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 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. 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. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
--Genesis 1:1--2:4a (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from the Triune God--The Creator of the world, the Word made flesh, and the brooding Spirit, hovering over the waters. Amen.
Beginnings. Fall always feels to me as a time of new beginnings. We’re moving from summer and returning from those last days of summer vacation and getting down to business. Or, to school, which is beginning for some and already started for others.
We’ve just come off Labor Day--that holiday that seems to mark the end of summer--and we’re moving into fall. The temperatures are beginning to drop. The days are beginning to grow shorter. The football season has started. Soon, the leaves will be turning and we will definitely have transitioned from late summer into the beginning of autumn.
We’re in beginning days here, too, at Grace & Glory. Today is our Rally Day--the start of our fall programming, including the start of Sunday School and the beginning of Children’s Church. We’re starting cross-generational Sunday School today, which we’ll continue once a month into the fall and spring. In another week or so, we’ll begin a new Table Talk opportunity with our sisters and brothers at Shiloh Church. In a couple weeks, we’ll have a healing service, which will also continue through the year. And, then there’s October. That month in which we will celebrate and celebrate and celebrate Reformation 500--a major anniversary in the church, particularly for us Lutherans. It’s as though, after the lazy, hazy days of summer, we are ready to get down to business.
Then, there’s one more thing that we’re beginning this year. Along with Shiloh, we are moving to a new lectionary--a new series of readings. For years, we’ve been in the Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year cycle of readings that mostly focuses on the New Testament. Today, we begin the Narrative Lectionary, a newer lectionary that has been developed by a group of professors at Luther Seminary. A lectionary that spans four years and that will focus on all of scripture, both the Hebrew scripture (or Old Testament) and also the entire New Testament. Each year over the 4-year cycle, we will begin in the fall in the Hebrew scripture. And, then, in the spring we will focus on the New Testament.
The purpose of making this change is to remind us once again of the broader arc of the history of salvation. The meta-narrative, if you will. The whole story of God from creation through to the formation of the church, after Christ. To see the big picture. And, mostly, to try to figure out where our story fits into God’s story.
And, so, appropriately today, we begin at the beginning. With creation.
In Genesis chapter 1, verse 1, the story opens. “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.” Or as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message Bible, “Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.”
It was shapeless. It was chaos. It was darkness.
It’s important to note here, that the word in Hebrew for “darkness” is a rather evocative word. The opposite of darkness is light and, particularly, for us believers, light often symbolizes God. We read today, for example, in the first verses of the Gospel of John that through the Word--through Jesus--light entered into the world. The light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness does not overcome.
By contrast, in the Hebrew, darkness means everything that is the opposite of God, everything that is anti-God. The wicked. Judgment. Death. All are signified by the word for darkness.
So, in the beginning, when the world was without form or shape, when it was chaotic and without any order, when it was dark--it is here that God enters in. That God enters in and speaks the Word. Saying, “Let there be light.”
This first word changes everything. It is with the dawn of light that the incredible story of God as sovereign creator of the world begins. It is with the dawn of light that God enters into time and space and begins to order things, to separate them. The light from darkness. The waters, separated by the dome, and earth and sky. The separation of the earthly waters into land and seas. God separates and creates boundaries. And God names time and space to be a world for all humanity. In this very action, Claus Westermann writes, “[God] shows [Godself] to be the master creator of the world.” By simply acting and speaking.
But, that’s not everything.
Did you catch verse 11? After God spoke light into being and separated and ordered the chaos, God then shares God’s creative powers. In verse 11: “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.”
God is not a creative control freak. God shares creative powers with the earth. Mother earth. Birthing all vegetation. This is not a God that powers over. This is a God that powers with. That shares creative power with the earth and, eventually, with humankind.
As the earth is bringing forth vegetation, God continues to create. Now he begins to populate the earth. First with creatures. Swarms of living creatures. And birds, flying above the earth across the dome of the sky. And, then, in the oceans and seas--great sea monsters and other living and moving water creatures. And, then, more creatures: the cattle, and the creeping things, and the wild animals of the earth.
Then, once again, God shares creative powers. This time with the creatures that have populated the earth. God blesses the swarms and says, “Go! Create! Fill the waters! And the earth! And the sky! Be fruitful! Multiply!”
Finally, humanity. Male and female. Our story says that humankind was created in God’s image, in “our” image, verse 26 says. In the image of the Three. In the image of the Trinity. Without establishing relative rank or worth of the genders, God, the spinner of this creation story, indicates that humankind is found in two varieties--male and female. And that this humanity, in its complementary nature, is a reflection of the Deity. That God has both male and female traits.
God also shares creative power with humanity. And, then, God also gives men and women responsibility. Our text reads that God tells the newly-created humans to have “dominion” over the earth and all its creatures. The word is really better translated as to steward. Or to be caretaker. Or, better yet, to care for earth and all its creatures.
Because that is the image of God. God is not a “powering over” God, but a God of “powering with.” Stewarding. Shepherding. Caring for God’s creation. For all of God’s creation. As we humans are to care for all of God’s creation.
Six days. Six days of creating, of co-creating with earth and its creatures, and with male and female. Six days of goodness.
Yes, I said six days. Because God enters into our time and our space. Into days as we mark days. Twenty-four hours. We so often get hung up on the story of creation, as though it is a story of science. It is not. It is a story of God, of who God is. The story of the One who enters into our world and creates. And who co-creates. And who continues to create and co-create.
And it is a story with a purpose. With a goal. After six days of creative activity--of good creative activity--God rests. God takes a break. A respite. God marvels in God’s creation. And then God lets creation be for a period of time and makes room for it to create by withdrawing. By allowing us and all creation to come to be what God intends us to become.
This is a metaphor for our lives, isn’t it? When we are in the midst of darkness and chaos, God enters in and begins to separate. To make order out of the mess. Creating life out of death and then, allowing us to become fully who we are. To become God’s people.
It’s a marvelous story to begin with on this day of beginnings! Knowing that God has created and continues to create. That God continues to co-create with us and with the earth and all its creatures. And trusting that even when God takes a brief respite, God is always there, ready to break in and speak a word of light into the darkness of our lives. And to bring creative blessing after blessing to us and to all of God’s creation.
May God continue to grant us new and creative beginnings, now and for all time. Amen.