An old man and a rainbow

Genesis 8 & 9 – An old man and a rainbow

For all that we call this the story of Noah’s Ark, this is not a story about Noah.  There are no detailed accounts of his time aboard the ark; no life lessons learned from the enormous task of caring for so much livestock in such a (relatively) small space.  That’s how it is with our favourite stories – they take on many meanings and sometimes we lose track of their original purpose.  This is not a story about Noah.

We would expect to know more about him if her were the principle character, but all we know is that God ‘chose’ him as one righteous person in an evil time.  Noah has a wife and three sons.  He is, according to the text, 600 years old.  He is a man of faith who “walks with God”.  That is all we know about Noah – not the central character.

Forget the animals, forget the rain, forget the enormous construction project and the inevitable conflict that comes from eight people of the same family living in such close quarters (with so many animals) for the better part of a year.  This is not a story about any of that.  This is all about God, and our relationship to God.

We have turned this into a morality play – “the wicked are destroyed and the righteous survive and prosper” – but that does injustice to Scripture, and that is not ultimate lesson.  For this righteous man (Noah) falls into bad habits almost as soon as the rainbow fades from the sky.  What we learn about God is worth exploring.

God calls a family to perform an enormous task.  God prepares them for the hardship, and “shuts them in the ark” when construction is complete.  God accompanies them on this perilous journey, and provides hope for the future, not only in the selection of animals for sacrifice (and food), but in the promise that is symbolized by the rainbow – a promise for the ages.

God is everywhere in this story, and the only time Noah deserves the credit he receives is when he finally leaves the ark.  His first act on dry land is an act of thanksgiving.  Noah seems to have recognized that the central character in his recent struggles deserves an act of worship – an offering of praise.

We don’t often recognize the flood story as a thanksgiving story because we have hidden the real purpose with all that other stuff.  And we are guilty of this in the stories we tell of our own lives as well.  We spin wonderful tales, we create heroes and villains, we give weight to insignificant events, and all the while, we ignore the central premise.  In the varied and changing stories of our lives, there is one common thread; there is God and our relationship with God.

There is sin, yes and evil (as evidenced by recent events); there are a cast of characters that would make Cecil B DeMille blush, but in the end the story is about our relationship with God.  This is at the heart of the story of church decline, and community decay; it is the central theme in our debates on politics and climate change; and those who say they don’t believe are not immune, for their profession of unbelief points directly to God (real or not) as the central concern.

So on a weekend that we are reminded to give thanks – at a time when we would be tempted to name a long list of ‘supporting cast’ who have been important to us (and rightly so) let us not forget the central figure in our thanksgiving, as those who profess a Christian faith, is and always shall be God.

For promises kept.  For vigilance in dark times, and for freedom to enjoy times of plenty.  For the act of grace that brings us through every trial, we praise and thank our God.  That is the lesson for us in this story.  And it is a lesson that can be applied without effort to our current circumstances.  Where the people of God struggle to proclaim God’s love – where the church struggles to survive, and the voice of her witness is lost in the general shouting of a world gone mad – in all those places and more, we can be sure that God still attends us, that the Spirit still moves us, and that the promise of new life in Christ is still offered us.

That promise – that starts with a rainbow and extends to an empty tomb, will always be worthy of our thanks.

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