Looking for New Beginnings

Looking for New Beginnings

April 29, 2024 • Rev. Mindie Moore

View From the Top, Week 1: New Beginnings

Genesis 8:1-7

Today we’re starting a new series called “View from the Top” where we’re going to be focusing on different ways people encountered God through what we might call “mountaintop experiences.” And one of the reasons we’re taking this focus this month is because our Senior Pastor, Rob Fuquay is beginning his sabbatical by hiking to Everest Base Camp. So he’s going to have his own mountaintop experiences but we can too, even from flat Indiana. Ours might just be a little less adventurous and a little bit more exclusively spiritual in nature.

And you know, mountains play an important role in spiritual experience and encounters with God throughout the Bible. Mountains are mentioned over 500 times in Scripture. People held this belief that being close to the sky meant being close to God. Some of the more famous examples of mountains in scripture might be Moses meeting God on Mt. Sinai. And you’ve got Mount Zion was the location of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus experiences his transfiguration on a mountain. There was something about getting out of everyday life, going somewhere special, where God could meet people in a unique way.

Today, again, we live in flat Indiana, we usually talk about these kinds of experiences more metaphorically than going to an actual mountain. We talk about going on a retreat, or a really powerful moment of worship, or some kind of experience that stops us in our tracks and makes us say: “God is here.” Maybe you’ve had an experience like that in your faith. Where something happened, you encountered God in some kind of way, and whatever it looked like, you could point back to that moment and say—things were different after THAT happened.

So those are the kinds of stories we’re going to look at together over the next few weeks. And we’re starting with Noah and the ark. A story that is kind of polarizing... it feels like it either lives in (SLIDE) a Veggie Tales episode OR we’ve studied it as adults and we’re like OK....this is kind of disturbing and I’m really sure what to do with it. Some people get really caught up in trying to figure out—did this happen for real? Is this actual history? There have been dozens of expeditions to go to the mountains where the ark is believed to have landed just to try and find remnants and PROVE that this is really true. And that’s all made more complicated by the fact that this is an OLD story, like 5000 years old. And it’s the kind of story that’s been told across all kinds of cultures and religions. I mean, did you know that over 70 cultures have a flood narrative?!

So it’s possible that we bring some complicated stuff to a story like Noah. Because of all this, I just want to name that it can be a little tricky to approach a scripture story like this one. So I don’t think our job here is to really try and fact check this or gloss over what feels hard about a story where God wipes out the whole world. We can feel that tension, we can hold those questions, AND we can do all that while still believing that there is something really important for us to learn from this story. I think our invitation here is to find the message and the wisdom in this narrative. Peter Enns says, and it’s one of my favorite things, the Bible is a book of wisdom. And that means that even though this was written for a time very different than our own, for people living in a different time and different context, this story still matters. And it still has something for us. God can speak through it.

And when I read the story of Noah, it just feels like a story that is full of new beginnings. After the ark has been built, after the floodwaters have made themselves known, Noah finds himself waiting on top of Mt. Ararat. And for Noah, this was where it was all going to begin again. For Noah, (SLIDE) Mt. Ararat was a place for second chances.

Think about when you’ve been in a place where a second chance was possible. Again, not on top of a literal mountain, but in a moment of your life where you know it’s possible to have a new beginning or start over. For Noah, this second chance was kind of everything. If we look at Noah’s background, the reason he’s even in this boat on top of a mountain in the first place is because things were going completely wrong with how people were living. The whole thing is God reacting to the ways humans are failing. And somehow, of all the people, it comes down to Noah. He’s the ONE person who God thinks, “well maybe it’s not ALL lost. Maybe we can start again.”

And so the question in front of Noah, and the question in front of us, when we are face to face with a new beginning is:

(SLIDE)“If God gave me a second chance, what could I do differently?”

I love that question because it kind of makes us tell the truth, whether we want to or not. I’m not sure if we can actually HAVE a true new beginning without taking a pretty honest inventory of where we’ve been. And the temptation when we’re facing something new is that we want to hold on as tight as we can to the things that we know, to the things that used to work.

And I’m sure I could tell you a million stories like this from my life, but one of the clearest examples I can think of was this pickup truck that Zack and I inherited from my uncle when he died. And man...this pickup truck, everyone was so excited for us to get it. It had been through so much life with him. It had hauled so many things. He loved this truck SO MUCH.

It was a hot mess.

It would leak mystery fluids. My uncle had rigged up the battery somehow, I’m not sure we ever fully understood what was happening, but it looked like a water shut off valve that was actually related to the electricity of the truck, and it was all connected to the battery in a way that I am SURE was not to code. And when you parked, every single time, whether you were home or at the store, wherever you were, you had to pop the hood, turn this handle to disconnect the power because the battery would just drain and die when it wasn’t moving. And then you had to reverse the whole thing to add power back in.

And so this truck used to work...but it didn’t anymore. And we tried and tried to make it work, we tried to make it seem like it was normal that we had to shut off the power to the battery every time we pulled up to Lowes, but come on. We didn’t make it very long with that truck because as hard as we tried, it's usefulness was the past. It wasn’t what we needed in the actual lives we were living or the moment we were in.

And when we try to make the past work in a brand-new reality...that can trip us up. I think this has probably happened to all of us at some point in our lives. And when we get caught in nostalgia like that, it can make it so hard to move into the new thing that God has for us. We want to hold on, we want to cling to what we know, because sometimes the possibility of something new is just really scary.

And maybe the only way we can let go and embrace the new thing and really let ourselves have that second chance or new beginning, is to let our grief and fear hang out for a bit. To just name: this is what I’m losing. This is what I’ll miss. This is what I’ve outgrown that wasn’t serving me anymore. This is what needs to be different as I follow God forward.

I don't need to tell you how much easier it is for me to stand up here and say that to you than to actually be in the moment trying to do that work. And when I think about Noah and the situation he finds himself in, I can only imagine some of the grief and fear that he's carrying. Sure, he wanted the floodwaters to subside. He was looking for dry ground, he’s sending out birds hoping they don’t come back, he’s probably a little tired of being around the same 6 people in his family and those animals have to be getting smelly and weird. But also...everything about life as he’s known it is different now. All the people were gone. All those memories were over. Life could not possibly look the same as it had before the rain started.

And I just wonder what is going on for Noah, in that boat, as he waits. The text tells us this they were on this boat for a long time. It wasn’t a quick trip between where Noah had been and the new thing he was going to.

Olu Brown (SLIDE) is going to be our guest preacher at St. Luke’s on May 19 and he talks a lot about waiting in his book “Faith: Four Essential Practices”. He says that often when we go through a period of waiting, we need to make sure to pay attention to what God is doing INSIDE of us, maybe even more that what is happening AROUND us. You know, so often we do have to wait between the old and new thing and we can just hope that we’re going to see these big dramatic displays of God, these massive changes to our world...but maybe the work is actually happening inside of us. Maybe, for Noah, as dramatic as the flooded landscape was, maybe the most significant work God was doing in that time was in his heart.

Because it’s that kind of inner work that can make us genuinely ready for the new beginning. It’s letting ourselves lay down whatever it is that we’re carrying, it’s reaching a new level of trust that God is taking us somewhere worth going, it’s the belief that the Holy Spirit is already at work in this new thing even if we can hardly imagine what it’s going to look like.

(SLIDE) The work that God does inside of us makes it possible to find hope around us.

And you know we can’t talk about Noah’s story without talking about hope. Because this is one of those things that on the surface seems so simple, I mean take me back to Veggie Tales here—the rainbow appears, we have this image of them all spilling out of the ark and into their future and it’s this really exciting happy ending kind of situation.

But honestly, hope is so messy in this story, and that makes sense, because new beginnings can be messy. Yes, there is a rainbow, but keep reading, because there’s also the fact that they get off the boat and within a very short period of time Noah ends up drunk and naked and in a really weird family moment that could have got him on reality TV. It’s there, it’s in the Bible just go to Genesis 9!

So this new beginning IS messy, but it doesn’t cancel out the reality of God’s hope. Our new beginnings might be messy too. I can almost guarantee you that they won’t be perfect. And even when the bumps and twists and turns come in, that doesn't mean that God isn’t faithful. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t part of it. Even when it’s hard and challenging, that doesn’t mean we made the wrong choice. That actually might be the most beautiful thing about new beginnings—(SLIDE) God is present even when it isn’t perfect.

Zack and I lived through this a lot when we were in our early twenties, just married, and had moved from Indy to Pasadena. Some of you know this story. We were so young, had zero funds, didn’t know anyone, and I was starting seminary. And it was so tricky because it was a HARD new beginning for us. But it was supposed to be perfect. Like on paper, it was! All of our friends were like, yeah, you live in LA...we’re here. Help me understand the problem. Because you are living the dream.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been through a new beginning like that, where it was supposed to be perfect, or maybe it looked perfect on the outside, but the reality was more complicated. But that first year out west for us, it was exactly that. And that first year, we had to work so hard to find God’s presence and God’s hope in the new thing we were experiencing. When we were lonely and homesick, we had to find people to be connected to. When we were sad because it was 85 degrees and sunny on Christmas and we just wanted some snow, we had to choose to celebrate anyway. When we missed out on family gatherings, we jumped in on FaceTime. We had to make the decision to keep moving forward and living this life that had been laid out for us and not just pack up and move back home.

Even though we were longing for something that used to be our story, we had to embrace the reality that God had something different for us in that moment. We had to make a choice to be open to something new and see the beauty of it. To say—this might not be exactly what I thought it would be like, but there is something really important here. There is something really GOOD here. There’s something that God has for us in this place. And we could trust that God was moving in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable parts of this new season.

We can trust that God is in the new beginning. And we can hold that trust right next to our fears, our grief, our uncertainty, our doubt, our excitement, our anticipation, you can fill in the blank here. We can hold it all together. Because even though we may not know what to expect FROM a new beginning, we know what to expect from God. We know our God is faithful. We have stories like Noah. We have symbols like a rainbow. We have a long history of God meeting people on mountaintops and doing what only God can do.

So whether you’re in the ending of a season, the grief that comes with that, the never-ending wait, or you’re jumping feet first into the new thing—remember who God is. Remember how God works. Remember that God is going to show up in the new thing and be at work, whatever that new thing might look like.

Let’s pray.