Meg Peery McLaughlin
Read it Again: Noah’s Ark
June 18, 2023
One of the first Bible stories we ever learn,
is the story of a man named Noah and a mighty flood,
the story of animals in pairs and an enormous ark,
the story — eventually — of sun and a bird and a branch and a rainbow.
Listen for God’s Word to us from Genesis chapter 9 vs. 8-17
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,
9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’
12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’
17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Flag day was Wednesday.
Back in Kansas City there was a woman in the church I served there.
When I met her was already near 100, and she loved to party.
Her name was Stormy Shank,
and her youngest boy’s name is etched on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial.
Flag Day was her favorite.
She’d invite half the church to her tiny apartment in her retirement home.
All the nurses sneaking in for treats. Stars and stripes were everywhere.
When she looked at the flag I think she remembered her boy and that war.
As Jarrett mentioned, later today 26 kids and 9 adults will get on I-40 West,
headed to Montreat Music and Worship Conference.
As soon as they hit Burke County, where Morganton is the county seat,
they will see a giant Confederate Flag flying in the sky,
and they’ll see another one as they leave that county, like bookends.
I wonder what folks think about when they see those flags waving.
What do they remember? heritage? hate?
If you walk down to Sutton’s for lunch after worship
and look above you, you’ll see Pride flags waving.
It’s Pride Month. They’ll be up all of June, unlike in Michigan in a town near Detroit,
where they’ve been banned.
When you see it flying, what goes through your mind?
That all are made in God’s good image? I hope so.
What flags do you have? Tarheels? Blue Devils? Ukraine?
What do you fly?
What do you remember when you look to the sky?
I had a really hard time picking the scripture verses to read today.
Of course I knew I was preaching on Noah’s Ark, but it’s a long story.
So in your bulletin I just wrote Genesis chapter 6 through 9, selections.
Chapter 6 is where we hear about the grief in God’s heart.
Grief over how violent and awful we human beings can be to each other, to the planet.
God says “I’m sorry that I made them.”
Now, just 5 chapters earlier, mind you,
right after God made the daylily and dandelion, the bunny and bullfrog,
the lion and lamb, God makes humankind,
and God doesn’t just say that we are good but that we are VERY good.
The whiplash from VERY GOOD to I regret it all is . . . . striking.
Chapter 6 is where we hear that Noah, a righteous man who walks with God,
finds favor with God. And becomes the recipient of instructions for an ark, instructions that puts even Ikea to shame.
And then the zoo comes.
2×2. Wild and domestic. Male and female. Prey and Hunter.
And it rains for 40 days, and the waters swell for 150 more.
And then they float and wait, and then perch on a mountain and wait.
And if you are counting,
all of that is 12 months longer
than it would have taken me to lose my mind on that boat,
especially if I thought about the loss, oh the loss, that was happening under the hull.
Chapter 8 is when the dove finally flies back with a fleshly plucked olive leaf,
that green sign of hope.
I read you part of Chapter 9—when God sets the bow in the sky.
It’s the greatest flag that ever flew.
But I could have kept going too. If I had kept reading–
literally three verses after Noah gets off the ark
he’s drunk and naked and spitting out horrid curses.
If it weren’t so sad, it would be comical.
The flood comes, but nothing really changes – on the earth, at least.
What do we do with this old story?
I got an email from Bob Johnson this week—
he’s the gent in the bowtie that will often give you your bulletin.
He asked: Why couldn’t Noah have left the mosquitoes off the ark?
Ha. That’s a delightful wondering.
I think, too, that some darker wondering comes up when we read this again.
What kind of God exterminates creation?
What if this is not in fact a story about God destroying creation at all?
Go with me down this path…
Genesis tells us that the world was corrupt, and thus it was destroyed.
In Hebrew, the root for the word for corruption and the root for the word for destruction are one in the same .
The seeds for the earth’s destruction were sown by creation’s own violence.
Yes, this story is full of judgment,
but judgment doesn’t have to be about God’s meanness,
it is what happens when the world runs into the consequences of its own choices.
And not to be untoward, but I find it incredibly telling that that Hebrew word is three letters. First letter is S, second is H.
Hebrew words don’t have vowels, mind you, and the last letter is T.
Isn’t it true that when we treat people and this earth like. . . . manure,
when we do that,
we often times find ourselves drowning in it ourselves?
So perhaps this is less a story of God being recklessly destructive
and more a story of God acting in the midst of our own meanness
to bring an olive branch, and a promise of everlasting relationship.
Ultimately this is why I ended up reading the selection of scripture that I read earlier.
Just the 10 verses from Chapter 9. We call this story Noah’s Ark,
but the fact of the matter is that Noah never speaks in this whole story.
But God…God speaks. And the world is never the same after it. God says:
“I establish my covenant with you.
Never again will a flood destroy it all.
I set my bow in the clouds. I will remember
the promise between me and all living creatures.”
It’s fascinating, really,
that God says the rainbow is for God’s own reminder, not ours.
Preacher Jenny McDevitt tells a story about being with her friend Sarah,
going out to visit Sarah when Sarah’s twins were just a few months old,
Jenny’s main job was to hold whichever of the two
didn’t need her at any given moment.
Jenny said “One day as her daughter was screaming her head off
as Sarah bounced her in a futile attempt at soothing,
I heard Sarah whispering,
“Zoe Winsett, child of the covenant.
Zoe Winsett, you are a child of the covenant”
and I told her how sweet I thought that was.
“Remind them even before they can forget,”
I said, but she cut me off.
“Jenny,” she said,
“I am not reminding Zoe she’s a child of the covenant.
I’m reminding myself
because right now,
it’s pretty easy to forget.”
(“I can not relate to this at all!”)
God puts the rainbow in the sky for God to remember.
Flies it high. Not for us, but for God’s own grieving heart.
And another thing, most covenants are mutual.
And most of them spell out with great specificity what is expected of each party.
What each participant will and will not do.
But this covenant with Noah has no conditions at all.
There is not one word about what Noah will or will not do.
It is only about what God will and will not do .
Turns out this isn’t a story about Noah or his ark, really.
This is a story about God –
who binds himself to creation
and promises himself to it
even amidst the mess we cook up,
even though God knows enough and has seen enough
to know it will hurt him.
From the very beginning, this is how God is,
and it tracks all the way to the cross,
and holds fast today, friends,
in this place, and in this time.
We are human,
we will fly flags of loyalty to all manner of places or causes.
But all of us who have breath
stand beneath God’s arching bow,
God’s promise of everlasting love and life,
a one-sided gift given no matter the cost.
May those colors that shine through every storm
of God’s unwavering faithfulness and enduring love for all creation.