Creation: God’s Five Act Play, Lent 1 2015
If you are visiting today or have not read our newsletter or other communications, you need to know that today is the first Sunday of Lent, and that during the season of Lent we will be exploring the Judaeo-Christian story of God and God’s people using the helpful organizing device, “God’s Five Act Play.” Over the coming weeks of Lent, and continuing into the Easter season, we will look at the main themes or acts of this story. The hope is that by doing so, we will be able to engage with this story more deeply, and be able to connect our story with this larger story. Every week a member of our faith community will write a short reflection on the “act” to be explored that week – thank you Erik for being brave and willing to write the first reflection – and every Sunday afternoon that same person will respond to the sermon with a question or two on St. Matthew’s blog. We will then invite the rest of you to respond to that question or questions via an email link to our blog.
When I was in my mid-20s I met someone who was a wonderful artist. He worked in many different mediums, and I was able to observe him as he created beautiful and whimsical drawings and paintings. Not being an artist myself, it was pretty magical watching the drawings develop, as well as seeing the time and thought that went into deciding what to picture, how a particular subject would be portrayed and where on the paper, and what materials to use. I have a beautiful black and white pencil drawing of a swan on my wall from this period in my life. One of the things I learned from my friend, was how artists paint. He showed me the continual dance that typically goes on between painting the canvas and then backing up to see what it looks like at a distance – seeing the bigger picture. An accurate and beautiful bigger picture requires attention to small details. And at a distance the small details add up, adding depth, color, and nuance to the canvas.
So as I think about creation today, and specifically the first account of God creating the world in Genesis, I think about God as an artist. I think about God as an artist with one eye on the big picture, and the other delighting in the endless small details of the universe, dragonfly wings, water that glimmers when the sun hits it, sunsets that color the whole sky orange and pink, snow that melts in your mouth, and dark chocolate.
In the first creation account we learn that God created the world out of nothing. In the beginning nothing else existed because God was the life force from which everything emanated. As we just heard a few moments ago, out of nothing God created light (thus creating day and night), earth, water, birds of the air, and fish of the sea. God called everything God created good – which is significant. On the seventh day God rested, establishing a day of rest as part of the natural order and rhythm of things. If God rested, so should we!
There are actually two creation accounts in Genesis, and biblical scholars think they were written by two different authors. The one we heard a moment ago is broader in its brushstrokes and deals with the very basic elements of life. The second is about a garden, a man named Adam, a woman named Eve, a tree of life, a tree containing knowledge of good and evil, an apple, and a much-maligned snake. We will get to that story next week when Dwight talks about the second act of our five act play, “fall.”
I remember the first time I attended a Bible study – we were studying Genesis – and I asked if the first creation story was literally true. Everyone in the room looked embarrassed and someone said something which sent me the message that it was not okay to ask questions to about the Bible especially, “is this literally true?” I’ve since learned that both creation accounts contain deep truths and aren’t meant to be taken literally. The creation narratives are not scientific accounts, but stories that address important theological questions: Who is God? What is God like? What is the nature of the universe? Who are we in relationship to God? How did we get in this mess in the first place? The creation accounts in Genesis were first told orally, and later written down, to try to answer these important questions. The first and more recent account was written down when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, wondering who they were and where thy came from while living in a foreign land with different customs and beliefs, and in the face of Babylonian myths of a violent origin to the universe. According to Walter Brueggemann, it was written to address feeling of hopelessness and despair. It’s so often when we are away from home, feeling like strangers in a different place and culture, that we begin to have clarity about who we are, and what’s important to us. The second, older account may be a critique of royal authority and a polemic against those who will not live in relationship with the creator, but desire autonomy (Bruggemann, Genesis, 14).
While some of you may wonder why theologians think something like God creating the world and all that is in it out of nothing is important, the most moving explanation I’ve ever heard came from our Sunday Evening Music Director Jeff Kidder. In a staff meeting Jeff said that this doctrine is important to him because numerous times in his life he did not know what was going to happen, and did not see much potential for a hopeful future. Knowing that God created something out of nothing has given him hope and faith that God would show up.
It’s also significant that God called everything God made good. God didn’t call things God made decent or okay, but good. Everything was called good, blessed with that adjective. When I first became a Christian in high school, I was surrounded by Christians with a dualistic view of the world. They understood God’s church and people as “good” and the world as “bad.” In their understanding the Christian faith and church is something that keeps people from being tainted by the evil world.
I was pretty ignorant about Christianity at that point. I didn’t know there was more than one type of Christian or more than one translation of the Bible.
Many other Christians including Episcopalians share a very different point of view. They argue that since God created the world it is by nature good. And yet they also acknowledge that there are people and things in the world that work contrary to God and God’s purposes. Episcopalians and others with a more positive view of the world must wrestle with the fact that the world created good and people in it experience an ongoing separation from God and one another. Things get distorted, people do bad things to one another and the earth, and people are estranged from one another and God. This is not what God intended, but what happened after the world was created – the topic we will explore next Sunday. At the same time Episcopalians and many other Christians would argue that since creation is by nature good, you can find God in it, and often, as we learn through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in the most unlikely people and places.
Episcopalians embrace not only an understanding of creation as good but, with the coming of Jesus – and I know I am getting ahead of myself here – the incarnation, or knowledge that God took on human flesh and lived in a material world surrounded by material things, and those things are not an illusion, but by nature good, and things that can form us spiritually. Embracing both creation and incarnation means that Episcopalians love a good meal, they love and can drink a glass of wine or two without guilt, and they love art – ever look around you on a Sunday? As long as we don’t worship the stuff instead of the God it points to, we’re probably okay.
Knowing, really knowing that God created the world, that creation is good, and that the earth and all the people in it are precious to God should have some sort of influence on how we treat the earth and the people around us. Knowing that the earth is not ours to use, but a gift we can enjoy and steward for those who come after us, should influence how we use natural resources, how our business makes decisions, and how we understand our relationship to the earth. Additionally, God’s people were created to be in relationship with others, and God’s world was designed to be interdependent.
We cannot be full human beings unless we are in relationship with God, others, and the creation. We are part of an interdependent web of life. When one person or part of the creation is separated from God, suffering, or inflicts suffering on others, all suffer. When one part of the creation flourishes, everyone flourishes. Some of the more recent insights in physics about the interconnectedness of the world have supported the theological insights first articulated by the Jewish people.
What is God’s vision for human and ecological flourishing? A view of creation and others as good, and an understanding that everything is interconnected. A realistic understanding of sin or separation from God, and its ability to damage people and the earth. And most of all, God at the very center. God in the form of the Holy Spirit moving over the water in the very beginning of creation, active, involved, moving through our lives and the creation, encouraging us, healing and reconciling what is broken and damaged, renewing lives and the face of the earth. This same God who brought light into the formless void at the beginning of creation, continued to bring life, light and hope into the world, most visibly in the person of Jesus: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”