Psalm 104, Genesis 8: 1 – 22 and Matthew 7: 1 – 14
You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight. Psalm 104: 7 and 8
But God remembered Noah …. Genesis 8: 1a
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. Matthew 7: 1
O Lord God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do: Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Collect for Sexagesima
We return to exploring Old Testament history with the account of Noah’s deliverance from the great flood. The concluding verses of the previous chapter remind us of the effects of the flood in blotting out every living thing on the earth, except for Noah, his family and the pairs of animals safely preserved in the ark. Chapter eight begins with God remembering Noah. We know God recognised Noah as being righteous and not subject to this act of judgement, and had not forgotten him now as the floods began to subside. One hundred and fifty days elapsed before the ark settled on Mount Ararat. We read of the experiments of despatching first a raven and then two flights with a dove, when eventually the dove returned with a leaf in its beak, denoting the regrowth of plant life as the land dried out. The chapter ends with the animals released to repopulate the earth, and Noah and his family making an altar to offer sacrifices of worship and thanksgiving. Then there is the famous promise that God would never bring this type of judgement again, and in chapter 9, verse 13 is the mention of the rainbow as the reminder of that promise.
From this happy ending as far as Noah and his menagerie are concerned, we have to remember also the way sin had run out of control in the short history of humanity, to the extent that ruthless judgement was needed and a complete reset and new beginning. Whether we think of the original Fall in the Garden of Eden, as Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled, or this further rebellion, we have to acknowledge God’s sovereign right as Creator and Lord not only to provide the criteria for measuring right and wrong, righteousness and sinfulness, but to act as ultimate Judge.
Many Christians look at the world today and interpret events and global change as signs of the end times. Some would class the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call to humanity and the need to repent. In recent weeks we have studied passages of scripture in Advent relating to the coming again of Jesus Christ, thought of the Incarnation as God became man in order to bring about a remedy for sin in the crucifixion of Jesus for the sins of the world. We have seen John the Baptist preaching a message of the need for repentance and the way in which Jesus’ ministry was centred on that the same message. It is undoubtedly a message the world needs to hear now.
Our reading from Matthew 7 is a continuation of the discourse we have been following in recent weeks, beginning with the Beatitudes. The disciples were being schooled in the radical new principles on which the Christian faith would be grounded. Having thought today of God’s right to judge and the dire consequences for early civilisation of the Flood, Jesus cautions us about our tendency to judge others while harbouring our own sinful perceptions and hypocrisies. The illustration Jesus uses of an individual criticising someone else for the speck in their eye, while having a log in their own eye, graphically speaks of double standards and being blind to our own faults. We are reminded forcefully how easy it is to stray off the narrow path, of trying to take God’s place as judge, and forget that we ourselves need constantly to fall on God’s mercy and deliverance.
The collect today reminds us of the folly of trying to do things in our own strength and prays that we may be delivered from adversity. These are helpful sentiments at a time when many feel helpless and discouraged. Some verses from Psalm 85 also seem appropriate to be used as a prayer:
Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.
Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Psalm 85: 4 – 10 KJV