Letâ€™s Build an Ark:
Three speakers: Paul Clarke, Norman Jones, Sharon Moon
Genesis 8:1-19; 9:8-17
The stories of Genesis are very old, as old as storytelling itself. Stories of a cataclysmic flood are not unique to the Bible. Other cultures in the ancient Middle East and across the globe speak of an event like this; from a watery flood emerge or reemerge a world and its inhabitants. This story was told in ancient Israel long before it was first set down in writing. This happened at the time of exile many centuries later. Exile was a turning point period for the Hebrews. Life as they knew it had been destroyed by Babylon. It seemed that everything was over. They could not even imagine a new beginning?
In their struggle and pain, they reached deep into their sacred memory bag and pulled up the ancient story of Noah. The story had some powerful messages for them. Yes chaos is real, destruction comes, but hope is possible. We need to find ways to preserve the good of life for future generations. We must not drown in the times that are ours. Beginning again is possible. God can bring life out of the ruins of destruction. This Noah story became a story to help them reimagine a future different to what they were livingâ€¦to imagine a new beginning.
The Noah story has particular poignancy for us living in times of climate change; we, who carry images of watery destruction of Tsunami and Katrina or hurricanes and flash floods. There are those now, as in ancient times who interpret this as Godâ€™s anger and judgement and punishment. But how arrogant we are to assume that we are the centre of creation! To think it is all about us! How foolish we are when we do not recognize that our own actions are upsetting the delicate balance of life; causing global warming, and that we are responsible for at least some of these weather changes around the globe!
It is particularly evocative for our time that the covenant expressed in the rainbow is a covenant not just with Noah and human beings, but with all created life on earth. For many centuries Christians, and the western world have lived out of a human centred theology of dominating the earth, using animals and plant life for our own ends. It has shaped our attitude to creation. Here Godâ€™s covenant is with all living things among which are humans. What if we had really paid attention to the covenant with Noah, and treated each part of creation as brother and sister, as do aboriginal people the world over?
The rainbow is the sign of Godâ€™s promise…of Godâ€™s commitment to peace with creation.. Indeed the bow in original Hebrew language is the warriorâ€™s bow laid down as a sign of peace and the promise that never again will creation be destroyed.
As the lenten planning team looked at this story in the context of our own times, we decided it was indeed a very modern story. For we live in times of economic, environmental crises, times when everything we value seems to be falling apart. We realized that Noah chose to build an ark to preserve life and hope for the future. Weâ€™ve asked two people to reflect on the question of what kind of ark we might be called to build today? And what would be important to save in that ark, to make sure it survived for future generations?
Letâ€™s sing verse 2 of There is a time before Paul speaks about the values he would want to make sure were saved in the ark.
With all the bad news we have heard lately, it may feel as if the world as we know it is about to end. Anyone who lived through the Depression, or World War II, or the Cold War may be forgiven for having a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu. In any perilous time, the following are my suggestions of values to keep alive. Please put these values in the boat you build for yourself:
1. The value of evolution. I know, youâ€™ll probably say that evolution is a scientific theory, not a value. But think again.
The world is based on evolution. Always has been. Things change according to circumstances and threats. Nothing stays the same. Rules and regulations from a long time ago donâ€™t always need to be followed anymore. For heavenâ€™s sake, lots of foods God forbade for people living in the desert are fine now that the modern world has refrigerators!
Evolution as a value means that as we see new ways of thinking we donâ€™t act the same anymore.
Arenâ€™t we all glad to see the evolution of thought regarding the role of women in societyâ€¦. Having women vote and hold property, and then get electedâ€¦ thereâ€™s a value that evolved. Or placing people in internment camps because of their ethnic origin? Why democracy itself is a value that evolved over time. There are stills parts of the world that donâ€™t experience democracy, but it is a value to cherish.
Donâ€™t lose sight of evolution.
2. The value of respect for others.
This seems basic. But we have seen over time that people in power, or just people in general, donâ€™t give respect to all. And it is so important to respect everyone regardless of:
Race/ age/ gender/ sexual orientation// financial status/ physical abilities/.
And other reasons, not usually listed in the litany:
mental abilities/ educational background/ whether or not people have a home/ what the type of family people come fromâ€¦ As the financial situation blows around in the next while, some peopleâ€™s financialâ€™s status will change but we must treat them the same. If our own status changes, we still should expect respect.
Donâ€™t lose sight of respect.
3. The value of communication.
You know how the way we talk to one another has changed so much. Remember when folks did not make long-distance calls because they were too expensive? And wrote letters to each other? Now with instant communication, we sure get things done. But sometimes things get done too quickly, and we hurt peopleâ€™s feelings because we donâ€™t put enough thought into our communications method. Sometimes we have to meet people, and talk directly. Especially in difficult times. Communication happens through words, gestures, toneâ€¦
Iâ€™ve noticed so many couples, so many families whose members are hardly talking directly anymore. Why some people email people in their own houses. I do it myself. Thatâ€™s not evolution: thatâ€™s just crazyness.
Donâ€™t lose sight of communication.
4. The value of education.
You know, once Gutenberg invented the printing press, life really took off. So many people learned to read and write and discuss and think for themselves. We know the bible was the first book, and continues to be a best-seller. But education is what lifts my people up, especially in poorer areas. Anytime someone helps another get into , or stay in, a decent school is a moment to rejoice. Stephen Lewis believes the solution to poor countriesâ€™ plight is through universal education. In the same way, in perilous times for us, education is key.
Donâ€™t lose sight of education.
5. The value of family
Now this seems basic. But that Western world loses sight so often of how important families are. People move so much and lose contact with family members. Who can you turn to? Where do kids get help if their family canâ€™t help? So much value in our Western society is placed on independence. But you know, dependence isnâ€™t always a bad thing. Letâ€™s remind people to depend on family and not turn family members away. An while we are at it, letâ€™s keep in touch with our neighbors.
Donâ€™t ever lose sight of family.
6. The value of humor and music
Oh human life can be so sweet. Life can be full of enjoyment. There is real humanness seen in the beauty of music and singing and telling a good joke. Spending warm times with other folks. This has been true all through humanityâ€™s time on earth. In perilous times, keep handy some records and musical instruments and good stories to bring to the new creation. This too will lift spirits and provide a connection to those who have gone before.
Donâ€™t lose sight of humor. Donâ€™t lose sight of music.
So those are the values Iâ€™d be sure to bring along in the boat. There are others I can think of, but these will do just fine.
Sharon asked me a couple of weeks ago to say a few words on what do we put in the Ark to help survive in the economic crisis and I have been mulling it over. Quite the metaphor! Over the next few minutes I ask you to imagine with me as we work through the picture.
OK â€“ so we have the rain, lots of if and rising water, sweeping the safe and familiar away.
We read in the papers the staggering numbers of job losses, here and around the world
The 30 to 50% loss in value of investments and retirement savings
Lower incomes for those living off their savings
Finding it hard to make ends meet on one less income
Unsustainable mortgage or rent payments
Having to say no to the family
The ever-increasing credit card bills and interest
Then comes the wind
The anxiety and the stress of not knowing what to do, not being in control
The shame of failing as the provider for the family
The constant nagging reminders that things are not as they were
What sort of Ark can we build?
One that floats above the currents that threaten to pull us and others under.
I donâ€™t think there is much we, as a community can do about companies down-sizing and lost value of investments, at least in the short term.
However, on a one-on-one basis we can be there for our friends and neighbours, for those who are struggling.
â€¢ Do a lot of listening
â€¢ Pastoral care is everyoneâ€™s job, not just the ministerâ€™s
â€¢ Be a safe person to talk to
â€¢ We should have information on where to refer people for help, counseling, job searches
â€¢ Be a friend in need
We can present an alternative value system as a community. Yes we need personal resources to function in our society, but the good news that we have is Jesusâ€™ message of abundant life. We celebrate â€œGod with usâ€ and can have confidence that we are loved and cared for. We know that God is in those dark places with us and will sustain us. Rooted in the knowledge that we are valued as individuals we can live the message and model it for those in society around us. People are more important than property or profits. We can live generously, even in troubling times.
The question is what do we do in our programming to reach out to those in need?
How do we be affirming of those who have lost jobs?
â€¢ Maybe a support group
â€¢ Having referral information
â€¢ Fun events that donâ€™t cost a lot
How do we support those on reduced incomes?
â€¢ How do we help them maintain their dignity while being full members of the community?
â€¢ A community kitchen to share cooking of nutritious meals
â€¢ A regular community shared meal
â€¢ Baby sitting /parent respite service
â€¢ Keep supporting agencies that care for those in need â€“ for example, St Columba House
There is a letter from the Moderator of the United Church on the national website that is very worth reading â€“ just Google â€œModerator United Churchâ€ â€œPastoral letter on the economyâ€. Have a look.
We are a busy congregation and there may be a few things we need to stop doing, even temporarily, to allow space in the Ark for keeping everyone safe. Let us know what you think.
In terms of who gets to go in the Ark â€“ All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
The world needs Noahs in our times. Those who will dare to risk choosing life and imagining a new future. Noah is the one whoâ€™s been pushing ecological concerns before they became popular, the peace activist calling for the end to the arms trade before Afghanistan and Iraq, the scientist speaking out about the extinction of species, about threat to biodiversity, and to ground water, the ecologist predicting global warming and desertification…All doing this when no one is listening. Recently, I read about a Noah project where biologists have taken seeds of every plant on earth and are creating a vault under the polar sea, so that if there is nuclear or ecological disaster, any who survive will be able to repopulate the earth and have seeds to begin new life. Noah is a very modern story!
Noahs are the ones trying to listen to Godâ€™s concern for creation. Noahs are the children and youth fighting against rainforest destruction…Noahs are those trying to preserve the best of life for future generations. Noahs are the women, men and young folk, who choose to cut consumer spending, to live a simpler life style for the good of creation. Noahs and their families go quietly about their business of building an ark to save the planet in spite of the voices that tell them that they are naive, and that one person cannot possibly make a difference, that they are wasting their time. Quietly they are putting together an ark that will protect creation. SO LETâ€™S KEEP BUILDING OUR ARKS, KEEP PAINTING OUR RAINBOWS. FOR GOD IS WITH US..WE ARE NOT ALONE.EVEN IF EVERYONE ELSE THINKS WEâ€™RE JUST A BIT CRAZY!