2017 06 25: By Faith- Noah

Posted on 27 Jun 2017

Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Since Martin Luther first posted his 95 Theses 500 years ago, five principles have emerged which summarize the Protestant understanding of the Christian faith. They are five Latin phrases known as the Solaes or Slogans of the Reformation. Sola Fide by “faith alone”: Sola Scriptura “by Scripture alone”:  Sola Gratia “by grace alone”:  Solus Christus “by Christ alone”: and the sola most popular among musicians, Soli Deo Gloria “to the glory of God alone.”  For Luther, faith alone was always the most important. But faith for him was not simply a spoken confession. It was always an action based on trust.  This morning we continue our sermon series exploring the faithful actions of the Old Testament characters mentioned in the Book of Hebrews.  We began by listening to the story of Abel’s better sacrifice, and last week we turned to one of scripture’s oldest men- Enoch, the man who walked with God.  Today we turn to Noah the Master Builder

From Hebrews 11: 7

By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.                                                                                                                                 

Children love the story of Noah’s ark, and they can’t wait to tell you their own favorite Noah riddles.  Such as, What kind of lighting did Noah have on the ark?  Flood lights.   Or how do we know they didn’t play cards on the ark?  Because Noah sat on the deck.  Even the animals have their own jokes. Where did Noah keep the bees?  In the ark hives.  Perhaps it is the delight of children and their whimsical thoughts which challenge listeners today to take the story of Noah and the Great Flood seriously.

Noah was after all one of the most courageous and fool hearty characters in the Bible.  He had two great passions: love for God and love for family.  Ok.  Truth be told.  He had a third.  A love for good wine, which was why the first thing he cultivated after he marched off of the ark is vineyard.  But it was Noah’s love for God and family that moved him to act in faith and build the ark.

Surprisingly, the story of the Great flood doesn’t begin tragically.  Rather it begins jubilantly.  In the first days of creation, God looked at the artistic work of his hands, and as the sun set each day, he declared in a joyous, pleased and happy voice, that that the earth was good.  After the birds of the air, and the running animals were set free to roam, he delightfully acknowledged that he was well pleased.  Finally, after he created Adam and Eve, he marveled at his work, and announced boldly, “It is very good.”  And then he rested from his labors.  And yet, after that first generation had passed away, that had so delighted him, something changed.  Scripture states that fallen angels took daughters of man as their wives.  A new order of beings emerged which was not of God’s design.  They were “giants in the earth.”  As for the men and women who were created by God to tend the earth and were intended to be stewards of the creation, their actions and attitudes were corrupted by this new order of beings.

So, in Genesis 6, we read, “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 before God could destroy his work, the book of Genesis states that Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.   Like Enoch before him, Noah walked with God.  He was a righteous man.  But more uniquely, “he was blameless in his generation.”  Noah wasn’t perfect nor without fault, but he had not been conformed to the values of the world.  He had not been corrupted by the new generation.  There was something of the original, innocent Adam and Eve still present in Noah.

And so 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. 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.”

And God commanded Noah to build an ark.  Interesting, Noah wasn’t commanded to be build a boat. The word ‘ark’ is derived from Latin “arca,” meaning a chest or box for safekeeping of valuables. For the Jewish people, the Torah scrolls are stored in a special box called an ‘ark.’  The same was true for the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments that were stored in the lost ark.  Granted Noah’s ark was large.  540 feet in length, 90 feet in width and 54 feet in height, with three decks, and covered in pitch.  No ship would be built to this size until the 1800’s.  Its dimensions were more fitting for barge than a sailing vessel.  But there was also no mention of a rudder for steering or a sail. Noah wasn’t called to navigate the waters.  He was commanded simply to build a holy chest to protect and preserve the lives of those aboard against the water. And he would have plenty of time to work. According to the Bible, he was toiling between 75 and 90 years on this do it yourself project.

In the Jewish rabbinic tradition, it is said, that during these years, Noah attempted to warn his neighbors of the coming deluge, but he was ignored and mocked.. In order to protect Noah and his family, God placed lions and other ferocious animals to guard them from the wicked who tried to stop them.  When the day finally came for the rains to fall, angels gathered the animal and the plants and brought them to the ark.  In the writings of the Sanhedrin, Noah was engaged both day and night in feeding and caring for the animals, and did not sleep for the entire year aboard the ark.

Now, why would Noah endure such trials and hard work?  Was he truly the most courageous, and fool hearty character in the Old Testament?   What does the story tell us?

Of course, we can joke that all I will ever needed to know in life, I learned from Noah. 1, Don’t miss the boat. 2, Remember that we are all in the same boat. 3, Plan ahead. 4, Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old someone may ask you to do something really big. 5, Don’t listen to critics, just get on with the job that needs to be done. 6, Build your future on high ground. 7, Speed isn’t everything, the snails were on board with the cheetahs. 8, When you’re stressed, float awhile. 9, Remember the Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic by professionals. 10, No matter what the storm, when you are with God there’s always a rainbow waiting.

Yes, for 75-90 years, Noah worked, not quitting nor getting discouraged.  He did this all for the sake of that precious cargo of 8 people, his family, and because he believed God’s words of warning and promise. Noah’s neighbors probably thought he was a little silly for talking to an invisible God all these years, but building an ark and predicting a flood most likely made them question his sanity.  Noah, however, knew the treasure of his family. And he knew the truthfulness of God’s words of the things yet unseen. He knew that there would be times he had to stand against the crowds, and speak with a lone voice.

It’s hard being a blameless, lone voice, unconformed to the world. It takes courage to do the right thing and go the right way, when everyone else is going the wrong way. It takes faith to keep going despite the laughter and jeers of the crowd, instead of just following them.  It’s just as true for the precious treasure of our families today.  Sometimes the very notion of a family and its health and spiritual well-being seems old-fashioned and quaint in a world that has abandoned them such structures and institutions.  And we ourselves might question whether we need to hold on and to keep working for their safety.  75-90 years?  Really Lord? And yet, we are reminded that working for the spiritual well-being of our families is an act of faith. “By faith, Noah, prepared an ark to save his household.”  In a world where institutions and patterns no longer seem to guide people to God’s life-giving ways, we too must play our part and build an ark.

So, what do your friends and family see you doing for the faith of the next generation? One Sunday afternoon, a member of a church invited several friends of the congregation over to dinner, including the pastor.  As they sat down to the table, the pastor turned to the 6-year old daughter of the house and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”  The little girl looked up to the pastor and replied, “Oh no, I wouldn’t know what to say.”  To which the pastor answered politely and encouragingly, “Just say what your mother would say.”  And so the guests around the table bowed their heads and listened to the earnest words of the little girl echoing the thoughts of her mother, “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

For better or worse, your children and your neighbors are watching and listening to you every day. They are modeling their lives and choices upon your own.  They are modeling their faith upon your words, deeds and prayers.  Certainly, there are occasions and opportunities when others model the faith for them. As a pastor, I pray that my own nurturing will provide an example of a living faith. And yet, I’m not always successful. I know of one child who was so restless during the sermon as it dragged on and on, that she finally leaned over to her mother and whispered a little too loudly, “Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?” But my friends, when all is said and done, you are ultimately the one responsible for building the ark to protect the faith of those you love.  That is how you live by faith.

My friends, it is an act of faith to respect the warnings of this world and to build an ark to save and protect your family from the flood like Noah.  So how will you respond to God’s invitation?

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.