Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | July 12, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 11:7

Downloadable version


When God Speaks…

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of the great comedy routines of all time is Bill Cosby doing Noah.  If you’ve never heard it before, find it.  Google it.  Search YouTube.  Go through old records.  It’s worth the effort.

It’s funny, not just because Bill Cosby is very funny fellow, but because he catches how sinners react to situations like Noah’s.  If I heard a voice say, “Build me an ark,” I might think I’ve been out in the heat too long.  If I said, “God told me to build an ark,” you might say “He’s been out in the heat too long.”  If I spent 120 years on a seemingly useless project for God – an ark in the middle of hot and dry Texas – I might begin to wonder just what the point of all this is and why God is making me do all this work.  That seems like how we would react to these things.  But both Genesis and Hebrews gives us no indication that that is how Noah reacted.  When God spoke, warning Noah about things that he couldn’t yet see, Noah’s faith jumped into action.  He did everything just as God commanded him. Let this example spur your faith.  WHEN GOD SPEAKS….  WE BUILD….  WE PREACH…. WE LIVE!

Cosby begins his routine with Noah cutting some lumber, when all of a sudden God calls, “Bing!”  “Noah!”  When Noah realizes it’s the LORD, he asks God what he wants.  “I want you to build me an ark.”  And Noah says, “Right!  What’s an ark?”  Noah and God then go back and forth about arks, animals, and cubits.

In the Holy Spirit’s version, there’s none of this give and take.  God speaks; Noah builds.  Hebrews says, Because He feared God, he built an ark to save his family. The word “feared” is key.  It can mean shaking in your boots, quivering under your covers, looking between your fingers until the scene is over.  Or, it can mean to be in awe, to reverence, to obey due to reverence, to be faithful, and to trust or take refuge in.  In Noah’s case, it’s the latter.  He’s described as being blameless, and, like Enoch, walking with God.  He and his family remained faithful to the LORD.  He feared God in the best sense of the word, the same sense in which we fear God, the First Commandment sense, We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

And this drove Noah to hear God and build.  He did everything just as God commanded him. There was no excuse making, a la Moses, “I don’t talk good, God!”  There was no asking for signs and counter-signs, a la Gideon, “Okay, here’s the deal, God!  If the wool is wet, and the ground is dry, I’ll believe you….  Ok, ok, ok, if the ground is wet and the wool is dry, then…”  There was no running in the opposite direction, a la Jonah.  When God spoke, Noah built.  Faith doesn’t argue.  Faith doesn’t debate.  Faith doesn’t quarrel.  Faith doesn’t doubt.  Faith doesn’t question.  Faith just does.  Faith builds what God says when God says it.  Because faith fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.  Any other response isn’t faith.  Faith knows that when God talks, He’s not shootin’ the breeze, He’s not killing time.  When God speaks, it’s important.

Later, Cosby shows us Noah building the ark.  He’s hammering away all those cubits up in the air, and his neighbor finds the ark blocking his driveway.  “Hey, you up there!  Can you get this thing out of my driveway?  I’m late for work!  What are you building anyways?”  Noah responds, “You want to know what it is?”  “Yeah!”  Noah says, “I can’t tell you!  HA HA HA HA!”  The man responds, “Well, can’t you give me a hint?”  Noah, “You want a hint?  How long can you tread water?  HA HA HA HA!”  Again, while humorous, and appealing to the way our sinful nature would respond, the text doesn’t support Cosby’s interpretation.

Hebrews says, By his faith he condemned the world. Peter writes in his second letter that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. By his actions – building an ark – and by his words – telling the world what was coming – Noah did what faith does naturally.  Faith doesn’t just build.  While faith builds, faith preaches.

Imagine if Noah just went on building, quietly, cautiously, unobtrusively.  Some would see what he’s doing.  Shopkeepers would notice Noah loading up on provisions.  You couldn’t help but see the sudden influx of strange animals arriving.  But if Noah kept his mouth shut, if Noah just minded his own business, would anyone have understood why this was happening?  And furthermore, could Noah, this man of faith, have on his conscience the lives of all the people who would drown because he never told them how they might escape, had never warned them of the coming flood?  No, he couldn’t.  Because Noah knew what God told Ezekiel:  Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.

Hearing this, knowing this, nodding our heads along with this, still, we’re content to let our faith-life be like Vegas.  You know their motto.  “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!”  For us it’s, “What happens in my heart stays in my heart!  What happens in church stays in church!  I’m not going to bother any one with my personal beliefs.  I’m not going to risk having them get angry with me, not like me, or turn away from me.  I’m not going to preach.”  Except God called you to preach when He called you to faith.  He called you to preach, even when the message is painful and dreadful, as it was for Noah – “A flood will destroy the world!”  Or Jonah, “40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed!”  He calls you to tell it like it is, no matter how awkward or tension filled it is, to tell it like it is and say that cheating, lying, and laziness; abortion, divorce, pre-marital sex, living together outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography; drunkenness, dirty jokes, and selfishness; avoiding church, Bible class, and communion, purposely refusing to talk about your faith with others, are sinful.  He calls you to say:  people are sinful from birth; children are held accountable for sins; deeds must match creeds; and there is only one religion, only one Savior, Christ and Christianity.  And God doesn’t just call you to announce that these sins exist somewhere out there in the world.  God calls us to point and say, when necessary and appropriate, “You are sinning.”

And lest we think that there are no parallels between our time and Noah’s, listen to Jesus, As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. The world is just as sinful and ignorant now as then, perhaps more so.  The world is purposefully ignorant of God’s message, because now it’s down on paper, it’s spread via television, radio, and internet.  There are translations in hundreds of languages and missionaries circling the globe.  And just because all that is being done doesn’t excuse us from being preachers of righteousness.  We’re called to be testifiers, confessing the Father and His Son before the world, always being ready to give the reason for the hope we have.  And how can we not, when the follow up to “You’re sinning!” is the best news ever, “But God has done something about it!”?  Noah built an ark to save people, to save His family.  And certainly others could have come on board.  Now God displays His ark.  We heard Peter:  Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also….  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ….

Finally, Cosby described Noah’s building frustration.  He was trying to get the ark finished and all the animals aboard and was running into problems.  Meanwhile, God calls, “Noah!”  “WHAT?!?”  “You need another hippo.”  “WHY?!?!”  “You’ve got two females.”  “I’m not bringing nothin’ in, you change one of them!”  And then Noah proceeded to rant and rave about everything that’s gone wrong – the ridicule from neighbors, the hard work, the dirt and grime, the long hours.  Then it starts to rain, and Noah loses some of his steam. “What’s this?  It’s raining?  This isn’t a shower, is it?  You and me, God!   You and me!”

Again, funny, but not true.  Noah did just what God commanded him, all along the way.  Because He had faith.  He built.  He preached.  And He lived.  He lived not because He built and preached.  He built and preached because He was alive.  Hebrews writes, By faith…[Noah] became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Like Abraham after him, [Noah] believe and it was credited to him as righteousness. It was not Noah who became righteous; it was God who declared Noah righteous.  I have found you righteous in this generation, God said.  God spoke, and Noah lived.  Because God’s Word is His power for salvation.  God’s Word makes us wise for salvation.  Because God’s Word doesn’t just expose sin, it announces grace, it promises the Savior from sins.  God’s Word reveals the righteousness that is by faith in Jesus Christ from first to last.  So that Noah can stand side by side with Paul and say:  [W]hatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Noah was saved not by washing dirt off his body, not by building an ark, not by preaching, but by the resurrection of Christ.  Just like us.  Just as the waters of the flood lifted Noah and his family above destruction, so the waters of Baptism lift us above destruction and death as they take us to the tomb, cleanse our conscience before God, and move us to build and preach, because we live.  God said it.  It is so.  Bill Cosby might be funny.  But Christ is right.  Amen!


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