Sunday, September 16, 2012

Not Safe for Children (Sermon, 9/16)

Text: Genesis 6-9            

          In all the things I do for our children’s service, Heavenly Sunshine, one thing I never do is read the flood story. I do a lot of wild and crazy things, but I never read that story. I do not like presenting it as a story for children. It’s not a story about cute animals- it’s a story of the idea that the world went so wrong that God decided to undo creation. That’s not Vacation Bible School-friendly, that’s apocalypse. No number of cute songs or rainbows can make me okay with this story.

            This is an interesting perspective because most of us never hear about the flood again after our VBS or day camp days are finished. A few of us may have discussed Genesis as adults or once or twice heard a sermon on the flood, but so rarely. Who wants to talk about it? Who wants to consider that God, who was merciful to Adam and Eve and to Cain (after he killed his brother), decided a few generations later that things were so bad, they had to end.

            Things were so bad (how bad were they?) that Genesis 6:5-7 says: The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

            What was the great sin of the time? As I thought about this story this week and wished I had anything else on which to preach, I read an interesting thought in a Torah commentary. A Torah commentary is a Jewish commentary on the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. This modern commentary sifts through thousands of years of Jewish scholarly thought and offers small nuggets to chew on regarding different texts.

            The commentary suggested that the early people- the pre-flood people- stopped valuing children. I am not saying this is what’s in the Bible, but when commentators through the centuries have read this story and the rest of Hebrew Scripture, one of the conclusions they have reached is that the destruction of the flood is attributed to a societal neglect of children.[1]

            Since Noah lived to be quite old, the Scriptural tradition understands that he did not have children until he was five hundred years old. (Remember one of the punishments that comes with the flood is that people will no longer live past 120.) Noah waited a long time to have children, possibly, because he did not think the world was a good place in which to bring children.

            A lack of spiritual and social role models, a failure to plan carefully for the future, a disregard for community support of parents, a breakdown of the societal institutions that offer support and structure for future generations… all of these might have been characteristics of that pre-flood culture (or a contemporary culture, come to think of it). Everyone did what they wanted, focused on themselves and their needs first, and failed to consider God’s preference, God’s desires, God’s commands toward relationship and fruitfulness- which means bearing children, supporting children, and being a part of a society that values children.

            To value children does not mean that everything becomes child-centric. Not everyone can or should have children, but we all live in a world in which children are affected by all kinds of decisions. Economic, political, spiritual, educational, environmental… if our thoughts are not on the impact of what we choose and how we choose it, then we have stopped considering the future generations, we have stopped valuing children.

            And so we have the story of the flood. A story told and re-told to make sense of a devastating event. A story that is filled with grief and anguish. Noah and his family surely had friends and neighbors who died, who were killed. A story in which God has regrets. A story that may have been repeated because in later generations, when the world seemed very upside down, people wondered how bad could it really have been before the flood?

            It is a story that is not for children because it can be understood to be about children. The later events of the Hebrew scripture are completely focused on children- on having them, on their struggles, on God’s promises of children. Even when we read about the time of slavery in Egypt, the Hebrew people were more focused on continuing to have and preserve the lives of children than they were on obeying the Pharaoh.

            At the end of the Noah story, God promises not to destroy the known world by flood again. Very shortly thereafter, Noah gets drunk and his sons get in trouble over their reaction. Despite the warnings of the flood, people didn’t change. Mistakes are made.

            Yet the story reveals God as resolute, as having made up God’s mind. The price of destruction is too great for a creator to pay. The pain of the loss is not worth the break in relationship. So God makes plans, plans for the generations, plans for hope and a future. There will still be judgments, but there will also be mercy. And there will not be massive destruction that comes from the hand of God as a judgment. God takes the long view and the long view includes many, many, many children.

            The question for us is do we have that same view? In a week with the death of a U.S. ambassador and many others, where are our values? Have we thought about children- about our children, about the children of our neighbors, about the children of the world? Do we trust enough in God’s promises of life and hope for all, in Jesus, that we make decisions based on the continuity and value of the people who are to come after us? Decisions about relationships, leadership, natural resources, or economics?

            The story wraps up neatly when we tell it to children, but for we who are older… it’s tough stuff. Maybe we avoid the flood story, not because of the deaths and the destruction and even what it makes us question about God, but because we can see that the same behaviors are rising, like dark water, all around us. 

           God will not forget God’s promises. Do we remember them? Do we care enough about those promises to be guided by the Spirit in all things, for the sake of children? Do we trust enough in God’s memory to believe that destruction has not been forgotten and that, if we are willing to see them, all around us are signs of renewal and creation? If not, maybe we should just leave this story to the kids.


[1] Artson, Rabbi Bradley Shavit. The Everyday Torah. McGraw-Hill, 2008. p. 10 f. 

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