Sermon: “How to Build an Ark”
Subtitle: Oh my God! It’s Raining Again!
by Jim Manchester
Sunday morning and evening, February 24, 2008 • 11:00 am & 7:00 pm
St. John’s MCC • 805 Glenwood Avenue • Raleigh, NC
Introduction: The title for this morning’s/evening’s sermon sounds rather impractical: “How to Build an Ark.” We know that Noah built one a long time ago, and it has never rained that much since. For many of us, the story of Noah’s Ark is a quaint, old myth – told by people of many faiths around the world. But like everything in God’s word, I believe that this story has an important meaning for us today. And from that perspective, I offer – in the tradition of our beloved Pastor – a subtitle: “Oh my God! It’s raining again!”
Some of you may have seen the wildly popular series on the Logo channel that is also called “Noah’s Arc.” It is an entertaining sitcom. Sometimes provocative. I have several favorite characters. Just about everyone I know who has seen the sitcom identifies with one character or another. People came over to our house every week for two seasons so they could watch “Noah’s Arc” episodes on our Tivo. It was one of my favorite shows.
The main character is an extremely cute man named Noah. He has 3 very close friends. They are all gay African-American men living near each other in West Hollywood. Things are always happening to them that make me laugh, make me cry, or make me want to strangle one of them. Like all good sitcoms, they figure out ways to make their lives happier in the midst of it all … eventually.
Its title caught my attention from the beginning, but I had watched almost all of the two seasons they have produced before I realized why it was called “Noah’s Arc.” Let me see if I can explain it by turning to the old, favorite story in Genesis…. Grab a Bible and turn to the Sixth Chapter. We’ll start with the 5th verse. I’ll be reading from Eugene Peterson’s translation called The Message, so please follow along.
Genesis 6 (The Message)
God saw that human evil was out of control. 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 God’s heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.”
But Noah was different. God liked what God saw in Noah.
This is the story of Noah: Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
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.
God said to Noah, “It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.
“Build yourself a ship from teakwood. Make rooms in it. Coat it with pitch inside and out. Make it 450 feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Build a roof for it and put in a window eighteen inches from the top; put in a door on the side of the ship; and make three decks: lower, middle, and upper.
“I’m going to bring a flood on the Earth that will destroy everything alive under Heaven. Total destruction.
“But I’m going to establish a covenant with you: You’ll board the ship, and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives will come on board with you. You are also to take two of each living creature, a male and a female, on board the ship, to preserve their lives with you: two of every species of bird, mammal, and reptile—two of everything so as to preserve their lives along with yours. Also get all the food you’ll need and store it up for you and them.”
Noah did everything God commanded him to do.
Noah’s story goes on for several more chapters. But, for now, please join me in prayer.
Prayer: O God, when the storms of our lives rage around us, help us find refuge. Help us find courage. Help us find strength. And help us find the right materials to build an ark for ourselves. Amen.
I have found ten important principles in these verses. Please let me share them with you.Principle Number 1. It may not seem like it is raining very hard right now. In fact, our region of the world is in a severe drought that could end up being just as disastrous as a flood. But let me assure you – your storm or challenge is coming. Many, many people are in the midst of a storm that is so strong that they cannot see a safe end. Some storms approach so subtly that people don’t even know they are in one! In the same way that a live frog will stay in a pot of water that is about to boil, people become so accustomed to living in tragedy that they don’t realize that it is time to do something about it before life becomes a disaster.
- While Noah’s ark provided shelter from the 40-days rain and ensuing flood,
- The current challenge or impending disaster in your life may look a little different. You may be dealing with issues of
- Substance abuse
- Excessive or compulsive pleasure
- Financial concerns
- Professional or personal conflicts
- Stormy relationships with family, partners, and sometimes-irresponsible friends
- Arrogant self-centeredness
- Or anything that keeps you from living a full and happy life with lots of genuine, loving friends.
- You may think that your life is going fine just now. You might say, “I don’t have any of those problems.” You are probably right, but why wait until the next crisis happens to build your ark? Noah would have been much happier and felt much safer if he had been able to take more time to build his ark.
Principle Number 2. You cannot ride safely through a storm in someone else’s ark. It was built for them – not you.
- Noah built his ark to God’s specifications to meet the specific, impending crisis. Those specifications were exactly what Noah needed, and they suited Noah’s and God’s purposes perfectly.
- But your challenge is different from Noah’s and from everyone else’s you know. Situations may be similar, but they are not the same. Another person’s ark won’t meet all of your challenges.
Principle Number 3. You cannot buy an ark. No one can give you an ark. God is not your ark. You must build your own ark. And that takes time.
- Nobody else realized how much Noah’s Ark was going to be needed. No one else had ever built one before. Noah had to build it himself.
- There are good architectural plans you can use to design your personal ark.
- I felt those eyebrows perk up when I said this before, so let me say again: “God is not your ark.” People might like to hide in their faith in God – hoping that God will somehow magically transform the challenges they face into nothingness. But if you read carefully, you will see that God and Noah’s Ark are very different. Noah had to build his Ark – not just have faith in God.
- Your ark is not made up of materials that you could buy from the Home Depot. Nothing you use in your ark can be purchased with money. The materials you use to construct your ark are other people who are, in many respects, just like yourself. You must find them one at a time. You must approach them and let them know what you need them for. That requires ultimate honesty on your part. They must be willing to accept the challenge. To make your ark work, they have to know they are a part of it.
- Your planks will not find you. But, God has already put your planks in plain view.
- For example, if you are trying to recover from a lost love relationship, you may need to overcome your desire to be a hermit and go to a party or another social group where you could find new friends.
- But your choice of where you seek these supportive friends is critical. Don’t seek people out in places that would simply encourage you to continue on your same path of crisis. There are people right here at St. John’s who can point you to the right kind of support that you need even though they may not be equipped to help you deal with your situation. Be brave. Tell them what you need. Ask them!
- Pastor Carlton reminded us last week of the “microwave society” we live in. Many of us decide we want lunch and – DING – it’s ready in five minutes. Finding appropriate people to help you in your storm will take time. So now is the best time to start finding them and beginning the process of developing your relationship. The completed structure of your ark has to start somewhere. Some people think that their ark won’t work until it’s complete. That isn’t true. A small, baby ark is better than no ark at all.
Principle Number 4. Not all planks will fit into your ark.
- God asked Noah to look for teakwood and coat it with tar. That was perfect for Noah’s use because the teakwood was light and shapeable yet extremely sturdy when finally in place and the waterproof tar kept the water away from the inside of the ark.
- Some people are not a good fit for your ark.
- Some people don’t care whether you are headed for disaster or not.
- Some people enjoy seeing you wrapped up in your own disaster for their own entertainment or to keep you from seeing how messed up their lives are.
- Some people are so involved in their own disastrous lives that they don’t have time for you.
- There are many reasons why people would not be a good fit in your ark.
- Some people are excellent for your ark.
- They have arks of their own that work for them.
- Their arks are very big. They have lots of friends already working with them.
- They care about you and what happens to you.
- Different people offer different strengths. While Noah needed only one kind of wood for his ark, you may need manydifferent kinds of people in your ark.
- One person might be good with finances. Find a person with those strengths.
- Another might be good with self-control.
- One person might be good with establishing healthy personal boundaries.
- Another could help you with optimism and goal-setting.
- Another might have a gentle guiding spirit. Find people who can give you insight in what you need for your life.
Principle Number 5. It is a very good idea to get good help when you build your ark.
- Tradition says that Noah only had his children to help him, and they had never done it before either. There is a better way.
- Experienced amateur ark builders (like most of the people who make up my ark) are good; pros are even better! In fact, you need both.
- When I first went about building my ark, I made several mistakes.
- I tried to include friends who were not good for me. Now, if it was totally left up to me, those people would probably still be giving me bad advice and influencing stupid decisions. Those guys made me feel good, so I wanted to continue being friends with them. It was the professionals in my life, like Pat VanBuren and Belva Boone who helped me understand that I could not count on them for my recovery.
Principle Number 6. (I have to tell you … I HATED this part!) When people don’t fit into your ark, you may need to leave them behind – even if that means you may risk watching them drown in the flood.
- Popular tradition says that Noah tried to convince his neighbors to help him and come on board, but they didn’t. They were destroyed. He and his family were saved.
- This is the very toughest part of ark building. If people – even the closest “friends” you thinkyou have – are not good for your life, you must let them go. They will not lead you toward happiness and fulfillment in your life. They may continue to lead you to disaster. If they don’t want to change their lives, you must get away from them so you, with your ark’s help, can change yours.
- My therapist, Pat VanBuren, says that there are three kinds of friends:
- One kind who, when I am at the edge of a cliff, will grab hold of me and yank me back.
- Another kind who will stand next to me at the edge, tell me how nice it looks down there, and say, “Let’s do it!”
- And yet another kind who will push me off the edge and yell, “Have a nice life! … Ooops!”
- Then she asks, “Now which kind of friend do you want standing with you at that cliff?”
- My therapist, Pat VanBuren, says that there are three kinds of friends:
- Sometimes “boyfriends” or “girlfriends” are not “friends” at all. My new definition of friendis:
- Someone who I would never think about lying to;
- Someone I would never even consider trying to manipulate according to my selfish desires or for self-gain;
- And someone who regards me in the same way.
- If my relationship with a person doesn’t look like that, then the relationship is something other than a “friendship.” A real friend would never abuse a “friend” in any way.
- Noah learned from God that he was to bring a male and female of all species into the ark. There were some other instructions, too. According to Genesis 7:5, Noah did what he was told.
- For us, honesty is the key to good arks.
- You must be completely honest about everything that is going on in your life. Even things you don’t think are important may have a bearing. Trust the people in your ark with the smallest of details. You must live in your truth to these people. Nothing left out. No excuses. No exceptions.
- The people who make up the planks of your ark must be equally honest with you. If they feel that an idea or proposed action you have stinks, they must be willing to tell you. When something you do is messed up, they must have the courage to call you out on it. When you draw a stinky conclusion or don’t consider enough good choices, they must let you know. All of this must be done in unconditional love for you and for everybody else.
- You must be willing to change your thinking, your ideas, your habits, and your behaviors. You must ask for ideas on how to do that. Just like Noah, you must make those ideas work for you. No one else will do it for you.
- Now, I have got to tell you: This part was not easy for me. I went into this part of ark building kicking and screaming. It didn’t feel good. It went against just about everything that my mother told me when I was growing up. She always said, “People might laugh at you if you trip and fall, but never, ever air your dirty laundry in public. Your personal life is none of anyone’s business. No one needs to know your personal secrets.” Well, taking her advice didn’t work out very well for me. My secret life led – ultimately – to very bad behavior. It ended up being abusive to just about everyone I came in contact with.
- I imagine that Noah didn’t much like having to stop what he was doing – farming – in order to build the Ark. Do you remember Bill Cosby’s comic monologue? “You want me to do what, God?!? Oh, no, I’m a farmer … not a shipbuilder! All those animals are going to smell really, really bad, God! Nobody’s ever done it that way, God!” I can imagine lots more excuses that Noah might have said. But Noah built the Ark anyway. If he wanted to suffer the same consequences as everyone else who was living an arrogant, selfish life, he could have refused. But he didn’t. He wanted to live! So he had to do something different.
- You won’t like having to change the bad attitudes you hold and stop the self-serving behaviors that you are engaging in either. But, it’s either start loving and caring about other people in your life, start being responsible for your own finances, (… or whatever the crisis is in your life) or you will suffer the natural consequences of your selfishness or mismanagement.
Principle Number 8. It is a good idea to set your ark sailing with other arks in the fleet.
- In Genesis, Noah didn’t have any other ark captains sailing across the flooded world to help him navigate. Even though he had his family, all those stinky animals, and God for company, he must have felt very lonely.
- Let me tell you, there are lots of arks floating around St. John’s that are doing just fine. You may find some important planks for your ark right here – in people who have set their course toward a happier and healthier life. At the very least, you will find many ark captains who can go with you to “navigation” meetings and growth opportunities.
- Sunday Morning or Sunday Evening Topics
- Women’s, Men’s, Youth Ministry and other small groups (such as the informal ones that gather for lunch after the service)
- Discipleship I and II
- Tuesday Night Bible Study
- 12-step recovery groups like AA, NA, and SAA that St. John’s sponsors
Principle Number 9. Your ark will always be under construction, and you will never outgrow your need for it.
- Noah’s ark served one purpose, and then he quit using it. It seems to me that he should not have abandoned it. His life ended up quite messy. To see what I mean, look at Genesis 9:20.
- If you want to keep your ark working for you, you have to maintain it.
- You maintain it by paying attention to it.
- It takes personal and regular contact with your supportive friends.
- You can’t take it for granted – ever!
- You must keep being 100% honest and open about everything in your life to everyone who is a plank in your ark.
- From time to time, you’ll need to replace planks in your ark.
- Friends move away.
- Friends mess up and do stupid things. When they do, they need to work on restoring their own arks as quickly as they can. If you are far enough along on your journey, it is possible that you could become a helpful plank for them.
Principle Number 10. Your ark is a gift from God. The people who make up my ark are, as God’s gift to me – the Body of Christ, my “ever-present strength in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9)
Why was it that the flood destroyed so many people?
- The priestly writers of Genesis tell us in chapter 6 verses 5-7: “God saw that human evil was out of control. 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 God‘s heart. … I’m sorry I made them.’” And in verses 11 & 12: “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.”
- Not long ago, some friends of mine were sitting around our friendship table at home. (That’s the table I used to call a “dinner table.”) We had just consumed a wonderful meal. Somebody began talking about the “good old days,” and my inclination was to wish I could relive them. Suddenly, I realized, those old days were not so good. For the better part of 50 years, I was an arrogant, self-centered jerk. I did what I wanted to do and didn’t care how anyone else felt about what I did. I didn’t care who I harmed in order to get satisfaction and pleasure. I didn’t care that I lied to everyone about my sexual orientation to gain what I thought was popular respectability. My life sounded very much like what God thought of the people who were destroyed in the flood – selfish and “corrupt to the core.” Just like that first creation, I suffered, what was for me, the natural consequences of living an arrogant, self-centered life.
- My ark is carrying me through the storms of my life and will continue to deliver me through this storm and the next one. As long as I continue to be honest with the people of my ark and let them know what is going on in my life, they will continue to jerk a knot in me – helping me to live out my truth.
The truth is: These are the best days of my life! There is a rainbow at the end! Just before the next inevitable storm and the next rainbow.