Sermon for Evensong on the Second Sunday after Trinity, 5th June 2016
Genesis 8.15 – 9.17, Mark 4.1-20
When I saw that we had the story of Noah’s Ark, or rather the end of the story of Noah’s Ark – the significance of the rainbow – as our Old Testament lesson tonight, and the Parable of the Sower – or, as the Americans call it, of the Four Soils, four types of soil – as the New Testament lesson, I was initially rather stumped, because on the face of things, it is rather difficult to know what to say to add to the content of these beautiful stories as they appear in the Bible. They pretty well stand by themselves. 
Everybody knows them very well, although perhaps these days there is a generation of children coming up who are not really getting to know these Bible stories as we did. There is perhaps a temptation, certainly with the story of Noah’s Ark, to concentrate on the ‘animals going in two by two’ without really looking at why the flood had come about – in effect, without bringing God into it at all. 
There is also the question to what extent, particularly with an Old Testament lesson from the Book of Genesis, we should take any of the story literally. Noah was, as you will remember, over 900 years old when this happened – according to the Book of Genesis. 
Even so far as Jesus himself is concerned, in his starting to teach his disciples by using parables, sort-of extended similes: ‘this is like this: the kingdom of Heaven is like a … [whatever it is]’, there’s a suggestion, there’s more than a suggestion, that what Jesus is saying is not entirely straightforward. ‘Only you, the disciples, will know the inside story, and the ordinary people will see it as mysterious.’ 
It seems odd that Jesus would want somehow to cloak his message and make it obscure. Perhaps the reason is that he had already come into conflict with the Pharisees and scribes. They were out for his blood already, so he didn’t want to stir things up any more. 
But actually the parable of the sower is pretty clear, even if you are not in the inner circle. There’s nothing wrong with the Word of God, the Gospel, the good seed: 
The hymn says:
We plough the fields and scatter

The good seed on the land.
The question is, what sort of soil does the seed land on? 
Again, according to the hymn:
But it is fed and watered 

By God’s almighty hand.
God made the soil. God made the conditions where some seed takes root, grows well, and other seed just withers, doesn’t put down proper roots; grows up quickly and then withers away. All those are possible. 
It’s the sort of thing you could say, for example, about whether somebody is a good member of a team: in a business, is he or she a good employee, are they dedicated and loyal? Is the company’s code of conduct – its word – deeply rooted in them, or have they just bought into it as a short-term thing?
We can apply it to modern-day life quite easily. But the problem is a bit like the situation with the child who has a beautiful wooden Noah’s ark to play with, with lovely carved wooden animals. The animals went in two by two – the kids will enjoy playing with a Noah’s Ark. But they might not remember that God was involved.
How did all that rain come in the first place? These days, people don’t seem to be that bothered. From the standpoint of telling a good story, all you need to know is that there was a big flood. Indeed it’s a bit like the way that Richard Dawkins seems to argue. He doesn’t bother with the idea of a creator, but rather says that things just came into being automatically, and then the mechanism of evolution allowed them to carry on and thrive.
Perhaps it is a bit the same with the sower. My modern analogy a moment ago could have been entirely based in the world of business or commerce. God wouldn’t have come into it at all. 
If you do remember God in connection with Noah’s Ark, and read carefully the story in Genesis, the whole thing is explained by God’s displeasure at the way in which the human race that he has created has gone off the rails and become sinful and evil. 
But what sort of god is the God who sends the flood and tries to wipe out the human beings that he has created? Perhaps a vengeful and angry God, not the God of love which we profess to believe in. 
But surely God was a bit merciful, in that he spared Noah and his precious cargo? Even so, the accent of the story is perhaps less loving and more judgemental than the New Testament stories which Jesus told in parables and stories.
And as disciples, we must pay proper attention to all Jesus’ teachings. We must allow the seed to take root in us. We must not allow ‘the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in’ to ‘choke the word’.
God is still here. If we ignore Him, and especially if we neglect His creation, if we squander the resources given to us in His creation, would He even flood our world as He did Noah’s?
Perhaps that’s taking the story in Genesis too literally. After all, there is a primordial Flood story in several Eastern traditions. The Epic of Gilgamesh has a flood, for instance. The common thread is that doing bad things may bring down the wrath of God on you.
There is that naughty story of the farmer shooting pigeons in a field, and, missing his shot, swearing out loud – just when the vicar was passing by. The vicar remonstrated: ‘The Lord will strike you down if you carry on saying things like that!’
And the farmer took another shot at a pigeon. And missed. And swore. Immediately a thunderbolt from heaven came down – and struck the vicar! And a voice from heaven boomed out, ‘Drat! I missed.’
Of course we believe that God doesn’t work in that way. With Noah He made a covenant never again to flood the earth. In effect, he had forgiven mankind their previous sins. After the Fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, mankind had known right from wrong – but had still done wrong. So God was angered, and sent the flood to wipe them from the face of the earth. But he reacted well to Noah’s blameless conduct, and spared Noah.
Now, after the time of Jesus on earth, we believe that Jesus has won salvation for us, that God has given us grace, the grace of eternal life. We have not won it – Jesus has. But it doesn’t mean that it is all right for us to ignore God, and to neglect His creation. If we are Christians, we must provide good soil for his Word to grow in.
So actually it is pretty important not just to do good things, but also to be alert for God’s presence in what we do. Not just be good team players, but remember what it is that inspires the team. And we must be in it for the long term. Our plant must keep on growing.
Let us pray that God will grant us that good soil; will make us into fruitful fields, good soil for his good seed – and that we will not ignore His presence alongside us. We could start by telling our children the full story of Noah, the bit apart from the animals.

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