Noah and Co - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

Noah and Co

Genesis 8: 20– 9: 17, Acts 17:22-31, John 14: 15-21

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Genesis 8: 20, 9-17

20 And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

21 And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.

Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.

Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.

And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,

And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;

10 And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.

11 And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.

12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:

13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:

15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.

17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.

Genesis 8: 20, 9-17

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.

30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

Genesis 8: 20, 9-17

15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.

20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

In 2012, I made an amazing journey with my elder daughter through Eastern Turkey as far as the Iranian border.  Our route took us deep into Kurdish territory and, one dull and cloudy evening, we arrived at a rather shabby little hotel where we were due to stay that night, near the town of Dogubeyazit.  We were very tired, the skies were leaden and overcast, the place was pretty dismal - and if I am honest it was all rather depressing. 

So nothing had prepared me for the sight that greeted me the following morning, when I stepped out of the hotel.  Overnight the skies had cleared, a dazzling sun was beating down, and in directly in front of me was a sight that was so utterly breath-taking that it really did stop me in my tracks.  Our shabby little hotel was, it turned out, situated in the most extraordinary location - which had been completely concealed by clouds the previous night.  Because there, immediately before me, dominating the skyline, rising up a vast 17,000 feet was the astonishing snow-capped vista of Mount Ararat: the place where, of course, according to legend, Noah's Ark finally came to rest -  traditionally it is identified as the setting of our first reading this morning from Genesis. 

The view was so awe-inspiring, particularly when revealed so suddenly and unexpectedly, that one could immediately understand why it was that Mount Ararat has for thousands of years been associated with the sacred - with the might and the majesty of an all-powerful Creator God.

Fast forward to last April, and our parish pilgrimage to Greece 'following in the steps of St Paul' - a journey which for us ended in the city of Athens.  And I can remember standing before the Areopagus, as St Paul does in our second reading this morning, and reflecting on the very words that we heard from the Book of Acts.  In the heart of their busy, bustling city, the Athenians had set up an altar to 'an Unknown God' - Paul recognises in this that they were already reaching out to the unknowable.  So his message to them is that that unknown God can now be known to them, through the one who was raised from the dead. 

Now roll back the years to 1996, when I was in Jerusalem with a small group of students.  We were in an upper room in a bar in the old walled city having a meal, and sharing reflections on our experience of that extraordinary place.  It was not, of course, the same upper room in which Jesus and his disciples shared the Last Supper - nor were there thirteen of us - but nevertheless there was a quality of closeness and intimacy and companionship that night that none of us had previously experienced during that trip. So although none of us spoke about it directly, I suspect I was not the only one there who felt a connectedness with the story of the Last Supper, which is the context for this morning's Gospel reading, in a small upper room, set apart from the bustle of the city.

Thinking about those three readings this morning, it strikes me that, despite their obvious differences, they are also linked in ways that go far beyond the rather banal coincidence that they all happen to feature places that I have myself visited.

The story of Noah's Ark is set in the wilds of the natural world, which has emerged reborn and renewed after the Flood; the second story from Acts is set in the centre of Athens- in the heart of the world of commerce, in what was then (as it is now) one of the busiest cities on earth.  The third story is set in a hidden quiet place, an upper room, where close companions share a powerful time of human intimacy.  Three totally different contexts, but all of them settings in which human beings can have a profound experience of the presence of God.

In the first story we witness the power of God the Creator, the Father of all - it is a story of the majesty of a God who truly is all-mighty.  In the second story, Paul speaks to the Athenians of that all-powerful Creator God, but then connects that God with Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead - Christ whom the Letter to the Colossians describes as being 'the image of the invisible God - the firstborn of all creation.'  Paul speaks of the Father, but he also points to the Son.  And in our third reading, the Son, Jesus Christ, tells of the Spirit, the Advocate, the one whom the Father will send to the disciples once the Son has departed from them.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

And all three readings contain messages of promise and hope: the story from Genesis tells of God's covenant with Noah, sealed with the sign of the rainbow - a covenant between God and the whole of creation: God will never again destroy the earth; Noah and his sons will be fruitful and multiply; and the earth will bear creatures and fruits that will feed them.   In our reading from Acts, Paul's message to the Athenians is above all one of assurance: the assurance that God is the Father of all, a God who can be known, and the one who has raised Christ from the dead.

And in our third reading, Jesus prepares to take leave of his disciples with words of comfort and encouragement: yes, he is about to depart from them, but he will not leave them orphaned: the love that binds the disciples to him, is the same love that binds him to the Father - a love that, as we shall discover, will prove far stronger than death.  The day will come when the disciples will be reunited with Jesus, and they will abide together in his Father's presence.  But in the meantime the Father will send to them his Spirit.  They do not have to struggle alone.

Three very different messages of hope - but in each of them something is asked of the recipients as well: Noah and his family receive God's blessing, but in turn they are to keep their side of the covenant, too - to observe the commands that God gives them.  In Acts, Paul proclaims that the resurrection of Christ brings assurance for all - but repentance is also an essential part of that process (because until we recognise the truth about the darkness in our own hearts, we cannot fully recognise our need of God's forgiveness and grace). 

And in our Gospel reading Jesus says to his disciples: 'if you love me, obey my commandments.  So, how the disciples choose to conduct themselves matters.  But note carefully his explanation of why this is the case.  It is emphatically not because they will be punished if they go astray.  Nor is there any suggestion that his love and support for them is conditional upon their obedience.  Rather, he asks them to obey his commandments for one reason and one reason only - which is out of loveIf you love me keep my commandments.  And when they do that, and walk the journey of faith and love, the Holy Spirit will be there to comfort and guide them - so they know that they need never be alone.

The way of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is above all the way of love - and it is a way open to all, and free to all.  Which sounds easy and straightforward.  It isn't - purely and solely because of the barriers that we ourselves manage to put in the way. 

This is nowhere better expressed than in the words of the 17th Century priest and poet George Herbert, with which I shall leave you:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
   Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack 
    From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
    If I lacked any thing.

 A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
   Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
   I cannot look on thee.'
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
   'Who made the eyes but I?'

 'Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not', says Love, 'who bore the blame?'  
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down', says Love, 'and taste my meat:'
     So I did sit and eat.


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