Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Coping with Floods

Genesis 6.9-22, 7.24, 8.14-19
Romans 1.16-17, 3.22b-28
Matthew 7.21-29

One year on from the serious flooding in Yorkshire and the Humber, this week's readings are all about floods! The original 'Flood' was probably caused by the retreat of the ice sheet at the end of the last ice age, so to blame it on human sinfulness seems a bit unfair. But the next flood could indeed be the fault of humankind and some experts think significant climate change is now unavoidable. If so, what sort of ark are we going to build to protect the threatened flora and fauna of the world, not to mention the many millions of people living in low lying lands? There can be no doubt that God is calling us to radical action. Are we listening? One suspects that the current clamour for lower petrol and diesel prices tells us the answer.

Noah is a proverbial example of faithfulness, battling to save his family and, one presumes from the tiny dimensions of his frail three-decker craft, as many breeds of domesticated birds and animals as he could find, but acting on the strength of nothing more than personal conviction. It was Jesus who observed that his neighbours must have scoffed at Noah's endeavour right up until the moment when the storm broke.

But, of course, Jesus himself is the supreme example of faithfulness. The good news of his life, death and resurrection reveals God's righteousness 'through faith for faith'. This is because the Gospel shows us what 'righteousness' means by focusing on the life and witness of Jesus, a man who obeyed God's call to radical obedience even when it took him to a shameful and agonising death on a cross. So great was his faith that he believed God could transform failure into success and defeat into victory. So great was his faith that he believed he would be vindicated even if it only happened through his death. And so great was his faith that he was prepared to battle fearlessly against hatred, prejudice and privilege, armed only with the weapons of truth and love. And because he did this, his story can inspire the faith we need if we are to be put right with God ourselves.

Paul repeatedly emphasises that, without faith in the story of Jesus, our efforts to do what is right and live as God requires are doomed to fail. But Jesus' own message is slightly more subtle than that. He recognises that some people will declare allegiance to him without really listening to his true message of love and compassion. They will claim to be his followers, and even appear to have an effective ministry doing many deeds of power, but if their faith is not truly centred on his teaching and example it will be empty and they will prove - ultimately - to be false prophets and leaders. So faith by itself is not enough. It has to be the right kind of faith; a faith built on the kind of radical obedience to God's love which Jesus himself exemplifies; a faith which has the strength and quality to withstand whatever shocks life might throw at us.

We started by thinking about the very real threat of large scale flooding as a result of global warming. Jesus' teaching brings us back to the image of storms and floods, but this time as a a metaphor for everything which life might throw at us when things start to go wrong. He promises that, through faith in him, we can overcome.

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