Synopsis of the Story (Genesis 6-9)
We know the story: unrelenting wickedness is met with cataclysmic judgment and the lands are flooded and a remnant is left. There are animals in pairs and Noah and his gang of 8. An ark, a rainbow, and a new creation. A new start: the old is gone and the new has come.
However promising the idea, waters of judgment did not wash away sin. No, Noah built a vineyard (and quick!) and he floods himself with wine. The boat was not his only way of escape. It seems that he wants to wash away the pain: there's too much judgment, letting go, carnage, and the pain of a new start. And, perhaps, there is this startling realization: I, Noah, brought into the ark by grace, am a new person, but I am also still myself. Just as there is two of the creatures there is two of me--the one who needs grace and the one who doesn't know how to live under the rainbow so well.
The Dilemma We All Face - Graced by God and We are Still a Mixed Bag
Noah is not alone. Saint Paul's life bears testimony about this. Heck, he had such a run-in with grace and the resurrected One, that he received a name change. Good-bye Saul. Hello, Brother Paul. There's two of him as well. Then, as newly minted Paul goes to live his life flooded with the light of Christ, he begins to realize something. I am new. Many of the things that I used to like (being God's avenger on earth, arresting people who disagreed with him) I no longer like. And, the things I used to not like (grace, humility, openness for starters) I love!
And that's a beautiful thing. Our own experience tells us that our taste buds change over time. I used to loathe mushrooms, not any more. I used to avoid "scary food" (food that looks back at you or doesn't look like what you would expect), but at times I seek it out. Aren't you happy that you change? That you no longer desire some of the things that used to occupy you the most? Do you also lament that there are some things that should occupy you that just never seem to make the cut?
Yes, sometimes we change and sometimes we stay the same. We are mixed bags. Paul goes through the Mediterranean and starts ministering and serving people left and right. Churches dedicated to the worship of Jesus begin to spring up. He is beaten, but survives. He is reviled, but is resilient. And then Paul pens some insightful words in a letter to his friends in Rome. It goes something like this:
Dear friends, I've realized something. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. As a matter of fact, I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want ends up being the very thing I end up doing. (Romans 7, personal liberties with the translation).
Paul ends that section with what I think is a good phrase to put on your headstone or scream when the roller coaster crests that hill: Only Jesus can help me now.
Grace Meets Us in the Flood
Isn't that the truth, brother! Sister! Each week we pray the prayer of confession together and I am often reminded as I read certain phrases, "Well, I wish I would've been mindful of that before now." And then I stand up and say what I think is the most beautiful part of our liturgy, "The peace of Christ be with you." And you respond with what I need to hear, "And also with you."
Sin, like Noah's aperitif, can be clear like water and burn like fire. Before the flood, in Genesis 6:8 we read, "And Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD." That's the first use of the word for grace, favor, in the Bible. Unmerited but much needed. Grace, like Noah's flood, can stir up eddies that buoy us all the way to our resting place. Yes, in turbulent waters of sin and chaos there flows peaceful grace.
In the waters of our baptism we are taken through the flood of judgment and arrive safely in the arms of God. Through our whole life God continues to pour upon us "showers of blessing," that water the surface of our deep. The hope of God is that the rain of grace will be received by you and would cause you to grow in maturity and bear "good fruits" for the enjoyment of kith and kin and not fruit that would ruin you and the world.
Realize you are a mixed bag. Two steps forward; a few steps back. This is common experience. A mixed bag, but God doesn't change. Steadfast and true. God's disposition toward you is and has always been one of grace, welcome, and life. Don't get stuck. Allow this identity in Christ to be your driver--not your performance, not your accomplishments, not your failures. As someone recently said to me in a broad conversation about advice they give to inmates they regularly work with, "You are not defined by your worst day."
The cross and even the empty grave of Jesus is the ark that delivers you safely. You are shut tight in the hands of God both now and forever. Live under the rainbow of God's promised grace