It’s that time of year again – new gym routines, new balanced diets, new relationship goals. We tell ourselves ‘this year will be different’. But have you got the resilience, the character, and yes, even the faith, to go the distance?Read More
Happy New Year! It is that time of year when dates blur and you don’t know if its Tuesday or Thursday or Saturday. That time of the year in which you reset your mind and make plans for the 2023 season. This week we are in between Christmas and our new year series, a bridge week. I love bridge weeks because they are this moment where we can be both reflective and expectant. We have left the old and we can see the other side, the new trail. The reflective and expectant is the place where I also love to live my faith, reflecting on all the great things God has done while also resting in the promises and covenants of God. So, this is where we get to live today!
If you have been around for the Christmas series you know that we talked about worship; we discussed our posture of worship, the mood we bring into worship, the action in our worship life. And next week not only are we back to in person meetings but we are also starting a new series in which Matt is exploring the theme of resilience in the book of Daniel. As we walk this bridge, we get to explore how our lives of worship, our experiences and existence of worship, are also in many ways rooted in resilience. We are diving into the story of Noah, pun intended, to see the way in which worship and resilience intertwine in a beautiful way.
As always, lets pray as we jump into the word of God.
A handful of years ago my family came oversees to explore our ancestral areas of Scotland. Naturally part of their pilgrimage was a journey to St Andrews, because my family are big golf nerds. We played a few holes, I scored three hole in ones on their mini golf course, and we ate so very mushy peas with our fish and chips, or halloumi and chips for the vegetarians. We ended the day on a famous beach right off of the golf course, the beach where they filmed the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. Now I must admit, I’ve never actually seen the entire movie, but I have of course seen the opening scene. That iconic beach running scene… a handful of young lads clad in white shorts and shirts, shoeless, running across a smooth slab of sand. The sky is cloudy, the water is choppy, and as the music swells with cinematic gusto the guys run and run and run. As the scene pans you see the city pop up, the red bricked building that corners St Andrews Golf Course in the background. The scene is incredible, it is inspirational, this mixture of sports power and incredible musical score makes the men look and feel invincible.
And you believe that you can be just like them, and so when in Scotland we put on our running shoes and shorts ready to tackle the beach run and well, we ran. We ran for like a minute and then the reality of a beach run hits you and your out of breath and the cold Scottish air is whipping your face and the beach is uneven, so your ankles hurt and, well, your miserable.
We get these iconic films and images and they draw us to make us believe that we could do anything. And then we find our limitations. The same happens not just for inspirational stories but for any story. We believe in an archetype of love that fits the Disney princess stories, we believe in heroes like the Avengers or the Rebels in Star Wars, we know that villains like Jaffar and Darth Maul are to be avoided, and that sidekicks like Bilbo Baggins make a journey better. Fables, stories, poems, epic tales are how we make sense of life and learn about people and culture.
Sociologist will tell you that there are 7 characters in each archetype, and 11 or 12 story liens that we all follow. But the science doesn’t matter, the stories do. Over the past few years Hollywood has detailed one story into these films, the story of Noah. We saw the humorous movie Evan Almighty with Steve Carrell depict a humorous narrative of Noah, and of course who could forget Russell Crowe’s Noah with those stone throwing monsters. Those films entertain, but they don’t reveal the full truth of the story, the way that Noah intertwines so much for us. So that is what we are going to do today, reflecting on some of the truths and hinting’s that we get from the story of Noah.
We find the story of Noah early in our Bible. The Old Testament, the first groupings of books in the Bible, reveals stories about God. And the Old Testament starts with five books that we call the Pentateuch, the stories of creation and history. In Genesis 6 we find this story of Noah, let’s read his story.
The story of Noah starts with an observation from God.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
And like any good ethnographer God observes a problem and then creates a set of actions to mend what was observed.
And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, or the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
Now the action of God is followed by an action of man. So God tells Noah…
Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. 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 sort 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 sort shall come in to you to keep them alive.
Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.”Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth.
And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood.
And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.
He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth.
Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made
And then Noah and his family walked onto dry land, and they planted and gleaned the land and they were fruitful and multiplied.
Noah’s story is a story of worship and obedience and resilience. We have talked about a lot of forms of worship these past few weeks, and today we are looking at how worship, obedience, and resilience intertwine. Now let’s be real obedience is not an easy or fun thing when we talk about it or think about it. We are wired to be disobedient; we are programmed to squirm and feel a little uncomfortable when we talk about obedience. This is never more evident then when I am working up in the library in Kids Ministry. Now kids are great and hilarious but if you have spent any time with kids you know that disobedience is their one and only mode. A few weeks ago Jordyn our Kids Director planned a fun candy cane scavenger hunt for our kids. It was very simple, the kids all had to sit in the middle of the room and when we yelled GO they would go and find ONE candy cane during the scavenger hunt. The instructions were very clear, go and find one of the candy canes and only one. But we were overseeing the younger kids, so they are all under the age of 10, and you know that kids have a hard time listening to instructions in general but when you throw sugar into the mix, well its all over. We yelled GO, kids went crazy, and Im pretty sure none of them only grabbed one candy cane. I know this because we saw some kids grab handfuls, some had four or five, some didn’t have any. As we tried to redistribute so that each kid went home with a candy cane, some kids lied to my face as they held multiple candy canes and said they only had one. Little liars and thieves.
Kids are inherently disobedient. They are liars and cheaters and slobs, but they are cute, 0so they get away with it. And as we get older, we still hold within us this innate sense of disobedience, we just get better at hiding it or manipulating around it. We tend to be disobedient.
Have you ever unbuckled your seatbelt when the pilot has clearly left a seatbelt sign on? Disobedient. Have you ever used your camera during a show when you were told not to? Disobedient! Have you ever ran on a pool deck? Disobedient! We are little rebels, and sometimes its funny, but we know that at times our disobedience leaves us wounded, leaves us distant, and leaves us with a longing.
Some of us find obedience or the topic of obedience more difficult to think about, to respond to, and I understand that. But today we are linking obedience and worship, even in the midst of the challenge that it presents. Now let’s be clear, theologians and pastors have spent years and years parsing out this idea of obedience and worship, of responding to God in actions and acceptance. There is a depth of wisdom and a ton of nuance that comes with this conversation, so a simple three minute discussion does not do the full topic justice. So for now, worship and obedience.
We see this demonstrated throughout the Bible this idea that part of our worship intertwines with our obedience. The great news is throughout the Bible we see people screwing up the obedience and worship bit; we see the Israelites countless times disobeying God even when God literally rested in their community, we see Jonah and David, Peter and Thomas all fumbling with this understanding of what obedience looks likes and how obedience and worship intertwine. We see fumbles because we know the difficulty of it, and yet God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament call us to a life that intersects obedience with worship. In the Gospel of John we see this so clearly stated from Jesus; in John 14 Jesus reveals the truth of who he is and how who he is influences believers. The chapter starts with Jesus telling his followers
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.
The God who is in the flesh, the God who is preparing a sacred place, the God who invites connection and relational attachment. This is the God who we find in this chapter. After Jesus gives this oration of who he is and how believers are able to interact he goes on to talk about, albeit briefly, this idea of worship and obedience. Before Jesus promises the Holy Spirit he says this,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.
You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit but does so by underlining this idea of, if you love me you will keep my commandments. Or in laymen terms if you love me, if you follow me, you will obey. You will obey my commandments, my promptings, what the Spirit leads you to, and your obedience will be a form of worship because you will know that what you are called to, what you are drawn to, what I have placed in your gut in from your God. And at times it may be difficult to shift your focus, to realign your feet, to give up or surrender. And at times it will be joyful an obvious, but no matter what circumstance or emotion you will fall into the depths of grace and joy and love as you obey. From your obedience will spring forth understanding and peace and grace and in the flow of obedience will naturally spring worship.
That is what Jesus tells us here in John 14 and listen it is challenging and makes us reflect on characteristics of God and characteristics of free will; and obedience and worship brings up big questions but in its simplicity we find that our obedience and our life of worship are linked together. Which makes the story of Noah one that helps us understand how worship and resilience can at times collide.
So, back to Noah! Noah is this story of this tension of obedience and resilience, of an imperfect man making it through this perilous journey and obeying and worshiping but also living in the chaos that comes with this life.
We meet Noah in the beginning of Genesis, and he is this foil character. The rest of the people are described as wicked and so wicked that Genesis says that God regretted that he had made man. I mean I have been disappointed in a lot of things, but I don’t think I regret making those things. But God regretted making man. And so God planned to blot out all of humanity, except for Noah. Noah is given a commandment to go and make an ark, he got the specific measurements and the roof designs. Noah was told what to fill the ark with and what type of food to put in the ark, all the instructions. And then Genesis 6 ends like this, it says that Noah did this, he did all that God commanded him.
In popular culture or in our Sunday school classes we often have this idea that Noah was made fun of or that his community rejected him, well that may have been very true but Genesis 6 and 7 say very little about Noah’s reaction or the reaction of his family. We read that Noah had this commandment from God and that he followed it, he did all that was commanded of him. And in chapter 7 Noah once again follows what God tells him and enters into the ark and once he is in the ark he and his family live and exist for days of rain and weather. Genesis 7 says that
All flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.
He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth.
Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. But God remembered Noah.
God remembers Noah and the waters dry up and then Genesis continues with Noah and his family integrating back into normal life routines. This story of Noah is a story of worship, of resilience and we are going to reflect on this sort of three stage form of worship and obedience and resilience to understand how the story of Noah can be a story for us and for our walk with God.
So the first truth or area of reflection that I think we gain from the story of Noah is this, in our lives we will be faced with a moment in which we are called to nonsensical obedience. Here is what I mean by that; we in our faith journeys may be called to something or someone or somewhere and that calling or the focus of the calling won’t make any sense. And it takes worship and obedience to accept and listen to that call.
Noah’s calling made NO SENSE. Genesis starts with God creating, and God creating man in God’s image. We have this planting, nurturing, life breathing God and that is the God we know. For five chapters God has given life and given second chances, God has exhibited creativity and relational connectedness, God has also exhibited judgment and punishment that changed the life of Adam and Eve and their children, but God hasn’t demolished. God hasn’t willed God’s power in destruction, just creation. And then we meet a God who destroys in the story of Noah. We meet a new characteristic a new side of God that we later see throughout the Old Testament but if we were living in this time we may not think of God as a destroyer just as a God of second chances. So Noah’s calling was unusual because it displayed this new or unusual side of God that individuals may not have assumed they would see.
Noah’s calling was also odd or nonsensical because he was called to do something that was strange. We aren’t told what Noah’s occupation was before this, and I guess it doesn’t really matter, except for the fact that Noah was told to build an enormous ship, and then he was told to be a zoo keeper and an herbologist, and then later after the ark he was told to be a gardener and a planter. Now we all have lots of skills, but I don’t think I know anyone who could realistically be both a ship builder and a vet and a farmer, that seems like a large swatch of skills to have. Noah may have already been a boat builder, he most likely was in some form a farmer or interacted with animals, but in these chapters Noah was called to build, and build something extraordinary. He was called to watch and keep and protect and alongside his family Noah did all of this. His obedience to the call meant that he had to step out of his prescribed roles in order to build and gather and farm. His calling was nonsensical because it required him to do things that may not have been in his skill set.
And then the obvious, Noah’s calling was crazy because the physical thing that he was called to build was insane and massive and perhaps not obviously functional pre-flood. And yet despite all of this, despite all the weirdness or craziness of Noah’s calling, he obeyed. His obedience was a form of worship because I would argue it displayed this form of trust, this lack of questioning, a lack of complaint about the hardships, Noah just did. Now sometimes are complaints, our questions, our laments toward God are needed, so I am not saying we just accept and robotically take on what God is calling us to do this year. What I am saying is that at some point this year I imagine God is going to prompt you to do something that makes no sense, you will be called to formation in a nonsensical way and when that happens may we lean in with obedience and with excitement to see what God can do when God places something weird or strange or big on our hearts. Noah replied with obedience and that obedience as worship led him on a wild journey that he could have never expected.
Which leads me to the second area of reflection for this story of Noah. Now I must admit that this second are of reflection actually popped into my brain weeks and weeks ago. I was on twitter as any good millennial is and saw a tweet from a scholar who was discussing the ark that Noah built. He was talking about how this ark was not merely a ship but rather the Hebrew word used to describe this boat reveals something deeper, something meaningful, something that helps us balance obedience and worship and resilience. The Hebrew word used in this story of the ark is special; the word ‘tevah’ is only used twice in the Old Testament. The word ark is used here in the story of Noah and then it is used later in Exodus chapter 2 when Moses as a baby is placed in an ark.
Exodus 2 tell us,
Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months.
When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank.
Now the word basket here is perhaps better defined to be the word ark. The ark in these verses is this vessel of salvation, a means of escape that God has designed, and while God knows the final resting place of both of these vessels these arks are also rudderless. By that I mean that these vessels aren’t sailable like modern boats. So God called Noah to craft this giant ship but ultimately this ship was at the whim of the rain and the waves, it was not steered to dry land it ran into it. Both in Genesis and in Exodus a person is sent to journey in a water craft, the salvation of a people dependent on their survival, and yet neither of them could force an outcome. The scholar whose tweet I saw concluded with the idea that the tevah, both the ark and the basket, remind us that no matter what our strengths or success produce that ultimately it is God who steers our journeys. And some may find that sad or pessimistic, some may struggle under the weight of that thought, but to me it reminds me that God has a plan for bigger and better than I can imagine and so part of the journey of obedience is trusting God’s calling and trusting God’s outcome.
Theologian Cindy Lee talks about this in her book Our Unforming. In this book she reflects on ways to de-westernize our faith and spiritual formation, and one of the topics she discusses is time. Here is what she says,
We plan as a way to calm our anxieties and to give us a sense of control over our busy lives. When we try to control time, time ends up controlling us. Our busy schedules take over our lives. This relationship with linear time forms us to be impatient, in a hurry, and constantly productive. This anxiety-ridden relationship with time has carried over into our spiritual lives. We tend to impatiently wait on God’s responses to us based on our understanding of days, months, and years. We balk at the seemingly slow work of God. God seems to have a very different understanding of time.
The understanding of the ark and the basket being rudderless reminds me of a similar idea that Cindy talks about; this idea that a life of faith, a life of worship, is in some ways a life that responds to a God who is not fixed by our structure, our time, our need to steer the ship. It can be both freeing and infuriating to recognise that while God works in our lives, directly, that sometimes this work is boundless in a way that can leave us yearning for assurance, for boundaries, for control. The tension we feel as people of time when living with an unbound God, that is part of the story of Noah and part of the story of us.
The story of Noah reminds me to respond to God’s promptings with obedience. And then it also reminds me that responding with obedience is merely the first step in a worshipful and worship filled life. Because the second understanding and truth tells me that even once I respond with obedience that things will come, things won’t go ‘my way’ and that ability to respond to the waves and the rain without holding to the steering wheel is a form of obedient worship.
And so this is when and where resilience comes in. Matt is going to be spending the next few weeks in the book of Daniel discovering and discussing the idea of resilience, so for now truth is that in the story of Moses we see this intertwining of obedience and worship. And yet we know and we see that even when we are obedient, and even when worship excels, it does not mean that the timeline will be instant. Noah and his family engaged in obedient worship and yet they still sat in an ark for 150 days, they sat even in the midst of the sacred space they built and lived in, and they sat and waited for the rain to end, for the waves to calm, for dry land to emerge.
And resilience, waiting, involves hope and patience. It involves trust and faith and…. obedience. So as you are writing those new year resolutions, as you are starting to prepare for whatever 2023 brings, remember these truths.
No matter where you find yourself today, if you are angry at God, or happy with God, if you are in a year of plenty or a year of want, God loves you.
Remember that God has placed on your life a purpose and a plan, even if that purpose or plan looks a little silly.
Remember that even as you embark on your journey with God that your journey may throw you into waves and storms, but it also brings rainbows.
Remember that control doesn’t mean success, that just because the ark and the basket were rudderless didn’t mean that they were directionless. Remember that God used Noah and Moses to save a nation.
Remember that we can also take a posture of worship, even when that worship is full of lament.
And remember that God presides over a people who are resilient.
I hope those truths, and one of those truths, speaks to you today. And that God uses one of those truths to fill this beginning of the year with his presence and his grace and his love for you in your walk.
I am so excited to see you in person or online next week as we think about and experience what it means to be a people of resilience. And in the meantime, just keep swimming.
Blue Oaks CHurch