Readings for Proper 4 (9)Third Sunday after Pentecost 1 June 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 4A/Ordinary 9A/Pentecost +3 June 1, 2008 Textweek

Genesis 6: 9-22, 7-24, Psalm 46; Romans 1: 16,17 3:21-31; Matthew 7:21-29

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The story of Noah and the Flood from Genesis seems on the surface to be almost contradictory to the reading that we heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Genesis tells us of the saving of the few and destruction of the many; Paul however, asserts that (in verse 23), that all have sinned and also that all are justified through faith by the gift of divine grace.

Genesis and the story of Noah and the flood are stunningly misunderstood if they’re seen as historical and literal. Noah, like Santa, is an archetype through which we can see ourselves, or at least a part thereof. And it’s not so much that through archetypes we see aspects of ourselves, a bit of us, rather what we get to glimpse is an orientation from within. Archetypes enable us to determine and to know of where we look from our inner landscape, and that shifts; as we move around our inner landscape, so we see and look in different directions and at different things. So as we look at Noah we can glimpse ourselves with a particular orientation. Noah walked with God: I have glimpsed that place, I’ve imagined it and desired it; I know that place within and I believe that everyone, everyone can glimpse that place, we all have an inner landscape that includes somewhere where we know what it is to walk with God.

Most of us for much of the time are turned away from that place by other distractions. It’s interesting that there are very few models for living out walking with God, and yet there are many experiential accounts that would evidence that it is a possibility, and in fact it holds potential. So what stops us, what stops us from walking with God? Fear, and it’s picked it up in the other readings, it’s named, and it’s the fear of walking a path that is different, walking a path that is counter-cultural.

Let’s continue to look at Noah: he had three sons. Have you ever wondered why we were given that bit of information? It’s only a real question if we still are stuck with the historical and the literal. ‘Noah had three sons’ identifies his future orientation; he’s not self-focussed, he’s not looking at retaining the status quo, he’s not looking at his retirement, rather his orientation is towards the future. It’s an orientation toward the other rather than the self, and it’s also an orientation that goes beyond one’s own mortality.

We then have the dialogue between God and Noah and it gives us a number of affirming reference points in our quest for life; it’s a revelation of the Divine where there’s a dialogue with God; something is being revealed, just as in Christ the Divine is revealed. The divine dialogue first of all gives voice to the obvious: the violence of the earth is not the way of God. There are then the instructions for building the Ark, it’s not a leftover from an ancient Ikea, there’s value in those instructions, again not in their literal sense. They speak of divine guidance, they speak of a process that we can trust in; they also speak of an ask. The ask of Noah is the ask of us: that we commit ourselves, commit ourselves fully to the process. Then we have the Ark itself. The Ark reveals the place of community, a community of faith and so it can be seen and has been used as an icon of the church. The Ark is a community again that sees beyond and sails beyond the destructive way of the overwhelming worldly culture. It’s a community that establishes itself to preserve life and this is not done selfishly. As we learn in verse 20: ‘every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive’. Just beware of the literal again: they shall come to you to keep them alive. ‘Alive’ in this context is quite different to ‘existing’, rather it points to the ‘divine alive’, to life’s fullness.

So what we learn from the narrative as the story unfolds is that the Ark community brings about re-creation. This is the Easter narrative, this is the story of the Resurrection: there is the divine community, a covenant community, established forever. It offers abundance for all, every kind; it offers life, it offers a tomorrow that cannot be drowned by the dying waves of the world.

Paul seeks to establish and encourage that very sense of community. He seeks and he struggles to make real the revelation of the flood narrative, the narrative that Paul heard told again and so revealed again in the experience of the Resurrection. And I think Paul begins quite unconsciously by acknowledging the archetypal nature of revelation, because he says in verse 16, the gospel is for everyone. ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’. This is an overarching story. In verse 17, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, "The one who is righteous will live by faith" – will live as Noah lived. We can see that Paul is actually embodying what the archetype of Noah reveals. Verse 23, ‘all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God’ – this is the overwhelming reality of the Flood. Verse 24, ‘they are now justified by his grace as a gift’ – this is the Ark.

Then we have in verse 25 and 26, Paul speaking of atonement and sacrifice and it’s a theology that parallels the transaction that’s involved in the flood narrative. Paul would have also held a literal framework for the story of the Flood. He wouldn’t quite have got to that point of appreciating its mythical, its archetypal nature, and so the transaction that’s involved in the flood, the killing of the many for the few and then the signing of the covenant with the rainbow, has to be translated and it’s from there that we end up with theologies of atonement and of sacrifice.

As we open ourselves to all that the story reveals there’s another subtle movement that is contained within it. Consider what changed; consider who changed, and the interesting thing is that we find that not Noah, but rather God changes. Noah’s response to the Divine changes the divine dance. And so re-creation is reshaped, the world looks different and the Gospel today invites us to really think about these readings, think about them in a discerning way. Don’t do the Anglican thing and just accept them as gospel, think about them. ‘Beware of false prophets’: become aware of every word, every image, every activity that distracts us from walking with God. We’re told in the Gospel if you hear the divine word and then act on what you hear, then your house will be built on rock. The ark of Noah becomes the ark of the covenant, becomes the house that is built on rock.

So let’s accept the in invitation of the Gospel and contemplate these narratives. As we do so we wonder, we look around at the world again with eyes of wonder. I wonder if global warming is a retelling of the same story and certainly for the past week, nearly two weeks, it’s astounding to think that Australia has been distracted by a debate of should it be three cents or five cents off the price of petrol. If we need indications of false prophets they really do stand out, just turn on the television.

The psalm sings into the present the readings that we’ve heard today. In verse 6, ‘The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; the earth melts’, and then in verse 7, ‘The Lord of hosts is with us’.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris