Lent 1, Year B, 2009

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?”

“Yep.”

“So, no one else got to build a boat?”

“Nope.  Only Noah.”

“So. . .did the other people. . .die?”

“Yep.”

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.

Amen.

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Proper 4, Year A, 2008

Noah was a man with a vocation.

God called Noah, clear as a bell, and told him to build a boat.  God told Noah to build a big boat.  God told Noah to build a boat so big that it could hold a pair of every kind of animal under the sun.

Living in Crozet, we have had the unique opportunity to see the Ark in person-at least Hollywood’s version of the Ark-and we know the Ark was one big boat.  But I’ll bet you a dollar that when Noah was in that big boat, on top of the choppy seas, on about day twenty of the rainstorm, Noah felt like he was in a flimsy little basket, floating on the great unknown.

Can you imagine?  All of humanity has been wiped out, and God has chosen you to be cruise director, zookeeper. . .and, oh yeah, put you in charge of repopulating the earth.  Noah must have been one nervous navigator.

Discerning our vocations can make us feel like we’re on flimsy little baskets, floating on the great unknown, too.  We stand side by side with Noah and his poor wife when we ask God, “Who am I?  Who would you have me be?”

After all, our first vocational act is to be baptized, to submit ourselves to the mystery of water and the Spirit in order to be transformed and welcomed as God’s very own.  From that time on, our job as Christians is to pray and discern who God is calling us to be.  When we are children we are called to be children-to play and to learn.  We are to immerse ourselves in the language of our faith through Sunday School and Children’s Worship and prayers around the dinner table.  Then, when we grow up, and we start realizing the gifts God has given us, we leave the playground and go to work.  Sometimes this is our vocation, and sometimes it is just work.  After all, for one person crunching numbers may be an area of excellence AND an area of passion, but their neighbor in the office next door may feel as much passion for numbers as they do for the color beige.

The trick to figuring out God’s call for us, the trick to figuring out our vocation is to find the place, as Buecher said, “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  As Christians we are called to serve, and our true vocations will always contain some element of service.

Discerning vocation can be frightening.  Having steady work is the opposite of being adrift in a basket on a stormy sea.  Having a good, steady job is like being firmly planted in nourishing soil.  Leaving such an auspicious state can seem absolutely crazy!  But discerning your vocation is still worth it, I promise.  First, because at our core our deepest need is to have meaning, and our vocation gives us meaning.  Secondly, discerning our vocation does not always mean having to leave our jobs!

It is entirely possible to work full time in a job that is not your vocation, and find your vocation doing something on the side:  writing,  volunteering for hospice, taking on more pro bono work, teaching classes in your field to those who can use the knowledge.  One of my favorite parts of being your priest, is getting to hear your stories of vocation.  Those of you who raise service dogs, visit with the dying, serve food to the poor, coordinate after school programs, and the like have such deep joy and meaning in your lives.  Your vocational work is not always easy and can even be heart rending, but you are expressing the deepest part of yourself in a way that serves our community and our God.

When we begin this vocational discernment, we might find it helpful to remember that God doesn’t just send us out in our rickety baskets on uneasy waters.  God also inhabits the very water that upholds our boats.  God bears us gently even as we seek to follow him.  God is present in our vocation and in our search for that vocation.

And today as we baptize Stuart Caroline, she begins her own vocation as the newest, littlest Christian in Christendom.  She joins us on our rickety boats as we go off on our ocean adventure together.

Amen.