“But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD. These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.”
I confess that whenever I think about Noah I think about the old comedy skit Bill Cosby did on Noah. There is a point in the skit where Noah has been working on the Ark for a long time, and he has pretty much had it with the whole project. He says to the Lord, “I've had enough of this stuff. I've been working all day, Working on it for days and days, I'm sick and tired of this.”
And the Lord says, “Noah!”
“How long can you tread water?”
At the very end of the skit, Noah is still grumbling and complaining. He says, “I tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm letting all these animals out. And I'm gonna burn down this Ark. And I'm going to Florida somewhere, 'Cause you haven't done nothin'. I'm sick and tired of all this mess. You foolin' around, and you haven't done nothing!”
“And you got it rainin'. It's not a shower is it? Ok Lord me and you right, cause I knew it all the time.”
Now Bill Cosby is a comedian and he is trying to be funny, and he succeeds. Actually the way he says it is funnier that what he says. On a more serious note though, we have honored two men today, Ray King and Bill Bennett, with the title Elder Emeritus. We appreciate their long and faithful service on the session.
Noah also was a faithful servant of the Lord. We do not know how long it took to build the ark but that was certainly not the work of a day. It was 300 cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. If you are not up on cubits that comes out to 450 feet long 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. That is quite a work for one man and his three sons.
But they did it, they built the ark and survived the flood. But why Noah and not someone else? Noah had neighbors, friends and relatives. Why did they not build the ark, or why did not they at least help Noah? We imagine a neighbor down the street named Boah or a second cousin over the hill named Moah, and dozens and hundreds like them in Noah’s neighborhood. What were they doing while Noah was building the ark?
If we suppose that God is just, and we certainly suppose that, then we must say that the same revelation that was given to Noah was also given to everyone else.
We read in 6:5-6, “The LORD saw how bad the people on earth were and that everything they thought and planned was evil. He was very sorry that he had made them.” God decided that the human species was a mistake. He should have stuck with dinosaurs. God was grieved at the evil people did.
Now people have an inborn innate sense of the divine. We know that there is a God. We know when we are violating our vision of God. In other words, we know right from wrong. The people in Noah’s time knew right from wrong, they were just doing wrong anyway. They knew that God was calling them to stop living like evil maniacs. They had the call of God, but only Noah obeyed that call.
We read in v8, “Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.” Now God certainly loves everyone, but God does not approve of sin, and consequently God approved of only one person in that generation, Noah.
To put it another way, sin had destroyed the relationship God had with everyone in the world, except Noah. Thus, Noah was the only one left who had any actual working connection with God. Other people could have had the same connection, but they decided that this was not something that they wanted.
They would not have said that. People today do not say that. But it remains true today. Each of us has just as much of a relationship with God as we want to have. And we prove that everyday by our actions. Noah proved that he was God’s man by what he did. He built the ark. Noah’s generation proved that they had nothing to do with God by what they did. They spent their time and money and effort on everything else but God, and made fun of crazy old Noah.
Noah may have been old, but he was not crazy. We are told earlier in Genesis that there were giants in the world in those days—Nephilim, and heroes and famous warriors. But who was the most important person in the world? Noah. In our day we have our giants—Hollywood actors, Presidents, athletes, the rich and famous. The world says that they are important. God does not say that. The most important person in the world is that man or woman for whom the presence of God is life itself.
We often talk to young people about what career they should pursue. We say, Be a plumber or a doctor; Be an electrician or a teacher, or even a preacher. I would offer you another goal for your ambition: Be a godly person. What better goal can there be than that: to find favor in the eyes of the Lord.
And understand that you were made by God with the necessary equipment for pursuing this goal. Every person can find grace in the eyes of the Lord, but you cannot be favored of God if you live and act only for yourself.
Let’s think about Noah’s neighbors again. What would they have said about him? His friends, his relatives, what did they say? They were all agreed that Noah was a nut. The so-called practical people of the world said that Noah was living in a fog of religion and had lost touch with reality. They said, it is all right to believe in God, go to church and recite your creeds, and that is all fine and dandy, that is socially acceptable, but you don’t want to actually act like you really believe that stuff.
The so-called practical people of the world would say that we ought to focus on reality. We ought to focus on the real world, which is about people getting stuff and trampling all over other people. The real world is about tooting your own horn and looking out for numero uno. That is what people said in Noah’s time. That is what people mostly still say.
That is not what Noah said. Noah represents a different view of reality. Noah would have said that he was the most practical, hardheaded person in his generation. He was focused on reality, totally focused on reality. His reality was, it is going to start raining and I need to do something. In retrospect, as we look at Noah’s generation, we see that entire generation living in some sort of dream. They were all like sleepwalkers walking along the edge of a cliff. They thought they were perfectly safe. When they awoke from their dream, it was too late.
So as we look back on the generation of Noah, we can say that the only person there who had any real understanding of reality was Noah. The only practical person in a generation of sleepwalkers was Noah.
Now I suspect that every generation is much the same as the generation of Noah. In fact, many people would argue that the 20th century was the apex of human wickedness. After all, the generation of Noah did not have concentration camps and Nuclear weapons and bioterrorism. We are getting more efficient and effective at our wickedness. Most people in every generation are like the sleepwalkers of Noah’s day, stumbling along through life, focusing on the money, or themselves, confident that their dream is reality.
But it is not. Any reality in which God is not an actual part of your life is a dream. Noah represents that small portion of humankind that awaken from the dream and perceive God, and that perception dominates their lives.
Their actions are based on God, hence to everyone else, to those living in the dream-world, what they are doing makes no sense.
Imagine your typical hardheaded businessman, passing by Noah’s house and seeing Noah out in the yard working on the ark. To that businessman, what Noah is doing is incomprehensible. Noah is insane. But to Noah his actions make perfect sense. To Noah, his actions are a practical response to the reality he perceives in God.
The application of Noah’s story is fairly obvious. Focus on reality. Ultimately, the only reality is God. All this other stuff we call reality vanishes with the first wind of change. So believe in God, really believe, which means act like you believe.
Now that is the kind of thing that is easy to say but is getting harder to do in our society. Increasingly, we live in a secular society, which denies reality, which denies God. Let me say up front here that I am not one who treasures the good old days. I rejoice in technological and scientific progress, and I rejoice in the political progress we have made in giving equal opportunity to everyone without regard to race or gender. But I do not rejoice in a society that seems increasingly antiGod.
And this antiGod attitude even gets into church. Before the meeting of Synod this year, I went to a church growth conference and the man who was doing the conference said that if you really get down to it and analyze people’s motives for going to church, worshipping God is in there somewhere, but it is not high on the list of priorities. This man, I have already forgotten his name, said whenever he went to a church, the people always always asked How much can you increase our numbers? He said that in 20 years of working as a church growth professional, he had never been asked, Can you help our church to grow spiritually? He said that bothered him a lot because that said a lot about the American church.
The usual justification for anything goes in church growth is that we should do anything to get people in church so that we can talk to them about God. The problem is you cannot do anything to get them in church and then talk to them about God. If you present the church as institution that is just doing a lot of programs like every other secular institution, then you cannot suddenly turn around and say, we are not actually worldly, we now want to talk about God. That does not work. You have lost that battle. Unfortunately, the church has lost too many battles and sometimes has become too much like our society.
Our secular worldly society is living in a dream and calling it reality. We need to be Noah and find a way out of this dream and a way back to what is real. Finding a way out, finding a way back, is the whole meaning of life. When God called Noah to build the ark, Noah did not have anything else to do but build the ark. That was the meaning of his life.
God is calling us. Now I don’t suppose God is calling us to literally build an ark. But God is calling you and me to give our lives for his purpose, God’s call is reality. If we stray from that call, we become sleepwalkers living in dreams.
Wake up and listen to what God has to say to you. Be a Noah and listen for God and you will find favor in the eyes of the Lord.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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