Tim, Roy and Jonny provided the music on Sunday 4 March, Jonny led worship and Tim brought us the message.
Our new song for this week, Weep with Me, courtesy of the Rend Collective is a lament. We’ve been looking at the highlights of the Old Testament, and it is surprising how many are actually in the very first book, Genesis. Focussing in on Genesis 6 we hear the story of Noah and his family. It is a long story so Tim only selected some snippets to illustrate but he encouraged us all to go home and read it in full. It’s clear that Noah did everything he was commanded to do. 150 days of flood occurred before the waters started to recede. Noah used birds to try to find dry land and signs of life. The raven explored but found nothing, the first dove explored but found nothing, the second returned with an olive sprig. Not a bad present for Noah’s 601st birthday.
God’s new covenant serves to remind him and us of his promise. Never again would water be used to wipe out all life. The rainbow is the sign of that promise.
We teach the story of the Ark to our children, at home and in our Sunday Schools or Young Churches. But as we get older there is a dawning realisation, “Seriously, we’re teaching this to our children, a tale of the destruction of humankind!”
It doesn’t sit very well with the carved wooden animals, the cuddly ark playset, the jovial bearded Noah character or the cartoon picture that seems to appear on every children’s Bible.
Too often we focus upon the behaviour of humankind, and the judgement of a wrathful, vengeful God. What we miss and what we really need to hear, realise and reflect upon is the pain at the heart of God in this situation. This is a God who weeps here.
The story of Noah “borrows” from other earlier stories. The Great Flood from the Epic of Gilgamesh has a flood hero Utnapishtim who is rewarded with immortality. Many scholars believe that it is clear that the first 11 chapters of Genesis draw upon many older stories drawn from elsewhere. The story is told because the Jewish writers wanted to tell us more about the relationship between humans and God. The focus here is and should be on the change in the character of God.
It is about covenant and promise. It is about God’s creation not living up to God’s intent. We’re invited to penetrate to the heart of God. God is grieved, not angered, as he sees the state of humankind. Can God abandon the world he made so joyously? The turnaround begins and is done through God’s pain and anguish. He feels the pain of his broken world .
In the midst of the story is this one man, Noah, and his family who offer the world hope. They show that faithfulness is possible even in a violent unbelieving world. Resolution of this whole story comes by the change in God’s heart, God speaks from his heart, in the full realisation that even after the flood humankind will not be changed forever. They will repeat the same mistakes. They will be just the same. Rain and flood will not change them forever. Hope depends upon God’s heart. God promises to stay with man. This marks an irreversible change in God. Such a commitment is costly for God. A grieved God is set against a resistant and resisting world. The self abandoning god of Philippians 2. We finish with Chapter 9 of Genesis with God restating the purpose of humankind and his role.
God restates the original Genesis promises. The rainbow is established as a covenant, a promise, but who is it a reminder for? It is the equivalent of a Post It note for God. “God remembered…”
This is what gives hope through the Old Testament. The flood story tells us we cannot be forgotten by God. God remembers. Tim urged us to read it again if you have difficulty believing. God’s purpose and plan for creation will not be thwarted by humankind’s inability to live up to the hype. The reality of chaos is all around us and we are invited to live a life of hope.
God is committed to the world he made. He sent his Son into the world as part of that commitment.
Tim also read the story of Noah by Frederick Buechner. Be thankful God is not forgetful or easily distracted!!
“In one way, then, it gave Noah a nice warm feeling to see the rainbow up there, but in another way it gave him an uneasy twinge. If God needed the rainbow as a reminder, he thought, that could mean that, if someday God didn’t happen to look in the right direction or had something else on his mind, he might forget his promise and the heavy drops would start pattering down on the roof a second time.”