The Flood SubsidesGenesis 8:1-17 (NRSV)
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared.
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.
In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
Whenever I hear the story of Noah’s Ark, I always think about all the work that Noah had to do, building the Ark and collecting all those animals. I always wonder where he got the wood to build a boat that size, how he could have the right kind of food for each animal to eat, how much work it must have been to keep the ark clean with all those animals everywhere, and how he kept such a wonderful outlook and was filled with such hope.
Now, though our scripture reading this morning focuses on the end of the Noah’s Ark story, I want us to think about the beginning of the story for a minute. We tend to skip over the beginning part often because it makes us feel bad. After all, at the beginning of the story, God is disappointed in humankind–disappointed in their choices, disappointed in their sin, disappointed in their inability to work together and be a community, so disappointed, in fact, that God decides to start all over again.
The story of Noah’s Ark begins in chapter 6 of the book of Genesis and it begins with these words: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So, God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it:’” And then God goes on to tell Noah about how many cubits it should be and what to bring on the ark. Can you imagine? Wiping the slate clean and starting all over? But because of Noah’s faithfulness, his compassion, and his integrity, God chose Noah and his family and two of each animal to start the world all over again, to make a new community and a fresh start.
Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of society today, as broken and fragmented as it is. Well, the good news for us is that, at the end of the Noah’s Ark story, God put a rainbow across the sky and promised to never destroy the world again. What that means, however, is that it is our job to make things better. It is our job to work for justice and to help our neighbors. It is our job to take care of our environment and work together, and it’s our job to set a good example through our words and actions.
I recently read something that has had me thinking a lot about the world that we live in. It said, “Sometimes I want to ask God why there is poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when God could do something about it. But I’m afraid that God might just ask me the same thing.” Friends, so often people think that money is the answer to most of our world’s problems. People think that if we just had enough money, everything would get better. But I want you to know that, though money helps in many circumstances, money is not always the answer.
You see, when our lives are so busy and we are so focused on ourselves and our own needs that we do not have time to help our neighbor, or we think that because they appear to be different than us based on race or class, color or nation of origin, sexual orientation, religion, political party, or job status that we might not have anything in common, then we need to stop and reassess our priorities, remembering the importance of community and the fact that God created all of us in God’s own image and God longs for us to live in harmony with each other.
Folks, I know that it seems even harder to be community right now with the pandemic and our need for masks, social distancing, and no large gatherings. And in addition to that, there is political infighting that is tearing families, friends, and communities apart. But folks, we can’t keep ignoring it, because the work is still ours to do. God promised thousands of years ago that there would be no more major divine intervention to stop the madness. But that it is up to us as human beings, as children of God, and as people of faith to do something about it.
In the church, today happens to be World Communion Sunday, and we are given the chance to join with our brothers and sisters around the world as we celebrate our oneness in Christ in the midst of this crazy world that we are all called to serve–a world that is so in need of hope and love and peace and grace right now. On this World Communion Sunday, Jesus calls us to join him at the table that he has set for ALL of us. He invites us to come as we are, in our brokenness, and in our sin, knowing that we have not always loved our neighbor, that we have sometimes used this time of pandemic to pull apart, caring for ourselves and forgetting about our neighbors and politically taking sides and pointing fingers of hate, forgetting that, no matter who we support or vote for, that we are all children of God.
When I think about World Communion Sunday I often imagine sitting at an enormous table with Jesus and with people from all around the world. It sounds beautiful, and hopeful, and peaceful, doesn’t it? But as I look around the table, I see people from television and the news that I have disagreed with. I see others whose decisions and actions I have judged and still others who I would think would be the last people Jesus would invite to his Table.
But that is when my eyes are opened to just how small of a lens we sometimes look at our faith and the world around us with. Because folks, it is easy to see judgment and hate in others, but not always in ourselves. It’s just like that night in the upper room when Jesus looked around the table and his heart was heavy because he saw one of his own who had betrayed him. He knew another would deny him, and he knew the rest of them would eventually abandon him. But even with a heavy heart, Jesus fed them anyway. Through the table of unconditional love and grace, Jesus taught us that it is not about who is good enough, or who is worthy, and it is not about perfection and excellence. It is about healing the broken, reassuring the unsure, forgiving the unforgivable, and giving the gift of grace that we can never deserve, but we can only receive.
Friends, at the table that night, Jesus taught all of us about the importance of true community and the blessedness of communion, of sharing a simple meal with people we see eye to eye with and people we don’t, with people who we need to forgive and with people who we need to seek forgiveness from. That night, not only did Jesus offer abundant gifts of grace and hope, but Jesus also made the ordinary extraordinary. It wasn’t fancy or crisp or clean or sterile. But in the messiness of that night, Jesus simply took what was right in front of him, a piece of bread, something simple, everyday, and ordinary because what it was was not as important as what it stood for. Scripture tells us that he blessed it and broke it and gave it to them saying “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise, after supper, he took a cup, a cup that was on the table in front of him, again, something simple, something everyday, and something ordinary. He gave thanks and then shared it with them saying, “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.” Now, scripture says it was wine, but again what it was, was not as important as what it stood for.
(SERVICE OF COMMUNION)
Friends, it’s by God’s grace that we are forgiven, our slates are wiped clean, and we are given another chance, like Noah, to start again. But in starting over, we have to remember that there is always hope because it is hope that gets us through the darkest, most difficult days. I heard a story last week by an unknown author that reminds us just how important hope is. I invite you to listen closely to the story of the four candles.
“The Four Candles burned slowly. Their ambiance was so soft you could hear them speak. The first candle said, ‘I Am Peace, but these days, no one wants to keep me lit.’ Then the flame of Peace slowly diminished and went out completely. The second candle said, ‘I Am Faith, but these days, I am no longer indispensable.’ Then Faith’s flame slowly diminished and went out completely. Sadly, the third candle spoke, ‘I Am Love and I haven’t the strength to stay lit any longer. People put me aside and don’t understand my importance. They even forget to love those who are nearest to them.’ And waiting no longer, Love’s light diminished and went out completely. Suddenly, a child entered the room and saw the three candles no longer burning. The child began to cry, ‘Why are you not burning? You are supposed to stay lit until the end.’ Then the fourth candle spoke gently to the little boy, ‘Don’t be afraid, for I Am Hope, and while I still burn, we can re-light the other candles.’ With shining eyes, the child took the Candle of Hope and lit the other three candles. Never let the Flame of Hope go out of your life. For with Hope, no matter how bad things look and are, Peace, Faith, and Love can shine brightly again in our lives.”
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your week ahead, remember that the building and repairing of our communities and the world are ours to do. If you get busy and frustrated, or angry and mad, or sad and let down, or irritated and discouraged, remember the Candle of Hope because, with Hope, all things are possible!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen