Listen to the sermon from Sunday, February 19, 2017 titled “Continuing Creation” by Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune.
Who made you? And everybody else? And why? Who made the world? And everything in it? And why? Pay close attention. The answers follow in a minute. There will be a test.
Even though they weren’t the first stories written, the creation stories were naturally placed first in the Bible. I say “stories” because, as we all know, the Bible is not a single coherent chronological account of human history, but a collection of stories, poems, songs, legal codes, liturgies and letters from across two millennia of Ancient Near Eastern history.
The creation narratives were part of a collection of Israel’s sacred stories first gathered around the time of their exile to Babylon in the fifth century before the Christian era. I say “creation stories” because Genesis begins not with one but two creation accounts placed side by side.
In the second creation story, Genesis two and three, we’re told how an immanent and intimate God creates הָֽאָדָ֗ם (haAdam – “the human”) from הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה (haAdamah –“the ground”) and breathes into its nostrils חַיִּ֑ים נִשְׁמַ֣ת (nishmath chaim – “the life breath”). Then God sees הָֽאָדָ֗ם needs a partner and makes all the other creatures which הָֽאָדָ֗ם names, but rejects as a partner. Interesting! God lets הָֽאָדָ֗ם choose a preferred partner!
Finally God puts הָֽאָדָ֗ם to sleep, takes a rib and forms אִשָּׁ֔ה (isha -“woman”) and they live happily ever briefly until they break covenant with God and come into conflict with each other which turns blessing to curse as chaos disorders God’s creation.
These stories are not modern scientific accounts but theological and moral tales explaining our relationship with the Creator and creation. The second creation story, from Genesis 2 and 3, tells us what we already know: the world is a mess we inherited from our parents.
Our text today, the first creation story in Genesis one, is highly structured, formulaic… like poetry… like liturgy! Two words echo throughout: good and blessed. A transcendent God apart from creation speaks everything into being. It is a salvation story as God brings order out of chaos.
On day one God separates light from darkness so we will know the difference.
On day two God separates the waters above from the waters below.
On day three God separates the waters below from the dry land. Earth and sea take their place.
On day three God creates all vegetation, vegetables and fruit, shade trees and useless weeds with tufts of grass here and there like my lawn.
On day four God makes the sun and moon and stars and sets each in its place in the vastness of space.
Day five brings the creatures of the sea. Also the birds of the air.
Day six produces the creatures of the land, some wild and some domesticated, including humankind – which, we know, is a little of both.
On day seven everything and everybody rests, even God, because creation and birth and every new beginning is hard work.
Now this is where I have to stop and celebrate the central point of both Genesis creation stories and answer the questions with which we began. Remember this because there will be a test at the end.
Who made the world and everything in it? (God!) Why? (To take care of you and everybody else!) Who made you and everybody else? (God!) Why? (To take care of the world and everything in it!).
Let’s cover that again so you get it right: Who made the world and everything in it? (God!) Why? (To take care of you and everybody else!) Who made you and everybody else? (God!) Why? (To take care of the world and everything in it!).
It’s important to know your place!
When you think about God, consider the magnitude of the creation. As the psalmist reflects:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
Consider also the microcosm of the universe, a world as vast as the earth and sky you need a microscope to see. God created the vast and the minute and placed us in the middle of it.
Generations who have read Genesis have asked the same question. Why? What is our place in God’s good creation? Genesis 1:28 says, “God created humankind in (God’s) image, in the image of God (God) created them; male and female (God) created them.”
“Humankind” that’s you and me. The word אָדָ֛ם is used in The second creation story in a specific sense (“this guy”), and in a personal sense ( the name “Adam”). But here in Genesis 1, it can only have the generic meaning of “humankind” since God makes אָדָ֛ם both male and female in God’s image and likeness.
What does it mean to be made in God’s image? At the time Genesis was written, the Mesopotamian empires were conquering the smaller nations around them like Israel and Judah. Their rulers were fond of placing images of themselves in those conquered nations as a symbol of their rule – just in case anybody was tempted to rebel. The word used for such images in the Mesopotamian language is closely related to the word used in the Bible for God’s image in us.
Think of it this way: God put us here to represent the Divine rule over this far outpost of creation where we dwell. We are not God. But we are Godlike. We represent God in these parts. God gives us, אָדָ֛ם, male and female, “dominion,” which does not mean exploitation and destruction, but stewardship and oversight.
We are symbols of Divine dominion. We are God’s agents of responsibility. In other words, God put us in charge of caring for creation for God’s sake!
How would you say that is going? I pour over the biblical creation references, not only in Genesis, but in the Psalms and Jeremiah and Job and the Gospel of John and Romans and even the Revelation. I find no texts to suggest God gave us creation to exploit for personal gain, to waste for selfish purposes, or to destroy without regard for coming generations. They do say God gave us creation to sustain us, but with the responsibility that we are to sustain it and each other.
Being made in the image of God also suggests we share the creative power of God. Consider the innovation and invention of human history. Telling creation as a working week of six days with a day off to rest, suggests the work continues on the eighth day. God isn’t finished yet and has set us in our place as agents of the continuing creation. This is your innate, inborn calling: to use your creative powers to continue God’s creation as good and blessed.
The Bible suggests as much with God’s commands to extend Divine rule in justice and peace, welcoming the stranger, establishing justice for all people, loving our neighbors, caring for the least of these.
The New Testament calls us to partner with the risen Christ in the new creation, repairing the destruction caused by the chaos of our inhumanity to each other, re-ordering the disorder introduced into God’s good creation by human selfishness and greed. The image of God means we have the capacity to build or to destroy – creation, each other, ourselves. Creation and creativity – the gift and the image of God in us means we have that Godlike choice.
So use your creativity to create yourself anew as God’s agent for blessing. Colossians 1:15 says “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” And in his reflection on the redemption of a “groaning creation” we read today, Paul goes on to say:
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to (God’s) purpose. For those whom (God) foreknew (God) also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family” (Romans 8:28-29).
The word for “image” Paul uses here is εἰκόνος (“icon”), the same word Paul’s Greek translation of Genesis 1 uses for the image of God.
Okay. Were you paying attention?
Who made the world and everything in it? (God!). Why? (To take care of you and everybody else.) Who made you and everybody else? (God!) Why? (To take care of the world and everything in it.)
Made in the image of God. Conformed to the icon of Christ. Possessing a Godlike power to create goodness and blessing out of chaos and disorder. The story of creation – of your creation – is both a gift and a calling. That is the real test. What will you do with the image of God in you? May we pray?
Thank you God for creating such a wondrous and beautiful world to sustain us; help us to take better care of it so generations to come might enjoy its sustaining care. And thank you for imprinting your image and likeness upon us that we might continue the work you began. Like you may we create something good that blesses all people. Like you, may we build a world that includes everyone in the joy of life. Like Christ, may we extend your love into all creation. Help us to create a church that cares for everything and everyone in Jesus’ name. Amen.