“Getting in the Boat” Rev. Stacy Swain, September 9, 2018 Gathering Sunday

Genesis 6: 11- 22 and Matthew 8: 18-27


Holy One – Grant us curious minds and open hearts that we may hear through these stories what you may be whispering to us.  And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.

 Can you imagine what Noah’s neighbors must have thought when he started on building this thing he called an ark? Noah is said to be a righteous man, one who walked with God so it is fair to say that he must have been was well respected and a leader in his community.  He would have been someone people looked up to.  He would be among those who gathered at the Gate of the City (the Gate of the City was kind of like the town center, common or green in biblical time, the civic center where all the action was). Noah would have been there to share his wisdom and to debate the topics of the day.  Noah’s very name in Hebrew means “comfort” and “rest” which is what he had earned and should have been enjoying.

Can you imagine how shocked Noah’s neighbors must have been to see him embarking on a building project, and not  a shed for the sheep – kind of building project, which would have made some sense, but instead a building an ark, a massive boat in a landscape that was basically a desert?

I can just hear what people must have been whispering when out of ear shot of Noah, can’t you?  I can hear them whispering “What kind of crazy is this?  Why in the world would he spend all that time, energy and resources on something that is has absolutely no use or purpose?  What in the world is he thinking?”


What is remarkable about Noah is that he was willing to be called out.  He was willing to do something new.  He was willing to learn and be guided by God.

For God has something important still to teach us, something we so desperately still need to know if we and our world are to be saved (and in being saved I mean finding a way of thriving and healing and wholeness for ourselves and all creation ). God has something so important to teach us and we so desperately need to learn it, but that 2) there is also something about us that makes it next to impossible for us to take in this learning.  There is something about us, something about our ego strength and desire for competence and control that sets up this Plexiglas kind of barrier between us and the divine source of energy and inspiration that is seeking us continually.

So what we need is a way to be lifted up out of ourselves in order to see in a new way and learn what it is that God is trying to teach us so that something new can emerge in our lives and our lives together.  Something that is truer and in greater alignment with the life of God.

For what this flood story is really about is a re-creation account.  A remnant was taken out of what was in order to learn something new and become what could possibly be.

We do not know exactly what happened on that ark but I imagine that there was a lot of learning going on and I think that that was the whole point.  The Ark I think became a kind of learning laboratory.  For the problem, the need for the ark in the first place, was that the world was corrupt and filled with violence.  It was not as God had intended it to be and God calls Noah to build an ark not just so that a remnant can just survive, but so that a remnant could learn a new way of being with each other.

Inside that ark I am sure at first it was pretty chaotic.  I am sure everyone was getting on everyone’s last nerve and things were pretty bad.  At first I am sure that what was going on inside that ark was not too different that what had gone on outside of it.  But over time, all I think had to go about learning how to be together.  They had to learn how to be in relationship so that all could survive and perhaps even thrive.

And it was the same for the disciples in their boat? They had learning to do as well.  They needed to learn that they were not on their own personal boat ride but they were a part of something much larger.  They had to learn that they were a part of a cosmic reality, something bigger, something important not just for their own salvation but something that the whole entire world was to be participating in.

Such learning is needed in our time as well.   For there is much violence and corruption in our world.  There is a need for us to re-learn how to be with one another in a way so that we might not just survive but also thrive.  Might the Democrat and the Republican learn how to work together to serve the greater good?  Might the white and black ones learn that they are siblings in the household of God?  Might the sixth generation American and the undocumented immigrant learn what belonging really means?

So that makes me think a lot about what we are gathering into today as we return to church, to this community, into this sanctuary. Might we be instrumental to this narrative of re-creation in our time of need?

I would not be surprised if there were not passersby this summer who whispered a bit at the time, energy and resources being poured into the construction of our front steps and I will not be surprised to find that many more will do so once the roof construction is under way in the months ahead.  I would not be surprised to hear whispers of “What are they doing spending all of that time, and energy and resources on that building?” “After all, isn’t building an arc in the desert rather akin to tending to building a church in our time?”  What is the point of it?


The point is, we need time and space so that we can be deliberate about regularly opening to the learning and growth that God has for us about how we are to be with each other and all creation.  It is instructive that the Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as “church” means a “gathering of people that are called out.”  We need to be called out, need to get in the boat so to speak so that we have a space to learn how to do this good and holy work.

This is something that makes no sense to the world but that I believe the future of the world depends upon.  Brian McLaren, teacher and author puts it this way He says “Today would be a good day to find a faith community that focuses on love for God, neighbors (no exceptions), self and the earth.  Imagine what would happen if millions of us joined and formed churches that were schools or studios of revolutionary love.

That is what we are about.  That is why we are about creating a learning laboratory right here, week after week, so that we can be intentional about placing ourselves in the presence of our God, our Master Teacher taking in the lessons of love and peace that we are to then take out with us and live into in the world.  We do this so that not only  may each and every one of us find the healing and wholeness we need to come fully alive, but so that we can also be reconciled one to another and join in with God in bringing about the healing and wholeness of all of creation.

Our own Adam Hearlson in his newly released book, “Holy No” puts it this way, “Church exists only as it participates in the Trinitarian mission of God to free people from the bondage that destroys relationship and mutuality in this world.”  This is the divine curriculum we are to be about learning – we are to learn how to participate with God in freeing people from the bondage that destroys relationship and mutuality in this world.


This is the truth that the ancients in exile in Babylon came to know and what it turns out our founders of this faith community knew a well.  For is it any surprise then that this very sanctuary is built, not like a shed for sheep, but like an ark ready to carry God’s people to a new future, new awareness, learning, life and wisdom.

So praise God, look around.  We are in the boat!  I for one cannot wait for the challenge, the learning and the emerging truths that awaits us on our journey together. This is what we are to be about. May we have the courage, the commitment and the passion to engage with all that awaits us.

Praise be to God!