Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Sermon on Noah - October 19th

In seminary, I learn a lot of depressing history: crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, murders, rape, pillaging. Though there are a few bright sprinklings of virtue scattered throughout our common past, mostly there are a lot of stories that make you shake your head in shame. Thankfully, however, it isn’t just Christian history that is full of faux-pas and foolishness: World, American and even Texas history have their own collection of shameful stories. For those of you non-Texans who got educated somewhere else, every 7th grade child has to take a semester long class specifically focused on Texas history – well I did anyway. And do you know what I remember most distinctly? The Alamo. To be specific, the embarrassing rout of a loss that the Texan army suffered at the hands of the Mexican army. What a debacle! Only a few hundred men, holed up in a mission facing the full force of the Mexican army (which was several thousand men stronger than them). After a couple of days of desperate fighting, the men of the Alamo (including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie) were slaughtered. What fools these mortals be. Did they think they would actually win the day against a fully invested army? Their deaths should have been in vain. But as it turns out, the Battle of the Alamo was more important than you could imagine.
And that’s usually the way it is, no? The most seemingly insignificant battles, the least predictable plans, the most average men are usually the ones who yield surprising gains.
Take the story of our friend Noah, for instance. Here’s something that should have never worked. All we know about Noah is that he’s not as debauched as the rest of the world and so God tells him, sight unseen, to build a very very big boat. What foolishness! How will a big boat make any difference? But as we learn from today’s’ text: God’s Plans Are Never As Foolish As They Seem.
Though I will admit that sometimes God isn’t really very forthcoming or clear about his goals, he’s not a fool. And he’s not blind either. As we open the story today, God has seen what was once good transform into something totally different. God sees, then and now, the corruption of the earth.
But hey, you say, corruption and decay are sometimes the result of natural causes! True – fruit, meat, bread, they will all be corrupted by time if nothing else. But some corruption takes work. Like rust. Now imagine a newly smithied axe bladed. You can flick the metal with your fingertips and it sings. The blade edge is so sharp that a single hair is cut in half on it. Many a poor tree will fall victim to the bite of this axe. But say, for instance, that you left this axe out one night. And it rained. The next morning, when you retrieve it, it seems no worse for the wear. Nor Harm, No Foul, right? Wrong. You see, water is made of hydrogen and oxygen. And when oxygen bonds with iron, something new is made – Ferrous Oxide. Rust. You don’t realize it, but that blade has already been corrupted at it’s deepest and simplest level. It just isn’t show yet. But when it does show, it will be too late. The blade will seemingly be beyond repair.
And that seems to be the case in the story today. Not to say that God has chosen to negligently leave us out in the rain – but that these newly smithied axes seem to have minds and legs of their own. Whatever started the corruption in these people we can’t know. And the point is moot because the corruption of mankind has become so deep that its showing up everywhere.
Notice though, that the text doesn’t explain their corruption. Listen to verse 5 once again “The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Now remember that the stories which we have received in the forms of these books were originally the shared stories of the people of Israel. Whenever the father or mother of the clan of Israel would begin this tale, the family would listen closely with heart and mind. And they probably, like we all do, like children do, filled in the gaps. The story trusts that you will be able to imagine what a corruption so great, a wickedness so pervasive that every single thought of the persons heart was evil, looks like. Are you imagining? Can you imagine this world? The people of Israel could. They had experienced slavery and exile, death on scales so large has to boggle the mind, the encroaching terrors of ravenous armies, the destructive force of corrupt and idolatrous kings. They hear wickedness and they remember the past and so in some ways, God’s decision to “wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air.” They know what it is like for God to say to them “for I am grieved that I have made them.” The corruption here is not explained – it is only seen.
Well, you are probably thinking, I’m glad we didn’t have to suffer through a long and embarrassing list of the “sins” of the people that God was displeased with. That would be uncomfortable. Lets change the wording here and see if we can approximate for ourselves what it would be like to hear this story originally. Lets try to fill in our gaps. “Now the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness in America had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil all the time.” What is your first thought- the thing you immediately identify as evil, as corruption as wickedness. One more time. “Now the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness in Lakewood Christian Church had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil all the time.” What sin did you think of then? What wickedness first came to your mind? I ask you to do these things to make a point – we never think that we’re the sinful people, the corrupt people, the bad people in the story. I don’t want to dwell here too long, but I think that its important to note that God’s not blind to us, to our faults, to our corruption. We worship a God who sees. We worship a God powerful enough to see rust on a blade and figure out how to reverse the process.
Our God, the seeing, powerful God, doesn’t become impotent when he sees corruption- He makes plans for the future. And those plans usually involve us. You see, our God is a productive God, and a God that seeks to work with us. Even when it means that God asks us to build what we have never seen.
They weren’t a very large group of people. Several couples began to meet and to talk and to pray together – thought they still didn’t know why, they were all feeling the weight of God’s Spirit upon them to give themselves over to God’s coming future. They felt the voice of God in their lives, and that voice was very specifically saying, “Build My Church.” I can’t tell you for sure, But I am almost positive that God commanded them to also fill that church with all types of people: the young and old, teenaged and aged, families and singles (at least 7 of each kind). But they didn’t know what that would look like, where it would be, when it would happen. All the details were yet to be given, though the command was clear – “Build My Church.” And who was God asking to build without blueprints? You might recognize a few of the names: Francis Adams, Jim Tom & Shari Speer. These small few were the charter members, the founders of Lakewood Christian Church. These folks stand in a proud tradition of the faithful – those who have responded to God’s call to build the unseen and the unknown – Just like Noah.
Don’t believe me? Ok. Please think for me of all the Bible stories about Israelite ship-builders. Got any? That’s because there weren’t any. Chances are, if they rode on one, they’d paid the passage rather than the construction fees. The people of God weren’t a sea-faring people, so when God asks Noah to build an Ark, chances are that Noah’s first question would be “What’s an Ark?” Of the various other flood narratives that have been found in hundreds of other Mediterranean cultures, Noah is the only one who is neither a navigator, sea-farer or ship-builder. So, God has to be specific for him: make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” Maybe Noah was a craftsman who knew how to build. Maybe he was a farmer who kept livestock and raised wheat. Maybe he was a blacksmith. Or a cobbler. We don’t know. All we know is that he’s righteous amongst all the wickedness and that’s qualification enough for God to ask him to build the ark. I’m going to say that again – Noah’s righteousness is all the qualification that God needs for Noah to build the Ark; for Noah to be a participant in God’s plan for cleansing and salvation. All Noah has to do is say yes.
God hasn’t stopped making plans, and he definitely hasn’t stopped getting us on board with those plans. Noah said yes; the charter members of Lakewood said yes. And they said yes with little or no information to go on. “Build” God said, and build they did. What plans is God trying to get you involved with? What are the terrifying and mysterious building projects that God has for your life? In my own life, God has asked me to commit myself to full time ministry. I don’t know where that will go through or where it will end – I just had to commit sight unseen. In your life, God is calling still, I am sure of it. Maybe he’s put it on your heart to care for and minister to the poor or the homeless or the drug addicted. Maybe he’s stirred your soul to spread the gospel not only to your neighbors in Robinson but also to your neighbors in Africa, Asia or South America. Maybe God has been whispering in your ear spurring you to plant a church. Only you can know what God’s call is for you. I beg you, though; don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from acting. Don’t let the grim spectre of failure and mockery and disbelief stall your forward motion. You may appear to be making a foolish investment in God – but I promise, investing your self in God’s plans is the best bet you could ever make.
I never claimed, though, that God’s requests and commands were easily followed. In fact, sometimes it just takes trust on our parts…oh and one other thing: God’s plans require us to be obedient!
I have a cat. He eats when he wants, he goes to the bathroom on his own schedule and sleeps whenever he pleases. As cat people well know, you can’t (or shouldn’t try anyway) to train a cat. Dogs though, can be. To my surprise, a dog can not only sit, stay and heel but can be trained to speak, attack and to fetch your mountain dews from the refrigerator. If you would like proof, there is a very funny video on YouTube that proves my point. Dogs seem to respond well to obedience training – a firm voice and hand can produce extremely well behaved and helpful companions. Dogs can learn to be obedient with just a little hard work and determination. Humans, though, seem more like cats – likely to resist all attempts at obedience training. To test this theory, I dare you to find a 2 or 3 year old child after church (we have a few) and try to order them into doing something they’d rather not. And please, video tape this. We’d all like to congratulate you if it works. We humans are stubborn animals, content to fail or succeed on our own with no help from any of you folks thank you very much. But that doesn’t always work out for the best, especially when we should be minding our p’s and q’s around God.
So how does Noah respond to God’s call to build an ark? Verse 22 says “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” That’s it. In fact, if you search through the following 3 chapters, Noah actually has absolutely NO dialogue at all until the very end. And then he dies. Noah doesn’t seem to be a man of questions like Moses will be, or a shirker like Abraham will be or even a wrestler like Jacob ends up. Noah just does. He just obeys. He doesn’t deal or cajole or whine or yell – he does everything just as God commanded him. Noah builds an Ark for the first time, gathers more animals than a zookeeper has to deal with for the first time, lives with his sons and their wives during a great supernatural catastrophe – there were lots of times when he could have said – “that’s it God – what the heck is going on?!” But he doesn’t. He obeys. Again and again and again, he obeys God, be trusts God, he worships God. His level of obedience is remarkable, especially considering what he was asked to do. I have a very active imagination, and I can just see what the conversation between Noah and his wife was like.

NW: “How was your day Noah?”
N: “Fine. Oh – I almost forgot. God talked to me today.”
NW: “Did he?”
N: “Yup. I was startled too.”
NW: “Well?”
N: “Well what?”
NW: “What did God say to you?”
N: “Oh, right. He wants me to build an ark and fill it with animals cause he’s going to flood the earth and destroy the wicked.”
NW: “Is that so.”
N: “Apparently. When are we eating?”

That’s probably exaggerating a bit, but remember that Noah’s obedience to God’s plan, Noah’s obedience to this project that would appear to be insane to everyone else, would affect his family as well. For however long it took Noah to build this Ark, his family would be working with him. For however long it took Noah to build this Ark, his family would be judged by him. For however long it took Noah to obediently fulfill God’s plan, they would all appear as insane as him. This level of obedience – it’s costly.
Are you ready for this level of costly obedience? Are you ready to invest not only your money and time, but your whole life and the lives of your family in God’s plans for you? Sure, you say. I’m just waiting for God to reveal his plan for you. Well, good news folks. God’s got another investment program going on that he’d like you to be a part of. He wants you, your time, your money and your family to be totally and completely sold-out committed to this project. Don’t worry – the building is already built, but it’s got some programs that he needs you to be devoted to. The world may think you’re a fool for being invested in this plan – it means that sometimes you’ll miss football games and soccer tournaments; it means that sometimes you’ll drive a little more and spend more on gas than you’d planned; it means your kids will hang out with and spiritually grow with peers that they wouldn’t meet otherwise; it means that you’ll focus on the spiritual needs of others rather than your own material desires; it means you will sacrifice for strangers who might never say thank you; it means you follow a strict code of righteous living instead of the easier life of casual sinning. What’s this plan? Well, you’re sitting in it. Think of Lakewood Christian Church as your own personal ark. We don’t know what God’s total plan for this church is – but knowing the whole scheme was never ours to ask for. As God said to those original members, he says to you still: Build my church. Give not only money, but time, your whole self, your family and friends – dedicate yourself to this church, to God’s church wherever that is. And be obedient to God’s plan even when it sounds crazy, foolish and risky.
Foolish, crazy, risky. Remember the Alamo? I told you that that terrible and humiliating loss was actually one of the most important events in the Texas War for Independence. Why you say? They were fools for standing against that huge army. They were crazy for thinking they could make a difference. They took a risk and they failed. Well…sort of. Those men did die. They did lose that battle. But the news of that defeat sparked a fire in the rest of the freedom fighters; “Remember the Alamo” they said to each other. Remember the men who fought and died for our independence. And they did – the Battle at Alamo became the rallying point for the men and women of Texas, uniting the disparate factions of the independence movement; and you know what – they won. We stand here today a state of the United States instead of Mexico because of the men who lost at the Alamo. They were fools – they shouldn’t have made a difference to anything or anybody. But they did. Their foolishness was wisdom in the end.
Let that be our cry as well: “Remember Noah. Remember the Ark.” Remember that Noah built that which he had never seen, that he obeyed when he had no reason to know that he would be the savior and surviving link for the people of God. Remember that God sees clearly, plans wisely and expects obedience from us. Today is your chance to invest yourself in the Foolishness of God. Today is your chance to dedicate your life to the building up of the Kingdom of God, which we have never seen but yearn for in our deepest hearts. Remember that what seems crazy and risky now can be the turning point, the catalyst for great change, for great grace, for the movement of God’s spirit in the World, in Waco, Texas. Whenever you become afraid, whenever you become cynical, whenever you start to doubt, remember that God’s Plans Are Never As Foolish As They Seem.

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