Believe and Obey!

“Believe and Obey!”

Gen 8 Noah's Ark 5

Genesis 7:5, 23, 8:1 – June 23, 2019

Who remembers Sunday school? If not your own experience in Sunday school, perhaps your children’s time there? Or even your experiences teaching Sunday school? Children’s bible stories play a big part in Sunday school. We are going to look at ten children’s Sunday school stories for our summer sermon series, starting with Noah and the ark from Genesis.

I have memories of Sunday school and Vacation Bible School where the children sang songs about Noah and his ark, including “Rise and Shine!” complete with hand motions and hand claps. I suspect many of us have memories about Noah, Mrs. Noah, the ark, the animals coming two by two, the rain falling for forty days and forty nights, and finally the rainbow at the end of the story. We can learn some things as adults from this narrative in Genesis, too.

First, imagine yourself—ourselves—back in Noah’s time, in Genesis. According to the Bible, the world was different, in a lot of ways. People had a huge tendency to do things and say things that were contrary to God’s will and God’s ways. (Some things have not changed.) People were so downright disobedient to the Lord’s manner of living and the ways God had instructed people to act that God got extremely angry with all the people. Except, for Noah and his family.

This is not the version of Noah and the ark that is found in Sunday school stories for children. That warm, fuzzy, sanitized version tells children about Noah and his sons building the ark, the animals coming two by two (carnivorous beasts, too!), and everyone living in harmony on the ark while it rained. Which is one version of the events.

Are you familiar with what some other groups say about the God of the Old Testament? About how God is a mean, angry, vengeful God, ready to smite anyone who steps even a toe out of line? These groups emphasize narratives like this one from Genesis, “a story that is most definitely not for children. In this interpretation, God is so angered by human rebellion that God floods the whole earth, wiping out nearly everything in a fit of divine rage. This is a story about a God whom you’d be crazy to want to have anything to do with, a God of wrath who is ready and willing to strike down sinners.” [1]

This second interpretation does not quite hit the mark either. We have two ends of a pendulum swing—the first version warm and fuzzy and happily-ever-after, and the second version mean and vengeful and smiting and wiping out everything on the face of the earth.

What does the book of Genesis say? As Eileen read from Genesis earlier in the service, “The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.” And, “Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”

This is in contrast with the whole rest of humanity that God had created. In Genesis chapter 6, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

Or as Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message” says so poignantly, “People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.” And, “As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core.”

It is difficult for me even to contemplate such extreme evil and wickedness as Genesis describes—until I think of murder, slaughter, concentration camps, internment camps, gas chambers, razor-wire fences, genocide, people “disappearing” and abducted in plain sight, carpet bombing of civilians, and napalm raids. There have been so many people approving of these horrible activities throughout history, in hatred and fear of other people-groups, or in the name of their country’s security. Even today.

God’s heart, in striking contrast to the evil inclination of the human heart, is grieved by their betrayal. God is pained by the brokenness of creation. God sends the flood, then, not as an act of revenge, but out of grief over the rending of right human relationship with God.” [2] Perhaps I can see why the Lord was sorry God had made the human race in the first place. Perhaps all of this horror and human-made devastation can break our hearts, too.

But—Noah alone believed God. Noah was a righteous man, and was obedient to the words and ways of the Lord. As The Message says in Genesis 6, “Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God.”

How many of us can say that about ourselves? How many of us are good people, and people of integrity? For that matter, can we point to anyone, any single person we know and say, “That person walks with God!” Yet, the Bible says that about Noah.

So, Noah and his sons (and perhaps their wives, too) built the ark, believed God and were obedient. The Lord sent the rain upon the earth to wipe away every living creature, for forty days and forty nights. Only Noah and those with him on the ark were saved. And finally, “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

After Noah and his family finally left the ark, the Lord made a covenant with Noah. Perhaps we remember this covenant of the rainbow. “At the heart of that covenant with Noah and his descendants is God’s promise that “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (11b).  In other words, God seems to promise that God will never again use a natural catastrophe to destroy all earthly life. Yet while God says “never again,” God doesn’t add, as we might expect, “but in order for me to spare creation, you must do this and that.”  God’s post-Flood covenant is unconditional.” [3] In other words, no strings attached.

As commentator Doug Bratt reminds us, perhaps the Lord knows if we try to keep up our end of the bargain by acting in a manner pleasing to God, we will just fail completely. Again. “People after the Flood, after all, aren’t much different than they were before it.” [4]

Just as the rainbow covenant (or promise) was unconditional—no strings attached, so is the promise of Resurrection we have in the risen Lord Jesus. God promises through Christ Jesus and His death on the cross to forgive us our sins; just as the Lord promises through the rainbow to never flood the earth again.

Can we believe God, today? Can we obey God, instead of going our own way?

We have the opportunity to believe and be obedient to God, just like Noah. We can strive to be people of integrity, walking before the Lord in righteous living, and treating each other as God would have us do. We can thank the Lord for the Resurrection promise we grasp hold of, the blessed truth that the risen Lord Jesus has provided salvation for us, just as the ark provided salvation for Noah and his family.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1222

Commentary, Genesis 9:8-17, Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-1b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary

Sermon Starter of the Week, illustrations, text commentary, etc, Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

David Shows Compassion

2 Samuel 9:1-13 (9:7) – June 25, 2017

2 Sam 9 word cloud

“David Shows Compassion”

Three and a half years ago, I started a computer blog called #ayearofbeingkind. I blogged every day for a year. (That’s 365 consecutive days.)

Since I have the spiritual gifts of helps and mercy, every evening I would blog about my experiences being kind, or helpful, or of service. I learned so much from that year. It was, simply put, an eye-opening experience. This blog and the marvelous challenges and opportunities God sent my way in 2014 are two of the reasons I wanted to share this summer sermon series with you: our summer series on Compassion.

The bible reading for today comes from 2 Samuel 9. We don’t usually focus on the Hebrew Scriptures in our sermon. This is now the third week we have talked about people from the nation of Israel being kind and compassionate towards each other.

We’ve just heard this unexpected and beautiful story read to us. One problem: this chapter of 2 Samuel starts in the middle of the story. For the previous parts in our story, we need to turn back to 1 Samuel 20 and 2 Samuel 4. Before David ever became king of Israel, he was a great friend of Jonathan, the father of Mephibosheth.

Jonathan was the eldest son of King Saul. As young men, he and David had a very special relationship. Yes, Jonathan knew his father King Saul was a bitter enemy of his best friend David. Plus, Jonathan was aware that his father the mean King had his army chasing David all over the kingdom. As the eldest son and heir of King Saul, Jonathan stood to inherit everything, as a future king of Israel.

He could have ratted out his friend David, but their great friendship was more important. David and Jonathan promised each other they would show each other kindness and compassion, even if something awful happened. They not only made this promise to each other, they decided to up the promise to the next level. David and Jonathan made a covenant before the Lord.

Let’s come back to our reading for today. It’s now been a while since King Saul and his son Jonathan have died in battle. King David remembers again his covenant promise to Jonathan, and wishes to keep it. From 2 Samuel 9: “David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

David was taking his covenant responsibility very seriously. Even though Jonathan was dead, David still wanted to find out whether anyone was left alive of any of Jonathan’s children. Sometimes—like King David—we show kindness and grace to someone out of the love and caring we have for someone else.

Reading again from 2 Samuel 9, “Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” “At your service,” he replied. The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”

It is seldom we hear anything of someone who is disabled in the Bible. Yet, here is Jonathan’s son, disabled—or lame—in both feet. For that part of the story, we need to turn to 2 Samuel 4. The author tells about a number of things with other, more important people, including the outcome of the battle where Saul and Jonathan died. Yet, one particular sentence stands out. 2 Samuel 4:4. “(Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.)”

Today, when an accident happens and someone breaks some bones in their feet, what do they do next? They go to an orthopedic surgeon and have reconstructive surgery done on their feet. Sure, it’s painful and sometimes a difficult surgery, but then they go through rehabilitation and eventually learn to walk again. And often, their feet are almost as good as before.

But, what about Jonathan’s small son Mephibosheth? His nurse just found out about the death of King Saul and Jonathan on the battlefield. Filled with fear for the boy, she was running with him in her arms, and she tripped and fell. The boy fell to the ground, too. Somehow, his feet got crushed, and he became lame in both feet. This was a long time ago, and they did not have the ability to go to orthopedic surgeons. The small boy grew to be a man, and his feet remained crippled. He remained disabled.

I don’t think David ever knew about Jonathan’s disabled son Mephibosheth before. When he found out, he was greatly concerned and called the grown man before him.

Let’s look at this from Mephibosheth’s point of view. For years, he had been living his life quietly, under the radar. (At that time, according to the code of the day in every country, all close relatives of a former king were often killed.) Suddenly, he gets called into the presence of King David! I suspect Mephibosheth had no idea why he was being summoned into the king’s presence. He must have been really frightened.

Reading from 2 Samuel 9: When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Imagine what was going through Mephibosheth’s mind. Wow! Double wow! Imagine someone powerful showing you undeserved kindness—compassion—grace. This is all for the sake of someone else. David did not know Mephibosheth at all, and the young man did not deserve it. Yet, David was doing this really kind thing on behalf of—in memory of Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan.

What parallels are here, using this narrative? Similar to Mephibosheth, we were separated from our heavenly King because we didn’t know God or God’s love for us. Our heavenly King sought us out before we sought Him. The King’s kindness is extended to us for the sake of another. The heavenly King’s kindness is based on covenant. [1]

This reminds me of our God’s love for people. All people. God extends an invitation to all of us. When God looks at you and at me, what does God see? Does God see all the bad things we have done? Does God count up all the unwholesome thoughts that have gone through our minds? Does God remember hearing all those mean words that came out of our mouths? I don’t think the Lord holds those bad things over our heads. Instead, God is loving and remembers the covenant with God’s much beloved people.

To say it simply? God extends kindness and compassion toward us, too. God loves us. All of us.  

Sometimes we show compassion and grace to someone out of the love we have for someone else—like how David decided to honor Mephibosheth because he loved Jonathan so much. Think about someone in your life you really love—maybe it’s a parent, a friend, or someone else. Who could you give generously to in honor of that person you love? Who is someone in your life in need of your grace and kindness? Is there someone who does not get much attention–like Mephibosheth? Is there someone in your life who might not feel like they deserve compassion and kindness?

This is our opportunity to show God’s compassion and kindness—and love!—to others, every day. Go and do likewise. Amen.

 

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_2Sa/2Sa_9.cfm

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)