Genesis 1:1-3, 31
Every great story needs a beginning! Too often the beginning of a story is ignored. Therefore, we can miss the very reason the story is being told or re-told. Our text is the beginning of a great story. Because it is so familiar to us, we may ignore the very reasons this great Biblical story begins this way.
After our son discovered family names on headstones in the cemetery at the edge of little Southwick, Idaho, he exclaimed, “This place is full of Fry history!”
Genesis 1 tells us that we have a history. Children in ancient Israel probably went to sleep after hearing the creation story around campfires imagining the creative work of God. What a delightful way to go to bed.
This beginning to the Scriptures, reminds me that I have a history.
I spent three weeks in Idaho trying to get my father’s affairs in order and spending time sorting through “stuff.” As I looked through a shelf filled with family albums I found this book with few people I recognize. They are my foundational story….my history. I am not the first Fry or the last. But we have changed over the years. The Frys originated from Switzerland and other European countries and settled in Long Island and New Jersey as Quakers. They traveled to Virginia and migrated west to homestead in a canyon in Idaho. Now the Frys include Haitian and Puerto Rican stories. Each snapshot is a story. But knowing I have a history impacts how I view myself. As I viewed the snapshots, I remembered that I am part of greater story.
In similar fashion, as I look at the biblical snapshot, I am reminded I have a history as a follower of Christ. No single snapshot can tell the whole story but each snapshot is a story that is part of a larger story.
This beginning story reminds us that we are a part of a larger story. God’s story. We say “His-story.” Later this morning as we share communion, it should remind us that our stories are a part of a larger, greater story. Jesus on the night before his death, took the cup and bread and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But, Why this beginning to God’s story? This text has become a battleground in many ways. It is the center of the creation/evolution discussions, debates. I Googled “Creation versus evolution” and had over 2? million hits! Hot topic! I guess! But somehow, I don’t think the evolution/creation debate was “the reason” that people told and retold this story around 10,000 campfires nor why it was chosen as the beginning point of inspired writing of the scriptures.
There must be some distinct reasons this story was told and retold and then finally entered into holy writ. I would not pretend to fully understand why this beginning was chosen! But, it seems there are some obvious learning points around hope that we might reflect on as we listen to the words of this story once again…as we review this Biblical snapshot.
As I reflect on it, like the snapshots I found in Idaho, I realize this beginning snapshot suggests that we are created for hope. This hope originates from the creation story emanating from the purposefulness of a creative God. When this hope is integrated into our lives, it helps us dream wonderful dreams and live lives of purpose and meaning.
Tucked into the story is a description that is worthy of consideration.
“Now the earth was formless and empty…” Gen. 1:2 (NIV)
“…a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” (NRSV)
As I pursued the etymology of the Hebrew word (which always is descriptive in a sense of story behind the word), I began to realize that chaos ruled the world. The movement of the world was an empty and wasted effort. It seemed like it was moving somewhere but it was going nowhere. It was totally devoid of purpose. It was lost in the darkness without direction or purpose. The earth was amorphous and going nowhere. Empty to the point of “not yet” achieving any purpose. Chaos reigned resulting in shapeless, empty chaos. When God’s creative work began, the chaos was transformed to purposefulness and meaning.
The energy no longer bounced meaninglessly into space. Emptiness was replaced by intentionality and shape. Somewhere deep within my being, I believe all of us long for meaning and purpose in our lives.
During the time in Idaho, a 22-month old child was beaten to death, a mother and boyfriend were shot by her son, the challenge of an 84-year old father limited to barely moving in a wheelchair. Somehow in all those situations and the realities of our lives, we/I crave meaning.
Victor Frankl, developed a whole psychology around meaning making. He wrote a foundational book entitled, The Search for Meaning.
I suggest that the creation story was told to remind us that God can make meaning out of chaos.
In Hebrews 11:3 the author tells us, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” The Hebrews author states that the creation story is about faith. The God of mystery is at work. It requires faith to believe God created out of chaos. It requires faith for me to believe that God is still at work in the chaos of my life. Sometimes that demands more faith than I think I can have. But it is the “mustard seed” of faith Jesus said that allows God to walk through the chaos of my brokenness and bring purpose to that chaotic reality. It is not that my faith that results in God’s actions, but I need faith to see God already at work in the chaos of life.
In Mark 6, Jesus walks across the water after the disciples have struggled all night to go nowhere. Like Gilligan’s Island, it should have been a three-hour tour. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest notes that the point of the story is that in such a chaotic situation (similar to creation), God is able to walk through the chaos of our lives. God can bring a sense of purpose to our brokenness in the process not only when we arrive at our destination.
Tricia Rhodes has written a delightful book entitled Sacred Chaos in which she notes how her ideas of spirituality have changed. Early in life she was convinced God only was at work in the “times away” but now as busy wife, mother, author and many more roles, she has discovered that God brings meaning in the midst of her chaotic reality. God’s creative work embraces our times of chaos.
Theophan, the Recluse, noted that life lived with others rather than the reclusive life provides us with the practical experience of struggling with chaos and observing God’s ability to work in us and the midst of our journeys (our stories).
In this text, I see a dynamic of relationship in this creation story.
At one level is the incredible unanimity at which our singular but Trinitarian God works.
Agreement “Let us” Gen. 1:26. Amazing! There seems to be this godly mutual delight in the creation story. But there is also a deep desire to personally relate to the creation. We have a God who desires for us to be a part of our narrative. In other words, as we intertwine the plots of our lives with God, our lives take on new purpose and a relationship of hope and significance.
According to a poll I recently read, somewhere between 80-90% of us watch “A Wonderful Life” during the Christmas season. It is a tradition at our house. I always cry as I realize along with Jimmy Stewart that his life has touched many lives. More than he had even realized. He begins to understand that his story was part of a greater story.
Jesus said it less dramatically but just as emphatically when he stated, “I am come that you might have life and that more abundantly” John 10:10. When my life intertwines with creator God through Christ, life becomes abundant…bigger than myself.
In 2 Cor. 5, in the context of being made new in Christ, Paul says in verse 18 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation:….” I am reconciled with the very one who gives purpose to what may seem like chaos and brokenness to me. Then he gives us the opportunity to speak for him to others about the hope and meaning that we have discovered.
But I confess, it is easy to lose one’s way in a story. Note how quickly and dramatically Adam forgot, his role and turned to sin and the blame game with a Eve.
Stories can be broken and fall apart like the great Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall. The good news is God has a healing story, one of reconciliation. We enter His story and find wholeness in the process.
Healthy stories free us from the lies we tell ourselves and the lies others tell about us. Healthy stories are a part of why we gather to worship. Yes we tell and sing, “The Old, Old Story” but we also tell each other our stories that encourage, challenge, give perspective, motivate.
In this beginning, I see a sacred chaos in which God is still at work. It reminds me that I am created for hope. This story is personal.
God is not finished. The creation story reminds me that the God we serve is greater than the election to be held in the US this fall. The God we serve is still at work in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Nepal or other places we may be connected to. Even though the situations may seem hopeless.
It seems overwhelming to learn how close to the creation story life’s reality was filled with brokenness...the Fall, then brother murders brother, and even the desperate wickedness that preceded the flood. Yet God is faithfully at work. There is hope.
Job 38-41 reflects on the creation story. God asks (38:4) “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God continues to speak and Job responds until 41. Then in humility Job proclaims (42:2) “I know that you can do all things.” In the chaos of his life, he could look at creation in faith and see God still at work.
The Psalmist in Psalm 8 concludes a review the creation event and ends (vs. 9) “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Isaiah declares in 40:1: “Comfort, O Comfort my people says your God” and goes on to indicate that he can say this because of the creation story.
Paul mentions that in Philippians 1:6: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion b y the day of Jesus Christ.”
God is still at work through the chaos of our realities. Recently, Randy Pausch died. He is the author of The Last Lecture delivered at Carnegie Mellon presentation which became an instant classic. People who never met him, myself included, were encouraged by his words. In one of his final interviews he said, “Don’t tell people what to do. Just tell them stories and let them figure out how to apply them to their lives.”
Two years ago, a student leader responded similarly when asked what they wanted from mentors.
“Tell us stories and let us apply them,” she said. That is what the creation story is about. It does not have a directive. But it has many applications.
It will lead us to respond to the admonition of Peter (1 Peter 3:15): “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
One year ago, as I was attempting to care for the affairs of my father who had just broken his hip twice and I had received a call saying I needed to meet with a surgeon about what appeared to be cancer in my body, I purchased a CD by Kirk Franklin.
He begins the CD with these brief comments.
“the myth is that storms have to do with punishment…,
that they are God’s response to sin or his disappointment in us as his children.
May I suggest that it is actually the opposite.
It is the confirmation that we are flowers the Father has planted and he desires to grow. And no matter how painful or inconvenient, it (the storm) is necessary for the flower’s beauty. The beautiful struggle of necessary storms in my life.”
The creation story is a snapshot that reminds me/us:
(1)God makes meaning out of chaos
(2) God desires a dynamic relationship with us, and
(3) God is still at work which gives me hope.
Remember, we are created for hope.