We are in the midst of our Worship Series, Genesis: The Beginning, where we are looking at the early stories of the Bible.
They set the foundation of everything that happens after. To fully understand why the world is such a mess, why it needs a
savior, why we need to look to, or as the Bible often puts it, walk with, God. I’ve asked you to think of it as a grand or epic
movie, where God stars in the leading role.
We began with the creation of the universe where God starts with nothing, creates matter, and organizes it through speaking.
The culmination of creation is humanity, made in the image of God. Humanity is given a very important responsibility, to care
for and nurture the world for God, to carry on God’s creativity in the world by making things grow. Last week we looked more
specifically at the man and woman, who by this week’s Scripture are given their names of Adam and Eve. They are taking care
of the Garden of Eden, and doubt is introduced to them. Is God keeping something vital from them? Something that could be
for their benefit? Do they trust God’s definition of good and evil? Good being that which benefits others, or do they eat the fruit,
so they have the ability to define good and evil for themselves? This opens the possibility that they will decide that good is that
which provides self-advantage.
They eat the fruit, and they find out that deciding what is good and evil isn’t that simple. Trust is lost and fear is introduced.
Is my definition of good the same as yours? They find that the definition is not universal for all who have the knowledge.
Because of their fear and vulnerability, they hide themselves from each other, with clothes, and from God. Despite having
to suffer the consequences of their actions, God pursues them with God’s relentless love. They still have their mission to
populate the earth and to take care of it. God provides better clothes for them for their new situation, and they move forward
with God. That’s where we ended last week.
As the narrative moves forward we see that humans are notoriously bad at defining good and evil for themselves. Adam and
Eve have children, Cain and Abel. Cain becomes jealous of Abel because God liked Abel’s offering more than Cain’s offering.
Instead of confronting God about this, Cain kills his brother. Yet, God is still with Cain. When Cain expresses his fears to God
that someone will try to kill him, God protects him and says that if anything happens, he will be avenged seven times over.
Things among humanity continue to degenerate. Generation after generation continues. Cain’s great-great-great grandson,
Lamech, brags that he killed someone for injuring him. He claims that if someone else does him harm, he will be avenged
not just seven times, like Cain, but 77 times. However, this time it’s not God that is pronouncing this but Lamech himself!
Defining good and evil for themselves saw humans degenerating more and more all the time. Just as it says at the end of the
book of Judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Killing, robbing, abusing, oppressing, the idea that might makes
right. If you are strong enough and can overpower another, you can do whatever you want. The very definition of chaos and
anarchy. It finally gets to the point that God can no longer tolerate. He says that he will give humans 120 years to get their
act together before he takes direct action. (Gen 6:3) Then, time was up. This is where our Scripture begins today.
Genesis 6:5-6 NIV
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every
inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil. All. The. time. The Lord regretted
[was sorry] that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
God is wounded by the level of wickedness that he sees. He’s heartbroken.
Genesis 6:7-22 NIV
7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with
them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have
made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 9 This is the account of Noah and his family.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with
God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight
and was full of violence.12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had
corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled
with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself
an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to
build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof
for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make
lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the
heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish
my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with
you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.
20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground
will come to you to be kept alive.21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food
for you and for them.” 22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
What happened then is what happens to us when we try to define good and evil for ourselves.
This reminds me of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If you’re not familiar with the film, Indiana is in
search of the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus used during the Last Supper. To “motivate” Indiana, the bad guy has shot
Indiana’s father. Indiana arrives in the room where the cup is, except that there are many cups. Which is the right one?
The bad guy arrives. The guard tells him to choose wisely. The man is in search of a prize, in search of immortality for
himself. Throughout the movie he did what he thought was good, for himself. He was willing to do anything, ally himself
with anyone, kill anyone in order to get his prize. With some advice from another archeologist, he chooses a magnificent
gold and jewel encrusted cup, a cup worthy of the Son of God. He chose poorly, and it cost him his life.
We choose poorly when we define good and evil for ourselves. You can see it all the time all over the world. I’m sad to say
that some of those people call themselves Christian. Some of the worst atrocities the world has ever known has been done
in the name of God. It’s like if we can rationalize that we are doing something on behalf of God that is gives us license to do
even more terrible things than we would consider otherwise. Murder, rape, torture. Those are extreme, but the truth is that
we don’t have to look all over the world to find someone who is defining good and evil for themselves. Usually, we only have
to look in the mirror.
How many times do we ignore the nudges that God gives us and rationalize that doing what is best for us is the “right thing,
” the good thing? We like to think of ourselves as “good,” but we have to remember as Jesus says in in Luke 18:19, “No one is
good-except God alone.” Yet, we can look to God, look to Jesus, to find God’s definition of good, that which benefits others.
The contrast is that some of the most wonderful things are also done in the name of God, though they often don’t make the
papers. However, we are blessed that David Cook tells us these stories all the time. Malaria prevention and treatment, feeding
people, disaster relief, health care, education. We get opportunities to be a part of them. We put together hygiene kits for disaster
relief a few weeks ago. We will get to put together meals in a couple of months. Do you know that the United Methodist Church
alone sponsors and supports 119 schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries all over the world?! There are 52 Methodist hospitals
in the United States alone. Other Christian related organizations support countless more life-saving, life-changing organizations.
Using God’s definition of good is benefiting others, helping, healing, feeding, teaching. It’s helping millions of people all over the
world every day.
In the time of Noah, God did not find many that were following his definition. God was heartbroken. He felt that he had to take
drastic action to save the world. However, one was found who walked with God, Noah. God gave him the most extraordinary
instructions. Can you imagine hearing this from God? It almost makes God’s call to Abraham to “go to a land that I will show you”
away from everything you know and live in a tent as a nomad sound pretty easy.
No, this is, Build a big boat right where you are in the midst of all your neighbors. Prepare to take all kinds of animals on it
with you and your family. All kinds of animals and food for them too because there’s going to be a big rainstorm that will flood
the world, and I’m going to save you from it. I know there isn’t even a cloud in the sky right now, but you better get started because
Noah’s response? “[He] did everything just as God commanded him.” (Gen 6:22) Now, that’s trust. I think of Abraham and Sarah.
Yes, they moved to Canaan, but when it came to having a child, their trust wavered. I think of Moses, who led the Israelites out of
Egypt and around the desert, whose face glowed after being in God’s presence to the point where it unnerved people. When God
first called him, he started making excuses because he felt unworthy. These people are all highlighted as people who demonstrated
great faith in God, but even they questioned God’s instructions and promises. Not Noah. He just did it. He obeyed. Does this mean
that Noah was perfect? No, he was a person of integrity that walked with God. Really, that’s the best that any of us can do.
Then, everything was loaded into the ark. God shut the door, and it began to rain and rain and rain. Last spring, it started to feel like
Noah around here as it kept raining until June 21st. All the streams and rivers overflowing and altering their course here and there.
For Noah, it rained forty days and nights. Forty is one of those special numbers in the Bible. It indicates a long but complete period
of time that results in the victory of the good and the overthrow of evil. It can be years or days. Two examples, the Israelites wandering
in the desert for forty years as God with the help of Moses trains them to be a people. (Ex 24:18) Another is Jesus’ temptation in the
wilderness for forty days at the beginning of his public ministry (Mt 4:2).
When it stopped raining, God sent his Holy wind, his ruach, otherwise known as the Holy Spirit, to help dry up the waters. Remember
at the beginning of creation when the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters? (Gen 1:2) God is continuing the task of restoration.
The Spirit is “re-creating.” After 150 days, the flood has dried up, and everyone and everything can come out of the ark.
Genesis 8:15-21 NIV
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.
17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures
that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the
creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark,
one kind after another. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and
clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart:
“Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is
evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
Then, in chapter 9 God makes an everlasting promise, a covenant to all living creatures. Starting at verse 12 …
Genesis 9:12-16 NIV
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every
living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the
clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds
over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me
and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy
all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant
between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
Even after everything that has happened, God knows that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.”
He knows that we will continue to get it wrong (and boy, do we ever), yet God still promises never to destroy all living
creatures again. He makes the first covenant with humans, all humans into perpetuity and in fact with every living creature
in the world. Humans still have their purpose to populate the whole earth and to take care of it. There is the visual reminder
of a rainbow of that continuing promise, a promise that is made to us as well. The Scripture says that it is a reminder to God,
but it is also a reminder to us that God is faithful and keeps his promises.
This narrative of the flood can be quite disturbing. That God was so grieved that he wanted to wipe everything out and start fresh.
All the death and destruction that went with it. Even knowing that humanity had degenerated to the worst things we can imagine,
it’s still disturbing.
A question many people have asked is if God is good, why does God allow evil to exist and even perpetuate in the world? Of course,
given our mandate to take care of the world, God could ask that same question of us, humanity. We have a choice. Are we going to
define good and evil for ourselves, or are we going to depend on God’s definition and act on it?
However, over the millennia, God has done many things against evil. One that we have been looking at is cleansing the world of wickedness
through the flood. Drastic, yes. Another is that he sent his Son, Jesus, to serve us, to save us by taking the worst punishment on himself,
and to cleanse us from the inside out. Through his Holy Spirit he transforms our hardened hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. Through
the Prophet Ezekiel God says,
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit I them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ez 11:19-20)
Noah is not a cute story about how he takes all the animals go for a boat ride. It tells us about the human condition when we are left to our
own devises and live a life without God. As Brian McLaren says in his book We Make the Road by Walking,
Those ancient stories courageously expose how all civilizations were founded on violence and oppression, producing luxury and ease for
a few but exhaustion and degradation for the many. They warn us that unjust structures are unsustainable. They advise that the floods of
change will sweep injustice away and internal conflicts will thwart arrogant ambitions. They promise that in the long run, justice and
reconciliation will prevail over injustice and rivalry. (Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, New York: Jericho Books. 2014, pg. 22)
We each have a choice to make. Are we going to be one of those who “walk with God,” or are we going to go our own way?
Jesus holds his hand out to us. Will we take it? Will we walk with him?
Let me pray for you. Lord, we thank you for the ability to desire to walk with you, but it is not easy. We are surrounded by a
culture that tells us that our needs and wants are most important. We are trained to expect to get it our way right away.
Help us to see your example of service and humility as the way to walk with you. Help us to see the difference between self-care
and self-centeredness. It can be a hard line for us to detect. Help us to discern the difference between the path that leads to burnout
and the path that leads to abundant life with you. Most of all, help us to see the world and others as you see and to love as you love.
It is in Jesus most Holy name we pray. Amen!
How does the story continue? Noah has a bad start by planting a vineyard and getting drunk, but it gets worse. It involves another
building project. Not a boat this time, but a tower using the brand new cutting edge innovation … the brick. Stay tuned …