Sermon 17 April 2016

For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.

The story of Noah and the flood is one of those Biblical stories that we are so familiar with we think we know the whole story. There are at least two angles which strike the listener. First, is very much a children's story of animals and rainbows, a story about God's love for animals, about remembering God's love each time we see a rainbow, the bright side of every storm. Perhaps you know the children’s song?

There's going to be a floody floody
Get those children out of the muddy muddy
Children of the Lord

Well Noah he built him
He built him an Arky Arky
Well Noah he built him
He built him an Arky Arky
Build it out of hickory barky barky
Children of the Lord

Rise and shine
And give God the glory glory
Rise and shine and give God the glory glory
Children of the Lord

 

Ned Flanders sings it to Homer on the Simpsons, so it must be good.

 

Second  is a story some of you may think is not for children. God is so angered by human wickedness that God floods the whole earth, wiping out nearly everything, those who, by their “great evil” (Genesis 6, 5), stood condemned. It has not been an outburst of anger for we have heard that God is grieved for the fact that "every inclination of the thoughts of [human] hearts was only evil continually” (6.5). Noah alone is righteous and he builds the ark and the rest as you know is ‘history’. 

 

One can look ahead, to the point where God promises solemnly that He will never act like this again, never do a close down never do a complete wipe out. This is the point of the story and that commitment to God to all things, all  people. It is the horizon in which all that will happen will happen.

 

Yet there is that fearsome destruction and the fact that many would regard this as a good Jewish story, myth indeed, rather than historical fact does not make that less of a challenge. The challenge is of course at one level to how we discern the action of God in the world; an evaluation such as that given to the ‘arky arky’ approach is not off the mark - well not  hugely but how are we to envisage a humanity that is so evil that none deserve to live, every individual. Are the children ‘only evil continually’? It is not the last time that such widespread punishments happen; there is the fate of those soldiers of Pharaoh in which we exulted in the Easter vigil.

 

There is a story that  when the Red Sea closed around the Egyptians and drowned them, the angels in heaven cheered. God rebuked them, saying, "How can you cheer when my creatures are dying?" (Tractate Sanhedrin 39b). However, God does not rebuke the Hebrews who are dancing and singing with exuberance at their deliverance. After all, people are not angels.

 

Perhaps it is the case that every one who perishes is deserving of such a fate; yet it is a worrying thought. It raises the thought of that sin which is not something an individual does and initiates - evil embraced and pursued - but an evil which is assented to and acquiesced in, by persons neither exceedingly good nor exceedingly bad, otherwise apparently faithful persons; in our own age one thinks of the horrendous failure of Christians, the churches to set themselves against the evil of the Nazi regime and in particular the failure of the churches to obstruct the massacres of the Jews, a widespread and persistent failure.

 

It is not only there; Christians failed seriously also to do anything about the massacres in Rwanda; indeed church buildings were the preferred place for the killings and several Priests and Ministers were active in killing. The number who at great risk behaved as followers of Christ was few. I suggest to you that to omit, to acquiesce, is to be complicit.

 

You may think that such a situation will not arise in this country; yet the boundaries of the UK are not those of humanity, not those of the church. Perhaps it is unlikely that anything like Rwanda or German fascism can recur; though I would not bet on that. Whatever the circumstances, failure to attend seriously to the following of Christ - and in this respect Noah is a type of Christ - whatever the circumstances, there is a call to do otherwise; that is what it is to hear the Lord’s voice and so to be secure in His hand. It may not require us to have understood the deep implications for an issue - indeed that may get in the way - but it does require us to be deeply immersed in the Spirit’s life, and unfazed by the threats which shake up the church; fears for survival, for example. Few of the few followers of Christ in Germany or Rwanda whose witness was clear were bothered about the survival of the church in the world’s sense. It was a witness unto death.

 

This is not about the witness of the power of the individual conscience; those who stood up against evil were those formed by the Spirit in the life of the church. It is not enough to depend on conscience - it cannot suffice on its own.  There is the dictum of Pascal’s: “One never does evil so fully and happily, as when one does it through conscience" ("Jamais on ne fait le mal si pleinement et si gaîment que quand on le fait par conscience").

 

Perhaps, here, Noah is an example; he refuses to be drawn down by the corruption which took his world away from righteousness; he is a man of rest, the Jewish commentators tell us he was called an “ish menucha”, content in both work and the ways of God, Sabbath in person if you like. Yet being the rest is not sitting in on a bench supping a pint; Noah is a hard worker.

 

It denotes, more, that peace which is the result of much preparation, much training; the kind of balance which is found, say when a footballer gets a penalty kick in a championship final; it will decide the game, the championship. You have worked your whole life for this moment. The referee blows the whistle and you have now to get the ball in the back of the net. The crowd is rowdy and are doing everything in their group power draw your attention away but with the calmness of Noah, ish menucha, you will hit the ball into the back of the net.

 

 

Thomas Seville CR