Noah Built His Ark In The Sun
One Thanksgiving season, a family was seated around the table. The table was set with the turkey and all the trimmings, the father then decreed that the children, from the oldest to the youngest, were to share something for which they were thankful. When they came to the five-year-old, he began by expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying that although he hadn’t tasted it, he knew it would be good. After that rather novel beginning, he proceeded to thank his mother for cooking the turkey, and his father for buying it. Then he got carried away. He thanked the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. He thanked the stock boy for putting it on the shelf. He thanked the farmer who fed it and cared for it. He even thanked the man who made the feed. Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. Then at the end, he solemnly asked, “Did I leave anybody out?” His teenage brother, embarrassed by this remarkable recitation, said, “Oh, God!” Without being flustered at all, the five-year-old said, “I was about to get to Him!” Well, you have to wonder these days, if we are going to get to God in our Thanksgiving. It is certainly my intention for these next few minutes, to see that we do…
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German Christian, was put to death in a Nazi concentration camp on April 9, 1945. He had been captured and imprisoned by the Gestapo because of his commitment to Christ and his opposition to the Nazi movement. During his years of imprisonment, Bonhoeffer became a great inspiration to the other prisoners because of his unswerving courage and his confidence in the Lord, because of his unselfish goodness and his deep spirit of gratitude to God even in the midst of the horrors of that death camp existence. He even inspired some of his Nazi guards. In fact, some of his guards became so attached to him that they, even at the risk of their own lives, smuggled out of prison the papers and poems and prayers he had written there. They even apologized to him for having to lock his cell door after his daily walk in the courtyard.
Bonhoeffer’s main concern in prison was to be a pastor to his fellow prisoners. He preached to them, taught them, counseled them, prayed with them in sickness and sorrow. His ability to comfort the anxious and depressed was nothing short of amazing. God had touched him with a special power and somehow people sensed it. You’d catch a glimpse of his power in a prayer he prayed on the day he was to be executed. In the presence of his fellow prisoners, he prayed, “Lord, whatever this day may bring, Thy name be praised.”
I want us to focus our attention today on the truth contained in that little prayer, “Lord, whatever this day may bring, Thy name be praised.” The apostle Paul had said something similar in his letter to the Thessalonians. He wrote: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.” Thanksgiving, you see, is more than turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce. It’s more than a day off from work or a few days out of school. It’s more than becoming couch potatoes in front of an unending string of football games. Thanksgiving is a spirit that pervades the life of a Christian day in and day out. so that when blessings come, we thank God for his good gifts, and when troubles come, we thank God for his presence with us. “Lord, whatever this day may bring, your name be praised!…In everything give thanks.” That is what Thanksgiving is all about. Of course, the question remains: how do we get to the point in life where we can praise and thank God, no matter what happens?
I find some clues in the story of Noah. Of course, you know that the “Noah story” has been used in all kinds of ways down through the years, usually as a source of humor. I have a friend in Little Rock, for example, who says that his state is the only one mentioned in the Bible and it’s in this story. In Genesis 8:13—”Noah looked out the ark and saw!” But on the more serious side, Noah provides us with some important truths about faith and thanksgiving. Here they are: (1) Noah built his ark in the sun; (2) Noah let God close the door; and (3) Noah fell on his knees in the mud. Let’s look at them quickly.
Noah built his ark in the sun.
That is, Noah prepared in the sunshine for the flood that was to come. The people laughed at him. They told him that what he was doing was crazy. The sun was shining, why waste time building an ark? But Noah kept on building and as a result, when “troubled waters” came, he was ready to ride out the storm.
I don’t have to tell you, do I, that somewhere down the road of life there is a flood waiting for us, there is a storm with our name on it. And if we haven’t prepared, if we haven’t built up our inner resources, it will sweep us under. Just recently I was visiting with a woman who had lost her husband to death. I was touched by her faith and her spirit. She said, ” I’m so grateful to the church for preparing me for this hour. I know God is with me as never before. I can feel His presence and his strength. Over the years, I’ve heard sermons on the subject of sorrow and I’ve participated in Sunday School discussions on the subject of death. All of those experiences at the church are helping me so much now.” Don’t you see, she had built her ark in the sun, and then when the flood of tragedy and sorrow came, she was ready. She had learned how to pray: “Lord, whatever this day may bring, Thy name be praised.” Noah built his ark in the sun, so should we.
Noah let God close the door.
Noah went into that ark and he let God close the door not knowing when or if the door would be opened again. Noah didn’t know what the future held, but he knew God was his future and that was enough. He put his full trust in the Lord. It’s like what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote after the tragic death of his son: “All that I have ever seen teaches me to trust the Lord for all that I have not seen.” Noah let God close the door, and he trusted God to re-open it if and when He so desired.
Think of the pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving. One hundred and two of them had set sail on the Mayflower. In December of 1620 and they landed at Plymouth and began building huts to live in. The trip had been difficult. Now a hard winter and brutal suffering lay ahead. Hunger, cold, illness and death ran rampant through the settlement. By spring only fifty remained alive. Of the eighteen wives who made the voyage, only four survived. There they were—behind them the vast Atlantic ocean separating them from the civilized world, and before them a strange, unknown, untamed and unsettled wilderness. It must have seemed like the door had closed upon them.
What did they do? Like Noah, they trusted God. They counted their blessings and praised God for his goodness. They were willing to surrender their future into his hands. In gratitude, they set aside a day of Thanksgiving. They prayed: “Lord, whatever this day and the future may bring, Thy name be praised.” Like Noah, they trusted God. So should we.
Then Noah fell on his knees in the mud.
It’s interesting to note, that when, at last, the floodwaters receded and Noah emerged from the ark, the very first thing he did was to build an altar to God and to bow down to God in thanks for his deliverance. He understood that God Himself had stepped into his experience to save him, and Noah fell to his knees on the not yet dry earth to offer thanks.
Each year at Thanksgiving time, I find myself reflecting on Richard Hunter’s story of the sanctimonious preacher who stood up to preach on Thanksgiving Day, and said: “Let us give thanks for good health”—and twenty people who were sick got up from their pews and left. “Let us give thanks for our homes”—and ten people who had no homes headed for the doors. “Let us give thanks for beauty and for keen minds”—ten people who felt that they were neither beautiful nor brilliant got up to leave. “Let us give thanks for friends”—and those gripped by loneliness began to make their way toward the doors. “Let us give thanks for freedom and justice”—and those who had known the sting of prejudice and oppression burst into tears and stumbled out. Finally, the preacher looked up and saw that there was no one left in the congregation. Then he heard the still, small voice of God saying: “When did I promise you health or wealth or earthly comfort? When did I promise you friends or beauty or intelligence? When did I ever promise you that life would be fair? Remember my servant, Job. Remember my son, Jesus.” Then the preacher cried out: “Oh, Lord, what do you give us?” And the voice of God replied, “Myself.”
That is all we can be sure of in life—that God gives us Himself in Jesus Christ—but then again, that is all we really need. So let us give thanks that God Himself is with us—world without end, Amen.
In November of 1982, the movie star Kirk Douglas flew to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to film a documentary about the three million refugees who had fled to Pakistan. He met some of the refugees up near the Khyber Pass. Gunfire roared in the background. Kirk Douglas sat on the ground with the elders of an Afghan tribe. They were eating what little food they had with their fingers out of a common bowl. Douglas said to them: “In my country, today is Thanksgiving Day, one day every year we set aside to give thanks to God for all we have in life.” The leader of the elders, a man with a long white beard, looked up at Douglas and replied: “In my country we give thanks every day.”
Let that lean against your soul for awhile.