Harrowing Of Hell
November 19, 2013

Ark of Mercy

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt Conn

Genesis 6:9-22, 7:24,8:14-19

These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything
that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.’ Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Today we have the Noah story and I’d like to start by stating I believe this is a story of mercy.  The ark is the crucible of this mercy, given by God to move Noah through a difficult time. That is the core of what this sermon is about, mercy and movement, and how we listen for God to give us instructions on how to build our ark.

I suppose many of you came seeking an answer to a different question; the one that is burning in most people’s minds when they hear the Noah story…What’s a cubit?

I know, it is bonus Sunday.  Not only do you have an opportunity to make your pledge but you may go home knowing what a cubit is as well. Let me show you what a cubit is. Raise your hand. The distance between your elbow and the end of your finger is a cubit. Everyone has a cubit. So, if I were to ask you to measure the length of the church in cubits you’d all be able to do so, and we’d get three hundred different results. Each cubit is perfectly designed to fit the measurement needs of your particular life.

The ark Noah built was 30 cubits high by 50 cubits wide by 300 cubits long. Those were the numbers dictated by God to Noah, and that is what he built. It was perfectly suited for Noah. It fit all of the contours of his life, and the quirks of his character. In that ark fit the lion of his courage, and the alligator of his anger. In that ark we would find the doe of his dreams and the eagle of his ambition. There was the owl of his wisdom and the dog of his devotion. There was the hawk of his vengeance and the mouse of his childhood. In that ark was the horse of his lineage as well as the rabbit of his anxiety.

Are you starting to get a picture? To my mind this story is not about how God destroyed the world. I believe this story is about how God saved Noah, all of Noah. This is a story not about destruction; it is a story about mercy. The ark is a crucible of mercy given by a God who cared about Noah. To my way of reading, the animals represented Noah’s life up to that point in time, and all of the possibility of his life up to that point in time. It was big enough to fit all of his future encounters as well, including the encounters of his future generations which is why Shem, Ham and Japheth are included in the story.

Noah built this ark during some pretty dark times.  That is usually when arks are built. Things were bad in the days of Noah. The Bible tells us the world was a wicked place. There was violence in the land. Imagine.  It must have been exhausting. Imagine the anxiety. Being perpetually vigilant, to the point of feeling terror, even when it isn’t there, is like feeling the buzz of your cellphone in your pocket when it is really at home on your dresser.

That is how Noah felt to the power of 10. He needed a break. His name says as much, in Hebrew Noah means “to rest.” For Noah it was the anxiety of a war torn, violent land. There are still places like that in the world. But I suppose no matter where we live, all of us need a break in our own way. Our histories can be complicated, as can our relationships. Health scares come up, as do real health concerns. Sometimes we just hit the wall. Sometimes there is just too much and we need a break.

God knows what we need. What we witness with Noah is how to listen.

Noah was the great listener of scripture. Nowhere is there as long a one-sided conversation between God and a person. God spoke.  Noah listened and then acted. God called Noah a righteous man. Righteous is a word that we associate with self-righteous, but here, in its most authentic form, righteous means a person who seeks God in all things, a person who is curious about God, a person who has trained himself to listen for God. Noah was listening and God said, “build an ark.”

I often hear people say:

“God doesn’t talk to me.”

“I don’t hear anything when I listen for God.”

“Noah must have been different.”

Maybe, but I’m inclined to think not. I think he was just like you and me. I think Noah was just a master of turning down the background noise, so he could hear God. We all have that capacity.

My daughter and I have been having an ongoing conversation about background noise lately. She claims that listening to music while studying in helpful. I claim it is not. She claims it helps her focus.  I claim it is distracting.  Her claim is that our brains are designed with the capacity to do many things at once. And I have to admit that it true which is why some of you are able to make a grocery list while listening to a sermon. There is always background noise, and the better we manage it the better we are able to listen to what we want to hear. Margaret controls her background noise through her selection of music, and claims it helps her better focus on her studies. I say the proof is in the floatability of the ark.

The church is designed to help us manage the background noise so we can specifically hear God; and the church is designed to give us tools to build our ark. The tools needed to build our ark are the same tools used to turn down the background noise. They are simple and universal and have been around a long time. We know what they are. They are the spiritual disciplines of Sunday worship, daily prayer, weekly Sabbath, study, silence, fasting and tithing. These are the exercises that tune our hearing toward God. Noah listened and he heard how to build the ark he needed at that particular moment in time.

There are other arks mentioned in the Bible, two to be exact.

One was made by the anxious hands of a young girl on the banks of the Nile River. Her name was Miriam, and she was the older sister of Moses. By orders of Pharaoh Moses was supposed to be put to death, as were all Hebrew baby boys. Instead Miriam made an ark for her baby brother. She made it of reeds, and placed Moses in it. Then she pushed it out into the waters of the Nile, and it was swept down stream and into the safe arms of the Pharaoh’s daughter. (Exo 2:5) Moses rested as the ark carried him from one place to another.

The second ark was made by Moses himself. After leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt and to the foot of Mount Sinai; after going up that burning mountain where he received the 10 Commandments from the lips of God, Moses built an Ark in which to move the Commandments from one place to another.

God instructed him: build it 2 ½ cubits long, by ½ cubit wide, by 1½ cubits high.

Every ark is unique. Miriam’s was made of reeds. Noah’s had three floors, one door, and was built with cypress wood. Moses’ was covered with gold leaf, and on the top was a seat, called the mercy seat. Every ark has a mercy seat, measured out perfectly by the cubit of our own arm.

There are powers beyond our control: a burning mountain, a Pharaoh, a culture of violence; an unfortunate history, a random accident, a surprise diagnosis. The waters rise and when they do we need an ark. Noah did, and it saved his life, just as the reed basket saved Moses life, and just as the ark of Covenant saved the Hebrew people.

And I wonder, do you have an ark? I wonder, where is your mercy seat? Some might say it is my cabin in the woods. Some might say it is my yoga practice. Some might say it is a good long jog. Some might say it is sitting by a roaring fire with a nice glass of scotch. And these might be arks, or they may just be escapes, which is OK, as long as we remember that escapes are designed by us and arks are designed by God. Arks are different.  Arks are crucibles of mercy made for us to rest in as God propels us from one place to another.

Noah climbed in his ark and sealed the door. It was then that the flood of tears came and filled his world.

They swelled from deep places. Tears are the response to mercy. Tears are the response to God’s mercy. It is why we fill the pews with tissues.

Noah could not access what he needed from within himself, nor from the community that surrounded him. Noah needed a higher power. God heard his cry. God had mercy, and said, “Noah build an ark.” Noah heard God and tears flooded his world, and everything died – and everything died.

When the tears finally abated, Noah left the ark; just as Moses left the ark; just as the Hebrews finally left the ark. The ark moved Noah through the watersheds of a particular time and then everything was born anew – everything was born anew.

God is always ready to do the same thing for us. If we have a cubit, we also have access to an ark. If we can measure the length of our arm, from elbow to the tip of our finger, then there is a mercy seat ready for us to rest upon. God loves us. God gives the instructions.  The invitation is to listen as Noah did.