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Sunday Worship 30 June | Cafe Church: Noah

This morning was cafe church, which our minister likes to describe as food for the stomach and for the soul. We shared brunch as we prayed and sang and talked and created together. The focus was on what happened around our tables rather than what happened from the front, which is always a little trickier to translate to the blog, but what follows will be a taste of the morning, and perhaps something to chew on.

We took a break from our “What does Christianity say about...?” series to begin a new occasional series looking at stories from the Old Testament. These are stories Jesus heard as a child, and they are stories many of us will have heard as children, but perhaps not very much since. There are probably a number of reasons why that might be the case, and one of them may be that we soon realise that these stories are a bit more complicated than the Sunday School versions we were first introduced to, and then we’re not really sure what to do with them. By exploring them together, hopefully we can pry them open a bit and give ourselves permission to ask some awkward questions and sit with some incomplete answers.

Our younger members told the story of Noah and the flood, with the help of some props from their toybox, and then we had three questions as prompts for discussion, and there was clay available for those wanting to model something they found meaningful from the story. Below you will find the questions and some thoughts from our minister. They're only her answers, not necessarily the right answers, but they are offered here in the hope that they might prompt some answers of your own.

Many Ancient Near Eastern cultures told a story of a cataclysmic flood. Is the story of Noah history or myth or fable or something else?

The fact that so many cultures have a flood story, combined with archaeological evidence which points to significant flooding in the region of the Black Sea several millennia ago, suggests that there was indeed a flood on such a catastrophic scale that it must have seemed to cover the whole earth, something which would certainly have been worth telling stories about. Human beings have a tendency to exaggerate and embellish, which might account for some of the more improbable details, but we also have a natural impulse to create meaning, which would explain the sense that the story is trying to say not just what happened but also why it happened. So perhaps Noah is not history or myth or fable, but a powerful interweaving of all three. No wonder it has so captured our imaginations.

God is portrayed as emotional about and engaged with the world. How do you respond to the image of God here?

It can be difficult to reconcile the image of a genocidal God who destroys all but a handful of creatures with the image of a loving God who dies to save all of creation, but I find it helps to focus on the emotional beats of the story. God is heartbroken at the evil of the world, and God promises to be faithful to the world, and that is utterly consistent with all that scripture tells me of God. It matters to me that God feels for us and is involved with us, because a God who was impassive and impartial would not be a God I could have any meaningful relationship with, and I believe that is the truth that is at the heart of this story.

The rainbow is now used in many different contexts. Does this shape or change how we understand it as a symbol of grace and promise?

I love the way the rainbow which is a sign of God's promise has become connected to so many different expressions of hope and joy, because it reminds me that God's promise is for everyone, and that hope and joy are to be found everywhere because God is to be found everywhere. It is particularly significant for me that the rainbow has become a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community. Too often the church seems to hold the promise of grace away from our LGBTQ+ siblings, and so when I stand at the side of a Pride march with a big rainbow banner saying "God loves you and so do we", it seems right that those coloured stripes bring together God's hope and LGBTQ+ joy.

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