion-based school, it was a public school, but the world was a very different place then.
Above the blackboard, there was a little strip or cork — about a couple of inches high — that was bound by two metal strips about a quarter of an inch deep. Teachers could pin things to the cork. And on the metal strips, there were sliding clips. Teachers could slide these along and put pages up inside the clips, for items that they didn’t want to put a pin through.
One of the images that I remember hanging from the clips was of the ark. There was dark blue water, and lighter blue sky meeting the water. There was a light brown boat that almost jumped off the page — clearly the focal point of the picture — and the heads of various animals peeking up from the side of the boat as if they were standing on the deck. And in the light blue sky there was a rainbow that curved over the whole picture. Those were the richest colours in the picture. Somehow they were even more vibrant than the light brown boat, and yet they also seemed a bit more distant than the boat leaping off the page.
I learned from this supply teacher about God’s love for the world — how God had created this agreement with us that God would never destroy the world again. It was a picture that I’d see many times over the years in this school, and one that became a source of comfort — no matter what else went on — God would keep me safe.

This is an horrific story

I can’t tell you when it happened but one day, the horror in the story struck me. This story of comfort of childhood memory, was no more. For all I could see was that God wiped out all the world but one family, and one family from each of the animals. God started over.
In some ways this children’st story became a horror story — and yet was still a children’s story. Isn’t that what kids do when they’re mad? Have a temper tantrum, break their creation and start all over again? Is that what God is doing?
The New Revised Standard Version The Wickedness of Humankind

5 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. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 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.”

Surely not everyone else was continually evil. I know that there are times that I do evil when I don’t mean to, but I’m not continually evil — or at least I hope not. What if I had been alive at the time of Noah? Would I have been spared — been part of Noah’s family? Or would I be one of the rest of the people who died in the flood?
This comfort story became a tragedy — where I once found safety, I now wondered who could ever find safety in God? Who could be as faithful as Noah — I know I couldn’t.
Noah walked with God. God walked with Adam and Eve. Enoch walked with God. Judah walked with God. Holy people all of them — they walked with God and God walked with them. I’m not of that caliber of faith. There is no hope for me to ever make that boat. I will be drowned at sea if this were to ever happen again.

This is our story

Then one day I had to look at this story again — we can’t choose the bits of the bible we like and ignore the ones we don’t. There had to be some good news in this story — something that was more than the simplicity of pastel mobiles hanging over cribs and mural wallpaper borders of pairs of animals in the nursery. This had to be a story that was about our very nature and the very nature of our God.
The reality is, we are evil. I particularly don’t like to admit it about myself — and I’m very good at times pointing it out about others — but if it comes right down to it, we are evil.
We might claim that these are not our stories. I don’t own a gun, and I wasn’t in St. Catharines earlier this week, and I certainly didn’t target anyone to be shot. I also have no influence in whether or not a group of hospitals get funding or not, and I certainly didn’t vote for the current president of the United States — not being an American citizen or living in the States should give me some distance from this story.
However, these are my stories. At times, I do want retribution — I do want payback — I do want to hurt someone because they hurt me first. Now, being a good person, I don’t try to actually seek personal retribution — but I do think it — and I do make poor choices at times to “pay someone back” for the poor choices they’ve made towards me. Along the lines of the second story, I do dream at times about using my power to get my way — again, I hope I don’t use it — because that’s not an appropriate way to act — but the funding that is being cut is to pressure the Palestinian authorities to give in to the current U.S. President’s demands — and who is literally hurt by the cuts to hospital funding — not usually the leaders — but the most vulnerable — those requiring medical care — cancer therapies, eye surgeries — things we would take for granted here.
These are my stories — hopefully stories that only live in my mind — and only very rarely come to light — the stories of retribution and extortion are part of the evil I do in my own mind.

This is God’s story

So why is this story of the Flood and Promise so powerful then, and told to children, and captured in trinkets and decorations for the youngest members of our families? Surely we can’t be wanting to remind a poor baby who gently wakes in their crib that one day they will be as evil as the world was when God destroyed everything with a flood.
If we look closer at part of the text, I think we see something that is crucial to our understanding of this story.
The New Revised Standard Version The Covenant with Noah

16 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.

I will see it and remember

These are God’s words. When we see a rainbow, many us remember that God has promised to never flood the world again — never destroy everything — never act like a petulant child in the midst of a temper tantrum, but the sign isn’t for us.
The sign is for God.
The focus of the story isn’t on the evil of the people — the story of our lives as people of faith isn’t on our evil. The focus of the story is that God is willing to live with our evil, and find a better way forward, one that doesn’t end in destruction.
To me, this is what ends up leading God to the cross — which becomes central to our understanding of faith — God will not repay evil with evil — God will find a better way to live with us even when we hurt God.
For that is our calling as we’re made in God’s image — we won’t return violence for violence — evil for evil — when we see a rainbow it should remind us all to treat each other better just as it reminds God to treat us with the grace that only God can give — the forgiveness of sin — and for that we give thanks. Amen.
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