Sermon - Brad Brookins
Genesis 1.1—2.4 The Beginning
By the early years of the 6th century BC—roughly 600 years before the time of Jesus, the nation of Israel was a mess. You might not have known that by just looking. The king or the princes or the priests would have told you things had never been better. It was morning in Israel. The nation was strong, the king was competent, the temple was secure and “God bless Israel” was on everyone’s lips.
But scratch the surface—peel back that outer layer of glitz and glamour, and you would have found a different story. The king was not competent. The king was corrupt; as had been almost every king since the days of David 400 years earlier. Almost to a person, the Bible describes this royal procession as violent, greedy, proud and unfaithful—to God and to their royal office.
They ruled with iron fists. They taxed the people into poverty so they could live like kings. They drafted—sometimes enslaved, young men to serve in their armies and build their fortresses. And since they never saw a weapon or a war they didn’t like, they repeatedly threw these young lives away in senseless conflict. They lived for power and glory and wanted only more power and glory.
The economy of Israel ran along the same lines. The rich and powerful gamed the system to make themselves richer and more powerful. The gap between the richest 1% or so at the top of the Jerusalem pyramid and the vast majority of the poorer people at the bottom was great and growing. This wealth gap was managed, as they always are in societies, to make sure nothing changed.
Economic injustice fostered other forms of injustice. Orphan children were often left to wander the streets, begging the mercy of strangers. Immigrants and strangers were routinely harassed, deported or killed.
Because women had no legal or social standing apart from their connection to a father or a husband, they were easily taken advantage of by the unscrupulous. It wasn’t unusual for a widow to be robbed of what little she had. I you were poor and became sick you would soon be poor and dead.
But isn’t that what bottom dwellers deserve if they lack the gumption to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and get an education or get a job. Of course, for most people in those days, there were no bootstraps, no schools and no jobs. But in the Jerusalem pyramid, that was beside the point. Those on the bottom deserved the bottom, and those on top weren’t about to pay to fix that.
The temple in Jerusalem—the “church” of its day, was the third leg of this corrupt stool; this kingdom-business-church triangle. Just as the king depended the priests to give divine sanction to their wars, the temple depended on the king’s police powers and patronage to maintain its position near the top of the pyramid. A lot of mutual back-scratching was going on.
So, many of the priests—who should have been living channels of God’s grace to all the people; who should have been working to lift up the poor, demanding justice and fairness, instead became mouthpieces for power. The “church” in Jerusalem, much of it anyway, sold out to power and money. They didn’t speak for the God of Israel. They spoke for the lesser gods of government and business. The circle of corruption was complete.
But things were about to get much, much worse.
Around 589 BC Nebuchadnezzar, the corrupt king of yet another corrupt empire, Babylon, decided he wanted more. So he marched his army west across Syria and south into Palestine, conquering everything his path.
At Jerusalem he met a resistance that was as fierce and it was foolish. Months of siege led to starvation inside the city. When he grew tired of waiting, Nebuchadnezzar attacked in force. The walls were torn down, much of the population was slaughtered, the temple—the house of God on earth, was leveled. Everything of value was stolen and packed up. These treasures, along with several thousand of the elite members of Jerusalem society, were hauled off to Babylon.
The survivors were left to eke out a living in the dust of their destroyed city. The captives—force marched across hundreds of miles of foreign territory, settled into their new lives as servants and slaves; the defeated people of a defeated God.
And to a person, at home and away, the Hebrews were asking. “How could this have happened? Wasn’t Jerusalem God’s own city? Wasn’t the temple the house of God on earth? Hadn’t God promised protection and prosperity?”
Their loss was inconsolable; their pain deep and raw; their hope evaporated like morning dew in the desert. Everything they believed in, trusted in, was gone.
Now, all of that is back story to what comes next. We don't know exactly when or where or by whom, but right around this time someone was given a vision; inspired by God, I would say. He—or maybe she, put her quill pen to parchment and wrote:
“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…”
Scripture has 70 faces, the old rabbis said. They meant that if you took any passage of scripture, held it up to the light and turned it just a little, it would reflect back to you new color, new truth, renewed hope.
The story of Creation that we have come to this morning, as we begin our new Fall season, is just such a passage. Most often we read Genesis 1 as an account of how the world came to be. That partly right, but if you hold it and turn it just a little, it suddenly becomes much more.
When we consider this was written to Israel in exile; when we remember what they were suffering, these words become more than a story—they become a promise. This promise: God is in the darkest darkness. “Therefore we shall not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains quake in the heart of the sea…”
The story of Creation, you see, was a message to Israel—to a destroyed, disheartened, disillusioned people who had lost everything; who had no hope.
God is in this darkness, it says. There is yet light.
Turn the story just a little more and it becomes a message to us. To the people out west from Los Angeles to Canada who are watching their world burn. To the people of Houston whose homes are under water and who will be returning to a land poisoned by a toxic, chemical stew. To the many thousands of people whose homes have been blown away or washed away in the Caribbean islands by Hurricane Irma and who are now staring down the throat of Hurricane Jose. And to the millions of people this morning being chased and battered by Irma in Florida.
Turn the story again and it becomes a word of hope to the 800,000 immigrants, brought to this country as children, who know no other country; whose futures are uncertain because some of us don’t want them here. It is a word of hope to the millions of people who can’t afford health insurance and dread their next illness; the millions of people whose see no future because their jobs have gone away, and won’t be coming back.
God is present in this darkness, the story says. And “though the waters roar and foam and the mountains tremble with its tumult,” there is yet light.
Turn the story yet again and it becomes something more. It becomes a confession of faith; a bold and beautiful statement of what its author believed—and what we might believe if this story rings true for us. It becomes a creed, of sorts—an “I Believe” statement.
Day 1: God said “Let there be light, and there was light”.
I Believe no darkness, however deep and thick, can hide me from God or hide God from me.
Day 2: God said, “Separate the waters above from the waters below”.
I Believe that no matter the chaos that surrounds me, God holds me safe and gives me a place to breathe; a space between the waters.
Day 3: God said: “Let the waters be gathered into one place and the dry land appear”.
I Believe that “in my Father’s house there is a lot of room”. God has given me a solid place to stand—to live and grow and prosper.
Day 4: God said: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky—sun, moon and stars”.
I Believe in God. The burning sun, the calming moon and the myriad, countless stars are placed in the sky to serve us. Just so, I Believe, we are placed on the earth to serve God.
Day 5: God said: Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures.
Day 6: Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind”.
I Believe God’s provision for life, like God’s grace itself, is abundant beyond measure and sufficient beyond need. I Believe that in God’s Creation greed, selfishness, hoarding and fear have no place. I Believe there is no need for greed in so abundant a world.
God said: “Let us create humankind in our image.”
I Believe we exist to reflect the image of God in Creation; caring, as God cares, for every creature, every plant, every stone on and in the earth. I Believe we are to be the light of God shining in the darkness of anyone’s fear or danger or pain; shining the light of God on to anyone’s greed or anger or selfishness or violence. We are to say, into the darkness of this damaged world, “Here there is light”.
Day 7: God said, of all that God had made, “Behold, this is very good!” God celebrated the Creation, and trusting the Creation, God rested.
I Believe the celebration continues and we are given a seat at the table. I Believe that here, resting with God, trust makes sense, hope for the future is not foolish, and the repair of this world is a holy calling.
This Creation story has 70 faces. Looking into one face this morning we hear this:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the Spirit of God hovered over the roiling waters, the Word of God sang Creation’s song.
This song, we know now, is for us; this song is for all the world.
It is a song of light shattering darkness;
A song of safety overcoming fear;
A song of plenty dismissing need and greed;
A song of care and compassion; of grace and rest.
So listen to this song and learn to sing along. Amen.
The story for this week is found in Genesis 1 and the first few verses of Genesis 2. It is an account of the creation of the universe. Most mainline Old Testament scholars believe this story was written in the the 6th century BC and was first heard by the Hebrew exiles who had been carried off to Babylon after Jerusalem had been destroyed in 589 BC. This means that to hear this story as it was meant to be heard, you have to put yourself in the position of someone whose king, country and God have all been defeated in a bloody, destructive war. This is not easy to do, but we have to try.
First, though, just read the text below as it is written, but slowly and imaginatively. Picture in your mind what the events of these 7 days would have looked like had you been witness to them.
Read the text again, slowly, and consider these questions:
1. What words would you use to describe this Creator God? Make a list.
2. Pick a day from the Creation week and describe the colors, sounds and smells of that day.
What is the most beautiful thing you might see on the day you’ve chosen?
3. Describe the feelings you think you would experience watching this creation unfold before
your eyes. Make another list.
Now imagine you are hearing this story for the very first time under these circumstances: You are being held prisoner in a foreign land. Your homeland has been destroyed by a violent and powerful enemy. You have always been told, and wholeheartedly believed, that your home country was ordained and founded by God and that God would always protect and preserve you and your neighbors. But this God has failed to keep that promise. God’s temple has been destroyed. God’s king and priests have been killed or imprisoned just like you have. You have no hope of ever going home again—in fact, home as you have always known it has ceased to exist.
You are angry and without hope. Do your best with these (rather difficult) questions:
1. What words would you use to describe this Creator God now? Make a 3rd list.
2. How can you believe God can create the universe when God can’t even protect a tiny
3. Suppose you hear this story through your prison window and somehow it rings true for you
and you find your hope is being re-born. What does this story lead you to believe about:
c) The way things are supposed to be
4. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says this story is best heard as an account of
the gospel—the good news of God’s grace toward the world. Where do you find grace in Genesis 1.1—2.4?
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the 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.
3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God 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.’ 7So 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. 8God 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. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then 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. 12The 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. 13And 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, 15and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. 16God made the two great lights —the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And 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.’ 21So 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. 22God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ 23And 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. 25God 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. 28God 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.’ 29God 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. 30And 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. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2And 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. 3So 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.