A few years ago I discovered a beautiful story book called A Prayer for the Earth: The Story of Naamah, Noah’s Wife. Have you ever wondered about Noah’s wife? She gets very little mention in Bible, but she is in there tangentially. Do you ever wonder what she thought about her husband going out to build a big boat in the middle of the desert? Do you ever wonder if she thought he was losing mind or if she heard God’s voice, too?
Well, in the Jewish tradition of midrash author and rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, wrote a story about Noah’s wife. The rabbis use midrash stories to open up a familiar story and explores ethics and values within biblical texts often by trying to answer questions about the story that aren’t answered in the story. For example, there is a midrash about why Adam didn’t stop Eve from eating the forbidden fruit.
The midrash that Rabbi Eisenberg Sasso wrote plays around in the story of Noah to talk about God’s care not just for the animals of creation, but for the plants, the beauty and sustenance they provide for all. The story begins with the familiar call to Noah to build an ark. God is grieved at the state of humanity and resolves to start over, or almost over. God has found one righteous man and his family worth saving and puts them to work to help save what is worth saving from creation. We know about the big boat, God’s floating zoo, but in this story we hear about other saving that was going on.
In worship I read from the story book. Here is a brief summary:
Naamah receives from God a call parallel to Noah’s. While it is Noah’s job to build the boat and collect animals to fill it, Naamah is called to collect seeds from all the plants from the earth, even the dandelions. Naamah tends to the plants and seeds on the ark, making sure there is a separate supply of green things that is not used for food, but is made ready for planting when the waters recede.
When the time comes for Noah to send out birds to see if there is dry land, Naamah takes the raven, the first to be released, aside before it is sent on its mission. In the raven’s beak she places an olive seed, the seed that plants the tree from which a branch is taken by a later dove sent out by Noah.
When the ark finally settles on dry ground, Naamah sets out to replant the seeds that she so carefully and lovingly nurtured at God’s request.
Here’s what I love about this story, and what it draws also out of the biblical story of Noah and the midrash about Naamah:
Our God is a god of relationship. In the ancient world the Hebrew people were surrounded by cultures of people who made offerings to try to please the gods or coax the gods or appease the gods to do what they wanted. And there are offerings commanded of the Hebrew people, too, don’t get me wrong. But the picture we have of God is one of a God who loves and care passionately - - even passion to the point of anger that leads to wiping the slate clean because God is so hurt, so pained by the wickedness on earth. We have a picture in Scripture of God who just can’t let the evil go on any longer, but who also needs help to enact a plan for a fresh start.
In the stories of Noah and Naamah, God desires relationship and partnership with humankind. Someone’s got to build the ark. Someone’s got to gather the seeds. And when the flood subsides, the seeds have been planted, and earth is repopulating, someone has to see the rainbow and remember it means God will never punish creation like this again. Instead a covenant has been wrought, a promise has been made, a second chance has been given. All of creation – plants and animals, ground, water, and sky, humankind – is called into relationship and partnership with God who loves with zeal and passion, so that evil won’t run rampant again.
This is why we worship with our work and our words today. Our work, or service to others, is how we build arks to care for creation. Our words are how we notice the rainbows, remembering and proclaiming God’s promise in Word and Sacrament . As we worship in many ways this morning, may we remember that the water that once destroyed creation is the water that claims us as God’s own in baptism, calling us to carry God’s love and care into the world.