In The Beginning - Week Two: "Creation Part 2"
This week I'm going to be continuing the sermon series that I started at the beginning of January--a sermon series entitled "In The Beginning." It's the beginning of a new year, with new possibilities, and this should give us a tremendous sense of hope.
But sometimes at the outset of a new year we find ourselves torn between our longing to be better people and the reality that most of our efforts fall short. In the end, we tell ourselves, we won't keep that new year's resolution. We'll mostly do what we always do, and things will mostly be what they've mostly been.
Still, there is a longing deep inside each of us that we can't shake--a longing for a world where the same old same old doesn't really exist. We long to be better people, for sure. We want to be thinner, smarter, more efficient, better-connected, more patient, grace-filled, full of energy, you name it. We want to be better husbands, wives, children, sons, daughters, church members, citizens... The list is long.
We want these things from a place deep within us that we are often afraid to access. And most of the time we don't know why we want them, and we seldom trust those longings because the same old same old tends to betray them.
But what if it could be different? What if we saw the new year not as a chance to make new resolutions, but as a chance for new creation?
Let me share with you a mystery--The Mystery of the Freakishly Amazing Transformed Chalkboard, to be exact.
Each week, two students at Columbus College of Art and Design have been causing an artistic riot of sorts. The anonymous students, who refer to themselves as Dangerdust, sneak their way into a classroom every week and create impressive artwork using only chalk. The two seniors, who both major in Advertising & Graphic Design, prove that they are truly passionate about their major with their magnificent masterpieces.
You can read the whole story and see the masterpieces here: http://www.wimp.com/studentsclassroom/
How amazing is that? Think about how long it took to make each of those works of art. And the joy that it must have brought the artists to do it each week, knowing how surprised and delighted that everyone who saw their work would be.
Not only are the works of art beautiful---so is the idea itself.
I have a question for you. Why do we know beauty when we see it? What is it about the things in life that are truly beautiful that makes us not only recognize them, but feel our souls tingle with energy in their presence?
Here's another question on top of that question. What is it about this extravagant use of creative energy that makes us feel so flipping good? Dangerdust created something in chalk. This inherently is a bad idea when you create art because chalk has a tendency to get erased. They didn't seem to care. When you realize that they didn't care--that they created their art despite what might happen to it later... dang, it makes your soul tingle doesn't it?
Which leads me to my last question, which sort of relates to that the last one. Why does this also make us just a little bit sad? Maybe it's just me, but when I see those incredible works of art in chalk, and I realize all that went into them and why---I feel a tinge of sadness in the midst of my soul tingling. Why? Is it because I realize how temporary things are? Do I struggle with my own mortality as I look at them?
Or maybe looking at these beautiful works of art, so lovingly and joyfully created--makes me realize that the world isn't as it should be. Because sometimes the only way to know something isn't right, is to be shown how it should be.
The world isn't as it should be... That's a bit of an understatement, isn't it?
Why isn't it, though? Is it really as simple as what most Christians say, "Because Adam and Eve sinned---everything is messed up for the rest of us." Is it really the fault of two people? Or if you subscribe to the not very thoughtful notion that the woman in the story caused the whole thing and the guy just sort of went along--is it really Eve's fault?
So why is it that we don't just resign ourselves to this notion and accept our fate? I guess that many of us do, but for the most part there are a lot of us humans being out here who hold out some measure of hope that maybe things won't always be so screwed up. Which leads us to also ask, "Why do we long for the world to be--as it should be?
I think that the answers to these questions--and a good deal more--can be found in the Creation story in the first few chapters of Genesis.
Today we're going to be taking a look at a few passages from Genesis chapter 2:
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[d] of it you shall surely die.”
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for[e] him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed[f] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam[g] there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
There are so many things that we can draw out of this text--it's full of awesome. But we're going to keep focused on a theme that I think is threaded throughout the story.
At the outset of the chapter we see that God has completed Creation with the cessation of work--in other words, the way we know that God's done is because God stops working and rests. Which brings in a very important idea that many Jewish scholars have debated over the years. In the Hebrew mindset, the true completion of the work of Creation didn't happen when God stopped working, it happened when God created the Sabbath.
The resting deity in ancient cultures was a sign that things were--at least for the moment--as they should be. But the Hebrew approach to the Creation story is completely different than their Mesopotamian neighbors. The God of the Hebrew people rests with complete intentionality not just because God did something, but because of what God wants God's people to do, namely rest.
And this isn't just about not working, or taking a day off--it's so much more. It's a lifestyle. It's a mindset with shalom the peace of God at the center of everything. When there is shalom, the world is as it should be. The Sabbath reminds us of this, and gives us a sign and symbol of the kind of world God intended.
God left Creation incomplete, not quite finished. This doesn't mean he left it in a bad state, far from it. We established this last week when we discussed the word "let" which was full of pregnant possibility. God's intentions have always been for God's people to join him in the continuing work of creation. And it was for this purpose that God created humans in his image and not other creatures. God created humans to be filled with worth and dignity because God created humans in God's image. This stands in sharp contrast to the ancient gods of Israel's neighbors.
Further, this God who left things incomplete so that humans would join him in the joyous act of creation. It says in the text that human beings worked in the garden, only this kind of work wasn't the sort of back-breaking, soul-stealing work that left you beat up and used up---this was "good" work, the kind of work that was fulfilling, that made a difference, that the humans in the story found to be filled with joy, satisfaction and dignity.
And, as if that wasn't enough, God created humans to be together. All kinds of things were good about creation, but God at some point in this story says that it's not good for man to be alone, and so God created a partner from the very substance that he created man. And the language here is the language of a wedding and of God presiding, officiating, if you will, at the wedding of the first human beings.
God created human beings not for his amusement, nor to serve him. The gods of the ancient world reveled in their power of humans, who were little more than pawns and more often than not merely servants, toiling and slaving away for the pleasure of the gods. According to the Creation account, God created humans for relationship--with one another and with God. Their role was not one of servitude, but of priesthood. The priestly role of human beings was to point to God, glorify God and then tend and maintain a space for worship--namely the world that God created as God's "sanctuary."
So we have a good creation... a good world... a good God... a good garden...
What could go wrong?
It's at this point in the story that we read the description of the two trees in the Garden of Eden: The Tree of Life and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. You get the sense when you read about these two trees that something is about to unfold--that there is some cosmic struggle about to take place... and you would be right, if you sense this.
There are other trees of life in other accounts from the same era as the Genesis story. The ancient Gilgamesh Epic describes a life giving plant on the bottom of a cosmic river. The story of Adapa, another ancient Mesopotamian epic describes a tree that gives eternal life when the fruit produced by the tree is eaten. Then there is the ancient Egyptian story of Amun-Re, who created a tree with eternal life-giving fruit---so the tree of life here in the Genesis account is almost certainly not alone.
But there's something very different about this tree, which we'll see shortly.
Let's take a look at the second tree... There doesn't seem to be any other contemporary stories that contain a tree like the one described as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. A better translation of the words describing this tree would be "The Tree that Gives The Capacity to Judge." Or as I would translate it, "The Tree That Makes You Lose Your Innocence." One bite of the fruit of this tree gave the person who ate it carnal knowledge--awareness of their bodies, their sexuality and how twisted all of that could become when innocence is log. It also made the person who ate from it aware of their mortality, the brevity of their life and also acutely aware of the pain that our brief lives can bring, and the drudgery of work that has no purpose.
Here's the thing.
That tree--the one that opened your eyes to how ugly things can get--was the only tree that God told humans not to eat from.
The other tree--the one that would give you eternal life with one bite--was not included in the initial prohibition. In other words, God basically told humans. Don't eat from the tree that will twist all of the goodness that I've created in you. You can eat from the other tree, though, the one that gives you life.
It's like God is saying, "Choose life or choose death. Choose beauty or choose ugliness. Choose fulfilling work or choose to toil in vain. Choose holy, intimate relationships or choose cheap and tawdry sex. The choice... is... yours..."
Here's the thing, the reason why you recognize beauty when you see it... The reason why you feel the joy of doing really good work that fulfills you and makes the world a better place... The reason why you admire creativity and long to create...
Is because you have a memory of the garden.
And the reason why you feel sadness at the loss of things, when the world changes, you grow older, your kids grow up and move on, your body betrays you... The reason you feel the pain of a world that isn't as it should be... The reason why you toil sometimes in life and feel no satisfaction from your work...
Is because you have a memory of the garden.
This story, isn't a story about how things happened---it's a story about how things are happening. Every single day of your life you have the choice that God gave humans from the beginning. Choose life or choose death. Choose intimacy or cheap sex. Choose fulfilling work or choose to toil in vain. It's your choice.
You have a choice on how you view the world.
You can view it with the innocence that comes from complete and total faith in a good God, who created a good world so that his very good creation, human beings, might thrive and live in loving relationship with God and one another.
Or you can view it with a lack of innocence, filled with bitterness and cynicism. You can decide that the way the world has become is more powerful than the way the world should be.
This past week heavily armed gunmen charged into the offices of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, executed 12 people and injured a dozen or more. They have been determined to be Muslim extremists who were angered over cartoons that the newspaper had printed of the prophet Mohammed, Muslim terrorists and extremists.
The worldwide reaction to this unspeakable tragedy were swift. But none were more effective than the army of cartoonists around the world who took up their pencils and began to draw. Hundreds of internationally known political cartoonists waged a counterattack against the violence the Muslim extremists had inflicted upon their own.
And they created beauty--which, as it turns out, is infinitely more powerful than ugliness:
You have a choice on how you view the world. The terrorists chose one way, and the artists chose another. The terrorists
You have a choice every single day on which tree you will choose to pick from and eat.
So this year will you choose to live a life full of wide-eyed wonder, hope and innocence or will you live a life full of cynicism, negativity and joylessness.
This year isn't just the chance to make a new resolution. It's a chance to be a new creation.