This reflection is for December 1, 2013 and is based on Matthew 24:36-44.
Today we enter the season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparing for Christ’s coming among us. It is tempting to jump straight to Christmas but Christ’s coming among us, while anticipated cannot be pinpointed to a specific date and time…but the passage we just heard reminds us that we can’t say when God will appear to us in human form. When we jump straight to Christmas we miss the preparation necessary to actually see the Christ in our midst. We forget that Jesus comes among us every day in many different forms.
The scripture takes us back to an earlier time, the time of Noah. People were going about their ordinary lives, just living. They weren’t paying attention and so missed the warning signs that something big was about to happen. Noah on the other hand, was actively listening to God. He got the message and did something about what God said to him.
It’s so easy for us to be complacent and do what we’ve always done. It’s comfortable: we know the routine, we know what’s expected. Sometimes we are just busy and don’t have time to pay attention to God.
So are we the people forgetting to look around and see the signs? Maybe we see the signs but don’t know what they mean. Maybe we see the signs but don’t want to know what they mean. I’m sure the people could see the clouds building, could feel the winds picking up. They knew something would be coming their way but either were too busy with their lives to prepare or uncertain how to prepare.
Noah, on the other hand, saw the storm coming and was open enough to God to pay attention. He was able to respond and do something wild and crazy like build an ark in a desert. He took big risks because it was what God required of him. He went out on a limb with a sense that after the flood and his response to it, the world would never be the same.
How willing are we to take risks, to go out on a limb? Over the last week in several different places and contexts, I’ve had conversations with people worried about the future of the church: this congregation, the United Church of Canada and mainstream Christian churches generally. We can look around and see the signs: congregations are aging and shrinking, costs of maintaining buildings are growing, the culture is becoming more secularized and technology is changing the way we communicate. As a church, it is tempting to pretend we can keep doing what we’re doing but maybe it’s time to build an ark. Noah was preparing for the end of the world as he knew it and he survived. The people who failed to prepare did not survive.
Further on in the passage we hear that there will be a time when two people will be side by side doing exactly the same thing and one will be taken and one will be left behind. Following from the conversation about Noah, perhaps the distinction here is that one person was open and listening to God as they went about their daily life and the other was unable to hear God’s voice. One person is working in a field because it is their job, the work that is required of them. The other person is working with a sense of gratitude for the sun and rain and earth that nurtured the seed to create the harvest. One person was grinding meal as a chore, a requirement. The other was grinding meal with thanks for the meal it would provide and those who would gather and be nourished by the grain.
They do the same thing but their sense of God’s presence and motivation are different. How often do we simply go through the motions of a task without really focusing or being aware of God’s presence? As a church community, it is easy to get caught in being busy and forget to be grateful to God for what we have. It is easy for us to get caught in trying to survive that we lose sight of God’s mission and purpose for us.
Noah was called to build an ark so that the people who were aware of God’s presence in their lives would be saved from the flood. We live in a world that is increasingly secular. The threat is not a flood per say but climate change, war and violence are all threats to our own survival and the survival of the planet. What will save us from these threats? Perhaps we need to build an ark and invite anyone who seeks God’s presence, not just those who are already here, to help us build this ark.
We may not be able to save the whole world, but as a faith community, we may be able to build an ark in Yorkton where people can find safety, love and compassion to help all of us navigate the challenging times that we live in. The scriptures are full of stories of people who think that they live in the worst time ever and that the world is falling apart around them. We might feel the same at times. The other part of our scripture always contains a word of hope. The world is not ending, and even if it is, you are not forgotten and you are not alone. This passage is no different. It reminds us that by paying attention to God we may be strengthened in faith and given courage to take the risks required to live faithfully, weather a storm, and on the other side of that storm, thrive as Noah did.
We build an ark by refocusing our priorities. We need to get away from focusing on our tasks and routines, what we always and refocus on what God needs us to do here and now. We need to remember that we do not know when Jesus will come or in what form but that Jesus comes amongst us every day. Noah followed God but he was not able to keep the world as it was before the flood but he survived the flood. We will not be able to keep our church as it was before but the faith community will survive the storm of whatever comes, if we have the ability to risk building an ark.
Building an ark for our faith community requires us to think outside the box. It requires us to risk letting go of what is comfortable and known. In order to do this we need to go back to the very basics of our faith: spiritual practice and prayer—individually and in community, regular study and reflection, strengthening our relationships and building new ones.
With these tools we prepare ourselves for the storms that are coming and the changes that are upon us. We need to remember that we are not alone in the midst of what feels like chaos. It is our awareness of God that identifies us as people of faith and our awareness of God that will strengthen us into the future.