Sunday, February 3, 2013

February 3, 2013, "The Creation Story: What Does It Mean?"

Genesis 1 and John 1 (selections from both)

In the beginning … when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth had no form, and there was only darkness …

And God went to work … creating … with the Spirit hovering over the waters … and by the power of God’s spoken word … things happened … light emerged … water and land … plants and trees, critters and creatures of all sorts and shapes … and, at the last, human beings … in God’s own image … male and female … bidden by God to care for God’s creation … and it’s all good, supremely good, and it ends at the beginning of the Genesis 2, with a Sabbath Day … a day of rest for God and for humanity … because creating is hard work; caring is hard work … rest is essential.

As the proverb puts it, All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Genesis 1 is powerful and beautiful … glorious and profound … gracious and kind.

Genesis 1 is poetry … it’s music and song, theology and reflection … and we’re pretty sure we know when it was written … sometime during the Exile in Babylon … 

A time when all was lost, and nothing made sense … 

It was all gone.

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept.

The glorious history of Israel was all gone.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel failed 150 years earlier under the domination of Assyria.

The Southern Kingdom, Judah, held on for dear life to make the best of it … but now Judah was defeated and taken captive by powerful Babylonian armies.

Prayers for deliverance failed … the walls of Jerusalem breached; the city of David destroyed … the best and brightest hauled off in chains to Babylon.

It was all gone now … the whole story was gone.

1500 years of kings and queens and marching armies and tales of conquest and victory, the ark of the LORD and the crossing of the Jordan … tumbling walls and enemies defeated … Saul, David and Solomon … palaces built, a glorious temple raised on Mt. Zion … all to the glory of God, or so it seemed, and now it’s dust … everything gone … the palace in ruins; the temple thrown town …. Jerusalem a pile of rubble … now what?

That’s the big question for the people in Babylon: “Now what?” … where do we go from here? … what do we tell our children? … what do we tell ourselves? … is there any hope for us? … do we yet have a future? … and what have we learned from all of this? … oh, if only we could start anew, things might be different? Could they be different?

A writer … a poet … a preacher … a theologian … began to muse … and began to write … 

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth ...

Here is something we can tell our children, the bigger story, the back story … there’s more to life than our own personal story … there’s a whole lot more to life than Israel and Judah, and our kings and queens and all of our marching armies and pomp and circumstance - those who live by the sword die by the sword … we’ve been there and done that … we have lived by the sword, and we have died by the sword but there’s more to the story …

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth ...

Genesis 1 is full of hope … God is creator still … 

Is life without form? … without purpose? … God gives form to the formless … and purpose to that which has no purpose. 

Is there only darkness? So dark we cannot see our hand in front of our face? … we cannot see tomorrow? … so dark, that all we can do is hide away and cry?

God creates light where there was once only darkness … the Spirit hovers over chaos and darkness … God speaks and life emerges … there is light.

There is yet hope for us!

Always hope … hope springs eternal, because God is full of hope, and we’re created in the image of God, and hope is powerful in all of us, God be praised!

What’s missing from Genesis 1?

There is no mention here of Israel or Judah … there are no national borders in Genesis 1, or lands to be conquered … neither enemy nor foe … neither kings nor queens, nor marching armies and gleaming steel … 

It is one world, a world without boundaries … God’s world … all of it created by the mighty Word of God … Let it be, says God, and it is … everything suffused with the light of God, full of creative energy … and supremely good!

The writer of Genesis 1 … the poet, the muse, the preacher, the teacher, a teller of tall tale tales in Babylon … we have to start all over again … from the beginning … we got it all wrong … we fell in love with ourselves … we thought we were better than others; others could never be equal to us, because we were God’s people, we were special … we believed in the power of the sword, and we gave ourselves over to violence …

We can start all over again … In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth … 

All of its creatures, great and small … and the strangest creature of all, you and me … created in God’s image … to care for God’s creation … to put our creative energies to work, shape the world, put our very own stamp upon it … help the world be fruitful and grow all the more glorious.

The poet, the writer, the muse, the preacher and the teacher … there is yet hope for us … our prophets were right: they told us to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks …

They told us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

They reminded us that no matter what, no matter where, God is our hope and our consolation … 

7      Though the fig tree does not blossom,
      and no fruit is on the vines;
      though the produce of the olive fails,
      and the fields yield no food;
      though the flock is cut off from the fold,
      and there is no herd in the stalls,
18      yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
      I will exult in the God of my salvation.
19      GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
      he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
      and makes me tread upon the heights. [Habakkuk 3]

500 years later, John puts pen to parchment and writes his gospel … In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word of God was incarnate … came to live with us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.

All things were created by him, through him … and though there be darkness in many places, the light shines bright and clear in that darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome the light.

And his name is Jesus … 

To believe in Jesus is to believe in life … to follow him is to spread life abroad where there is no life … to bring light where there is darkness … to bring peace where there is war … and welcome where there is rejection … 

To believe in Jesus is to refuse the boundaries and borders that require death and blood to defend … 

An aside here … something I read in the LA Times (January 13, 2013) this week ...regarding the immigration issues facing our nation, and most of the nations of the world … human beings are always on the move … check any of our genealogies, and we’ll find how much our families moved, all over the place, across borders, legally and illegally … to flee war, or poverty or starvation. Anyway, a 70-year old gentleman is interviewed, and he “wants gun towers along the border and guards with orders to shoot.” He says: "The point is some would have to lose their lives, but when they realized that they can't cross without being shot, they would stop."
I’m not surprised that someone should feel like this, but it’s the next piece that truly disturbs me - it says of him, “he sings in his church choir.”
And I have to ask, What the hell kind of church choir does he sing in, and what kind of church does he worship in, and what has he heard from the pulpit? … while he sings about Jesus, he talks about shooting people along our borders.
Could he stand before Jesus on the cross and say that?
To Jesus, dying at the hands of a powerful empire that killed all the time to defend its borders … could he say that Jesus?
I’m not surprised that some should think this way … but Christians can’t think this way … not with Genesis 1 and not with John 1.
The poet, the muse, the teacher, the preacher, calls us to transcend the boundaries that divide, the borders that kill … a world defined by God’s creation and God’s love. 

To believe in Jesus is to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth … to love what he loves and do what he loves.

To believe in Jesus is to see all humanity as the family of God, sisters and our brothers are we all … red and yellow, black and white … they are precious in his sight … Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Turn to the beginning, when all things seems lost and hopeless.

Turn to the beginning, when hatred and fear take root in our hearts.

Turn to the beginning, when death seems so strong.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth … in the beginning was the Word.

There is yet hope for us and for our world; turn to the beginning.

Amen and Amen!