Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon for September 10

The reading

Genesis 1:1--2:4a

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6 And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." 7 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. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9 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. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 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. 12 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. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 14 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, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights -- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night -- and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 20 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." 21 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. 22 God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 24 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. 25 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. 26 Then God said, "Let us make humankind 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." 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 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." 29 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. 30 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. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 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. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

The message

A few weeks ago, on one of those very hot days, Jen and I went out to long beach.  We go there 2 or 3 times a Summer.  This time, we saw and heard something strange.  As we settled in our spot, we heard loud crashes.  Looking over I noticed a giant piece of heavy machinery with a claw on it.  A few beaches over they were creating a new jetty (those lines of rock that reach out into the ocean to protect beaches from waves and erosion).  I walked over and watched for a while as this machine and operator lifted large rocks and dropped them in the ocean.  It was loud and they had all sorts of barriers and guards around the site to protect people. (I know because I’d get yelled at whenever I tried to sneak past one of them to get a closer look). Even just moving that handful of stones was loud, dangerous and careful work. This small example of separating earth and water is a reminder that the world is bigger than we can understand.  

Over the past few days, we have watched flooding bring chaos to Houston, other parts of the US, and places around the world including Bangladesh, India and Nepal. We have watched an earthquake bring chaos to Mexico. We hear talk of storm surges and approaching Hurricanes with anxiety about the chaos they might bring. We hear reports of wind destroying parts of the Caribbean. Yesterday, I saw pictures of the damage in St Martin, what beautiful places I saw a few years ago look like now. We pray for the people of Florida as they deal with Hurricane Irma and we pray for all those affected by these events.  We can anticipate, track and follow these things but not much else. We have seen what wind and water can do and it is another reminder that the world is bigger than we can understand. 

Perhaps the biggest reminder we have about the scale of the world is the Sunday series we just finished on the book of Revelation. During August we spent 4 weeks with the Book of Revelation, which is, like Genesis 1, is a story of creation.  Revelation is packed with things we do not understand.  In John’s visions of great destructor ion, we come close to fully seeing chaos. From that comes the new creation, the holy city where God and Jesus sit in the middle of life.  The book of Revelation does not end with the chaos being held back.  In Revelation, the chaos is completely released and completely destroyed. We hear God’s declaration “let there be light” In Revelation, that sounds like “And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light”.  We are left wondering if the horrific visions in Revelation are a glimpse of the forces, the violence and natural chaos that are always around us but are often restrained.    

Here, there is great agreement with science.  At the center of the big bang theory, the most adhered to scientific belief about the origins of the universe, is the observation that the universe was formed by a singular event that started to shape chaos.  There is a particular order to the world that makes life possible. One of the strongest arguments there is today for the existence of God, of a creator and sustainer in the world, looks at the way the universe is finely tuned for life.  We are always on the edge of chaos. If something like gravity or the strong nuclear force was just slightly different, life could not exist. If any one of the elements that make up our world were slightly heavier or lighter, life could not exist. If temperatures at all different stages of evolution were a little bit colder or warmer, life could not exist. If any of the 1000s and 1000s of laws, ratios and percentages that are constant in our universe were a tiny bit different, life could not exist.  

Today, we hear the story of God taking chaos, the formless void of darkness and creating life. Genesis 1 is a story. It is not science. It is not history. It is not journalism. It is not God’s diary where the Lord dutifully recorded creation.  It is better than all of those things.  This story of creation teaches us about God.  It reveals to us things we need to be told, things we cannot reason or experience with our senses.  We hear the story of God forming life from chaos, of God moving everything, from grains of sand and raindrops to mountains and oceans, of God separating light and dark, land and water, of God creating life from the stuff that was made.  This story teaches us that God is in control, often in ways we cannot comprehend or directly notice.  (The second creation story starting in Genesis 2:4 reveals to us that God is always present in the world, that God communicates with us and cares for us).   

Genesis 1 also teaches us that everything and everyone has a place and a purpose.  Humans are in relationship with creation but placed in a position of great power and authority. People are blessed are told 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."  This is one of those times when I wish the bible (and modern translators) was more clear.  Those two words Subdue and dominion have led to something called Dominion Theology, basically God lets people do whatever you want to creation.  We have to look at the Hebrew words for subdue and dominion (I have talked about this before, but it’s not exactly the type of stuff that sticks in people’s minds). The Hebrew word Kabash means subdue or enslave but it is only used in military terms when referring to an enemy out to harm you.  It is only used means  the party being subdued is already hostile. To not subdue an attacking army would lead to death.  We must subdue creation in ways that lead to life and we must do it to the degree it restrains chaos.  The Hebrew word Radah means Dominion. It is also used in Psalm 72, a song written for the coronation of King Solomon.  Verse 8 declares: “May Solomon have dominion from sea to sea . . .” If you look at Pslam 72, verses 12-14 you see what that dominion, that radah, looks like: He delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.  When God uses the word dominion, it means a relationship as caretaker.   

Of course, since creation, people have done the opposite, using power to gain, to oppress, to take more than they need, to not care about future generations, people’s actions have brought the world to edge of destruction, to letting that chaos we fear so deeply in. Let’s try to do better.      

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