Sermon for 11-27-2022, 1st Advent, The Rev. Evan Graham Clendenin
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
What sort of time do we live in now? Well, the disciples with Jesus were living in a time of expectation, the arrival of some person, some power, some reign we might call messianic, the son of Man as Jesus says. It may be that they expect, that they actively hope for what will settle intractable disputes, pacify struggles, purify and enrich and hallow the ground, feed the hungry, wipe every tear from sorrowing eyes. They hope for a place to which all people might go to know this power, the presence, this person. But what we hear them ask about is a timeline, a sequence of events by which they might know how this will all take place. That is certainly one way to be ready. And Jesus replies it is not for you to know it that way. The angels in heaven don’t know it. Even the Son doesn’t know it. Only the Father knows. It’s a little like Jesus is saying to those with him-hey, I’m in this boat with you, and even I don’t know where we will land. We will have to take turns keeping watch, paying attention, steering, seeking the way. And while we’re aboard together, what will we do?
What sort of time do we live in now? Jesus then refers to a story his hearers would have known, and I expect most of us have heard and call to mind when we hear just one word-Noah. Well, if you and the angels and we too can not know the timeline of what God is doing, what we can know, Jesus suggests by the story he chooses, what we can know is the sort of time we live in. The disciples with Jesus lived in a time like the days of Noah. The church through the ages lives in a kind of time like the days of Noah. We live in a sort of time today, like the days of Noah.
So many of us today live with an awareness of an impending cataclysm. Some of us devote a great deal of effort, even millions of dollars since the 1970’s on the part of large corporations and petro states, to deny the reality of human-induced climate change. Or we devote soul energy to denying this reality-“don’t look up!” Another temptation that some of us suffer is to give in to despair-, humanity has wrecked creation, there is nothing we can do, it is hopeless, so if I can afford to do so, let me escape until I die, or undertake fruitless desperate actions. It is a time of true grief, and anxious uncertainty, and we can be swallowed up into these floods. We live in a time like the days of Noah. Neither turning away, not giving up will do.
In the time of Noah, what do you do? A flood of tears may just be a good starting point, a prayer that come from the heart and fills our body with compassion and the mercy of God, the only energy source that will do for us in such a time like this. The flood of tears helps float the ark into which the suffering creatures and poor may be gathered. And Jesus choice of story suggests a range of actions. We who have signed on to be crew with Jesus, who say with the prophet Isaiah and the peoples of whom he prophesied, let us go up to the mountain of the lord to be taught God’s ways and to walk in God’s paths. We build arks, boats, islands. The writer Margaret Wheatley described the need in this time to build islands of sanity, where we choose who we will be in the face of chaos and inhuman values, keep awake to reality, and not be overcome by despair. Islands of sanity where we can invite and gather others to keep awake, to keep watch, with us, as we treat each other humanely in a time of uncertainty.
And while we take turns keeping watch in this time like the days of Noah, what will we do? The prophet Isaiah has some helpful images-forge swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks. Whatever helps you to keep awake, helps you see what is before you, and to find the resources and skills and tools in your body and soul that can help you and others to make peace and tend the conditions for ourselves and others to enjoy life, not knowing what it will look like, but ready, prepared to receive it.