This is the text of my reflection/sermon shared with the congregation today at Cliftonville Moravian Church:
Today, I want to reflect on Genesis 8: 1 ‘But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded’.
Our Old Testament passage, Genesis 8:1-19 is rich in imagery and meaning. In the character of Noah, we see a man who is faithful, patient and perseveres in the face of uncertainty. During the trials that he faced, he understood, consciously and subconsciously that God had not forgotten him….that God kept his promises. It all took some time of course, to go from the drama of the flood to the deliverance represented by dry land and new and vibrant beginnings. The transition from being ‘all at sea’, to being quite literally ‘grounded’ is a powerful and deeply meaningful image.
But let us step back from this unfolding picture for a moment and reflect on Noah’s actions as the water was omnipresent and the land submersed. During that time, we read of a man who reaches out again and again in hope and expectation; we encounter a person who has placed his trust in God, that ultimately, all will be well and salvation is very firmly in God’s hand.
Trust, in God’s providence permeates Noah’s existence. We see that motif reflected very powerfully in our New Testament lesson, especially in the opening verse where it is written: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me’ (John 14:1).
Noah’s trust in God is a given. He in return is entrusted with an enormous task, despite his very human character flaws and failings. Trust is vitally important; so too is hope – it flows from the foundation of trust that accompanies, and exemplifies a faithful life.
We read of a Noah who sends out first the Raven, then the Dove, calmly waiting for the return, or ultimately for some sense that the waters are subsiding and life is returning to the land; that the wait is over. Noah then, is the picture of trust in the divine; the dove is the symbol of hope.
Last week, we touched on the contours of hope as we navigated the biblical narrative. This week, we are drawn once again to contemplate its importance.
Noah’s actions, in sending out those birds, awaiting a response and initially being disappointed, but ultimately experiencing the joy of hope fulfilled. He lived out the words of the American civil-rights activist and Baptist Minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr when he perceptively said:”We must accept finite disappointment but must never lose infinite hope”. What a maxim to live by! How insightful.
So, the example of Noah and a the words of a contemporary Christian leader fuse together and remind us that yes, we will experience disappointment in our lives, but our hope is infinite; it is build upon the God of love and his omnipotence – the reason that we gather here today to worship and to give witness to a far greater reality than we can even describe.
Consider then, what the great reformer, Martin Luther said: ‘Everything that is done in the world is done by hope’. Indeed it is. Hope can transform the most despairing of situations, the most anxious of moments, and the most intractable problems that perplex us and seek to wear us down.
The roman poet, Albius Tibillus surely also catches the mood of the moment when he writes: ‘Hope ever urges us on and tells us tomorrow will be better’. And it will. We look forward with hope, despite the turmoil of the world we live in; despite the innumerable uncertainties that perniciously attempt to steal our joy and purpose. Our hope is so much deeper and broader than all of that; it is un-measurable and unfathomable, but nonetheless it is tangible; we can feel it in our hearts….if only we stand still, and silent, for a few moments.
We honour that hope by living a life that is open to possibility and steeped in the knowledge that God is the source and sustainer of that hope.
And so it seems pertinent to finish this brief reflection with a short prayer. This prayer comes from a meditation entitled ‘The Gift of The Dove’ and is published in ‘Meditations from the Iona Community’ by Ian Reid. Iona holds special memories for me; a ‘thin place’, God’s presence is realised in its ruggedness and holiness; that sense of hope permeates the soil, the sea and the air of a place where God’s presence is undeniable. Hope and presence go hand-in-hand. Here it is expressed in that very prayer; let us pray:
‘Ever-present God, open our eyes to see
the coming of the dove.
As we look over the waters of
our doubts and fears,
enable us to see in the world signs of hope.
As we despair over the injustices and conflicts
in our own lives and in the world,
enable us to see in the world signs of peace and reconciliation.
As Noah was called to leave the ark and go out into
the world, enable us, like him, to share with others
the visions of hope, peace and reconciliation we