The story of Noah’s Ark is such a sweet story, isn’t it? You’ve got a big boat, a colorful lead character, animals marching two by two. We even have a big, beautiful rainbow wrapping itself around the story as the finishing touch. Because it is sooo cute, Noah’s Ark imagery is very popular for children’s toys and décor for nurseries. [Holding up brightly colored, stuffed, Noah’s Ark toy.] This is adorable, right?
The story stays adorable until the kid who plays with the toy start asking questions.
“Why did Noah build a boat?”
“God told Noah he was going to send a big flood and that Noah should build a boat.”
“Why did God send the flood?”
“Because God was very angry with people.”
At this point the child starts looking a little concerned.
“God was mad at the people so he sent a flood?”
“So, no one else got to build a boat?”
“Nope. Only Noah.”
“So. . .did the other people. . .die?”
About this point in the conversation is when I would suddenly offer the kid the opportunity to eat whipped cream right out of the can. I would offer anything just to redirect the conversation.
The Noah story is not really an adorable story. The Noah story is a horror story. We have seen two mind-bogglingly terrible floods in the last few years: The 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the terrible 2005 hurricane related flooding in the gulf coast. There was nothing adorable about either of those tragedies. Through the power of television, we saw the bloated, drowned bodies. We saw survivors begging for food. We saw the panicked faces of people searching for their loved ones. We saw animals, separated from their owners, looking lost and forlorn. No one is going to design a Katrina or tsunami themed nursery, that’s for sure.
So, why are we so quick to embrace Noah as a hero? Why don’t we resent Noah for not trying harder to rescue his neighbors?
I find it helpful to think of the story of Noah as a myth. There was some kind of enormous flood in early Mesopotamia. Nearly every culture in the region has some mythology surrounding this vast down pouring of rain and subsequent flooding. The peoples of the time did not have a scientific or even historical understanding of the world, so they would not have recorded data or interviewed survivors like we might do today. Instead the survivors would tell stories. They would ascribe spiritual meaning to the flood and tell the miraculous story of their survival.
In this case, the survivors, Noah’s descendents, understand their very existence as a gift from God. They tell the amazing story of Noah’s survival in mythic terms in order to emphasize what a miracle Noah’s survival was.
But that does not get Noah’s descendents completely off the hook. The story of Noah’s ark has a disturbing “us” and “them” mentality. The “us”, Noah and his family, become this superior, righteous family who were chosen by God to live. The “them”-the rest of humanity-are judged as sinners so that we don’t feel too badly about their death.
We truly are descendents of Noah’s, because we still have the exact same tendency to divide and diminish. As Episcopalians, we tend to judge Fundamentalists. Northerners judge southerners. Politicians judge Hollywood. Homeowners with ballooning mortgages judge New York bankers. Christians judge Muslims. Democrats judge Republicans. And, of course, all of these statements can be reversed to be equally true.
But here’s the thing. Noah’s exclusive family boat may have worked for his situation, but none of us are going to be given the opportunity to escape from people who are other than us. No one is going to call me up and say, “Hey, Sarah, we’re starting a colony on the moon. It’s going to be GREAT! The only people who will live there will be just like you. When can you leave?”
This moon colony has several problems, not the least of which is that I cannot imagine anything more annoying than being surrounded by people just like me. But the larger problem, is that our Christian faith not only allows for incredible difference within it, Christianity compels us to open our churches and our lives to all kinds of people.
Jesus, if you will allow the metaphor, offers us an enormous boat and invites all of us to climb aboard. While Noah’s family understood their survival as the grace of God. Jesus widens this image so we understand that God offers grace to all people-the righteous and unrighteous, the ins and the outs, us and them. We are all in the boat together.
The name for the part of the church building where you are all seated is the nave. Nave comes from the Latin word for ship. Architecturally, the word nave is a reference to the ship like appearance of the ceilings in Gothic cathedrals, but the image of the nave works for a simple church like ours, as well.
Every Sunday we gather here, together, in one boat, in Jesus’ boat, because of what Jesus did for us two thousand years ago. We climb into this boat time and time again, because our God is a God who loves all people-people of all cultures, income brackets, skin colors, and beliefs.
We climb into this boat, because we need each other. We climb into this boat, because if we are going to survive the floods that this life brings us, we are going to need the security of the faith and fellowship contained in this boat. We climb into this boat because Jesus stands at its bridge and welcomes us on board with open arms.