2014: Year of the Ark – Rev. Henry Brinton (with audio)
2014: Year of the Ark
January 12, 2014
The New Year has begun, and conditions look good for a flood. A flood of arks.
According to Christianity Today (June 2013), arks are popping up around the world at a surprising rate.
In the Netherlands, you can now visit a full-sized ark model that actually floats. Built by a construction company owner, it cost $1.3 million and weighs 3,000 tons.
In Hong Kong, another full-sized replica of Noah’s ark exists at “Noah’s Ark Park and Resort.” It stands alongside a solar telescope, a set of gardens, and evangelistic displays. Unfortunately, its Christian benefactors are on trial, facing bribery and corruption charges.
In Frostburg, Maryland, you can see “God’s Ark of Safety.” It was started by a Church of the Brethren pastor in 1974, after a series of visions inspired him to build Noah’s ark next to Interstate 64. I believe you can see it from the highway.
In Williamstown, Kentucky, plans are being laid for “Ark Encounter.” A group called “Answers in Genesis” wants to build a $73 million theme park with a full-scale ark and a zoo.
In addition, Noah’s Ark Park includes plans for a full-sized ark in Colorado … the government of Yerevan, Armenia wants to host an ark theme park within view of Mt. Ararat … and the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio includes a $5 million ark with animatronic animals.
As if that is not enough, 2014 will include the major motion picture Noah, starring Russell Crowe. I saw a preview over Christmas, and it actually looks pretty good.
This is the year of the ark, no doubt about it.
We are drawn to arks because we naturally fear the destructive power of a flood. Psalm 29 speaks of “mighty waters” that can drench, drown and destroy us (v. 3). Other psalms include talk of “deep waters” where “the flood sweeps over me,” waters that “roar and foam,” and a desperate appeal to God for help, because “the waters have come up to my neck” and “I sink in deep mire” (Psalm 69:2; Psalm 46:3; Psalm 69:1-2).
Sometimes life overwhelms us, with personal and professional problems that feel like a flood of mighty waters. We feel overpowered by difficulties rushing towards us, whether they be emotional, financial, relational, or vocational. We find ourselves gasping for breath, with the waters coming up to our necks and our feet in deep mire.
Flailing around in the flood, we desperately need an ark.
Now this is not to say that a full-size ark model can actually help us. No 3,000-ton vessel is going to save us from the kind of floods we face each day. We need an ark of safety that is spiritual, not physical.
A shelter from the flood. A refuge from the “mighty waters.” A vessel to carry us across the waves to a place of safety and salvation. An ark for our spirits.
The construction of such an ark begins with a prayer — a prayer to the God who has power over the flood. “The voice of the LORD is over the waters,” says Psalm 29; “the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters. … The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (vv. 3, 10-11).
Psalm 29 is telling us that the Word of God is more powerful than the waters, and that God sits in a place of authority over the floods that swirl around us. We can pray for God to give us strength in the face of our challenges, and to grant us peace in the middle of our chaos.
“God is our refuge and strength,” promises Psalm 46, even though the “waters roar and foam” (vv. 1, 3). “Be still, and know that I am God!” says the LORD; “I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth” (v. 10).
We can pray to the God who has power over the flood, who sits enthroned as king forever, who is exalted in the earth. God will answer our prayers for strength and peace, because he does not want us to be overwhelmed by the waters.
Take a moment to meditate on the words of Psalm 46, which enable us to connect with the LORD who sits enthroned over the flood. Close your eyes, and let these words of the psalm bring you a sense of peace and calm. Let them be a life-preserver for you, keeping you afloat above the waters. Go ahead now, close your eyes.
Be still, and know that I am God.
Be still, and know that I am.
Be still, and know.
Now you can open your eyes. When we rest in the power of Almighty God, we are given the strength and the peace we need to face the flood.
The construction of a spiritual ark also requires us to build a community — a community of support and accountability. For centuries, the church has been seen as a kind of an ark. Did you know that? Many church buildings have nautical terminology attached to them. For example, great Gothic churches have a section called “the nave,” which is where most church members sit. Nave comes from the Latin navis, meaning ship. If you look up at the ceiling of a Gothic church, you might be reminded of an upside-down ship’s keel.
Presbyterian minister and author Frederick Buechner suggests that the Christian church is Noah’s ark, a vessel filled with all kinds of creatures, “the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin.”
He admits that it’s not always enjoyable on the ark. “There’s backbiting just like everywhere else. There’s a pecking order. … It’s a regular menagerie in there, and sometimes it smells to high Heaven.”
Yes, that’s right. Sometimes the church smells. To high heaven.
But even at its worst, there’s at least one thing that makes it bearable inside — the fact that there is a storm raging outside. Better to be inside a smelly ark than outside, in the “wild winds and terrible waves.”
At its best, concludes Buechner, the church provides “shelter from the blast, a sense of somehow heading in the right direction in spite of everything, a ship to keep afloat, and, like a beacon in the dark, the hope of finding safe harbor at last.”
The construction of an ark for our spirits can never be an individual pursuit. It requires the participation of everyone in the church, a group of people who share “the hope of finding safe harbor at last.” The church provides each of us with a community of support and accountability, a place where we can be encouraged to do the right thing and be gently corrected when we go off course.
That’s why we hold New Members’ Conferences here on a quarterly basis, as we are doing today — to welcome our guests into the safety of the ark at Fairfax Presbyterian. Everyone is welcome to join us here, to find shelter from the storm. We’ll begin with lunch together at 12:30 p.m., down in Room 110.
But remember: As Frederick Buechner reminds us, church is not a perfect place. It is filled with fallible people, including leaders such as Yena and me. Well, maybe Yena is not fallible — but I am. In spite of everything, the church manages to head in the right direction. And that is because Jesus is at the helm.
The presence of Jesus is the last, and most important, element of building a spiritual ark. The first element is prayer, the second is community, and the third is Jesus. As we begin this New Year, we come to the Sunday known as Baptism of the Lord. Today we recall the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, and how “just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16).
Jesus came up from the water — up from the mighty waters that threaten to drench, drown and destroy. He emerged to receive the spirit of God, descending like a dove. And then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17).
Like God, Jesus sits “enthroned over the flood … enthroned as king forever” (Psalm 29:10). He saved his disciples from a storm on the sea, leaving them to wonder, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). He showed his power over chaos by walking on water, and then rescued Peter when he was about to sink beneath the waves (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and even restored people to life. He can do the same for us today, as he gives us peace in stormy times, and offers us healing of body, mind and spirit.
As we face the challenges of life, we can be helped by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the one with whom God is well pleased. He offers us strength and inspiration, as well as a peace that goes far beyond what the world can give us.
On an earth that threatens to drown us, we each need an ark — but not the kind being built in Kentucky, Colorado, and Maryland. Instead, we need an ark which comes from connecting with God through prayer, and receiving his strength and peace. An ark which always includes the church, a community of support and accountability. An ark which has Jesus at the helm, sailing above the waters and steering us in the right direction.
In a threatening and stormy world, let’s make 2014 the Year of the Ark. Amen.
“Spotlight: A Flood of Arks.” Christianity Today, June 2013, 9.
Buechner, Frederick. “The Church as Noah’s Ark.” Internet Monk, February 10, 2012, www.internetmonk.com.