“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 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.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. 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 vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
I have never preached on this passage before. In saying that, I don’t mean to imply in any way that I’ve preached on most of the passages from the Scriptures or that I am anything much more than a novice when it comes to exegesis, but it does strike me that the passage that begins our very canon is one that I have never spoken on.
I think I’ve been guilty of taking this passage for granted—the result of many a Sunday School class and a season in Old Testament 101, thinking that I know its message as well as I know my own reflection in the mirror. Safe in the assurance of what it means to me, an unintentional reluctance to ponder it beyond those Sunday School days.
Yet, here we are at the beginning of a new season of weekday school and of Sunday School, and so it is fitting that we should go “back to the beginning” again in worship too.
How old were you when you first heard this story? When you first heard the story of God creating the world—how old do you think you were? I realize that not all of us were raised in the church, and so it is very possible that you were a teenager or an adult when you learned the Bible’s account of the beginning of the world, but I would venture to guess that, even if you are not from a Christian family, you probably heard some version of the “God created the world” story somewhere along the line.
Knowing this story is different from knowing the intricacies of Abrahamic succession or the rise and fall of kings or the Babylonian exile or any of the myriad stories we come to learn as we grow. This one is basic to our whole concept of space and time and faith.
This story is a Sunday school staple—a story for which I imagine the good old Sunday School felt board was probably created. I can see it in my mind’s eye as I remember learning the story of how the world came to be—the inky black of the felt “waters” coming to life as the yellow sun and the blue sky and the brown earth were added one by one. Followed by bushy green trees and lots of little felt animals before fuzzy white stars peppered the sky. Many of us learned this story so long ago that we cannot necessarily remember when….the story that shaped our childhood faith and spoke to us, long, long before we ever had to consider how our faith worked in with the lessons of our school biology class, or what we learned about the ancient mythology of the time. The ancient Israelites had no idea of what our felt-board imagination might bring.
As you reflect this morning in worship, I encourage you to think—not only about how it came to be that you first learned this story specifically, but about all “beginnings”.
What is the first thing you want to know when you meet someone new? Perhaps it is someone you work with or a new neighbor in your community or your child’s teacher in school? What draws you to that person initially? What mannerisms do you want them to display and what words do you want to hear to know if you will connect with them or not? Sure—maybe at some point in the conversation, you want to know what experience your new colleague brings to the job; or what interests your new neighbor has, to see what you might have in common; or what the curriculum plan is for teaching your child in the year ahead—all those things are important. But what is the FIRST thing you want to know—that you want to feel? It’s not what their experience is, or how smart they are, or where they went to school, or any of the rest of it….it’s how much they care. Care for you, but also care with you. People who care about others and about the world in which we live in. You are drawn to the people who are drawn to you, who ask you about your life and your interests and who you are. You want to know if that person cares about you and about how they are going to show that care for you (or for your child or your relative) and live into that mutual symbiosis of caring connection.
Though you may not have thought of it quite this way, as you’re thinking back on your past and on your earliest Bible stories, this same basic truth is the truth of the Creation story too—there is deep, deep comfort in knowing how much God cares for the Creation that He made and called GOOD.
Again and again we hear that here—“And God saw that it was good…..And God saw that it was good….And God saw that it was good.” When we remember this through the innocent lens of our childlike wonder, this was a tremendous comfort, knowing that God made us and named us and cared for us in all ways. That the world He made for us was good.
But then we got older and, hopefully, wiser…and we see over and over again all the ways in which the world is not so good. As I write this meditation for this morning, Hurricane Dorian is churning away after having caused terrible destruction and death in the Bahamas, and it is just one of the many that will occur in this season. Hundreds of other natural disasters will strike far and wide, bringing chaos and death and devastation. If we watch the natural order of things closely, we find that much of the natural world is prepossessed with dying. We see famine and drought; predator and prey; flood and disease, and we wonder, “How can it be that God could call this…GOOD?!”
We have this lens of our mature reality—like a miniature pinhole kaleidoscope through which we try desperately to view the felt-board freedom of our youthful imaginings—and we struggle to see Creation as God meant it to be. Through the struggle and loss and destruction, it can be hard to see God’s reflection.
But it is there—around us and within us. Creation reveals a creative and loving and wondrous God. A God of wisdom and power, of generosity and grace. Reading the Creation story, we hear how God formed the habitats and environments of every thing, and then filled them abundantly with good and beautiful gifts of animals and trees and plants and people…every thing created and ordered and alive with purpose. When we read these words again and sit and reflect on what it really means that we were created to love and serve God, we cannot help but see His creation as good. Even when we cannot always understand the chaos, we know the Creator. We know we are called to emulate that spirit of generosity and grace.
There comes a day for all of us, when that felt-board faith is shaken. When disaster strikes and we find our faith rattled. We catch ourselves, in our jadedness, wondering how we can look out on a wounded world and call it “good”. We long for the day when we were so sure of that truth, the indulgence of our child-like wonderings. We look back and remember what a comfort it was to know the very heavens and earth were created by a God who can do anything and everything and yet decided to create a space for us to love and be loved. Science could explain a world that is functional and orderly—but it could not be as miraculous and amazing and beautiful as it is were it not for a creative Creator.
But this is not a one-way story, in which God creates and envisions and provides and cares and loves and we just wait and let the blessings be bestowed upon us. We have received a gift of incomparable price, and that must motivate us to take action to share that same creativity, vision, provision, care, and love in how we take care of everything in God’s creation.
What do you remember about learning the Creation story? Did you learn it in that unique pureness of time when openness to the awe-filled message of God’s love and care were all that occupied your mind and heart? How has that grown and changed since you were a child? What feeling did it give you then? What feeling does it give you now? What do you want the children of our church—and all children learning this story for the first time—to ultimately take from it? In what ways does hearing the story again inspire you to action?
Allow the movement of the Holy Spirit within you to take you back to that child. To take you back to your felt-board faith. To take you back to the time when you could hear this story and just accept it, in all its awesome hope. A message of both complex simplicity and simple complexity, but bursting with love and care. We change—but the story doesn’t. Go back to the beginning…make a purposeful effort, not just to enjoy and appreciate the multitude of great gifts of creation that surround you, but to ask God again how God can use you purposefully to help Creation flourish where it is withering. We are not just idle recipients of all that God has created….we are called to construct and preserve, to establish and assist. We are God’s hands and feet in the world, called to live out our blessing as we care for the gifts of earth and of God’s people. It was with a creative and amazing love that God created the heavens and the earth. We are caretakers of the Promise. Filled with child-like hope still blooming in our hearts even when faced with the chaos and calamity of the world around us. Sent out, not to question or condemn, but to build, repair, restore, appreciate, love, and care for that which God called GOOD. May we remember the Beginning, again and again. Amen.