Saved Through Water
Zechariah and Elizabeth
5 September 2017
The flood of Noah was pivotal to the Old Testament message of salvation. The story of the flood becomes the sign of salvation pointing forward to the sacrament of holy baptism; the sacrament of death and life. It is ironic that the very death-dealing waters both in the flood and in baptism are also the waters that bring life and give forgiveness to the children of God: Peter says that Noah and his family "were saved through water" in the flood. It's no wonder that our Christian view of the flood caused by Hurricane Harvey is different from those who do not understand our faith.

In Houston, we actually saw people being saved through water, the very stuff that threatened our homes, safety and livelihood. When families had to get out of flooded neighborhoods when the waters rose faster than they were able to react, they were ferried out of their homes with their children and pets in small boats. Maybe you saw the TV news reports of the man who brought people out of a flooded neighborhood in a two-person kayak. Water brought ruination, but it became the medium by which our most precious gifts were floated out to safety. Ironically, our enemy became our friend; what threatened death, preserved life.

Christ's crucifixion is also a death that preserved life bringing salvation, just as the flood of Noah was a death-dealing once-in-a-universe event, that for Noah and his family was their salvation, carried as they were by water in the ark. Christ's death was also a once-in-a-universe event. Death became, in His crucifixion, the granting of life. We were floated out of the neighborhood of death on the flood of blood and water to the safety, which only that life-giving blood could provide, guiding us through the waters of baptism, where we drowned with Him in the burial of baptism and were brought forth again to newness of life.

Pagans, whose hearts are set on the riches of this world, are just baffled when Christians look so positively on the trial that brings such devastation into people's lives with the loss of property, the ruin of keepsakes, and the destruction of autos. But their hearts are not set on the things of this world, but on Christ, who is the true treasure; a treasure that cannot be taken from us by the world's disasters. Nothing can separate us from that love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Especially not Harvey. God is still God. Harvey is not. God is still the God who saves, even through water.

After Noah's flood, he sent a dove and when it returned with the olive leaf he knew it was time to open the ark, releasing life upon the earth again. We come to the church to hear the dove-like Word of God bringing us the olive leaf of forgiveness, life and salvation in the presence of such devastation. How easy it would be to look upon the brown, swirling waters staining our homes and neighborhoods in Houston and despair. How easy it would be to doubt God's goodness and the certainty of His rescue when our home might still be under the threat of being flooded and despair. How easy it would be to be overcome by the breathless reports of bad news hurled at us by news services daily and despair. We will not despair, because we have a God who is faithful and always has been. He even uses the waters themselves to bring rescue.

When we are at divine service, we are standing in the ark of the church waiting for the water to recede. Remember the place of the people in the church is called the nave, the Latin word for "ship." God has sent the dove to light here and bring us the olive leaf of His mercy. He speaks peace in the Word of God. He says, "I will never leave you or forsake you." He has pledged His own Son on the cross of suffering, why could we think that He would leave you or forsake you? He offers us the olive leaf of the holy sacrament where He feeds us the food of life from our altar.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"The dove is a faithful messenger. Therefore, she is sent out a second time (Gn 8:10-12). Moses describes carefully how the waters gradually subsided, until finally the surface of the earth with the trees was free of the waters. When the dove fetches an olive leaf, we must not believe that the dove did this on her own impulse; but she was directed this way by God, who gradually wanted to indicate more clearly to Noah that He was remembering him and had not altogether forgotten him. For Noah and the rest, who were shut up in the ark as in a prison, this olive leaf was an extraordinary sign, in order that they might be encouraged by it and gain a sure hope of their coming release." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 8.10-12
Genesis 8:1-12

God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. (ESV)
Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. Grant that we be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope. Keep us from despair as we grieve our losses. Strengthen our hope and confidence in You, who saved the faithful few through the water. Help us to interpret your visitation on the basis of Your clear word of compassion toward us in Christ Your Son, who suffered for us. Amen.

For first responders, who are still burdened by the flooding in Houston and beyond, that they would be kept safe in the conduct of their duties

For those who have been flooded out of their homes, that they might be kept safe and that they would set their hearts on their home in heaven

For those who will be bringing relief to the Houston area in the days and months to come, that their travels would be safe and that they would find joy in their service
Art: DUBOIS, Tom,  The Invitation (2000)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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