(A sermon based on Genesis 7:1-17 & 1 Peter 3:18-22 for the 1st Sunday in Lent 2014)
[Note: during Lent 2014 I am preaching a series called "Making Good Use of Forty Days." This is the first sermon in the series.]
We can focus on the death and destruction, on the terrible and the negative—and there is plenty to focus on.
Let’s spend today—and let’s spend these 40 days of Lent—focusing on God’s rescue of us from the terrible and from the destructive. After all, in the story of the great flood, we see God showing mercy to Noah and his family. In this day and time, God shows mercy to us.
God rescued Noah because Noah was “righteous.” Generally speaking, in the Bible to be “righteous” is to be in a sound relationship with God. In what ways was Noah righteous?
First, Noah walked with God. If Noah was righteous, he walked with God, because righteous people walk with God. It is said of Enoch, the other righteous person in Genesis 1-11, that he walked with God. Such walking with God is something that one does over the course of a lifetime; Noah had been walking with God for 500 years when he got the call to build the ark.
Second, Noah valued human life. Genesis 1-11 characterizes the growth of unrighteousness among the human race as being characterized by a steadily increasing disregard for the lives of others. That disregard can be said to culminate in the attitude of Lamech that is described in his own words in Genesis 4:23-24. If the devaluing of life characterizes unrighteousness then the valuing of life characterizes righteousness.
Third, Noah listened to God. Noah never says a word in the Genesis telling of his story. Perhaps we can conclude from this fact that one key to a right relationship with God is to listen to God much more than we talk to God. Indeed, it is generally true that we should talk less and listen more.
Fourth, Noah obeyed God. As Agnes Norfleet said,
Noah became obedient to a task perhaps more outrageous and more long-lasting than anything asked of anyone else in the Bible. He spent 120 years building a ship in a place where there was no great body of water for hundreds of miles. He did the unthinkable without objection or doubt, because he knew and loved God through many years of living in close union with him (“Noah: A Long Obedience,” in the Renovare Study Bible, p. 28).
Fifth, Noah trusted God. To hear and obey like Noah heard and obeyed requires very great faith.
None of this is easy. Who knows whether anyone besides God even noticed? But what difference does it make if anyone besides God noticed?
We can curse the destruction or we can build an ark; it’s better to build an ark than to curse the destruction.
I have leadership responsibilities with several organizations, each of which is in the ark-building business. I serve as Board Chair of Morningstar Children and Family Services, which sees the flood of mentally challenged children and rather than curse the flood, builds an ark. I serve as Board President of Fitzgerald/Ben Hill County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which sees the flood of sub-standard housing and rather than curse the flood, builds an ark. I serve as President of the Fitzgerald Rotary Club, which sees the flood of polio and meningitis and rather than curse the flood, builds and ark. I serve on the Hospital Authority Board of Dorminy Medical Center, which sees the flood of our underserved local population and rather than curse the flood, builds an ark.
All of these organizations in their own way are building an ark. All of them provide means of rescue from the destruction that is happening all around us.
Then there is the Church. Paul compared the deliverance of Noah and his family through water to our deliverance through the water of baptism. The comparison is a general one and the parallels are not to be pressed but it is important: participation in Christ through living the baptized life is the means of rescue that God has provided for us. The baptized life is the ark that saves us; it is also the ark whose door is still open (unlike the door on Noah’s ark, which God closed).
So … how can you make good use of forty days? You can make good use of forty days by (1) celebrating your own rescue and (2) helping others be rescued.