Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. – Genesis 8:20
Diane thought our first home would be an un-sold cabin in a fishing club development. My friend and I had built the cabin on speculation. And. It. Would. Not. Sell. She has mentioned several times that she thought we’d be living there instead of in a cheap apartment at the seminary I had enrolled in. Hidden Valley, Missouri instead of Springfield, Illinois. Thankfully it did finally sell. And I almost had to write a check to my partner to finish the deal.
I was no good as a real estate broker. I barely made ends meet as a builder/spec partner. I was OK as swinging a hammer. I even learned to finish concrete. It was during that time, also that I learned what it was like to work really hard…in a brick factory. Since that time, I’ve dabbled in building projects, and occasionally had to deal with household repairs and maintenance. But I am thankful to have spent more than 40 years serving as a pastor in Lutheran churches in Utah, Colorado, Arkansas, and Texas. I’ve managed to do better at that than the real estate/building trades.
Noah had been a ship builder. He was quite successful at it too. It was sufficiently well-designed to host his family, and perhaps 7000 animals. It made it through a cataclysmic flood. It managed to come to rest on a mountain. And when it was all finished, Noah became the first post-diluvian altar builder. Maybe the first altar-builder period. This is the first reference in the BIble to an altar being built.
Noah the ship builder is now an altar builder. There is much intrigue and interest in discovering the final resting place of Noah’s ark. Some have claimed to have discovered its resting place. Most have surmised that it is long decayed. Many don’t even believe it existed in the first place. But I’ve heard no interest in finding Noah’s altar.
I suspect it’s because since that time, altars have become more commonplace. They’re scattered throughout the world. Unless it is a famous altar, fewer and fewer people seem even to take notice of altars new or old. The world has let far too many things crowd out places of worship. Altars are not all that important to too many it seems. Sad.
I know that – as Solomon prays at the dedication of the first Temple – God cannot be contained even in heaven and the highest heaven. He admits that as he prays.
“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! 19 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, 20 that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 1 Chronicles 6:18-20
The altar that Noah built was not to give God a place to live. He is above all and is present everywhere. The purpose of the altar was to give Noah a place to worship God, and witness to God’s worthiness; to give honor to the One who had not only destroyed all human life on the earth, but had saved Noah, his family and the animals aboard the ark. God didn’t need a place to be. Noah needed a place to worship, and a means to honor God outwardly. He needed a reminder of God’s divine majesty, goodness, faithfulness, power, and sovereignty.
We do not need to offer sacrifices on our altars today. That’s already been done when Jesus offered himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Our altars today provide a place from which we serve the Lord’s Supper and a focal point for our prayers. God’s once-for-all sacrifice of His Son makes our altars a place to find God’s blessings and give him the honor he deserves.
I like to think of worship as an opportunity to recalibrate my moral and spiritual compass to the True North of God’s character and laws. It provides me with a reminder of who deserves glory and honor and worship. To have a place dedicated to the worship of God allows me to center my thoughts. For although God is present everywhere, he has given specific promise to be present when his people gather in Jesus’ name. And whether that is around a simple altar of hands folded in prayer, or a magnificent cathedral with smells and bells abounding, it’s a good thing to be reminded of God’s faithfulness and that he is worthy of all our praise.
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