I read recently that the Arctic ice is melting at the highest rate in at
least 1500 years. ͞Not wanting to accept one group’s assessment of the issue, I
looked at the Nation Snow and Ice Data Center, who state that arctic sea ice in
2017 has been declining 3.7% per decade since 1978 when satellite imaging
began. NASA’s estimate is considerably higher, suggesting that arctic sea ice
is decreasing at 13.2% per decade. The Pentagon has argued that we need to
update our defense strategy to deal with the diminishing ice levels.
As our global climate changes, rising seas, superstorms, and devastating
floods are a very real and ever-present threat.͟ I am not trying to be
political here; rather, what I want to observe is that we live, like Noah, on
the edge of a world with dangerous waters. Noah received a warning that a flood
was coming, and he was the one who listened, while others mocked him. While we
may not be worried over a worldwide flood, we do know that the changes in our
world have resulted in more frequent flooding, with water and storm damage
devastating people’s lives.
I personally have never experienced the true horror of a flood. I have been
caught in storm runoff that stalled our car when the water became over a foot
deep, and we have experienced the flooding of our church basement here.
But I have never experienced what Mike and Michaelann Hammods experienced.
“As darkness descended one May evening in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, rain fell
in sheets on the ranch-style house where the Hammonds family lived. Around 10
p.m., Mike and Michaelann Hammonds went downstairs to check the basement and
found water seeping under a window along the basement’s south wall. The couple
began to push boxes of clothes, toys, and household items toward the center of
“Minutes later, without warning, the basement’s west wall gave way, and a
flood of cold, muddy water rushed in, engulfing the room and the couple and
covering the stairs. By the time the surge ended a few seconds later, Mike and
Michaelann were caught in eight feet of water, pinned in place by debris on
opposite sides of the room. They had to hold their faces just above water. The
smell of natural gas permeated the room.’
“Go get Don!” Mike yelled to their kids, Emma, 14, and Matthew, 13, who
were standing at the top of the basement stairs. Don Molesky, 49, a long-haul
trucker, and his mother, Helen, 75, lived across the street.
“Don was mopping up water in his own basement when he heard the kids
yelling for help at his back door. He waded with the kids across the street,
where they led him to the basement stairs. When Don saw what was happening, he
called to Matthew to dial 911, then ran back across the street to get a saw.’
“John Underwood, 29, vice president of a development and
property-management firm, had stopped his truck behind a disabled car at the
flooded intersection just outside the Hammondses’ home. When he got out to
check on the driver, he heard a girl scream, “My parents are trapped!”
“John, a retired Marine, ran toward the house. Once inside, he realized
that he’d have to cut a hole in the floor to reach the couple. He sent Matthew
to grab an ax from the garage.’
“Where are you?” John yelled through the floor.
“Here!” Michaelann responded from an area under the front door.
“John pulled up carpet and yelled out a warning to Michaelann, then swung
the ax and hacked a line across the living room floor. Don returned with his
circular saw, and the two men cut out a rectangular panel. John pulled back the
wood and heating ducts and thrust his hand into the water. Michaelann grasped
it, and John and Don pulled her out. Then Don wrapped Michaelann in a coat, and
a neighbor ushered her out of the house.’
“The men were dizzy from breathing the gas, but they went back for Mike,
who’d been in the freezing water for about 45 minutes.’
“John called down to Mike, who was found in a space under the hallway
between the living room and kitchen. As John and Don began to cut, three
firefighters arrived; together, the five men broke through and pulled Mike to
safety. “I couldn’t stop saying thank you, ” says Mike.’
“Three days later, city authorities condemned the Hammondses’ house. The
couple didn’t have flood insurance, but county officials agreed to buy the
house for the amount the family owed on their mortgage. They’ve relocated to a
furnished rental house close to their old neighborhood for the time being.’
“John and Don didn’t consider for a moment that their lives were in
danger,” Mike attests.
“As for the heroes, they were simply happy to help their neighbors. Says
John, “Now we’re all connected.”
And here perhaps is the greatest similarity with this story and the story
of Noah. You see, Noah experienced the flood and then the rainbow.
It wasn’t until after the storm, after the flood that he knew that God
deeply and truly was committed to creation and saving it. Like Mike and
Michaelann, Noah first had to face the horror and devastation of the flood
itself. And he must have been worried in the midst of it. It isn’t until after
going through the deep waters that he is shown the promise of the rainbow and
God’s promises for the future.
And how symbolic is that of our lives regarding how troubles in our life
occur? Most of the time we face the deep waters, the problems, the heartaches
of school shootings before we ever experience any of God’s promises that it
will be okay. The pain and the trauma come first, and then the hope.
And yet, one of the things that we often forget is that we live in a world
where the rainbow promise has already been made. We already can trust that God
is going to protect us, even in the midst of the storm. We shouldn’t be worried.
As one commentary says, we know that ͞”The rainbow reminds us God is the saviour,
not the one from whom we must be saved. Always. Because – more than anything
else – God is love. Full stop. And that love is mightier than a raging river
and deeper than a roiling chasm. It pierces the night like a bolt of lightning
illuminating the cloud filled skies. It rumbles over the face of the earth
shaking the ground with its message – a message not of fear, but of love; a
message not of judgment but of grace; a baptismal message, a covenant promise.”
Noah did not have the luxury of the covenant until after the flood. As the
waters rose and the torrents rushed about, as the waves tossed the ark, would
he have known that he could trust God? Probably not. God hadn’t made any
promises to anyone else at that time. There was no Abraham who God told he
would have descendants as numerous as the stars, there was no David whose Son
would reign forever over Israel, there was no Christ with his promise of
eternal life – no rainbow in the sky – just a warning from God that a flood was
coming and he should get ready. Could he trust this God? We know he could, but
he didn’t. In the same way Mike and Michaelann had to trust that their kids
would find help, that these neighbors that they had never had to rely on in an
emergency would be the kind they could trust. And fortunately, they could.
And I could end my sermon there with the basic message that we live in a
time when we know we can trust God and we can hold on to that. However, that
isn’t really enough.
There is also a challenge to us from that passage. We must be people who
also claim responsibility for that promise that God made to creation.
God said the earth would not flood again, and we have a role in being the flood
preventers, flood responders, and rainbow rememberers. Alongside God, we are
meant to be ones who are protectors of the promise. As followers of God, we
have always been co-workers in God’s history of salvation, we are the Noah’s
who build arks, his children who collect and preserve animals, and in the
process sharers of God’s love. We should be the Johns and the Dons who cut
through floors to save our neighbors, we should be the people who respond to
cries for help, we should be people who help those who are in the horror of the
floods of life, and are searching for rescue. Like I said, we are the flood
preventers, the flood responders and the rainbow rememberers.
The rainbow reminds us that God’s intention is not to destroy through
flood, it reminds us that God is the savior not the one from whom we must be
saved, but it also reminds us that we have a role in that – just as Noah did --
a calling to hard work to bring salvation not just to other people, but to all
There is a call to action in this story. A call to action based upon the
hope that God gives us, that God is a God who saves. God is a God who can be
trusted, and often we are the eyes, hearts and hands of God in the world who
make God’s salvation real. So when the storms hit, and they will; when the
floods come, and they will; be people of the rainbow. Bring healing, bring
hope. Be agents of God’s goodness even in the face of rising waters.