The Story, Part I: Creation
Today, as we begin a new season together - back to our “regular” worship time and space, back to school, back to Sunday School, returning to some of the rhythms that drive our congregational life together, we’re starting a new sermon series that will be our focus for most of our fall. It’s called, “The Story” - and the story is the The Story, the story that unfolds in the scriptures, the story of God and God’s people. We’ll be looking at this story from Genesis to Revelation, beginning - at least the recorded beginning - to one writer’s vision of an end. Of course, since the Bible is thousands of pages long, and includes 66 books, we won’t get to stop at every plot point. But we’re going to see if we can draw out the major themes of the Bible.
Our first stop on this journey through the text is right at the start, word one, page one, book one, chapter one, verse one. Today, we’re thinking about Creation. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” One thing I often hear people say is, “I feel close (or closer) to God in nature.” I’ve probably even said something like this myself at one point or another. Sometimes when people are saying this, they’re trying to describe whether they’d rather go for a hike or hang out on the lake than attend a worship service, and I’ve got some opinions about that, of course, about what we miss out on when we miss out on the fellowship of being a community of faith, calling on and worshiping God together - but that’s for another sermon! What I’m interested in today is thinking about why it is that we feel that way. Why, when we head outdoors, when we gaze at the sunset, when we see the fall leaves, yes, even when we see the beauty of the first blaneting snow of the season - we feel something unwind in our spirits and we feel, indeed, like we’re not very far from God at all?
Sometimes, I think our souls just long to get back outside, to eliminate, perhaps, one more wall that stands between us and God, or seems to, at least. I remember travelling to an event in Dallas in high school, and the event was at a hotel right near the airport. And there was a tram that departed from inside the airport and arrived inside the hotel. And the whole event was inside. And although others took a chance to go out in the evening, I only attended events that took place in the hotel. And then I got back on the tram and went back to the airport and flew back home. I was never outside. And by the end of that weekend, I felt boxed in, longing for the fresh air, the great outdoors. I think our souls long to be closer to a place where we remember that God created us.
Sometimes, though, we forget too. We forget that we are the ones who are created, and we are not the Creator. We’re not in charge. As disappointing as it might be, we’re not in control of the universe! Some years ago, I was walking at beautiful Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse, and I spotted two teenage girls sitting near the water, enjoying the view. As I passed by, I heard one of them say to the other, with utter seriousness as she looked at the lake, “It looks just like a computer screen.” I remember going to see the Natural Stone Bridge and Caves while we were on family vacation in Lake George. I had found out about these caves doing a little research for our trip, and had convinced my mom and brother to go. It was taking a while to get there. A bit out of the way. My family was complaining a little bit about the drive, sure that this tourist site couldn’t be someplace so remote from all the main streets. And just then we started passing signs put up along the road that said, one word per sign: “Can’t move the caves closer to the road.” I think, though, that we’ve come to have this (often foolish) belief that we can control creation, and we’re surprised again and again when it is beyond us. We want nothing to keep us from the crazy rhythm of life we have established. And so we try box ourselves in and build up walls, literally and figuratively, between us and creation, sometimes preferring to view it from our window, or maybe even a computer screen. We’re surprised when wild animals crash into our wild-free world. Frustrated when we can’t keep our life at a consistent 70 degrees no matter what season it is. God knows – seriously, God knows that I am thankful for air conditioning and heat. Can we remember that we are the created, and not the creator?
The Bible gives us two creation stories back to back. We spent some time chatting about them at Bible study this week, and I asked some questions that I think will help us with most every Biblical text we approach. Why is the author of this text telling us this stuff? What are they trying to tell us in the words we read? What was so important that they wanted us to know? And so if we look at Genesis 1 and 2, we can ask why does the Bible contain these creation stories? Why do we need this repeated first day, second day stuff in Genesis 1? Why do we need to know about Adam and Eve?
Genesis 1 and 2 aren’t trying to give us a scientific account of creation. If we try to use these passages like that, we’ll end up making strange conclusions about how the earth works that put us at odds with what we learned in science class pretty quickly. But the Bible isn’t trying to teach us about matter and mass and evolution and biology and chemistry. Remember, it’s a story of God and God’s people. The Bible is virtually always trying to teach us about who God is, and who we’re supposed to be in response to who God is. And so in Genesis 1, which reads almost like a poem of creation, we find out about God that God was around before anything was, that God is the creator, that God speaks and stuff happens in response, that God rests, and that God created everything that is including us, and that God thinks that everything God created is very good. In Genesis 2, we find out that God sometimes sets limits and gives direction, and says, “do this, but don’t do that - that’s off limits.” We find out that God shares the work with us - God puts us in charge of some things instead of God controlling everything. We find out that God creates us by breathing God’s breath, God’s spirit into us. And what do we learn about ourselves in these stories? About who we, God’s people are? I think we learn two of the most important lessons in scripture right here in chapter 1: We are created - all of us, every single one of us, in the very image of God. The pattern, the template for our design is the Creator of the Universe. Wow. That’s a pretty awesome being to be patterned after. And we learn that God sees us and thinks “good.” At our core, intrinsically, woven into our existence is the fact that we - you and me and every single person - what we are as God’s creations is good. We’re not “bad” by default. And we’re not even just “neutral,” blank slates that can go either way. What we are, intrinsically, is good. We are created in God’s image, we have sacred worth, and God thinks we are very good. In Genesis 2, we learn that we’re meant to be stewards of everything. God puts us in charge of the rest of creation. We’re supposed to take care of everything else that’s here. Are we doing a good job of that? And we find out that we’re created to be in relationship with each other. We touched on that briefly when we talked about loneliness this summer. God names a lot of things “good” in creation - but under “not good” is that we would be alone in our existence. We’re meant to build relationships with others.
I’ve been reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber called Shameless, and she frames her writing about Christianity and sexuality using the creation stories, and I really love her retelling of these texts, and I want to share the first one with you. Here’s her take on Genesis 1:
In our beginning, God was maybe bored and a little lonely, so God created a terrifyingly vast universe, which included the earth. The earth, our speck of life, was just a void, and this great nothingness was super dark. Before creation, all there was was God, so in order to bring the world into being, God had to kind of scoot over. To bring the world into being, God chose to take up less space - you know, to make room.
So before God spoke the world into being, God scooted over. God wanted to share. Like the kind-faced woman on the subway who takes her handbag onto her lap so that there’s room for you to sit next to her. She didn’t have to do it, but that’s just who she is; the kind-faced subway lady’s nature is that she makes room for others.
And the kind-faced subway lady could have made this universe in any manner she chose - she could have brought the universe into existence fully formed - but she’s a gardener by nature, so she grew it from seeds knowing it was going to be a process. And the first seeds came in the form of four words from the mouth of God.
Let there be light.
God’s words do what they say. So, from the bread of God, the world came into being. Bang! Oceans, land, heaven, sun, moon, stars, plants, and things called sea monsters.
It all took some time. It was a process, and a strangely collaborative one at that. Rather than God doing everything, God shared the work with creation. Calling the earth to bring forth vegetation and the seas to bring forth sea monsters. God was obsessed with the idea of seeds, and made a self-sustaining system in inside of the life God was creating. Like Russian nesting dolls of life. Inside of life makes more life.
Then God has an absolute explosion of creativity and made animals. Amoebas. Chickens. Crickets. Orangutans. And God blessed them by saying, “Be fruitful and multiply…”
Then God said, “Let us create humans in our own image and likeness.”
Wait … who exactly is God talking to? Was God talking to all the animals? Was God talking to Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Was God talking to God’s self in the first-person plural? Hard to say.
God the community, God the family, God the friend group, God the opposite of isolation, said, “Let’s do this together. Let’s create humanity in our image and likeness. Let there be us and them in one being. (29-30)
I really like this picture of God making room for us, scooting over with love to make room for us in the universe. Why did God create us or anything? It will always bit something of a mystery to us, but I think that a Creator probably has to create, and if God is Love, then God has to have a direction for that love to go, and we, each of us, are blessed recipients of that creative power and loving grace. And even better, God invites us to be part of the very work of God. We’re called to participate in creation by caring for all that God has given us - animals, plants, and land - and we’re called to participate in God’s love by loving each other - God gives us into the care of each other too.
So, this week, I want you to think about how you sometimes feel closer to God out in nature, but I want you to go beyond that. I want you to think about how you can tear down some of the walls that we build up between us and God, and revel in the gift of God’s creation. We’re caretakers of the earth. How will you go out of your way to embrace that responsibility this week? How will you actively treasure the gift of the earth and all that’s in it? God looks at us and calls us good, and we’re meant to see each other with God’s eyes. It is God’s breath that gives life to you and the person next to you and the people that drive you a little crazy. How will you cultivate relationships this week, even challenging relationships, in celebration of the fact that God has created us and called us good? You are made in God’s image. Woven into the fabric of your being is the pattern of the divine. When you look in the mirror this week, when you talk to yourself about what you see there, when you think about how you feel about yourself and who you are, how will you remember that you are created in God’s image? How will you help other people who aren’t seeing themselves so clearly remember that they are reflections of the Creator?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that was in it. And God created you, and you, and you, and me. And God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. Amen.