Panda Bears, The RM of Hanover, and Insurance Companies

The following is a sermon preached at Grace Mennonite on September 7, 2014, based on Genesis 6:9-22; 9:8-15.


A few months ago, the movie Noah came out.  Many of you have seen it.  I have not.  But I’ve loved listening to everyone’s reactions to it.

Some people loved it.  Some people hated it.  Some people thought it was quite an interesting interpretation.  Some people went back to Genesis to re-read the story to figure out what’s actually there and what’s actually not.

One of my favourite responses was this one:  It’s a sign put up at a movie theatre in Abbotsford. noah

“Attention Guests:

We have had concerns that Noah does not reflect the biblical content.  Please keep this in mind before purchasing your tickets as we can only give refunds 30 minutes into the beginning of the show”

People saw the movie and asked for a refund because it they thought it didn’t follow their understanding of 3 chapters in a book written thousands of years ago.  I get it that we sometimes end up seeing movies we don’t like, but to ask for a refund?!?  That’s awesome.  I guess there are a bunch of thrifty Mennonites in Abbotsford or something.

Another one of my favourite posts on the internet was this one:

noahs ark

“You express concern that the movie Noah wasn’t faithful to the text, and yet you’re okay with decorating your baby’s room like this?  Where are all the wicked humans who thought of evil all the time?  Where is the God who destroys the Earth?  Where are all the floating corpses?  And why is the Panda wearing a ribbon on her head?”

I love it.  I haven’t seen the movie, so I’ll stop talking about it, but if you have seen it and want to talk about it, you can talk to Mel.  He’d love to talk to you about it.

But, movie aside, we still have this story of Noah and the Flood.

God saw how wicked the humans were, regretted making them, and wants to destroy them.

Genesis 6:7:  “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

God regretted making us?  I think that is one of the worst things we can say to our children.  “I regret having you.”  That cuts deep.  Don’t say that to your kids.

But here God regrets us.  So he seeks to destroy us.   Which raises big questions as to what kind of God is this?  But we’ll get there in a bit.

God wants to destroy humanity, except for Noah and his family.  He tells them to build a boat and fill it with animals and then go for a 40 day boat ride with them so they can survive the flood.

After we’re done reading this, we start asking some interesting questions:  How did he feed the animals?  How did he fit sixty thousand vertebraes on the ark?  Did Noah have the one million species of insects on board?    How did animals reproduce if there were only two left of a kind?  Did the baby animals end up mating with their siblings?  What if one platypus went this way and one went that way and they never found each other again?  What if right out of the ark the wildebeest gets eaten by the crocodiles?  And the 40 days of flood water… Was it salt water or fresh water?  And an elephant poops 300 lbs a day, so times by 2 elephants… 600 lbs a day, times by 40 days… Did Noah and his family actually shovel 24,000 lbs of elephant poop off the side of the boat?  Oh, so many questions to ask.

But as much fun as it is to think of all the theoretical problems of Noah’s Ark, I think if we do this, we miss the point of the story.  I think that in our effort to take the story seriously, we often end up taking literally, because when we read history text books, that’s what we do.  This historical event happened, Alexander the Great went there, this volcano erupted, some army fought some war, Louis Riel formed a province, and then in the summer of 2014 we all found out that RM of Hanover was never really dry in the first place.

But here’s the thing about the story of Noah and the Flood.  It was never written to be a historical depiction of what happened.  There wasn’t anybody there writing down what Noah said to his wife about the smell on the Ark.  The flood story, the version that we have today in our Bibles, was most likely written down thousands of years AFTER the event happened.  That’s like you and I trying to write the history of the Roman Empire.  Considering that I can’t remember people’s birthdays without Facebook  reminding me, some of those details might be a bit blurry.

But that’s okay, because you wouldn’t expect me to get it all the details right as to what actually happened, right?

But what you WOULD expect me to do is to get the important parts right.  And THAT’s why we are reading the story of Noah and the flood to this day.  Because there’s something important in there that we’re not supposed to miss all these thousands of years later.

What is that important thing?

Well, did you know that there are flood stories in other Ancient Near East religions?   The Sumerians had flood stories, the Mesopotamians had flood stories, the Babylonians had flood stories… Back then, everybody had flood stories.  Some of the stories even had people building boats to escape the floods.

Everyone was talking about floods.  Because floods were uncontrollable.  Floods were unpredictable.  Floods killed.   Floods were bad.

And how would a person back then make sense of these killer floods?  Well, the Gods sent them.  The Gods sent the floods as part of their anger. God sends a flood because God is mad.

Think that sounds stupid?  Yeah, it does.  But to this day we still hear people attributing hurricanes and tornadoes and disease  and death to God.  People call it a warning, or a wake-up call, or a punishment for unconfessed sin.  Some still call it God’s wrath.  The insurance companies call it an act of God, and then you find out you’re not covered.  This line of thinking makes God sound petty and vengeful and is actually more about karma than grace, but we hear it all the time.

The same is with the flood stories we find in other Ancient Near Religions:  The gods are angry, and the result of their anger is chaos and death in our world.

And that’s exactly how the flood story we find in Genesis starts.

God is angry with humankind, God regrets making them, God is going to destroy them all with a flood because of that anger.   Everyone had heard this story before.  They all knew how it was going to end.

But then, in this flood story, something different happens.  Something monumental.  Something so important that it was probably worth writing down so that we’d never forget it.

A rainbow happens.

Gen 9:11 – I establish my covenant with you:  Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood:  never again will there be a flood to destroy the Earth.

And then the rainbow is the sign of this covenant.

Rob Bell puts it best: 

“This was not how people talked about the gods.
The gods are pissed off-that’s how people understood the gods.
But this story, this story is about a God who wants to relate-
A God who wants to save-
A God who wants to live in covenant…

This story is about a new view of God.

Not a God who wants to wipe people out,
but a God who wants to live in relationship.

So yes, it’s a primitive story.

Of course it is.
It’s a really, really old story.
It reflects how people saw the word and explained what was happening around them.

But to dismiss this story as ancient and primitive is to miss that at the time this story was first told it was a mind blowing new conception of a better, kinder, more peaceful God who’s greatest intention for humanity is not violence but love.”

This is the important thing.  This God, Noah’s God, our God, is about relationship.

This God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, IS relationship.

This God is in relationship with God’s children here on Earth.

This God invites us to live in relationship with each other.

This God invites us to relationship with our neighbours, both near and far, the ones like us and the one’s not like us, the ones we love and the ones who drive us crazy, the ones we’ve known for years and the ones who sit near us in church but we still don’t know their names.

We are invited to relationship.

One of the things that I love about Grace Mennonite Church is that there is a high emphasis on relationships. That emphasis has been there since its beginning, and continues to be important for us over 50 years later. We value relationship.

Last week, Mel invited us to remember it is God that we serve when we go to work.  Next week, we’re going to be looking for the work of God in the face of injustice, violence, and oppression, and invite ourselves to find out where we fit into that story.

But this week, the invitation is for us to enter into deeper relationships with one another and our world.

Next week is our fall fellowship lunch.  Come downstairs and sit with someone you don’t regularly sit with.  And if you can’t come next week, October 19th is our Thanksgiving lunch as well.

The Sisters of Grace group is planning a women’s retreat in the fall.  Take the risk and sign up, or even better, sign up and invite someone who isn’t going.

If you consider yourself a young adult, in November we’re hosting a Sabbath weekend of prayer, silence, and contemplation, plus we eat good food.

If you love to serve, Mel will be organizing a week of service with Mennonite Disaster Service.  Obviously helping rebuild homes and lives is a highlight, but so is spending time with people from Grace whom you might not otherwise.

Our Spiritual Guidance team will be hosting 6 evenings starting mid-October of guided discussions with guest speakers as we talk about sexuality.  Come and listen and learn and share and ask deep questions as a church community committed to following Jesus together.

It’s harvest time.  A great group of faithful gardeners always have room for more hands as they harvest a crop of vegetables for Soup’s On Wednesday nights.

We are hoping to host a group from Pauingassi again this fall.  Come and listen and learn and laugh and adopt a posture of humility with our First Nations brothers and sisters.

Budget some extra time to spend here at church on Sunday mornings, grab a cup of fair trade coffee, and join the conversations we often have as part of Christian Formation time.  Or at the very least, grab your coffee and be brave and say hi to someone that you don’t know very well.

Join up with the community of people who make sandwiches for school kids on Monday mornings, or help cook food on Tuesday afternoons for Soup’s On, or join up with the groups of Gracers who create space for people to encounter God at nursing homes.  Sure, you get to “do” some good things.  But you also get to do it with some pretty cool people.  You get to invest in relationships.

You’re invited to relationship with each other, as God’s church here.   Because God invites us to live in relationship with each other.  Because God is in relationship with us.  Because God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, IS relationship.  Because this God, Noah’s God, our is all about relationship.



2 thoughts on “Panda Bears, The RM of Hanover, and Insurance Companies

  1. Very timely that this showed up in my email now… we are just in the middle of our 2-week study of Noah here in my Preschool (age 3) class at Dalat International School. My team teacher and I have been contemplating which angle to emphasize: God is vengeful/don’t be one of the “naughty” ones or you will get punished, or Submission: Noah was rewarded for his obedience. Or… ??? Really, what do I want them to remember after 10 days of Noah? Hadn’t considered the relationship angle. Thanks.
    Love the “interesting questions” bit… hadn’t considered 24,000 lbs. of elephant poop…
    Thanks for sharing.
    Shannon, in Malaysia

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