Good morning, Friends!
We’re back here again at Springfield, after what seems like an interminable week of uncertainty, and after what’s seemed like forever since the virus started.
This year has felt so disrupted and so uncertain to everyone, I thought we could look at one of the greatest stories of the Bible that talks about times like these.
It’s the story of Noah. Now, most of the time, we think about the story of Noah as a kid’s story. We focus on all the cute little animals going into the ark, two by two.
Except that Noah is not really a children’s story.
It’s a story about the end of the whole world, as everybody knew it. This wasn’t just an inconvenient flood, where you get a little water in the basement and the sump pump doesn’t work. This isn’t even a hurricane, like the ones which have been pounding our coasts this year.
Just in case you lost count, we’ve had 12 named hurricanes so far this year – more than twice as many as usual! They’ve caused billions of dollars in damage. Over 150 lives have been lost. And they’re nothing compared to the kind of damage the story of Noah is talking about.
Like I said, we focus on the animals going in two-by-two, but we don’t think about the rain and the flood.
Back in Bible times, people believed that the world was totally surrounded by water. In the creation, God created the firmament – a kind of an enormous crystal sphere – and pushed back the water to make space for the land.
The sun and the moon and the stars were all stuck to the surface of the firmament. But the ancient, primeval ocean, the forces of darkness and chaos, were always waiting there outside.
The story of Noah is really about a threat to the existence of everything. It’s about survival. The story of the ark isn’t about a joy ride down at the lake. The ark is a life boat.
And if you read it carefully, the story is really about waiting, and hoping and trusting. Let me read to you, from Genesis chapters 7 and 8.
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.
They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings.
Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than thirty feet.
Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all humankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and God sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth.
At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.
Then Noah sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark.
Noah waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”Genesis 7:11-8:22
When you read this story carefully, the part of the story we remember – the part about all the animals coming into the ark two-by-two – only takes up two verses. The real part of the story – the part I just read to you – takes a chapter and a half.
When I was a boy, my dad worked at the west end of the state of New York. And we would take our summer vacations up in the mountains in Vermont. This was back in the days before the Interstate, and it took a 13 hour drive for us to get there.
About an hour after we left town, my brothers and I would start asking, “Are we there yet?” It must have driven my parents crazy!
All the way across the full length of the state and up through 150 miles of mountains, we would sing songs. My parents sang every song they knew. I learned more songs on those trips when I was a kid!
They sang folk songs, and nursery rhymes, and song’s they’d learned in college and from when my dad was in the service. The kids sang all the songs we knew, all the way through every verse of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
We counted white horses, and license plates, and red cars, and orange trucks, and anything we could think of to pass the time. We played “I spy with my little eye” and we played “I packed my grandmother’s trunk”.
That was just one day. Do you know how long Noah and his family were cooped up together in the ark?
It wasn’t just forty days and forty nights. That’s how long it rained for.
Forty days and forty nights, with the rain coming straight down like a fire hose the whole time. It says, “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of heaven were opened.”
Everything they knew disappeared. The whole earth was destroyed in the flood. All living things were gone. They were all that was left.
By comparison, we’ve been doing all right. Most of us haven’t missed any meals. We can get out and drive around. Most services are still going.
It’s lonely. It’s inconvenient. It’s tiresome. A lot of things have changed, and we can’t wait to get back to normal. But nearly all of us are still here.
Like the story says, it rained for forty days and forty nights. And that’s just the beginning of the story. If you read it carefully, and don’t skip over it to get to the end, it says that after the forty days and forty nights of torrential rain, the whole earth was still flooded.
It was 150 more days till the water started to go down. Then it was 90 days till the tops of the mountains started to show.
The ark was still floating free. They didn’t have any sails or oars to make it go where they wanted. So the ark kept on drifting, away from the mountain tops, and land, and safety.
Then after 40 more days, Noah poked a hole in the roof of the ark, and he sent a raven out. The raven flew back and forth and way out past where the eye could see, but the raven couldn’t find land.
A week later, Noah let a dove out, and the dove returned with an olive leaf in its mouth. Noah couldn’t see land, but he could tell by the olive leaf that there was land somewhere, and that life was returning.
Can you imagine how they all cheered that day?
Noah sent the dove out again, and the dove didn’t return this time. It must have found someplace to build a nest for itself.
If you do the math and add it all up, it was close to a full year before the ark finally came to rest, and the land dried up enough so they could venture out.
Imagine what it must have looked like – they were saved, but the world they knew was gone. Dried mud and barren land, as far as the eye could see.
Can you imagine how much courage Noah and his family must have had? Can you imagine how patient they had to be?
I remember, when the epidemic first started, we thought it might be a month, or maybe six weeks at the outside, before we’d all be safe again. We stocked up on food and bought everything we needed, so we wouldn’t have to go out again.
Then it seemed for a long time like nothing really happened. We saw the news from other parts of the country where things were bad, but it didn’t really touch us that much.
Then other things started happening. We had demonstrations and protest marches, and riots in some parts of the country. The schools were closed, and all the sports got canceled.
The economy collapsed. People lost their jobs. We are still in the grip of some of the worst unemployment we’ve seen for generations.
And then months and months of election craziness. I want to remind you of what I said before the election: we still need to get along with each other. We still need to remember that we want to be a church together.
All through this, we have reached out to each other. We have stayed in touch. We have shared God’s word in every way we could, through recorded messages and drive-in services and now we’re back indoors with precautions which would have seemed crazy to us a year ago.
But we’re still here. Against all the odds, we’re surviving.
The story of Noah is one of the most relevant stories of the entire Bible for us right now. We should read it and re-read it, and find lessons and parallels and applications from it for our present situation.
When they came out, do you remember the first thing Noah did?
He didn’t build a house, or plant a garden. He didn’t go to a football game. The very first thing that Noah did, was he built an altar, and he worshiped God.
We need to remember that. The very first thing that Noah did, was to thank God for saving him and saving his family, and for giving them all another chance.
For the rest of his life, I believe that Noah got up, every morning, and he said:
Thank, you, God, for waking me up this morning and giving me another day on this earth in my right mind.
Thank you for shoes for my feet and clothes for my back.
Thank you for the food on my table, and the roof over my head.
Thank you for this new day, and a new chance.
Thank you for forgiving me, and blessing me.
Thank you for walking with me today.
Thank you, Lord. Amen.
So, instead of complaining, instead of asking, “Are we there yet?”, we need to pray. And whenever this is over, the world may be different. And we’re going to need to pray some more.
And instead of being in despair, we need to remember that God told Noah and his family and all the animals to “go forth, and be fruitful, and multiply, abound, and fill the earth.”
Our job is not simply survival. Our job is to pray. And our job is to plan for the future. Our job is to grow again.
We should be making plans now to celebrate. We should be making plans to grow, and not die. I hope you’re all listening, because this is what God told Noah and his family to do!
I don’t know when it will all be over. It seems like forever some days. And I know it’s terribly hard for everyone.
Noah and his family had to wait, just like we are. The wait was longer than they ever imagined.
It wasn’t their time, but God’s time, that they had to wait for. And when it came time for them to get out and re-build, it was still discouraging.
But God said, “Look for the rainbow. Look for the sign way up in the sky. You will make it. This won’t happen again. As long as the earth endures, planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will not cease.”
By obedience, by faith, by courage, by hope and by love, we will make it.