In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Noah’s Ark is always a Sunday School favorite – remember asking, ‘Did the lions and tigers go vegetarian for the trip, or did Noah stock extra goats for them?’ – but as we mature in the Faith we should move on into deeper issues: after all, it’s perfectly all right to ask ‘How many stars were on the Star-Spangled Banner?’ but that’s not the point of the steadfastness of Fort McHenry, nor of Francis Scott Keyes’ reason for writing about it, nor of the feelings this national anthem evokes.
And, just as it’s not the number of stars but the message that matters, so it is with Noah: the whole story points us today to truths far deeper than “the animals went in two by two.” Today’s readings from Genesis and First Peter go much deeper. Like Sunday School children we tend to ignore the reason for the flood – Genesis 6 verse 5, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” – warning us that wrong-doing does lead to destruction, not only for individuals but also for whole peoples and nations, as the evil of Nazi-ism destroyed the society that embraced it. But, from God’s preservation of Noah and his family during a general destruction, you and I can be encouraged that God will rescue His faithful believers even from the midst of societal or ecclesiastical chaos ‘as a brand plucked out from the burning,’ Amos 4:11, Zechariah 3:2.
Now be clear, Noah was not spared from the Flood because he was ‘perfect’ – the Bible forthrightly doesn’t whitewash his disgraceful behavior later in this same chapter 9 – but because, chapter 6 verse 9, “Noah was a righteous man,” which in biblical Hebrew means ‘in the proper relation to, in relationship with God’ – Noah couldn’t have been righteous by keeping all 613 regulations in the Torah-Law of Moses, because those rules weren’t given until centuries later. Like the mysterious Enoch in Genesis 4 verse 24, “Noah walked with God” [Genesis 6:9] – Noah walked God’s walk, followed God’s path, chose God’s side when all around him went after their own material desires, as Jesus says of them in Luke 17:27 – Noah was ‘righteous’ as one who is in the right with God, four-square for God, whatever happened.
Noah, had faith. He trusted God. He took God at His word, and was not put off by what those around him said. Noah believed what God said about the coming Flood, so he got right to work building the ark – which must have been a real hoot for his neighbors! And isn’t that what the practice of faith is all about, inevitably involves? Hearing God’s voice through the din of unbelief all around us, and then staking our life on that still small voice we hear, and heed? Faith is about being ready when others are partying on, as Jesus specifically describes Noah in Matthew 24:38 – Faith is about seeing danger, or hope, in the scene around you when others see only the same old thing as always – Faith is about that “assurance of things hoped for,” that “conviction of things not seen” of which Hebrews chapter 11 speaks.
No wonder Noah is assigned an honored place in that chapter’s great roll-call of the faithful, verse 7, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned ‘the world,’ and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.” May we likewise ‘take heed.’
But even Noah’s faith isn’t the deepest meaning in the story of the Flood. Before it’s about the faith of a man, it’s about the Grace of God who in the midst of judgment gives mercy. As worldly society went on its own merry way down, God approved one man and his household who chose to go His way up, to escape the cataclysm and make a new start. Noah is the first of that small band who down though the ages are called out from worldliness, who responded to do God’s work, and live thereby. Noah is the first with whom God makes a covenant; the harbinger of Israel, God’s covenanted people – and of the Christian Church, the people of the New Covenant or Testament.
So it’s natural that in today’s Second Lesson, First Peter 3:18-22, the saving of Noah and his family “through water” [verse 20] becomes for Christians a figure for the sacrament of Holy Baptism – just as it’s natural that in the writings of the Church Fathers, in art, and in hymns the Ark is a favorite symbol of the Church, holding out to her children the rescuing protection of the God who “remembered” Noah [Genesis 8:1] as all around them – all around us – the rising waters rage.
As I said, God’s work in/through/with/for Noah gives us the courage of en-couragement, as does much in the Old Testament if we’ll only understand it. We grieve to see moral corruption and spiritual self-seeking all around us, but seeing a flood does not mean we have to dive into it! Remember being asked, “If all the other children were jumping off a cliff, would you go with ‘em?” As adults we face the very same question: if ungodly secular forces around us are heading for Hell in a hand-basket, will we follow them? Why?
Better to learn from and follow Noah, who ‘walked with God,’ who obeyed His word despite the taunts of the unbelieving and the disobedient, like the straight clean teen today who’s ostracized as ‘square,’ like the business person or politician who won’t cut a shady deal to ‘get along by going along, the clergy who will say anything to get a job, the person who won’t heed or pass along gossip – Noah ‘walked with God’ despite worldly disdain, and [today’s Epistle verse 20] by so doing he and his household “were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God” – now there’s the full meaning of Noah and the Ark: encouragement! Encouragement to get on board, get on board the Ark, and hang on tight,
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.