Floods of Grace

Sermon Preached on October 13, 2019 – Creation V, with a Baptism
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-12
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Genesis 8:13- 18, 9:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

Floods of Grace

Hearing this story of Noah and the flood I couldn’t help but think of Hurricane Dorian, our most recent devasting storm of raging water and wind. And, given our story, (and our blessing of the animals last week) my heart turned to the animals who had been stranded on the islands, as their owners were forced to evacuate without them. Disaster response teams from the International Fund for Animal Welfare worked for weeks to rescue and reunite pets with owners. Then there were those animals who were homeless or in shelters – Chella Phillips, who runs a dog rescue, opened her home to dogs in need of shelter during the storm, by the time the hurricane hit her house was full of 97 dogs. Even though she posted photos, it’s hard to picture, isn’t it?

Just over a week ago, The Animal Rescue League of Portland welcomed a plane with 52 pets from the Bahamas. A team of volunteers unloaded the animals to be taken to several shelters across Maine. Can you imagine the trip? The hold of the plane full of cats and dogs. Two of the dogs, Duke and Duchess, are a bonded pair. All of this sounds familiar – devastating floodwaters, and rescuing animals, two by two.

Several years ago, I stood before my 6th-grade classes at St. Paul’s School for Boys and tried to teach this part of Genesis. We had an overhead projector that showed images from the class computer – I had them read the story aloud as the text showed on the screen. No matter which of my four classes experienced this story, two things were consistent. First, all the repetition in the story got on everyone’s nerves (we’ve taken some of the repetitions out this morning for the sake of time). And second, this is not a nice story. The repetition is due to the way this story was edited in the 6th century BCE. There are two different traditions from which the first many chapters of Genesis are taken. In the first two chapters, we see the two traditions sitting side by side, which is why we have two different Creation stories. In the case of the flood story, rather than put the two stories side by side, the editors intertwine the two traditions, and often that means that things are repeated, so as not to lose too much of either tradition. We have, on the one hand, ‘the far off, all-powerful, speaks creation into being’ understanding of God, and on the other, ‘the near to us, walks with Adam and Eve in the garden’ understanding of God. And we experience both understandings in this combined and compounded flood story. A near to us, anthropomorphic God who shuts the door to the ark behind Noah and family, and an all-powerful far away God who puts his bow in the sky and makes a covenant with all humanity and creation.

Which explains the mechanical issues in the text, but what about the story? This is, at its core, a disturbing story. As I mentioned, in our class we used an overhead projector with the text on the screen so the boys could take turns reading it. And each slide had an illustration. For this story I found the images on a website that illustrates Bible stories through Legos. (Not really meant for children.) The Lego people slide show for this story is deeply troubling. As the ark is closed and the waters start to swell, there are people in the waters, swimming toward the ark. And as the waters rise even higher, there are Lego people floating by. It was gruesome and the boys loved it. And it served its purpose, it kept their attention and taught the story. Illustrating in Lego art that this is a hard story.

The problem is that on its surface, this story supports a really disconcerting understanding of the relationship of God to the realities of our world. As if bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. Because that’s exactly what happens in the flood part of the story. Noah was considered righteous – right with God, so God put Noah and family on the ark with the pairs of animals and shut the door. Closing them in, keeping them and protecting them. While God destroyed everyone else. Because they were not righteous. Essentially a handful of ‘good’ people are saved and everyone else is destroyed, wiping the slate clean so God can begin again.

Which supports a lot of really awful theology in our world. Good things happen to good people, and bad things only happen to bad people. If I make it through the storm untouched, (even though I didn’t evacuate) must be that God saved me, because I’m a good person. And when something bad happens to people, then it’s okay, they must have deserved it. Those Lego people in the water, those suffering people in the Bahamas or Puerto Rico, they are somehow responsible for what happened to them.

Thankfully, it doesn’t work like that. And that’s the core truth this story is trying to articulate for us, if we will follow it to the end. That humanity’s corruption was heartbreaking to God, and the solution – erasing everything and allowing it to begin again – was ultimately not a good solution. Humans don’t change all that much. Even Noah turns out to be less than righteous. And his family members are pretty human as well. In the end of the story, with the ground still gleaming wet, God promises never to destroy all of creation again. Never to throw in the towel. Never to give up on us, despite our brokenness, our greed, our pride, our corruption. Despite how very human we manage to be generation after generation.

Putting God’s war bow in the sky, God promises never to destroy mankind and creation again. No matter how much we might deserve it. God has hung up the destructive bow, and it becomes a symbol of God’s promise to us, to be in relationship with us, no matter what.

It’s not God’s will to save some and not others. It’s not righteousness or justice to pick some over others. God’s kingdom is offered to all. Relationship with God for all. Grace and possibility for everyone. Even the most broken of us.

Which is a lot of grace for a difficult flood story, when you think about it. From all the relatively recent coverage of hurricane Dorian, we know that it’s no small thing to look out and see water, water everywhere. Remember the images of walls of water, incredibly high winds, and neighborhoods overwhelmed, as the storm surge overcomes the coast… Hold those images, and then remember the truths of this story. God will never leave us without hope again. God has promised to never destroy humanity, to always be with us, in every helpless moment of our lives. It’s not God’s will that we be in that place of helplessness. It is certainly not a punishment from God. God has promised it doesn’t work that way.

We can be sure that floods and hurricanes, and other devastation that happen on our earth are not actually acts of God. No matter what the insurance companies may call them. God doesn’t work like that. Rather, God calls us to be God’s own, to immerse ourselves in the waters of Baptism, to become one body with Christ, and one another. God’s own beloved, called and marked, sealed as Christ’s own forever. God invites us to live into this calling, to be people of faith.

As we hear in the Gospel text, our faith can make us whole. Our faith in what is possible with God, our faith in the promises of God to all people, lived out in Jesus and infused in us through the power of the Spirit.

We are called to live that out loud – through the promises we make in response, those we will say again this morning (at 10am) – when we renew our baptismal covenant. That we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. That we will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. That we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. That we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. That we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. This is our covenant with God, who covenants with us for our well-being, generation after generation.

Today on behalf of the Church this congregation will bring Winslow “Winnie” McCrann into the life and love of God, through baptism into the body of Christ. May we continue to live into our faith, grateful for God’s covenant of love and mercy. Amen.