Monday, June 15, 2015

June 14 Sermon: Maker of Heaven and Earth

(To hear a version of this sermon as preached, click here.)

Genesis 1

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 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.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God 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 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.” So God created humankind 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 God had made, and indeed, it was very good. 
It has been a really great week here at North Decatur United Methodist Church as we have celebrated Vacation Bible School through our theme of Camp Discovery. And I think it is fortuitous that we are talking about God as creator after a week in which we’ve celebrated the great outdoors, at least to the extent that an in-town church can do that in an area where the streetlights are so bright as to make it difficult to even locate Polaris, the North Star. Maybe the funniest thing I saw all week was Josh Brownlee, who has been a trooper as he helped lead this week, march the kids around the sanctuary on what he described, quite liberally, I’d argue, as a “hike in the woods.” Some of our kids are so used to city living that when they got back around to the front of the sanctuary I am pretty sure they thought they’d actually been camping.
Well, we are in our second week of our summer-long worship series titled “Constructing Our Faith,” in which we’re going through the Apostle’s Creed, block by block, as we discuss and meditate upon this historic affirmation of faith. Last week, we started at the beginning, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, which one would think would be self-explanatory, and yet the pastor somehow was able to wax poetic for twenty-two minutes. And so this Sunday we’re on to the second part, the idea that God is maker, is creator of Heaven and earth.
And for our scripture lesson this morning, I have chosen the Genesis 1 text, the very first chapter in the Bible, so familiar that you’ve probably heard it before, and yet, because it is so familiar, we often rush through it. I suspect this is actually the most-read passage in the Bible, because it is at the beginning, and so every January 1, for those who have made a New Year’s Resolution to read the Bible all the way through in a year, this passage is read by what seems like half the church, and this goes well until you reach Genesis 5 and it’s a genealogy that is so long as to make you go cross-eyed, and so most people give it up until next year.
It’s a shame, through, because the creation story in Genesis 1 isn’t a stand-alone thing. It is connected to all of scripture, connected to all of life, as it is a story that tells us a number of things about who God is, and, for that matter, who we are. But the saddest thing to me isn’t that people don’t always pay attention to this story. The saddest thing to me is that they sometimes pay it the wrong kind of attention, turning it into something that it is not, a science textbook, or a history book, and that’s not it at all.  It’s poetry. It’s story. It’s truth bigger than the words used to tell it.
The thing is, when we try to turn the creation story into something that it is not, we miss the truth that is in it, and it’s truth beyond just trying to figure out what happened to the dinosaurs and whether Adam had a belly button and how it was that when Adam and Eve’s oldest son Cain got banished, he ended up finding a wife somewhere. Considering that the story says that his own parents were the first people and that everyone else came from them, I’d advise you not to think too hard about where Cain’s wife came from. These are silly questions, because the story of creation isn’t science. It’s a story of goodness, for it is the case that God created the Heavens and the earth, and God pronounced them . . . good.
So it is important to note, I think, that when we say that we believe in God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, we are not saying that we believe in something that is incompatible with evolution. Plenty of people believe in that God is creator and also believe in evolution. I hope this is not shocking to you and your faith, because your pastor is one of those people! God can create however God wants to create, and the best evidence we have says that evolution was that process.
You see, when we, together, profess that God created the heavens and the earth, we aren’t professing that we believe in some certain way that that happened. We aren’t talking about God’s creative methods. We are talking about the result of that creation, that in the beginning, when the earth was a formless void, God created all that we see, the earth, and all that lies beyond our line of sight, beyond our comprehension, the heavens, all the planets, even Pluto, and the important thing isn’t how it happened. The important things are that God did it and that when it was done, God said: this is good. It is of God, and it is good.
So without getting too deep in the weeds of science, because that is not my training, let me say this: when we recite the creed, we are calling to mind God’s goodness, God’s creation, not some literalist interpretation of Genesis. This is important, because what we say we believe matters!
It’s not that when we say the Apostle’s Creed, we’re saying that we believe that God is maker of Heaven and earth merely as an intellectual exercise. That’s not what it means to believe. Believing is not merely about deciding something is true and then moving on to the next thing. To believe is to model your life after something, to take this thing that we hold dear and figure out what it means for our individual lives, for our life together. And so there are profound implications for believing that God created, that our good God created a world that is . . . good.
For one thing, that’s a controversial statement these days, that the world is good. I don’t know what a handbasket has to do with it, but you’ve heard more than once just where it is that people say we’re going. Particularly in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before, you hear so much these days about the problems in the world, about corruption, about sin. And sin is real—obviously things aren’t always great, and sin is the thing that keeps us from being in right relationship with one another, and with God. But just because we have sin—just because we aren’t always living into God’s plan, which is that all people have enough, all people prosper, all people know of God’s grace, just because sin is real doesn’t mean that the world isn’t good.
And when we take seriously the idea that the world is good, when we consider the implications of that remarkable statement, well, it stings a little. It tweaks me a little. It makes me think twice about some of the things I do, about the fossil fuels I put in my vehicle, about the trees I watch being cut down for some convenient new development, about the things I throw away, about the people I do not see as fellow children of God.
It’s challenging, that kind of goodness, because if I am not careful, I am usually liable to think of myself as good, my own stuff as good, and everything else as good-ish, maybe, but certainly not created with the same level of goodness with which I was created. And what that does is that it cheapens God’s creation, cheapens God’s goodness, the goodness with which God creates, and because it is the case that the things that God does reflect God’s own nature, when I cheapen God’s goodness it is the case that I am in essence cheapening God.
If it really is true that God is the maker of heaven and earth, the source of all things, and that God created and called it good, then I need to get my act together. I have a role to play in this. This isn’t just something we say every Sunday as part of the apostle’s creed, but rather, it becomes an actual sacred responsibility to care for the whole created order, to be stewards of the earth. When I do my part to honor God’s creation, I am honoring God the Creator. I am worshiping! I am giving honor and glory to God! When I take seriously my call to be a steward of the earth, when I do my part to live simply so that others can simply live, when I drive less and walk more and reuse rather than throwing away and pick up rather than passing by, I am worshipping God the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
And yet it is important to remember that stewardship of creation, worshiping God is not equivalent to that public service announcement from 1970 where Iron Eyes Cody is riding a canoe through trash-infested water and then stands, overlooking the parkway, as somebody throws a full bag of McDonalds that lands at his feet. There’s more to it than that. Caring for creation is important, but we can’t conflate the message of scripture with simply reducing, reusing and recycling! For one thing, Iron Eyes Cody was actually the stage name of Espera Oscar de Corti, who was an actor who was actually 0% American Indian and 100% Italian! This isn’t to say you ought not do those things—reduce, reuse, recycle and all the rest—but it is to say that they are not enough! When we reduce the Gospel to reducing the things we use, we aren’t doing justice to what it means that God is creator because you can’t recycle your way into Heaven!
It is important, but it is not all that is important, because I cannot tell you how many times I have seem someone take time to make sure they put their plastic cup in the proper recycling container and then turn around and step over a person who is homeless, or ignore the plight of the persecuted, or think that there’s no reason to be in church because they’ve already done their good deed for the day. Or, let me say it this way. It is important to care for the earth by not using disposable things, but it is not disposable paper plates that are our biggest problem as a society. It is disposable people. Disposable people.
So I guess one of the questions I am left with as I consider all of this is just how is it that we can be ok with understanding the great outdoors as God’s creation and caring for it but we have trouble seeing our neighbor as God’s creation, too? If it is true, as we often say around here, that all people are children of God, that all people are made in God’s image, that the image of God is imprinted upon each human heart, then we’ve got some repenting to do as it relates to the way we treat those who we see as beneath our station, the way we understand people, all people all across the world, the way we treat . . .  one another.
Maybe this is all obvious to you and I am whipping a horse that’s been dead for some time, but it is a message desperately needed in these days of rancor and division: that it is God who created, all things, including you and me, and that that creation is good.
It is a revolutionary message, for it runs contrary to the way the world seems to work these days. I mean, if God is maker of heaven and earth who am I to decide that part of God’s creation isn’t good enough, that because somebody was born one way or in one country or to a family that looks different than mine then they must not be of God, they must not be good? You see the challenge.
I will end with this. If God is maker of Heaven and earth, and we believe that God is, and if we believe that God is with us, intimately involved in our lives, which we do, then it is not the case that we believe that God set things in motion millions of years ago and then went to lunch. We say that God is the maker of Heaven and earth: not was, but is, is still making heaven and earth, and so if we are called to care not only for that which has been created, we must seek to care for that which God is still creating, for creation did not stop when God did or didn’t give Adam a belly button.
Scripture says it this way: Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

If you are feeling stuck, know that God makes a way. If you are feeling discriminated against for who you are, know that God is the God of new things, and that God is with you, for when we say together the Apostle’s Creed, we profess belief in a God who is constantly creating, constantly making all things new, and the promise of that creation is that just when it seems like the end is coming, there’s more there, more roads to walk, more rivers to paddle, more life to lead. And thanks be to God for that. Amen.

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