GENESIS 6:5-22; 7:11-16

JUNE 15, 2008



            What a great story!  What a treasure the story of Noah and his Ark has been to generations of children and adults.  Think of all the toy makers who have made millions fashioning little arks and animals.  And would Bill Cosby have ever attained such fame without this story?  I mean, this story jump started his career!  It’s a terrific story and we never seem to to exhaust its depth and its colorful implications, and this morning I want to examine what makes this story so endearing and enduring.

            First of all, it’s a terrific story because it is a fun story.  The classic rendition of it, of course, is Bill Cosby’s.  In his rendition of it, whenever Noah began to complain about the task of building the Ark, God would ask, “Noah, how long can you tread water?”  When I was a child I loved listening to his rendition of it.  I came across another humorous version of the story of Noah and the Ark the other day.  It goes as follows:


            The Lord said to Noah, “Where is the Ark I commanded you to build?  And Noah said, “Verily, I had three carpenters off sick and the gopherwood hath been on order on nigh onto twelve months.”  And God said to Noah, “I want the ark finished before seven days and seven nights,” and Noah said, “It will be so,” and it was not so.

            The Lord said to Noah, “What seems to be the trouble this time?” and Noah said, “My subcontractors hath gone bankrupt, the pitch for the outside hath not arrived, the glazer went on vacation, yea even though I offered him double time.  Lord, I am undone.”

            The Lord grew angry and said, “What about the animals?”  Two of every sort I ordered.  Where are the giraffes?”  and Noah said, “They have been delivered to the wrong address, but should arrive on Friday.”  The Lord said to Noah, “How about the unicorns?”  Noah wrung his hands and wept, “O Lord, they are a discontinued line.  You cannot get unicorns for love or money.  You know how it is.”  And the Lord said, “Noah, my son, I know.  Why else do you think I caused the flood?”


            We do, and we have had, fun with this story over the years, however, it is not only a fun story, but it is also a sad story.  Listen to verse five and six again, particularly verse 6,


            The Lord saw the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.


            Note the extent of the wickedness ... every inclination, only evil continually.  That was one sick group of people.  It reminds me of the pastor who preached a sermon on sin.  In the sermon he announced that there were 789 different sins.  A day later he received 94 requests in the mail from his congregants for the list of the 789 sins.  Apparently, they wanted to make sure they were not missing out on any of them.  Now, don’t write me this week, asking for the list because I haven’t received mine in the mail yet!

            And God’s response to the people’s sinfulness in Noah’s day?  God was grieved.    God’s response was not fury, but a broken heart and a tear.  Someone aptly said that we will never understand the flood until we realize that the forty days of rain were God’s tears, grieving over the rebellion, the wickedness of his people.

            It’s also a terrific story because in addition to being a fun story and a sad story, it is a scary story.  Look at the 16th verse in the 7th chapter,


            And those who entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.


            Note who shuts the door of the Ark.  It wasn’t Noah.  It was God.  The point?  The door shuts when God pleases, according to God’s calendar and not ours.

            Do you remember how Jesus used the story of Noah as a warning to people to make sure they have their house in order?  Listen to his words from the 24th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel,


            But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the Ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.  Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:36-42).


            It’s a little scary to think about.  Jesus makes it clear that the decision to climb aboard the Ark of God may not wait until tomorrow.  There will come a day when that’s it, God will shut the door, and it’s likely to happen when we least expect it.  He warns us, “Do not be left behind.”  Hopefully, we already have our boarding pass to the Ark, to the new heaven and the new earth. 

            Finally, the story of Noah and the Ark is not only a fun, sad, and scary story, but it is also a challenging story.  By that I mean, Noah’s faith is a challenge to us all.  Now, before we become intimidated by his example, we need to remember that Noah was very much like us.  We do not see that here.  In our verses he just looks like a mammoth hero of faith, but if we fast forward to the ninth chapter of Genesis, we read the rest of the story.  We read that one of the first things Noah does after getting off the Ark is to plant grapes so he can make some wine.  Then, when the wine is ready, he gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent to the embarrassment of his entire family.  Not the best Father’s Day example!!!

            Of course, we don’t blame him too much because most of us, if we had to spend a year with our relatives on a boat with a bunch of animals, we would have probably knocked back a few glasses of wine ourselves.  And I’m glad that the author of Genesis puts this little vignette in about Noah, because in doing so the author brings Noah down to earth.  He’s a person much like us, but still there is one thing that stands out about Noah.  It’s his incredible faith.

            Can you imagine building something like this in your backyard?  The blueprints called for a vessel one and a half football fields in size!  Not only that, Noah is nowhere near a body of water.  Furthermore, Noah does not even hedge his bet by building a boat trailer, just in case it didn’t rain and he had to transport it to a lake.  As a result, Noah goes down in history as one of the great examples of faith, and herein lies the challenge ... how can we be more like Noah?  How can we be people of great faith?  Well, let me take a stab at answering that question.

            Let’s begin by defining terms.  This is somewhat of an oversimplification, and not everything will fit into these categories, but nonetheless I want us to think about three types of faith.  First, there is the gift of faith.  In I Corinthians 12 we read,


            To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit ...


            What this means then is that there are a handful of Christians more endowed with faith than the rest of us.  It’s their spiritual gift.  Trudy and I are going on vacation in a week with one such person.  Some of you know that I was born in Hawaii, and my mother’s side of the family is from there, and Trudy and I love to visit the islands.  It gets me in touch with my roots, and Trudy’s best friend Brenda is battling ovarian cancer and one of her dreams is to go to Hawaii, once in her life, so a week from tomorrow we are heading to Kauai for 10 days, using our time share over there.  And Brenda’s husband is Randy, and Randy has the gift of faith.  He has this incredible ability to exude confidence in what God can and will do.  I mean, the possibility that the cancer will get the best of his wife, has not entered his mind, or if it did, it did not stay long because Randy believes in the power of God to heal his wife.  Those of us without the gift of faith sometimes think Randy is crazy because he overlooks obstacles and only sees the possibilities, but he’s not.  He’s just hard-wired, gifted to believe in the power and presence of God.

            The overwhelming majority of us, however, do not possess the gift of faith.  The rest of us as Christians have one type of faith and we we desire another type of faith.  The type of faith we possess is saving faith.  We believe, we have faith that Christ died for us and that our salvation is secure.  This is what we have, but there is another type of faith we desire.  I call this working faith.  One man put it this way ... “I know I am going to live forever; now what I need is power to get through tomorrow.”  That’s working faith.  Most of us have trusted Christ for our eternal lives (saving faith), but we have little faith to see what God can do in our daily lives (working faith).  In light of that, let’s turn our attention to how we can develop working faith.  In so doing, I suggest just two words.  If we can do these two things a working faith will develop.

            The first word is “walk.”  Note what Noah did.  We almost overlook it in the story.  We get so caught up in the size of the Ark and the extent of the flood, we miss what what the author of Genesis writes in the sixth chapter, the ninth verse ... “Noah walked with God.”     

            If we want to develop a working faith, it all begins here.  There is no substitute for it.  Folks, faith is not born in a crisis, it is revealed in a crisis.  Let’s not forget that the command to build the Ark and Noah’s willingness to do so, came out of years of walking, years of spending time with God.  Because Noah had spent so much time with God and thus knew God’s heart, it was probably no big deal for him to build the Ark.  To Noah, it made all the sense in the world.

            Listen to the words of Catherine Marshall.  She asks the question we have just asked.  She asks,


            So how do you and I get faith?  Most of us have tried a variety of ways: rebuking doubts, repeating affirmations, reading Scripture, claiming particular promises, sharing faith ... all of these have value.  Yet there is a better way.  For it would be possible to use all the faith building imaginable and still bypass direct confrontation with the person of Jesus.


            If we want more faith we need direct confrontations with Jesus.  We need to spend time with Jesus.  This is where we gain the mind of Christ, and where we begin to see the world through his eyes, not ours.

            So one word is walk.  The other word is “exercise.”  Exercise what faith we have.  Now, the amount of faith we possess might not be much.  We might not be ready to build an Ark as yet, but the truth is, our faith will grow as we act upon the amount of faith we have. 

            C.S. Lewis captured this dynamic of faith in his Chronicles of Narnia series.  In the Chronicles the great lion Aslan, the Christ figure in the story, has returned to Narnia to redeem the captive creatures.  But of all the creatures he has come to redeem only Lucy, the one with the trusting, childlike faith, can see him, and she eventually convinces the rest of her friends to follow what she sees even though they cannot as yet see Aslan.  As they agree to follow, however, the most remarkable thing begins to happen.  After awhile the children begin to see Aslan too.  At first they only see him as a dim shadow, but later they see him face to face.  The point being, only as they follow, only as they exercise what little faith they have do they begin to see what was invisible to them.

            This week let’s all try a couple of things.  First, let’s plan a couple of walks with God.  No radio as we walk.  No iPod.  Just a walk in silence with God.  Second, let’s pick an area of our lives where we want to exercise our faith, just one.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Anything will do.  Just pick one area where you want to exercise your faith.  And who knows?  Maybe an Ark will begin to appear in your backyard.