June 22, 2014 – In the beginning

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Colossians 1:15-17

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Genesis 1:1-2:4(a)

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 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 called 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 called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called 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 human beings 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 human beings 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 completed in all their vast array. 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. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation

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Pentecost 2   June 22, 2014   John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:15-17, Genesis 1:1-2:3

In the beginning

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In the beginning God makes the heavens and the earth and all things seen and unseen… and God sees that it is good… And very good…

In the beginning, God makes human beings in the image of God, male and female, and God blesses us to be fruitful and rule over the other species…In the beginning, this means eating only green plants and fruits, no fish nor meat, till after the flood … And that state of peaceful cohabitation with all nature lasts about five minutes… Or so it sometimes seems…

Probably many of us have read The Book. We remember the part about that first human couple not following simple directions that comes next… Something I relate to, being directionally-challenged from birth.

Just a little while ago, on the way to New England Annual Methodist Conference, I drove right past the turn I was supposed to take. When I realized this, I pulled over to check the map – and found I’d left it at home. All I had was a tiny little micro map of where we were going. And where we were at the moment wasn’t even on the map.

I might be contending for the record book for a male of the species – I actually stopped five times in about twenty five minutes to ask directions. And even though I was given good directions each time, still, no matter what route we took, it was difficult to get to where we were supposed to be – once that first wrong turn was taken. Which is often the way life is….

And I’m fully persuaded from experience – there really is such a thing as original sin – even though my own sins have not been very original…

And almost no matter how we interpret it, we know the reality of that Big Fall that happens soon, coming up in chapter three of Genesis…

Exactly how we should interpret the opening stories of the bible is still discussed, debated, and cloaked in mystery. The opening verses of the bible are notoriously translatable in many different ways.

The text can say (as we have heard it today) – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…(NIV)… Or – the same words in Hebrew can be translated as In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters… (NRSV)… Or – At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth…when the world was wild and waste… darkness over the face of Ocean, rushing spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters…(as Jewish scholar Everett Fox hears it in his The Five Books of Moses translation.) God seems to have deliberately chosen to speak the beginning of Genesis in words unusually open-ended in their range of possible meanings..

Interpretation of the bible of course always depends on where we hear the accents falling, and the emphasis added (or suppressed). Some, hearing the word always accentuating the positive, have read Genesis as if that first fall was just a stumble, and we’re just fine now, thanks. Life is good… as in the beginning.

Others hear the emphasis very differently – hear the story as if it practically starts with chapter three and forbidden fruit – and it’s downhill all the way from there to Jesus dying for our sins…

Some of us hear it both ways at once.

How should we read the bible? The bible tells us all scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness. Scripture doesn’t say it’s all literal or all parable – the bible actually seems to leave that up to us. And the bible never says every word of all the bible is equally important… (Nahum and Haggai are probably not as essential to God’s story as Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms… Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.)

How should we hear the words of the Bible’s beautiful opening chapters? Knowing that God’s world has for a long time been plagued by wars and toxic wastes and worse… What does it mean that we are made in the image of God? Even though we’re reminded in countless ways of our species’ fallen nature…

How should we hear the words of creation, in the beginning, here and now?

As God says let there be light – and there is light. And God sees the light is good, and God separates light and dark, and God calls the light day and the darkness he calls night.

What are we to make of the progression of days in this first week of creation, as God separates waters above and below, and separates the waters gathered below the skies from dry ground… And God speaks again, and the earth brings forth plants bearing seed, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it… And…

God speaks, and sun, moon, stars appear and give light, and rule over the day and night, and serve as signs and symbols of time in the midst of eternity.

And God speaks, and fish swarm in the seas and birds fill the skies above, and God blesses birds and fish and says be fruitful and multiply.

And God speaks, and animals come forth, great and small creatures, short and tall creatures…. And God speaks again and now there are humans beings, made in the image of God, male and female. And God blesses them and tells them have dominion over all the other creatures… (Though I often think the fish are hearing it differently, saying in fish talk – that’s not what God told us… )

And God sees, day by day, that it is all good and very good. And there is evening and there is morning, day by day, all through the week of creation. (Time, as Einstein noticed, is relative…And the Psalms tell us a thousand years in human time are as a single watch in the night for God… )

And God rests and God blesses the seventh day to be a day of blessing and rest. Thus the heavens and the earth in all their vast array are created.

And what does all this marvelous creation now mean for us?

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Well, most of us do still seem to have instinctive appreciation for the beauty of creation. We still come into life wired to appreciate nature and beauty. Maybe we still see some of what God sees in the beginning…every time we notice creation is good… and very good…

We may still have questions about how science tells the creation story one way and the bible tells it another. (That discussion’s been going on since at least the time of Galileo…)

Yet here we are, still reading chapters one and two of Genesis – the timeless two-fold telling of the creation story – a story our readings from John’s gospel and Colossians affirm and elaborate – proclaiming Jesus, in the beginning with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, making all things good and beautiful…

Indeed, the beauty and blessings of creation are still with us, in spite of our infamous eating of forbidden fruit that comes so very soon in the story. We know because we still see the beauty of creation in every sunrise, every sunset…every flower that blooms…every smile on the face of a child…

And probably all truth is God’s truth… Faith and science are different languages. But science and faith alike are driven by desire to understand the universe and our place in it… Science and religion both speak of things unseen… And both attempt to explain things that can’t be fully explained…

Even both science and religion together can’t ever fully explain everything… Probably this too is part of God’s design…from the beginning.

The language of Genesis is never intended to mimic the language of science.

The language of Genesis chapter one is the language of worship, the language of awe and wonder…As God designs the universe to be God’s own temple… The rhythms, tone, and content of God’s speech are all about communicating God’s grace and beauty… All about inclining our hearts to worship… (Much more than about explaining…)

The sequence of the days of the week of Genesis correlates closely with evolutionary theory – other than the detail of the length of days (which we’ve already noted is relative) and day four’s sun and moon and stars coming later in the week… God, of course, knows creation’s chronology better than anyone. God also knows the sun and moon were popular idols (small g gods) of the Ancient Near East… And to keep all things in perspective, the Creation story is told without ever even naming these lesser luminaries.

The story of creation is told for our instruction in things of the Spirit. Chronology is not of great concern here. Bible scholar Rashi noted 900 years ago, the bible doesn’t even mention water being created, but it’s there, day one. The point is that God made all that is, seen and unseen… And we who are made in God’s image should notice how very good it is… And be thankful.

And how God’s Story begins… has everything to do with how God’s Story eventually ends…As it begins…In the realm of eternal life…

God’s beauty… God’s grand sweep of creation…God’s careful loving attention to each day of our beginnings…should always be kept in view. We need to always notice God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, God, holy-three-in-One – already anticipating our beautiful completion – in the beginning… Making us in the image of God, from the beginning, designing us to live forever in God’s New Creation in Jesus Christ our Lord…

And if we can see God’s creation is still very good… And if we’re willing to be joined with Jesus in his New Creation… If we’re ready to trust God to bring all God has so wondrously begun to it’s scheduled yet-more-marvelous completion…

Maybe we can say together –

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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