Genesis 6:5-8, 9b
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 24, 2017
The wise among us seek to lead lives of purpose. The wise understand that making a difference makes people happier and more fulfilled.
Yet, some of us doubt we can make a difference.
The Bible tells us, however, that – whatever our capabilities and opportunities – we all can make as big a difference as anyone can ever make: by carrying out our unique part in bringing about God’s loving intentions. Every last one of us has a purpose by virtue of having a role, assigned to us by God, in the achievement of God’s goals. All it takes is our becoming the kind of person God can use.
So what kind of people can God use?
God used Noah to save the human race from extinction. Why did God use Noah? Verse 8 in our Bible lesson says Noah “found favor in the sight of the Lord”. And why did Noah find favor in God’s sight? Verse 9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.”
While some of us might doubt we could become the kind of person Noah was, the truth is we all could.
The first thing this scripture says about Noah is that he was a “righteous man”. Whatever that means, it does not mean he was a perfect man. Shortly after the flood, Noah got so drunk that he passed out, buck naked. Then, when word got out about his shameful and embarrassing behavior, likely due to his son Ham’s being a tattle-tale, Noah with a terrible condemnation cursed Ham’s son, Noah’s own grandson, in what surely seems an unjust over-reaction!
The Hebrew word translated here as “righteous” is saddiq. While it was certainly a term that wouldn’t apply to everyone, it was one that wasn’t all that exclusive. It is used 206 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and most often to describe people we’d think of as just good folks: folks who generally respected God’s word, treated others with fairness and kindness and served God in reverence and faithfulness. Thus, at the nation’s best moments, the majority of the Israelites were deemed righteous.
But Noah is here not just described as righteous, but also as “blameless in his generation”. Yet, before any of us jumps to the conclusion that Noah obtained a level of virtue we couldn’t, consider with whom Noah is being compared! Noah is said to be blameless “in his generation” – that is, “among his contemporaries” – and his contemporaries had sunk to a very low level. The Bible tells us that in Noah’s day “the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and…every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Noah didn’t have to be much in order to be much better than that! He looked faultless in contrast to those with whom God found a lot of fault! As the rabbis of the Talmud later wondered, Noah might not, at any other time, have looked extraordinary!
Consider too that the Hebrew word here translated “blameless” is tamim, and tamim in its most fundamental sense means, not so much faultless, as consistent, unified, whole, thoroughly integrated. A “blameless” person is then a person of integrity whose life is not compartmentalized but in every part of it dedicated to God’s rule.
Any of us might become “blameless” in this way! But none of us can without effort, perseverance and some self-denial. We have to want it and strive for it with a rock-solid, self-sacrificing commitment – such as I see in a poor Christian who survived by sorting through the trash in the garbage dump of Cairo, Egypt.
Every morning he pushed his rickety cart to the dump and pawed through the filth for valuable items he might sell. One day, this Christian came across an item that could have set him up in luxury for the rest of his life: a diamond-encrusted Rolex watch worth almost $100,000! Inscribed on its back was the name of a rich Muslim businessman.
The poor man could have pocketed it, but he was a Christian of integrity. So he looked up the Muslim’s address and returned the treasure to him, saying, “My Christ told me to be honest until death.”
The Muslim was so impressed by the character of this Christian that he gave Jesus Christ a second look. That started him on a spiritual quest that led him to commit his own life to Christ. Today he leads a church.
If we want to be used by God as God used Noah and that garbage picker, we can choose to pursue righteousness and integrity. Finally, and it is all of one thing, we can choose to become those who, like Noah and that garbage picker, “walk with God”.
To walk with God is to journey through life in a constant, close friendship with God kept up by our staunch loyalty to God. It is to be resolute about staying in touch with Him and, when we fall away from Him, returning to Him in repentance in hopes of picking up where we left off in the relationship. It is to make God our priority and to live in faithfulness to the friendship.
It is to be like a certain Christian leader in the eastern Congo of Africa, about whom Ken Wystma writes in his book, Pursuing Justice. For almost two decades, this man has brought the love of Jesus to tribes whose people have been plundered, raped and murdered in one of the most war-torn regions on the planet.
A few years ago, some visiting executives from a large global relief organization were touring the region, noticed how effective the man was, and offered him a position as leader of their Congo operations. He immediately turned them down.
It was the kind of offer most of us “couldn’t” refuse – higher pay, more security, greater prestige – a dream promotion. But he refused for a simple reason. He said, “God gave me the job I have, and has helped me build the relationships and influence I have. He has opened the door for me…and kept me safe on every trip out into the bush. I’m right where God has called me to be. So why would I go anywhere else? I don’t just want to do good. I want to be where God wants to be with me.”
Any of us can be the kind of person God uses. All it takes is our walking with God in righteousness and integrity. Let us pray.