One of the things that Deanne and I did this summer was catch up on some “must see T.V.” So we watched the first season of “Homeland” – a seriously gripping drama. And we have become addicts of Downton Abbey, watching the first three seasons in the span of a month. We are now calling our children: “Master Jack, Lady Margaret, Lady Sarah.” Besides a “verger” I now need a “valet!”
I hope you are all ready to engage in another story that will be unfolding right here every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. and then at 11:00. Yes, the story of Genesis. Just like in “Homeland” and “Downton Abbey” there will be twists and turns in the plots, wonderful and colorful characters: rogues and cheats, and charlatans. Just when you think it is all going good, the bottom drops out or someone dies. Just when you think it can get no worse, and you wonder, “How are they going to get out of that mess?,” something happens, a new character shows up and the story continues.
Please don’t read Genesis as a science book. It is a misreading of this grand story. Don’t read it as a critical historical tome that gives precise chronology and biography – you are missing the point. Please don’t think “real” Christians believe in a seven-day creation. Although apparently almost 50% of Americans do – which is very sad indeed.
The truth of Genesis is not in its factuality. This is a dramatic unfolding of a story for meaning, as all good stories are: Who is God? Who are You? What are we doing here? Why does it matter?” These are the questions. It has staying power – for over 3,000 years, people have returned to this story as the beginning of it all. It is a must read!
Tim Beal reminded us this morning at Adult Ed that Genesis is a compilation of stories, that were told, collected, edited over a very long time, by lots of “authors.” But, one thing I think is sublime is that according to one theory Genesis was probably compiled – in more or less its near final version – during a horrific time in the life of the Israel. They were in Babylon in captivity, in exile. The worst had happened, and just like you, just like me, when we’re in bad times we’re forced to re-evaluate: why is this happening, how did I get here, what does this say about me? You have to reclaim identity, and figure out what you believe, who you trust, whether there’s something to hope for. If there is a God, where the hell is he? If there is a God, does she care at all?
And there are lots of options about how to tell this story, what it means. You can get cynical, doubtful, angry – or you can be moved by a possibility that something else is stirring in the chaos, something else is brewing in the mix, the darkness is intense, you are in over your head – and yet, your imagination leads your heart and tells you not to trust what you see, but rather give your heart to hope.
In the Beginning, GOD… In the beginning GOD creates and it is good.
GOD seems to enjoy – out of nothing, something: light, and land, and sea, and creatures, the moon and stars.
Did you know that the priests and authors stuck in Babylon showed their Hebrew “chutzpah” and re-interpreted the ancient Babylon creation myth “Enuma Elish.” They said a resounding and faithful no to that story, and re-wrote it suggesting something new and shattering.
In the Babylonian creation myth of Marduk and Tiamat, Marduk defeats Tiamat. The creation of the world and the creation of people are an expression of violence and horror. It is a god-eat-god world and you and I are mere pawns. Creation is not good.
That Babylonian myth still has power; it describes quite a bit of reality, especially as we think about Egypt and Syria, and the violence that seems so close at hand. The Babylonian myth still inspires many.
But Genesis is a declaration of core values for the people of Israel in captivity. There is ONE GOD! God pursues his beloved into the darkness and to the ends of the earth, crying: “Remember I love you.” “Remember I created all of this for you.” “Remember I made you in my likeness and image.” “Remember Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Hagar, Ishmael, Lot!” “It ain’t over, ’till it’s over!”
It is not divine unfaithfulness to the covenant but human unwillingness to walk in the garden of delight with the creator. I have tried to be god, and it doesn’t work. I have turned my back on the abundance of God and I experience scarcity.
“In the beginning God…”
That was radical then and it is radical now and it calls to you and to me and to us, asking: What do you believe? That “Life sucks and then you die?” Or that in, with and under all the madness you see, no matter the headlines you read, no matter the isolation you are feeling – God is still creating. Death and dying, war and famine, horrors beyond imagining – God is calling for justice, and compassion and mercy, and sharing of the abundance, and promising, in time, redemption and return.
Genesis is declaring what Isaiah cried out and Jesus preached and Paul proclaimed – the whole creation is groaning to move back into sync. Consequences follow action, and yet God adjusts and commits and does not give up. Will you?
You are here today because at some depth of your being you believe this to be true; you yearn to be in relationship with God, you lean towards meaning, and know the truth of Genesis even if you are the most skeptical rationalist alive.
You feel captive right now? Read Genesis.
You don’t know where you are going? Follow Abraham.
You have done something so horrible and can’t find forgiveness? Read Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau.
You don’t know what to believe, or don’t feel anything? Well, you are in good company among the forebears of your faith story. And beneath your skepticism runs a proclamation: you are beloved and worthy and precious and God is still creating with you – no matter what your age, no matter what your station: “void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
As William Faulkner once wrote: “The past ain’t dead, hell, it ain’t even past!”
In the beginning of the year at Forest Hill, we believe God is still creating. And every Sunday we will declare our core values that God is good, and God creates, and God redeems, and God restores, and God liberates and no matter where we are, you are, I am: GOD is….
I find that a very comforting thought, an earth-shattering thought – a challenging and mind-blowing thought – a get-off-your-rear-end-and-act kind of invitation, as we proceed into whatever is before us; wilderness, the cross, or the promised land.
Today we begin at the beginning, with God creating, laying out this marvelous world as a host laying out a full table for guests. And we come to a table today with Jesus Christ offering you his body and blood, offering his life for the world.
God spoke, the WORD went forth, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
God, Emmanuel – God with us.
Don’t miss an episode of this story… this is “must see worship!”
In the beginning God….and it is all good!