In The Beginning Week One - "Creation Pt. 1"
This week we are launching a brand new sermon series, entitled "In The Beginning." This four-part series will take us through the first three chapters of Genesis---the story of Creation.
I am going to say something extremely shocking. You will be blown away by this. Are you ready?
"Lots of Christians have different interpretations and opinions about these first three chapters of the Bible."
Shocking right? I know. I'm being sarcastic, of course. We all know that Genesis chapters 1-3 has become a battleground of sorts when it comes to the debate between Science and Faith in Christian culture.
And here's something else that's important for us to point out. Some people read these first few chapters of Genesis and then give up on really wanting to know more about the rest of the Bible because they struggle to understand it.
Before we dive into the story of Creation together, however, I want to share some things with you.
To begin with, I have to tell you that I love the show "Fixer Upper." Chip and Joanna Gaines are just awesome. This husband and wife duo take messed up houses and turn them around through creativity and ingenuity, and not a little humor along the way.
Why are these shows so popular?
What it is about seeing something made new that appeals to us so much?
Why do we love seeing people transform the ordinary into the extraordinary?
There is an artist named October Jones, who had to commute on a train every day to and from work. It was boring. No one really speaks to anyone on the trains in big cities. You keep your head down, listen to your head phones, read your paper or go to sleep. Not October. He creates cartoon heads and puts them on real people.
How? Check out this story:
Here's a deep and abiding: "Where do our creative impulses come from?
Where did October Jones get the idea to turn a boring, mindless, soul-sucking exercise into something creative and vibrant?
Why do we watch shows where people take old, nasty houses demolish them inside and out, and then turn them into homes where most of us could imagine our selves living?
Why is it that every time we hear that Sarah McLachlan song with the sad faces of animals, we want to go find a rescue dog somewhere and rescue it?
Could it be that our desire to re-form what is formless, void, broken, messed up and chaotic comes from somewhere deep within us? And why should Christians even care about this?
Some Christians think we shouldn't.
Not too long before he passed away, the great conservative evangelical icon Jerry Falwell responded to the movement within the Church to respond to environmental issues as one of the great distractions placed in the Church by the Devil to keep Christians from being focused on winning souls for Jesus.
Is this right? I mean, does it feel right to you?
Or is there something going on in Christian culture---something at a deeper level? I think there is. I think we are finally waking up and realizing something powerful. In fact, this is the one thing I want us to remember today above all else...
God is still creating, and still calling Creation good.
I think the best place to begin as we explore this idea---is in the beginning. Genesis chapter 1, to be more precise. I am not going to reprint the entire chapter, just a few of the verses...
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
To begin with, according to the text, things were "formless" and "empty." The Hebrew words here also connote "waste," "useless," and "confused." Then God creates. The Hebrew word in Genesis 1:1 for create is bara which is used uniquely to describe the kind of creativity that is reserved for the divine. In other words, only God could pull of something like this.
What we need to know, first and foremost, is that the overriding theme of Genesis, the concern of the book is a moral one--the relationship between God and humankind, particularly those who would be called children of God.
When the scripture tells us that "God said," that's not just a cosmological statement--it's a theological one. The ancients were concerned to note that God created the world with his words. He announced his divine intentions by speaking, shattering the cosmic silence and beginning what would eventually create order out of chaos.
Because God "said," it personalizes it. This was not an accident. It may have been a "big bang," but it was the big bang sound of God's voice expressing God's intent desire to create. This was not the act of an indifferent being, but one who was intimately involved in creation.
In the ancient world, something was thought to exist when it had a role to play in the world, when it had purpose. The way to identify that role was to name whatever it was that was being spoken into existence. And the only way to name something was to use words. For the ancients, the fact that God spoke, imbedded meaning in everything.
The text also describes God as saying "let" quite often. "Let us create..." "Let there be..." and so on. The use of the word let here implies that the act of creation is not completed. God is leaving room for creaturely response as God creates. God is imbedding all of creation with the potential to continue the act of creation.
Additionally, God calls his creation good, which implies that reality itself is imbued with God's goodness and the potential inherent in this fact. Simply put, God planted God's DNA in all of creation--including you, and me.
There's something else going on in this short but powerful passage. The name used for God in this text is Elohim, which is actually a plural noun. In other ancient cultures the use of this term for a deity implied that there was a boundless creative potential in the deity--the ability, desire and skill to create in unimaginable ways. The ancient Israelites incorporated this term to describe the unnameable God above all gods--the God whose creative impulses knew no bounds.
And then if that wasn't enough--rabbis who have studied this passage over the years have written about the importance of the first word used in the passage--b'reishit. This word is the first of seven words in the first verse, and it actually doesn't begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it begins with the second--the word bet. The letter bet is closed on three sides and open on one--with the open side pointing forward, if you will. The rabbis said this indicates an open ended story--that looks forward and not backward.
So what does all of this mean--to you and to me?
It means that the Creator of all things is the kind of Creator who cares deeply about Creation--so deeply that this Creator imbedded himself into every aspect of it. And this Creator was so full of creative potential, with the boundless energy and imagination to create that this Creator created all things with the potential to create and re-create and he gave his greatest creation, human beings, the ability, the desire, to inherent gift to create with him.
And this God is still creating, and still calling Creation good.
I want you to listen to these words by the great African-American preacher, James Weldon Johnson--a sermon he preached entitled "Creation." Here these words now with all that you just learned---and let them fall in you.
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely -
I'll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That's good!
Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That's good!
Then God himself stepped down -
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas -
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed -
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled -
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
The God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That's good!
Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I'm lonely still.
Then God sat down -
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I'll make me a man!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
The reason why you enjoy watching television shows about old houses being made new... The reason why you desire to be a better person every time you ring in a new year... The reason why you want the world to be a better place... The reason why you start to tear up every time you see that commercial about abused animals with the Sarah Machlaclan song playing in the background...
The reason why you want to see all the ugly, hard, horrible things in this world made new...
Is because you were created to want it. This is who you are. This is what you were meant to do.
God is still creating and still calling Creation good.
Now go out there and join God in what God is doing. Demonstrate the kingdom of God by being the co-creator you were meant to be. It's who you are. Because you were created in the image of God.
And next week---we're going to learn even more about what it means to be created in God's image... so come on back.