September 7, 2014 Genesis 1-2:4a
For the beauty of the earth, for the splendor of the skies,
For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies,
God of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
“Light and darkness, water and land, sea creatures, earth creatures, birds, plants, herbs, fruit trees, the sky with its stars, moon and sun! All mutually co-exist in an ever evolving symphony of praise to their Creator. Indeed, the creating, redeeming, and sustaining presence of our God weaves the fabric of creation. Together we sing a hymn of holy love for the beauty of the earth as it evolves and we with it, in relationship with one who has called us to love the world.”
This is the opening paragraph of a pastoral letter from our Collegium of Officers of the UCC entitled “Faith and Environment: Living in Community with God’s Creation”.
As our youth read the opening story of Genesis this morning I hope you were filled with “awe” as the beauty of this earth and universe filed our screens. I’d like us to take a moment right now and close our eyes - and remember another time and place when you were filled with “awe”- with the beauty, or mystery, or majesty of God’s creation, a time that enveloped your senses and filled your spirit. Where were you? What did you see and hear and feel in that moment?
Swami Premgeet declared: “Life is full of wonder. We taste it in our childhood, lose it as we grow up, and if we are lucky catch the magic again in those precious moments which make life a joy. The echo may return in the eyes of a beloved, in the first burst of morning light, or in a thousand unexpected forms. When it comes we are suddenly in the presence of the miraculous, we are taken by that elusive sense of being part of a great whole. These are moments when our energy expands to encompass something beyond ourselves.”
(from Painting the Stars: A Renaissance of Wonder)
Those of us in the Judeo Christian tradition would describe that “something” as Yahweh or God. In the 6th century BCE, a group of priestly writers wrote this poetic narrative in Genesis to affirm their faith in a loving God who is bound to this world, and about the world which is bound to God.
They were living in exile at the time, held captive by the Babylonians. Jewish scholars say there are 70 different ways to translate this text. It is not a history book or scientific journal. It was most likely written for liturgical use.
The writers were influenced by the creation stories and cosmologies of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the text reflects this. Barbara Brown Taylor describes this story as a counter culture protest by the people of Israel against the creation story of their Babylonian captors, who saw the origins of the universe as violent and bloody.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, suggests the narrative is “refuting Babylonian theological claims that their gods controlled the future and had defeated the dreams of the God of Israel.”
“Not so!” declared those priestly writers. What they wrote was not some abstract statement about the origins of the universe. Rather it’s a theological and pastoral statement reassuring a hurting people that Yahweh is still God, the author of life, who called the world into being - a gracious creator who then looks out over all she has created and sees that it is good. The world was still good despite what they were living through.
Then God does something rather amazing in this story. During their time in exile, Israel resisted every effort to image God. God was not imaged in molten rock or golden statues. But here, God creates humankind “in our image, according to our likeness … male and female.” (I could do a whole sermon on the use of the word “our” - is there more than one God referenced here? - but I won’t go there today.)
But what I do find intriguing is God’s image being tied to both male and female. We’ve strayed from that inclusivity in our language over the years. So, according to this priestly story, all of us, male and female, and i would include everyone in-between, black and white, red and yellow, tall and short, thin or stocky, have been imprinted with the face of divinity. That doesn’t make us into little gods, but there is something of God within us that we can draw upon if we choose to do so.
Then God does something even more unexpected. God relinquishes control over all that he/she has created. “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.”
That word ‘dominion’ has been mis-interpreted over the years, to the detriment of this good earth. Dominion means “to take care of”, not to exploit, abuse and use up. We’re not dealing with an all controlling God here, quite the contrary. We’re not presented as mere peons controlled by God. We are empowered with free choice, given a mandate of power and responsibility to be good caretakers and stewards of creation.
God declared creation good. We are put here to make sure it remains so.
During this month of September we are going to be looking at how we are caring for this amazing world we live in, and ways in which we are not, and the repercussions of that neglect and abuse.
Kathryn Huey, in her commentary on this passage, asks two important questions that I think we should address this month:
Would God look at what we have made from the raw materials of this beautiful creation, and pronounce our work “good”? and
What story do we intend to tell our children, and can we imagine the story that our grandchildren will tell their descendants about us?
In the introduction of one of the chapters of “Painting the Stars”, the study we were doing during Lent, it was pointed out that over the past 500 years, “the cosmos has systematically been voided of Spirit …. Once non-human reality was voided of soul or spirit, we looked at the planet as little more than a natural resource to convert into commodities. As Chief Seattle put it, ‘what your people call natural resources, our people call kin.’
Cosmologist Brian Swimme reminds us of a time when children and youth would be initiated into the sacred world of the cosmos by sitting around a fire and hearing their creation myths. They would receive a cosmic identity, connected to a sacred sense of place upon the earth. A recent study showed that children are more likely to be able to identify the top ten corporate jingles and brands than name the planets in our solar system.”
Maybe what we need today is a good dose of “awe!” Think of the word “a.w.e.” as an acronym for Awakening to Wonder Everywhere. We adults need to slow down enough to regain the wonder of a two year old walking through a garden, exploring every insect and plant and blade of grass along the way, finding animals in the clouds above. Maybe, then we would understand life in all its mystery and majesty as a precious gift that is intrinsically holy and to be cared for.
I suggest this week that you take at least 15 minutes and set yourself down, in your yard or somewhere in nature, and look around, look carefully, pay attention, and see where you find God. See if you can open your heart and stand in awe of something - something beyond yourself.
For the wonder of each hour, of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light,
God of all, to you we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.