Menu Close
2nd October 2022


Passage: From Genesis 7 and 8


I had to edit this story to create a coherent reading for our service today. The story of Noah as told in Genesis is made up of at least three ancient manuscripts, put together very clumsily and if you try to read the story straight through, you find inconsistencies -did it not just say this and now it is saying that- and so, despite our love for the story of Noah and his ark filled with animals two by two, you could be forgiven for wondering how much of this story is reliably true?

Yet there is evidence of a great flood in the archaeological record and in the ancient history of more than one civilisation. A great catastrophe happened. Natural disasters have always happened. We have just seen a great flood in Pakistan and another in Florida and if those floods had happened 8 thousand years ago when you knew nothing beyond what was happening in your own small territory, you would tell a story of those floods destroying the whole world.

It is also true to say that the cult of the super-hero is easily as old as the flood. In every ancient civilisation you find tales of men and women especially gifted with divine power, saving their world from a great catastrophe. This cult has come right down to the comic-book heroes of today: Spiderman, Batman, Superwoman. But superheroes were not always gifted with superhuman powers. Some-like Noah- were simply ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We named people in our lives “super-heroes” not because they had super-powers but because they do great things. In a dangerous world, humanity has always needed the security of knowing that there are people who can do incredible things. So, let us place the story of the great flood in the Grand Narrative of human life and truth.

How does God come into this story? Let’s be honest, at first reading, God does not come across in a very favourable light. God apparently, is deeply angry because there is so much wickedness in the world, so decides to wipe almost everything out. In a human being, this would be inexcusable behaviour. It would be like some power-obsessed demonic maniac blowing up the whole planet. Is the kind of religion we need?

OK, people of that time understood natural disasters as gods getting angry with mortals; punishing them for wrongdoing with floods or droughts or earthquakes. When this story of the flood was first told, no-one would have raised an eyebrow.
Again, let’s be honest, it is also true that human wickedness can be a direct cause of natural catastrophe- are we not being told this right now? It is not an act of God that is raising global warming to a dangerous level but human behaviour.

But there is a significant change of theology-understanding of God- in the story of Noah. It begins with God’s anger at all the bad stuff going on in the world. It ends with God making a covenant- a sacred pledge that He is not going to destroy the world again. He is holding out his hand to humanity, saying, we’ll work through this together. Good times and bad, cold and heat, summer and winter, we are in this together. The writer now understands God as believing in the world and its creatures. God is no longer presenting Himself as the great destroyer but as the Superhero, who will do whatever it takes to save the world.
You can trace this new understanding working its way through the Old Testament. You still get tales of a vindictive God because that was the kind of civilisation the writers lived in. But the God who saves does not go away. He keeps reaching out and finally becomes visible in the person of Jesus Christ.

As this understanding of God develops and changes, so, I think, does our understanding of the Super-Hero. There are two words here. One is “Super” as in extraordinary, exceptionally gifted. The other is “Hero,” as in heroic, offering your gifts in service to the world and its people. Taking huge risks of self-sacrifice for a cause which may at the end let you down. Just think of those we call our “war heroes,” offering their lives in the hope (not the certainty) of saving their country.

And then, if you go back to the first word “Super,” it is not only about exceptional strengths, is it, but about exceptional love, faith, hope? Jesus was said to have extraordinary powers over sickness and natural disaster. But he also had exceptional faith in God as loving, saving Father; exceptional love for all of humanity, no matter how bad we could be; exceptional hope for the world and its people.

True Super-Heroes never give up. They do not shrug their shoulders and walk away in the face of failure or disaster. They believe that we are worth it. And so, they appear in all manner of stories: war heroes were not only those who died in battle but also those who, at home, took on extra duties in the Home Guard or ARP on top of their daily work. They were those who looked after children, queued for hours to buy food, took strangers into their homes on top of coping with constant fear, and unspeakable grief. Why? Because they believed our country and its values were worth it.

And what Jesus showed us is that the risks taken by super-heroes WILL be worth it. Noah did what God told him to do and saved life on the planet. Modern super-heroes do what they can to save the planet, work for peace, stand up for justice, heal disease, create strong families, care for the lonely and vulnerable and Jesus tells us it is worth it. Because this is where God is, meaning that goodness is stronger than evil; light stronger than darkness; truth stronger than lies; life stronger than death. This belief is the root of a superhero’s strength.

Today I think it is fair to say that the Christian church is looking for Super-heroes. As our culture becomes increasingly secular, we need people who will, to quote the title of Martin Camroux’s latest book: “keep alive the rumour of God when most people are looking the other way.” We are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the United Reformed Church but we are also, if we are honest, wondering if it will survive for another fifty years. We are also engaged in serious discussions about the mission and future of this church. How much longer can we survive as an active, viable, visible congregation in this neighbourhood?

I can’t say but what I do know is that super-heroes are still with us. In the URC, leadership is not down to the Minister alone but is shared with those called and elected by Church Meeting to be Elders and Church Officers. And Elders and Church Officers find themselves needing to give a significant amount of their time and energy to fulfilling their particular ministry. When local churches close down, the main reason, we are told, is not lack of money but lack of people able and willing to take up leadership. But here in this church we have been blessed with super-heroes who have taken on and maintained the ministry to which God has called them. Invite them to stand as say their names: Jon Henderson and Tina Wheeler- Church Secretaries; Johnstone Brown- Church Treasurer. Liz Sutton and Angela Liddell-Pastoral Care Elders. Lesley Clare- Church and World Elder. Steve Bebbington- Church in Community Elder. Margaret Barnes- Faith Development Elder, Paul Gill- Publicity and Promotions Elder. Charlotte Leonard/ Clare Veal- Youth and Children’s Work. Annette Mace- Elder without Portfolio.
This has been our Elders Meeting through the Pandemic. Every single month of lockdown every single person met online to pray and discuss and re-commit to the work of God under circumstances they had never envisaged. They grappled with previously unknown issues such as risk assessments, online worship, technology in all its glories and a huge international crisis. And they remained faithful because they believed that the church of Jesus Christ was worth saving. And when the time came for four to retire, others accepted the call to ministry and so Jackie Pasifull becomes our next Joint Church Secretary, Steve Bebbington our next Treasurer, Jenny Sheehan our next Faith Development Elder and Andy Clare our next Church in Community Elder.
We still have men and women who have faith enough in God, love enough for all of you and for our world, hope enough for the future to entrust their time and skill to the ministry of this church. THANK YOU……

But lastly, perhaps the most important thing about a true Super-hero is that they inspire others to find “the hero inside of themselves.” The church should never become a two-tier strategy with heroic and less-heroic. There are so many more of you who also remained consistently faithful in prayer and worship when we could not meet; who kept in touch with the lonely and vulnerable; who joyfully returned to your particular ministry as our church re-opened; who invented creative ways of doing things; who refrained from grumbling when it became clear that things were never going to be quite the same again. If God is involved-as He promised- in every struggle, every challenge then God is involved in every single one of us. As we celebrate our super-heroes, let us ask God to keep each one of us super-heroic in our faith and in our church life. Because we are worth it.