On Sunday, Rev. Jerry Roe at Wesley United Methodist Church preached on Noah’s ark. Noah’s ark is one of those Bible stories that I never really preached about. It starts in Genesis 6 with the story of the Nephilim – half human, half god – and moves into a story about a 600 year old man collecting two of every animal on earth to put on a giant ark that he built. The story smacks more of fantasy than truth and I never really wanted to tackle it in a 20 minute sermon.
But Rev. Roe is obviously more intrepid than I was. He didn’t deal with any of the fantastical details of the story. Instead, he focused on how the people inside the ark must have felt. Noah has spent his whole life preparing for the moment when the storm comes. He stepped out in faith, never caring what people around him thought. His sons were probably tempted to put him in a home of some sort, but they let him continue building. Maybe they even helped him – the story doesn’t say.
But finally, when the storm of the millennium came, Noah, his family, and the animals were all on board. Rev. Roe asked us to imagine what that storm might have been like. Heavy rain for day after day. The Bible says the rain covered the highest mountains and was 15 cubits over them. That would be a lot of rain! And all that rain fell in just 40 days. All the animals and people outside the ark died.
Inside the ark, how did Noah and his family feel? Did they feel secure in the care of God? Or where they worried about their future? Did they wonder, as the ark bobbed in the endless water, if the rain would ever stop and the floodwaters ever recede? Were they scared that they would run out of food for themselves or the animals? Were the sons and their families glad that they had taken a chance on a crazy old man?
After Rev. Roe talked about the feelings of the people on the ark, he talked about how the Church is like an ark. After all, our sanctuaries are styled after upside down boats. The main body of the sanctuary is a nave, with the same root as the Latin word for ship. Even the word sanctuary connotes a place that is safe from the storms of life. Then Rev. Roe suggested that we need to bring more people into the church so that they can be safe also. The ark is safer than the storm. The ship of the church is safer than the tempestuous life outside of it.
I hope so. I have always experienced the church as a safe haven, a sheltered port in a time of storm. But I wonder how safe our churches feel to people who are trying them out for the first time. Is the church a place of safety, of welcome, for those who are a different color? A different sexual orientation? Different political beliefs? When we truly show the love of Jesus Christ, I believe it can be. And, if the church can’t be such a place, there isn’t anywhere in the world that will be safer than the storm.
Where do you seek safe haven? Is your ark safer than the storm? May God always keep us open to making our churches places of refuge for anyone who is seeking God.