Prague 2010: Sunday morning sermon

Text: Gen 6, 5-8; 7, 1.

ECEN is a network of Christians from all over Europe. It is a community of those who take seriously God’s invitation to take care of His creation. 8thAssembly of this network took place in recent days in Prague. More than 80 participants from 23 countries of Europe conclude their gathering in this worship service. The theme of the Assembly was ‘Our daily bread – living in a time of climate change’. I would like to use this opportunity to thank on behalf of all participants the churches in the Czech Republic and, in particular, the Czech Brethren Church for their hospitality and cooperation in organising this Assembly. I would also like to express our gratitude to the community “U Klimenta” for your hospitality and the invitation to meet in this place for the concluding moment of the Assembly.

Noah is one of the first characters we meet in the bible. He is not idealised. We get to know him in his greatness, along with his human weaknesses. We could say that Noah is a man of flesh and blood like any of us. From the outside, he looks hardly any different from his neighbours. Nevertheless, Noah is different. He is the first human being, as we read in the bible, with whom God establishes the covenant, as an expression of the commitment of two sides - God and man. He is that one through whom humanity has been saved from catastrophe for the first time. And he is that one, who teaches the generations coming after him, including ours, how to build relationship with God. This triple view on Noah: a man of covenant, saviour and teacher will lead our thoughts today. Noah is a biblical and historical character. However, he is not idealised and heroic. Noah is very contemporary and in this respect he could be one of us.

It is possible to look at the great flood from a variety of perspectives. What will drive our attention today is what makes Noah worth thinking about and following, which is his faith and his justice. Noah is that one who is described as just (Gen 7,1). His justice in the bible is outlined as opposite to the corruption of the others, as an opposite to ‘the evil thinking in their hearts’ (Gen 6,5). Noah‘s justice is made known in this difficult situation and through his relationship with people, who were of different opinions than he was. We can just think through how hard it was to prove honest and just in such a difficult situation.

Justice is one the central themes of the bible. Noah introduces what the biblical concept of justice is about. It is justice, which finds the way in the middle of injustice, in the middle of hate, contradictions and malice. And this is important to realise for us and now. In a time when justice has become a catchword used on many occasions, but at a time when the justice of our world seems very different from the justice we know from the bible. The justice of our world is very often reduced to its legalistic form, is narrow and we increasingly get the feeling that, although we can hear many talking about it, something (may be something substantial) is missing. Noah is for us a challenge. The point is not only to seek “some kind of justice”, but also to look to see what can we do for justice and along with that, everyday to check honestly our justice against the standard we want to achieve. Just talking about justice is not enough.

Justice is, however, not the only thing we have to mention while speaking about Noah. Noah was a man of faith. The first thing we have to realise in this respect is the firm connection between justice and faith. Justice without faith loses its substantial dimension, its own character. Along with that, faith in Noah‘s case has a very specific way of manifesting. We cannot imagine anything more distant from reality than God’s order to Noah. At a time when everything seemed to be fine, when no obvious threat was to be seen around, the sun was shining and extensive water or even floods were far from any imagination, God orders Noah to build an ark. Something that cannot be hidden, that cannot remain on the level of private thinking concealed from others in his own house or room; an exercise that could not be hidden before eyes of neighbours and other people in the town. To build an ark in a time of drought couldn‘t be taken as anything else than either an act of courage and trust, or as an act of absolute foolishness.

Noah was then one who was ridiculed; he was then one who was disdained. In spite of that, Noah trusted to God. He did not care what others were saying. He concentrated on his task. In spite of being seemingly foolish, in spite of the seeming unlikeliness of God’s word and the illusiveness of the vision introduced by God’s words, Noah trusted and accordingly acted. He did what was needed. Today we could closely link this kind of faith with precaution or prevention.

This is of deep importance. In our era we have at hand means which could not be imagined in Noah’s time: prognostics, science, analyses, statistics that have become an integral part of our life. In spite of these powerful instruments, the difficulties we have to face are not diverted from us. Crises and catastrophes are part of our lives as well. Neither knowledge, nor our modern time give us in our hands the virtue of prevention. There are a lot of cases which can illustrate what we are speaking about. Recent floods in the Czech Republic and the neighbouring countries happened in more or less in the same places as they happened a couple of years ago. In spite of that, an efficient protection has not been built. Another example is the economic crisis we have been facing for several months now. Today it is clear that the debts, which have been accumulated through running the economy without foresight, need to be faced. In many countries of Europe we live simply over our limits. We go on taking, even if we should have stopped already a long time ago. We are, however, not ready to acknowledge this fact and to correct our acting.

The economy and caring for the environment, two basic ways of our handling the world around us, are not as distant one from another as many would like to believe. Debt, which we know from our financial transactions, is with us in the same way as when we speak about our relationship with God’s creation. We take, we enjoy, we use and misuse what God gives to us. It is known that we take more than is appropriate. We take nature and creation as instruments for becoming more and more rich. We do not look at creation as a gift, which we are called to respect in the same way as to respect its originator. But debt, and we should not forget it, is a form of sin. In the language of the New Testament, the expression for debt and sin is the same. In the prayer we pray everyday, we ask God for forgiveness of our debts and pray for the settling of debts and sins that we have towards our neighbours. It is our task to get rid of sin and to fight against it: against debt and sin that we have towards our neighbours, as well as the one we have towards creation.

Many ways of not respecting the gift of creation has become obvious in our every day life. Producing more and more debts, continuing with the poisoning of creation and non-respect of its limits and persuading ourselves that somehow it will be possible to go on with this. We still can go on in this way of acting. In the same way that Noah‘s compatriots thought that everything was OK and they continued without any shame in their acting, the world around us behaves in a very similar way. But whether we like it or not, the day comes closer and closer when we will be called to pay all our debts, including those towards creation. May be it will not be us, it may be our children, or our children’s children. This, however, cannot change anything to the fact that the day of payment will come. In the same way as the economic debt very clearly ran down some European countries, in the near future the debt towards creation will run us down in the same way.

Noah and his family entered the ark, at the beginning of the construction of which were Noah‘s justice and Noah’s faith. In which ark will we enter? Is our justice, our relationship to our neighbours, people around us, as well to those who will come after us, at the level that correspond to the biblical concept of justice? Isn’t our consumption of what we have, and maybe consumption of what we perhaps even do not need, one of the reasons contributing to the fact that every day thousands and thousands of people die from not having anything to eat? Is it possible to compare our faith with the faith of Noah? Is our trust in God and our foresight and precaution at a level, which could turn away the catastrophe? Do we hear God’s voice, which warns us even today about destruction, which we have prepared by not respecting the gift, which God gave us in the form of creation?

God promised to Noah at end of the flood that he will not destroy the earth again. This promise should not be, however, for us an invitation to shortsightedness. God’s promise does not mean that the catastrophe could come to one part of creation and that catastrophe cannot come to us. Exactly the opposite: God, through Noah, calls us to awareness: to faith and justice. Faith, which would be demonstrated as the trust towards God and to justice, which would be demonstrated as fairness to those coming after us, this means to those who will be called to pay off the debt caused by us. We are called to reflect on it at this particular moment in relation to the theme of the ECEN Assembly, which is now coming to its end. It means in relation to our daily dealing with bread and food given us for nurture. We want to do this in the perspective of climate change which poses questions to us, many of which were not pressing up until now. Now they are: the question of waste, along with the question of where is the borderline of rational and acceptable consumption. These are the questions of the day. These are the questions for our faith.

Recognition and acceptance of the pressing tone of these questions is the final conclusion of this Assembly. We are coming to its end, strengthened in acknowledging that it is the task of each one of us, participants of the Assembly, members of this congregation, as well as the task for all Christians and all people around, to investigate how we, each one of us, could and should respond to the gift of God’s creation. There are many ways of formulating this answer and it is the task given to us to look for an optimal form of this answer.

Coming to its end, the Assembly sends us back to our homes, our jobs, congregations, back to our countries and to the world with something even more – with the conviction, that without trust in God and without justice towards our neighbours, without these two basic attributes which for Noah were essential for his saving task, without these two attributes our mission will end in vain.


Rev.Dr.Peter Pavlovic