“Noah’s Dilemma”
Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North
Water Communion Service
Rev. Greg Ward
August 18th, 2002


Theme:  The new hope for the world is not found in getting rid of the worst of us, it is in bringing out the best of us.

Staging:  The sanctuary is set up with a single row of chairs around the outer edge.  The middle of the room will have approx. 15 chairs that are set up in the shape of an ark. 

Props:    Masks for some of the animals.  Hose for the neighbors.


Service Leader 
God of Vengeance 
God of Morality
God of Love


CALL TO WORSHIP  – “I’ve got peace like a river…”



A long, long time ago, in a far away land, there lived a very clever, very caring man by the name of Noah.  You may have heard his story – about the ark and the animals.  But there are parts that don’t always get told.  So, it is important to tell it again. 


Back in the days that Noah lived, most everyone knew him.  But he wasn’t famous.  Just a  very nice man with whom everyone got along well… even though they didn’t always get along with anyone else.  But, aside from that, Noah was simply a carpenter.  A carpenter who had this crazy dream of building a place where everyone got along.  Where all kinds of different people could come together and share their hopes and hurts.  To create a place where people cared instead of competed.  Where they encouraged instead of argued.


The time and place where Noah lived wasn’t all that different from what we know now.  People fought with each other then.  They were stubborn.  They sulked and they brooded.  Everyone always insisted that they were right and everyone else was wrong. 


And Noah had a problem with this.  He kept imagining a better way.  “If only I could build a place where people listened to each other.  Learned from each other.  Respected each other, despite differences in skin color, or how much money they had, or where they lived, or who they fell in love with.  Noah wanted to build a church.  A special church, much like the one we are trying to build here.


But even as Noah started to build this special place, he ran into trouble.  When he went to the place to get the designs he found they wouldn’t do designs for people that were his color.  The people who made the walls wouldn’t make them for people of his skin color.  The people who made the floors wouldn’t make them for people who lived in his neighborhood.  And the people at the city planning office who issued the permits to people who opened their doors to gays and lesbians. 


Meanwhile, as all this was going on, God was looking down upon Noah and noticing what was happening.  God had long ago noticed the same thing and was just as unhappy with what she saw.  But just like the people who fought with one another down on earth, God was also fighting.  God was fighting amongst herself.  Back in those days God did not get things done by a single decision.  God was a committee.  And, as a committee, God was often arguing with herself.  There was the God of love – who thought everyone needed to listen more, be more patient and giving and helpful.  There was the God of morality and political correctness who thought that everyone should behave by the same rules and codes of conduct.  And then there was the God of Vengeance and anger who wanted to punish the people when they did something mean and to smite everyone who couldn’t obey.  They all tried to tell Noah what to do.  But, with all the arguing and disagreeing and contradictions Noah became more confused than ever. 


Noah had a dilemma.  And so Noah did what he always did.  He went over to talk to his neighbor, who always seemed to have a good head on her shoulders and offered wise counsel.  Noah found her outside watering her garden while her family ran around and played in the yard.  They talked for a while and even though they couldn’t solve the problem right away, he felt better knowing there was someone who would listen.  So he went off with his dilemma and thought about what he might do to help everyone get along with one another.  

CHALICE LIGHTING  -    We light this chalice in hopes that our example of love amidst turmoil will be a lesson and a beacon to those searching for a brighter path.

HYMN – “I’ve got pain like an arrow…”



There came a time in the land when, upon looking down at the people and what they were doing, God noticed that a Grateful Dead concert was coming up.  And the God of Love said that she just had to go and check it out.  After all, these guys weren’t going to be around forever.  So she got on her tie-dyed outfit and took the big party bus down to the show. 


While she was away, the God of Morality and the God of Vengeance got into a discussion.  They decided that no one was really behaving like they ought to, the world was going to hell in a hand-basket and that what they really ought to do is to just wipe out the whole thing and start over.  They figured that a great big flood ought to do the trick.  So they decided that they would make it rain.  Forty days and forty nights should suffice, they figured. 


With plans in hand, they called Noah over to let him know what they decided.  Noah was a little surprised.  And a little frustrated.  He shook his head in disbelief and thought to himself: the worse people acted, the worse God seemed to act and vice versa.  He listened to the plan they laid out and reminded them if they wiped out the entire world, there would be no one around to take care of creation.  The God’s scratched their heads and said they would think about it some more.  Meanwhile, Noah had an idea.  He asked if he might be given enough time to build an ark – just in case.  God agreed and off he went.


With more of a dilemma than ever, Noah went over to talk to his neighbor.  They lamented and shook their heads and waved their arms.  And then they got out some plans and drew a bunch of pictures on paper.  They thought real hard and scratched their heads and pulled out their calculators and crunched some numbers.  And, at the end of the day, after they finally had a plan worked out, they put their pencils away.  Noah hurried down to get a load of new materials and began building the biggest, most impressive ark anyone had ever seen.  Actually that wasn’t hard because no one, at that time, had EVER seen an ark.  Noah’s neighbor, not being much of a builder, grabbed the kids and took them all down to the Grateful Dead show.  Just as it started to rain.


It rained and it rained.  And Noah built and he built.  After only a few days, with the help of his family, he finished the ark.  He put it up on blocks, higher than anything else around so when the water rose up, it would carry the ark and all the inhabitants away to safety.  And when Noah finally put the last nail in the ark, and it was ready to go, he noticed that the water had already started to rise.  So he went off to find the animals who would go with them.  To any who were reluctant to go, he reminded them that they would have to learn how to swim real fast.


        HYMN – “Wade in the Water”


Wade in the water

Wade in the water, children

Wade in the water

God’s gonna trouble the water


See that band all dressed in white

God’s gonna trouble the water

It looks like that band of Israelites

God’s gonna trouble the water




See that band all dressed in red

God’s gonna trouble the water

It looks like the band that Moses led

God’s gonna trouble the water





Noah looked high and low for the people and the animals who would go on the ark.  He asked everyone who had even the slightest interest.  He was especially eager to go about getting the most stubborn of animals.  He told them that they would be the heartiest stock to start a new community. 


He got the rhinos to go – the kind that sometimes aren’t interested in listening to others but instead just like to pound their own agenda forward.  He got the giraffes on board – the ones that always thought they were head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.  He got the monkeys to get on board – the ones who are rarely interested in doing any work because they are always playing around.  He got the mice to come – and noticed that as they got on board, they were a little timid to say anything excepting squeaking in a very soft voice that they wished the elephants would watch where they were walking.  He got the bees on board – who just buzzed around, busy as ever, seeming like they weren’t interested in anything around them, but they would spend endless hours repeating back everything they heard to the other insects.  He got the butterflies on board – who just seemed to flit about, here and there, without a care about anyone else around them.  He got the Owl on board who seemed like he knew the answer to everything, but when it came to doing something about it, always said “WHOOOO me?”  “WHOOOO me?”


Then Noah went to the people and started to collect two of each.  Two who were parents.  Two who were single.  Two who were from his village.  Two who were from the next village.  Two who were in school.  Two who sometimes taught school.  Two who knew how to fix things.  Two who were good talkers.  Two who were wise.  Two who were strong.  Two of each color, of each culture, of each sexuality, of each political persuasion, of each class, of each religion.  He collected two of every kind of person until all the people he could see where on the ark.  And Noah even tried to get the Unicorns on board – but it seemed as they were having such a good time admiring their reflections on the shiny railings, they didn’t see where they were going and walked off the side of the platform, fell into the mud and missed the boat. 


That ought to do it, Noah thought to himself.  These are all just the right mix of animals to create a peaceful community.  All the animals looked behind them as they were getting on board and thought for a minute about what they were leaving behind.  All that would be destroyed.  But that thought only lasted a moment.  “At least I will be saved,” they thought.   “And that’s what really matters anyway.”


When the last animal was on the ark, Noah went over to his neighbor and they spoke for a minute.  They looked at some of the plans and they shook their heads in agreement.  Then they looked at each other and they embraced.  And Noah walked back to get on the ark.


Watching all this from above, the God of Mrality couldn’t help but notice something.  As some of the animals got on board, they looked a little uncertain.  And in that uncertainty, they seemed to recognize something familiar in each other’s expression.  She thought, just for a moment, she saw a few of them, in their uncertainty, trying to hold the door open for the animals behind them.  Maybe they weren’t all that bad after all, she thought. 


For a second she wondered.  She knew it was her plan to wipe out all the other animals.  The animals who might be acting mean or spiteful to one another simply because they were unsure.  Simply because they were frightened.  Because they were afraid.  And she looked down upon the tiny ark and a tear came to her eye.  And as she started to cry, it began to rain a little harder.  And, in a moment of uncertainty, she walked over to the God of Love and leaned against her.  The God of Love didn’t argue, or scold her, or fight back or anything.  She just pulled her in close and wrapped her arms around her. 

HYMN – “I’ve got love like an ocean…”



Just as they closed the hatch, it seemed like it really started to rain.  Hard.  And it seemed like the wind came up because the tiny ark was tossed.


(Theme from Gilligan’s Island is played in the background)


All the animals on board got very nervous.  And because they were anxious, they started bickering and fighting.  They saw how frustrating it was to be in such close quarters. Without any room to move, without bumping into the animal next to them.  And for a while all they could do was argue and push and blame and scream at the top of their lungs at one another. 


(Screaming and bickering)


But then one of the animals suddenly said something that made everyone stop.  It is the wise old owl.   He started soft.  But his voice grew with conviction as he stuck out his neck and spoke.  “Who?” he said.  “Who?”  “Who is not here right now?”  “Who have we forgotten?”  “Who got left behind?”  “Who is our neighbor?”


All the bickering stopped.  Silence came over the ark.  And all the animals started to think.   They remembered the people and the animals who were back in the community where they had started out.  Who never got on board.   The people who didn’t get on the ark who would be wiped out by the great flood.  They start to feel sorry for those animals.  They knew the reason they chose to get on the ark was to find a better way.  To help figure out a way to get along and start a community that could live in peace and harmony.  This was something that none of the other animals could ever seem to do.  Then suddenly, they realized that unless they found the way to do it – right now - despite their differences, despite their needs, despite how deserving each thought they were - they would build a new community with just as much of the conflict and turmoil they are leaving behind.  Each animal, at that moment, started to consider what was being asked of them.  What they could do to help.  How they could turn away from their old habits and listen to the concerns of the people around them.  How they could help bring harmony rather than discord.  And even though they were still sad about the people who didn’t get on the ark – who might perish in the great flood - they realized how important it was that they – right then and there - learned how to get along.  It was at that point that all the animals slowly began to change.  


But they were not the only ones.   God, too, began to change.  The God of vengeance and smiting and retaliation realized that there was a better way.  That, certainly if the animals could find a way other than fighting and smiting, then God could as well.  Right then and there, the God of vengeance renounced old habits in favor of becoming more like the God of love and understanding.  Like the example the animals had shown, God began to look not at what the community owed her, but what she had to offer the community.


    Service Leader: 

The water communion is a beloved ritual which sprung from within our Unitarian Universalist tradition.  It is important not only because it often serves as the annual ingathering service, welcoming back members and friends from summer excursions.  And not only because it connects us with the larger movement of UU churches who also celebrate this tradition.  It is important because it gives us an opportunity to celebrate a very different kind of communion.  This is not a communion in the traditional sense where it is only given to those of a specific doctrine.  This is a communion where all are welcome at the table.  And it is not a communion where we are given something that promises our salvation.  We know that our understanding of church doesn’t work that way.  In this communion, we give our promises of what we can do to help insure that this church – this one right here – can help save lives.  That means that it can help make the difference between hurting and healing.  Between pain and promise.  Between living in community and living in calamity.  When anyone who has lived in despair and desperation gets a chance to see what it’s like to live with hope and promise – they will understand what it means to be saved. 


In our story today, Noah was able to save lives.  Not because the animals he brought on the ark would have died.  It is simply a story and that is not the point.  But Noah did save them from living unlived lives.  He showed them how to live with purpose, in the spirit of cooperation.  He taught them to see that they must do what they could do because, indeed, their lives did depend on it. 


Each of us has the capacity to do that for one another.  To bring hope where hurt has been.  To listen where others have turned away.  To be an open door when life has shut them out.  Maybe it’s through your gift of patience.  Or because you offer the understanding of having lived through such pain.  Maybe you offer perspective –what it is like to live a meaningful life as a Jew.  Or a Christian.  Or a Humanist or a Pagan.  Maybe you understand how to organize things.  Or to play.  Perhaps you can teach someone what it is like to have a disability.  To live in the minority.  To be a responsible part of the majority.  Perhaps you know how to be a bridge between the old and the young.  Between the gay and the straight.  Between the people of one community with people of another community.


What can you do?  What virtue or what perspective do you bring to this community such that UUMAN becomes more understanding, more accepting, more cooperative.  I ask you to come forward, pour a little water into the bowl, speak into the microphone and tell us just one of the many things you offer this community.


HYMN – “I’ve got hope like a rainbow… ”



The rains finally came to an end and the boat stopped rocking.  Thinking there is finally a sense of peace returning to the earth the animals sent out a bird of peace to see if there was a place they could settle and build a new community.  The dove came back with a twig to show that dry land had appeared.  But the dove also had an expression of surprise.  “Hey you guys!!  You’ve got to check this out,” said the dove.   So, slowly, Noah and the animals crawled through the hatch and began to look around.  There, they saw what they never expected.  Something that took them all by surprise.  Everything was just the way they it all was when they left!  Noah’s neighbor and her children were standing there.  She were watering the garden.  The people of the community in the background were still bickering.  The house was still a mess.  The dishes were still undone. 


They all stood there for a moment before beginning to walk off the ark.  After welcoming the animals home and helping them off the ark, Noah and the neighbor explained to everyone that they never actually went anywhere.  It didn’t really rain for forty days.  The waters never rose.  The ark never left the blocks it had been resting on.  For the last five weeks, Noah’s neighbor and her children took turns rocking the ark back and forth and spraying water from the hose over the top so they would think they were being carried away in a great flood.  It had been sunny most of the time they were inside the ark.  It was their plan all along to put the animals in a small place, telling them that their lives depended upon it, and then hoping they would discover how to get along. 


And it worked.  In that time they learned how to listen.  How to cooperate.  How to work together.  How to  sacrifice, become less selfish and more helpful.  And they learned all they had to offer a community instead of only thinking about the things they could get from a community.  For a minute, they thought about everything that had happened and whether or not they should be angry.  After all, Noah and his neighbor had played a great trick on them.  Everything they had endured was all in vein.  There never was a great flood.  There never was a plan to wipe out the earth (Noah’s neighbor actually saw God at the Grateful Dead concert and told her about the plan to make it rain.  The God of Love made sure that never happened.)


But it didn’t take long for the animals to realize that it wasn’t really in vein.  The world was still in danger of being wiped out.  Not by a flood of water, but by a flood of impatience.  And arrogance.  And selfishness.  And they realized that even without the flood, whether or not the world would perish still all depended on them.  On whether they would be able to teach the others in the community around them what they had learned during their time on the ark.  How to get along with one another.  How to love.  How to listen and to understand.  And that is what they began to do.  They knew it would take a long time.  But they knew it was worth it.  So, from that day forward, that is how they lived their lives.  Going out of their way to practice peace and kindness and consideration.  And as they did, they often found themselves singing this song.


HYMN – “I’ve got joy like a fountain…”