“I Will Remember”
Genesis 6:11-22, 7:11-24, 8:14-9:15
30 September, 2012
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church
The value of a good Christian education cannot be overstated.
Those of us sufficiently blessed to have been taught the stories of the Bible in our childhood
Have now been challenged to transition our faith from
“What does the story say?”
To “What does the story mean?”
I was poignantly reminded of this fact last Sunday in the high school Sunday school class.
Lynn has the youth reading the Genesis story; and
Last Sunday the youth were reading the story of Noah and the ark.
This was probably the tenth time our youth had heard the story.
Repetition builds familiarity.
That’s a good thing!
Behind the shyness to answer
I could see the wheels turning;
Each youth remembering key points of the story
From their earlier Sunday school memory:
Building the ark,
Animals assembling two-by-two,
The dove and olive branch,
And God’s promise, signed by a rainbow.
We know the story.
But I come back to the question,
“What does it mean?”
For those sleuths in the crowd that want to know more
I can fill in a few details.
Our text that narrates the story of Noah is the integration of two traditions.
Scholars are quite certain ancient Hebrew scribes from the Yahwehist tradition
- Conservative Jews who faithfully followed the letter of the Law -
Combined their sacred texts with scribes from the Priestly tradition
- Temple leaders of organized Judaism.
Think of this as a blending of academic and religious cultures
- like a meeting between a seminary professor and a church bishop -
To create and edit one text that relates the story of God, Noah, and the flood.
Scholars tell us that there is geological proof of a great flood of the Tigris and Euphrates River valley about 5,000 years ago.
For our Biblical authors, this is the center of the known world.
The usual annual floods were supplanted by one of those “Thousand Year Floods”.
Other ancient religions quickly picked up on the flood theme.
Flood stories quickly proliferated throughout the ancient, known world.
Two stories from Babylon and one from Samaria have been discovered, studied, and relegated to the museum.
Yet, a fourth account, from our Hebrew ancestors,
Survived and remains as a living part of our Christian, Biblical heritage.
Why has our narrative of Noah and the ark remained for 5,000 years
While others have been largely forgotten?
Simply put, it is because of the meaning of the story,
Not the factual details,
The conclusions that can be drawn from a story about
The relationship God shares with Noah and humankind.
“What does it mean?”
Is the question that you and I need to examine today.
Throughout my pastoral call
I have repeatedly heard the confession of parishioners
Who have raised the concern of believing
In an Old Testament God
Who is bent on revenge, destruction, and dishing out judgment
With homicidal disregard.
The concern is not unique;
Rather, the concern makes you normal!
(Now you can return from church and tell family and friends that you are not crazy!)
This concern points to Cain and Able, Moses, Abraham, Saul, David, and many others.
And the concern points to our Noah story this morning.
Sometimes it is helpful to step back from a scriptural narrative
And take a “30,000 foot view” of what is happening.
Our passage really begins with Genesis 6:5, which reads
“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thought of his heart was only evil all the time.”
Think of this as the left hand book end.
The right hand book end,
The conclusion of the Noah and flood event comes in Genesis 8:21, which reads
”And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from you; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”
One could notice God changes over the course of this event.
God begins as a divine assessor
Focused like a laser
To cleanse his heart of the evil of the world.
Hence, the cleansing flood
That passes judgment upon a guilty world.
Where this narrative ends up, however, is quite different.
We discover a God that has become
Focused like a laser
To never destroy every living creature again.
God’s promise is to never again curse the ground of humankind because of our original sin.
What initially appears to be a narrative about divine judgment
Can be viewed more accurately through the lens of a God
Who replaces judgment with grace.
I’d suggest that Noah and the ark
May even be an intriguing hint towards
The eventual coming of Christ,
The consummation of grace
And our eternal relationship with a loving God.
A look at the details supports this view point:
Notice where the spotlight of the author’s attention is NOT given:
We aren’t told much about Noah or his family.
Actually, Noah is so flat and lifeless
It has taken a modern comedy to breath interest into an otherwise “Ho-hum” man.
We don’t hear of their fear in what must have been a frightening storm.
We aren’t directed to think about the certain misery
Or terrible ugly death of animals and people.
The language of God isn’t angry.
The language of God is more of sorrow, pain, disappointment, regret, and mercy.
The spotlight of this story is not on death, destruction, and judgment.
So where is the focus of Noah and the flood.
Our ancient ancestors focused on boarding the ark,
Listing the people and animals saved,
And the chronology of events.
The spotlight of the story
Is focused on salvation rather than judgment,
On what God does to preserve creation.
“What does it mean?”
It means that God is becoming,
Evolving, if I may be so bold to use this term,
Into a God of mercy, grace, and love;
A sweet foretaste of what is yet to come.
The second point I’d like to make about Noah and the ark
Begins with a story:
A devout nun went to see her doctor
With a complaint about her failing memory.
The doctor sent her to a specialist who saw her many times over a period of months.
After a few of these visits the doctor’s countenance was somber,
And the news was broken to her gently,
“I’m sorry to tell you, but you have Alzheimer’s disease.”
“What does this mean?” she asked.
“It means that you will slowly forget everything you’ve ever learned.”
The idea of losing memories of love and faith and family and friends understandably troubled the nun and drove her to seek her pastor’s advice.
“I will forget about Jesus,” she confessed with despair.
“How can this be?”
“Ah,” replied the pastor, “I see your concern.”
“Know this: though you will forget about Jesus, he will never forget you.”
The point is that God’s memory is eternal.
Unlike human memory due to aging or disease,
God’s memory doesn’t change over time.
God’s memory isn’t changed by opinion or subsequent events.
“I will remember” the Lord declares to Noah,
“I will remember my covenant that is between me and you.”
“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant.” (9:16)
With every rainbow, God is reminded
To be the God who saves
And to never return to the God who condemned.
To be a Christian people
Means that we are children of resurrection,
A people identified with eternal salvation.
We are disciples of a God who wants to save us from our yesterday
Into an eternity of loving today and tomorrows.
What does it mean?
“I will remember” our Lord promises.
“I will remember” are the words that stir my soul,
That affirms eternal salvation with every rainbow.