September 10 2017 Sermon
First Scripture Reading – Genesis 1:1-25
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God 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 dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
First Scripture Reading – Genesis 1:26-2:3
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
You know what happened on the 7 days of creation, right? Let me say it in a more simplified form than what we read in Genesis 1:
- On the first day, God created night…and day…and time…and maybe even space;
- On the second day, God created sky and atmosphere;
- On the third day, God created earth and oceans;
- On the fourth day, God created the sun, the moon and the stars;
- On the fifth day, God created the animals that fly through the skies and swim through the waters;
- On the sixth day, God created animals that live on the earth, including human beings, and God gave people dominion over the earth – over all plants and animals;
- And on the seventh day, God rested.
I don’t know how you read this creation story:
- Maybe you read it as a history of how the world and even the universe came into being, as a play-by-play of the events unfolding;
- Maybe you read it as a scientific text intended to teach us HOW everything came into being, complete with descriptions of WHERE everything fits in the cosmos;
- Maybe you read it as mythology. Keep in mind, there’s more than one definition of the word “myth” and therefore the word “mythology”. I’m not talking about the kind of mythology that is a fabrication, a presentation of something FALSE, but rather I’m talking about the kind of mythology that tries to convey TRUTH about the way things are through a story. (This kind of mythology, by the way, was very common in the ancient world; I would suggest it was the primary way truth was conveyed to ancient people who didn’t have the same conception of history and science as we do);
I’m sure there are even more ways you could read this creation story, but these are the three I hear people suggest most often. Before I tell you which of these three I subscribe to, let me share with you an image that you may or may not have seen before.
[See image accompanying this sermon.]
I don’t know if you realize it or not – and if you don’t, don’t get yourself down about it because the language of Genesis 1, even when translated into English, isn’t all that easy to follow – I don’t know if you realize it or not, but THIS image describes in the form of an image what Genesis 1 LITERALLY tells us the universe – not the earth but the whole UNIVERSE – looks like:
- There’s water surrounding everything…just waiting to gush in;
- But the water can’t gush in because God created a dome called sky…but there’s still water under, over and all around the sky;
- And at the bottom of the dome, there’s this dry land called Earth. Since it’s at the BOTTOM of the dome, based on the description, it’s got to be pretty much flat;
- There are lights in the sky – keep in mind they are STILL in the dome of the sky, surrounded by water – called stars and moon and sun. Somehow – there’s no attempt to explain the HOW – these lights in the sky are signs for seasons and days and years;
There are a few things in the image that aren’t described in Genesis 1 – Sheol, the place of the dead, comes to mind – but, for the most part, this is what most scholars agree you would get if you tried to sketch what Genesis 1 describes. I’ll leave it to you to discern if this description indicates Genesis 1 to be a useful scientific text. And, oh, by the way, if THIS is what God created on the first 4 days of creation according to Genesis 1 as an historical text, I’ll also leave it to you to decide on the QUALITY of that historical text.
By now, you’ve likely discerned that I read genesis 1 as a text that provides answers to questions way outside the realms of history and science. When I read Genesis 1, I read a text that’s all about HOW the world truly IS and WHY the world is this way; in other words, Genesis 1 is about what God WANTS for us and from us.
But how could a text DESCRIBING God’s acts of creation possibly answer such questions? It’s just a description.
Hmmm. Is it?
The text calls our attention to all kinds of issues pertaining to something other than a mere description:
- What does it mean that God created everything…as opposed to creation being a radnom act?
- What does it mean that God created everything in an orderly way…instead of a chaotic way?
- What does it mean that humankind has been given dominion over the rest of creation? And does that word that gets translated as “subdue” really mean what we think it means?
- What does it mean that people are created in God’s image? Does it mean God has a body? If so, since people have so many different colors of skin and hair and eyes…does that mean God has ALL these different colors? And since people have gender does that mean God has features of both male AND female? Or does being created in God’s image mean something different than physical appearance, physical image?
These are all great questions…all questions Genesis 1 tries to answer. But there’s at least one more question this creation story tries to answer, and it will be my focus for the rest of the sermon. The question is this: what is the role of people in creation?
What?! Role of people? Ludicrous! God is Creator. Everything else is the created and so has NO role in creation. It’s right there in Genesis 1.
Well, are you SURE about that?
Please indulge me while I test your memory of Genesis 1. WHO created the vegetation, the plants, the fruits and nuts? Do you recall?
It’s kind of a trick question…because the answer is not a “who” at all. From Genesis 1:11-12:
11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.
Isn’t that odd? God called on part of creation to do some creating. That’s not the way many of us tend to think about this story, but it’s RIGHT there, IN the story.
Fast forward to something God told the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and even the PEOPLE:
“Be fruitful and multiply…fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth….[let the people] fill the earth.”
Sounds like a little creative activity to me. God didn’t multiply all the animals…to make each unique one…God left that part of creating to the animals, themselves.
Fast forward again to the very end of the story. Having finished GOD’S work of creation, God rested.
Have you ever wondered: what did all the other creatures of God’s creation do on the seventh day. Did they rest, too? Did everything God had created just come to a screeching halt for one day?
The answer is obvious from the rest of the biblical story. After God called a people to be God special and set-apart people, and after God delivered God’s special and set-apart people from Egyptian bondage, God gave God’s people some rules to live by, rules to live by NOT because those rules were necessarily GOOD for them but rules to live by that would SHOW God’s people as set apart and DIFFERENT from everybody else. In other words, God told God’s people do do some things that pretty much nobody else was doing: and one of those rules was resting every seventh day…just as God had rested on the seventh day of creation. And, folks, this TELLS us something; it tells us that from the time of creation until the time of the Exodus, people HAD NOT been resting on the seventh day.
Indeed, the creation story in Genesis tells us that God created living things in such a way that they could also create: “be fruitful and multiply.” And the creation story in Genesis 1 tells us that God rested on the seventh day…but it tells us nothing of what the creatures did on the seventh day; we are left to assume they continued doing what they had been doing, continued creating. And, folks, this implication reveals quite a bit about our relationship with God. While the rest of the biblical witness does not suggest God spent the remainder of eternity resting, having nothing left to do with creation, the rest of the biblical witness confirms what God started at the very beginning: God EXPECTS people to be co-creators in EVERYTHING that happened after the 6th day of creation:
- God let people like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job and others argue and wrestle with God, full participants in shaping, in creating the future of things;
- In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve a CHOICE on how to act, how to create, how to participate in what God desired;
- In the covenant with God’s people made through Moses, God offered another choice, and once again gave people the OPTION of how to proceed and especially how to influence the forward movement of humanity;
- In the covenant with ALL people through Jesus, God offered a kingdom to be built by the choices and actions of people;
I know, there are Christians in this world who proclaim a God who is the sole creator of all that happens on earth, but… I read the scriptures differently. From the very beginning, God gave US, PEOPLE, the opportunity to at the very least PARTICIPATE in shaping, in creating, the FUTURE…so that now we have automobiles and airplanes and cell phones and social media and all manner of other things I seriously doubt God would have created. BUT…that’s the point. We get to choose. We get to be creative.
Which, if you think about it, gives a little more importance to the decisions of our lives:
- What should you do first thing when you get up in the morning?
- What should you have for breakfast today?
- How many people should you interact with today, and with which people should you interact?
- Should you complain or encourage, put people down or build them up?
- Should you decide God is done with you, that there’s nothing more left that you can accomplish given your current physical or and mental state, or should you be open to God desiring and encouraging something new and creative, even from you?
- Should you go to worship on Sunday mornings or go do something else?
- Should you tell other people about God’s kingdom and about Jesus?
- Should you turn the lights or water off to conserve resources or expend the earth’s resources like there’s a limitless supply?
Y’all, the answers to these questions, the direction of the choices you make – every SINGLE choice – they will determine the future of humanity, of this world, of creation? Because God doesn’t ALWAYS work but sometimes, lots of the time, chooses to rest, and God has given us, YOU, the power to participate in creation. What will your participation be?