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Can You Tread Water?
September 15, 1974

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

GENESIS 6:11-18

In the summer of 1929 a British archaeologist by the name of Sir Leonard Woolley was nearly crazy with impatience because the work on a dig was so slow. He was excited  with curiosity as to what they would find. They had been digging at the site of the ancient city of Ur, near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. For almost 100 years the ruins of that area were being revealed. The site was along the Baghdad railway with miles and miles of sand covering history. They had found the ruins of buildings, ancient dwellings, and now in 1929 they had uncovered the graves of kings. Ur was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Sumeria, The burial vaults revealed golden drinking cups and goblets, mother of pearl mosaics, harps, lyres, golden combs in the queens’ vaults. They were uncovering life in 2800 B. C. Woolley was tense with excitement wondering what lay underneath. He decided to sink shafts and began exploring a small limited area that lay underneath the burial vaults. He found tablets and charred ash indicating life 300 years earlier. 

Then one day a workman hollered up, “We are on ground level; we are at the bottom.” Woolley entered the shaft, climbed to the bottom and discovered to his amazement, sand, pure sand that could only have been deposited by water. He exclaimed, “Mud? We are too high here for mud.” He gave instructions to dig the shaft deeper. People gathered around as basket after basket came out of the shaft with their loads of mud, three feet, six feet, ten feet of mud and then it stopped. “What is next?” he wondered. They expected virgin soil, earth. They thought they were at the bottom of the shaft and had uncovered all the evidence of settlements; but no, up came evidence of human habitation—jars, bowls, handmade and a primitive implement made not of metal, but of flint. They were now in the Stone Age, and the ten feet of mud revealed that they had found the flood. 

A hunt now started for traces of the flood throughout Mesopotamia and finally concluded that the flood was 400 miles long and 100 miles wide and had occurred in 4000 B. C., certainly not a world-wide flood but covering the known world at that time. Besides this, on Mt. Aarat, a mountain in eastern Turkey, always snow covered, 16,000 feet high, in 1833 a shepherd claimed to have seen a large wooden ship on top of the mountain. In 1892 an explorer claimed to have seen the wreckage of a ship encased in ice. In the first world war, a Russian pilot claimed to have seen the wreckage of a ship. Expeditions in this century have failed to find such a ship.,

Stories of a catastrophic flood and the survival of a man and his family have been found all around the world. Even American Indians have such a story in their memories. There are 80,000 works in 72 languages so far discovered about the flood.

Was there a flood bigger than the one found by Woolley in Sumeria? Does the Bible story reflect this incident? Some have postulated that the melting of ice from the great Ice Ages caused the ocean to rise four times its normal height. Is this memory residing in the back of ancient man’s mind? I don’t know the answers to these mysteries. No one does. Perhaps someone here this very morning will help answer these questions.

Some conclude that the discovery of flood evidence and similar stories throughout the world prove the historical accuracy of the biblical story. I don’t quite follow the logic: because B and C have similar stories, therefore A’s story is the correct one? The existence of flood stories and flood evidence prove there were floods and there were stories.

Nor do I concur with those who have used the biblical story of Noah to document their own feelings and practices of racial prejudice and discrimination. The pro-slavery forces over 100 years ago used the curse of Noah on his son Ham, who they contend was the father of the Negro race, as support for slavery. Only this week Time Magazine wrote that the Mormon Church’s denial of equal rights for blacks is based on Noah’s curse on Ham. To support discrimination by the use of the flood story seems to me to push the story far beyond limits of common sense and credibility.

The important question we ask of this story is, “Why is it included in Holy Scripture?” This is an ancient story containing elements of incredulity that the Hebrews heard. Why did they include it? Why did it become part of their tradition? The meaning of the story for us is not whether the story is credible; the meaning of the story for us lay in our understanding of what meaning it had for the people of that time. The story of Noah and the flood is the story of how God saves his people. The Lord had mercy on Noah. God called Noah, gave him a task and saved him because of his loyalty and faithfulness. God preserves his people. 

Before Abraham was called, before God called his nation into being, he preserved the ancestors and guided them to the point where Abraham could be called. The rainbow is a sign of God’s care, of his concern and his desire to save. To other ancient people, the rainbow was a military symbol, the bow and arrow. To the Hebrews it was a sign of God’s care, of the covenant that he made with his people. In the midst of danger, in the midst of the tumultuous waters, the chaotic waters we discussed last week in the creation story of Genesis 1, there comes the rainbow, the promise to every storm in your life that the rainbow will come. There will come an end, or at least a respite, a calm before the next gale. 

The time of the rainbow is a time of freshness. The air is cleaned, the dust is settled, the smog is lifted. For a time you can see more clearly. You can see the Sierras, you can see things in perspective. In the life of nations, in your individual life, there comes the time of the rainbow when you can appreciate the love of God. Water is a powerful imagery in the Bible. In many instances, water is seen from a desert situation. Water in that context is seen as salvation . “I give you living water”, said Jesus. The psalms urge us to come to the Lord and drink. Water is good, helpful, necessary to life. 

Water sometimes in the Bible Is an image of terror. The chaotic water, the memory of a terrible destructive flood, remind the people of terror, destruction in their life. We use this image in our language. We speak of drowning, up to my neck. What do you do when life rushes in on you, when problems get heavy, when you experience feelings of doubt, fear, when you wonder about your own ability to handle your life. When life rushes in, you’ll drown, you won’t be able to cope, unless you can tread water. Psalm 69:1-2, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me .” He was treading water, waiting for deliverance, unable to cope. 

The next verse is unbelievable in its apt description of how it is. “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.” He hollers for help, and as he hollers his throat gets parched. What do you do when your throat is parched? Drink water. He forgot he was treading water, His throat is parched and he doesn’t drink from the very water he is trying to escape from! How often when life rushes in upon us do we neglect to find sustenance and help in the midst of’ the waters. That which causes tension, t hat which makes for problems also has the power to give  sustenance. Don’t escape, don’t run, don’t just holler. Take a drink from the water. 

Not only is there a possibility of finding good in what happens to you, Christ has the power to still the raging, chaotic waters. When awakened in the boat by his frightened disciples, Christ admonished the waves and the water stilled. Peace came. Jesus stills the boat. Jesus rescues. He gives you an ark. When you tire of treading water, climb in the ark, get in the boat. Christ will save you. Get in the ark and Christ will still the waters.

© 1974 Douglas I. Norris