Today we begin a year-long series based on the book We Make the Road by Walking, by Brian McLaren. If you haven’t already purchased a copy, I encourage you to get one so that you can use it for your own personal study and as a way to have great conversations with friends.
This morning, on this first Sunday of the Season of Creation, we begin in the beginning. So, I invite you to find something natural to look at. Maybe you want to lie down on your stomach and look at the grass. Maybe you want to gaze up into the tree, or look at a flower or pick up a leaf or a rock. If you’re at home, maybe you want to look out the window or at a house plant. Just find something you can visually focus on that’s not me. I’m going to tell you a story and I want you to imagine it, based on the words you actually hear me say. Are you ready? OK. Here’s our faith family’s first story.
When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day, and the darkness he named Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 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. God named the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
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. God named the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he named Seas. And God saw that it was good. 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. 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. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
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, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
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.” 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. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
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. 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.
Then God said, “Let us make humans 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.”
So God created humans in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
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.” 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. 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. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all their multitude. On the sixth day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
Could you see it? That beautiful story? Could you see it all unfolding, called forth by God into glorious, beautiful, diverse existence? Seas and stars and seeds and sea monsters, responding to the call of a being who creates for the sheer delight of seeing goodness come out of chaos. Good. Good. Very good. The best beginning.
The question everyone wants to ask about this story is “Did it happen?” You know what my answer is? Maybe; I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t really care, because I think that’s the wrong question. “Did it happen?” is a science question, which is fine. But the Bible isn’t a textbook; the Bible is a storybook. The Bible is not an MRI; the Bible is a painting. The Bible is not a newspaper story, the Bible is a poem. The Bible is not a speech, the Bible is a song. That’s an important difference.
The best thing I’ve ever heard about the difference comes from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who was the chief rabbi in the United Kingdom. He said, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. So the question for us is not, “Did it happen?” but instead “What does it mean?” What does this story mean? Here are a few things that stand out to me.
First is that our God brings order out of chaos. Unlike other ancient Afro-Asiatic creation stories, this one has no conflict, no violence. It has chaos, pre-existing chaos of deep empty water, over which the Spirit Wind of God broods like a mother bird. And with simply a word, God splits the darkness with something never seen before: light. God speaks goodness into existence. God brings order out of chaos and light out of darkness and it is good every single time.
Second is that this is a very good text for progressive Christians to read because it is about God and not about us. This story is not directly about justice or mercy or us doing anything. In this story we are simply a small part of a grand and glorious creation that we had nothing to do with! We are not the center of this story. We are not the main actors. We are not the most important beings. This story is not about us.
And finally, when we do arrive on the scene on this story, we have the potential for creation and for destruction. We are blessed to create more humans and we are given dominion, the power to subdue the earth. At the pinnacle of creation, God creates us in God’s image and with that comes the power to procreate ourselves and potentially to destroy the rest of creation. Think about it. We don’t have the creative power of God. We can plant seeds but we can’t make them grow. We can’t even make our own selves grow. I can’t make this tree grow, but I can chop it down. God created us with the ability to rule, and a big part of the whole rest of the story of the Bible is us figuring out what kind of rulers we will be.
This story is the beginning, where we start to put things together to see what they mean. And it’s appropriate that even at the very beginning, we look further down the road as we come to the Lord’s Table this morning. The reason this story matters to us is because we are followers of Jesus. This is the creation story that Jesus’ mother would have told him. His father would have taught him to recite Psalm 19 – “The heavens are telling the glory of God and the dome proclaims God’s handiwork. There is no speech, their voice is not heard; and yet their word goes out through all the earth. … The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure; making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right; rejoicing the heart. … Clear me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from proud thoughts; do not let them have dominion over me. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, or Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
The story of Jesus begins with this creation story. Jesus came to show us in human form a God who brings order out of chaos and light out of darkness. Jesus came to reorder our priorities and remind me that I am not the most important character in every story. Jesus came to show us our potential for generativity and he allowed his very body to be the demonstration of what happens when we let our proud thoughts have dominion over us. Jesus confronts us with the choice of what kind of rulers we are going to be and offers us the grace to follow his example. That’s what we remember when we celebrate Communion. And so we insist, as have our ancestors before us, that this is the joyful feast of the people of God, where people of all ages, races, and sexes — people in every type of body — come from the north, south, east, and west, and gather at this table with the Risen Christ, who is the host at all our tables.