In the Beginning God

Sermon: Lucknow Community Christian Reformed Church, January 11 2015

Text: Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

This year will mark 25 years since the Hubble space telescope first went into orbit. Since it is outside of our atmosphere, it is able to see much more clearly than any earth based telescope could ever see. The pictures it sends back are amazing. They boggle our minds. We see light arriving at the telescope thousands of years after it was created, traveling through space until it is finally captured by the lens of the camera.

downloadThe picture you have been seeing this morning as the background for our songs is a formation called the Pillars of Creation. These pillars are formed of gas and dust and are about 7000 light years away in an area called the Eagle Nebula. The longest pillar is about 4 light years long.

Light travels very quickly, somewhere around 186,000 miles per second or just shy of about 6 trillion miles in the course of one year. That’s very fast, but the universe is very big, and so even at the breakneck speed of light it takes a given beam of light a long time to arrive. So if it were a clear night and you were to look up at the stars, you’d be seeing old light–light that has been traveling years to get here.

Even the light from our own sun takes about 8 minutes to cover the 93 million miles between earth and the sun.

The next closest star is about four light years away.  If right this very instant on January 11, 2015, at around 10:30 in the morning, that neighboring star were to blow up, we would not know about it until sometime in the year 2019–that’s how long it would take the light of the explosion to travel from there to here.

Are you feeling small yet?

The writers of Genesis, I’m sure, felt small as well even though their understanding of the world, and the universe was much different than ours. They knew nothing of far off universes of Eagle Nebulas They understood the earth to be flat covered by a huge dome. The sun, moon and stars decorated the inside of the dome like moving Christmas ornaments. There was water over the dome and under the earth. God lived at the top of the dome.

As the people of the book of Genesis interacted with the people around them, they realized these folks were worshiping things inside the dome, created things, the sun the moon, the mighty bull, or the king of the jungle, the lion. They found sacred meaning in fire, saw they  the mighty creatures of the sea in a religious sense.

In Genesis 1 the writer says to those people, your gods are too small, the things that you worship were created by our God, our God who was here in the beginning, who at some point decided to begin to create, and when our God did that, he made the things that you worship. You should look through the creation at the creator. The first chapter of Genesis is a statement of faith, it’s a manifesto to the nations that says that our God, Elohim is the great God, the God over everything, the God who created everything, even the gods that you worship This manifesto says having this God, the creator God on our side gives us hope.

They write this chapter to put those other gods in their place and too state to the world the source of their hope. The first three words set the scene for the entire chapter, for the entire Bible in fact. Those words in Hebrew. בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים  You’ll maybe recognize the last word, Elohim one of God’s names, it very simply says. In the beginning created God, We move the words around a bit so they make sense in English In the beginning God created… In the beginning God. …

It’s what the whole Bible is about, God at work in the world. God’s spirit moving over the world, a full world of chaos, and emptiness. God bringing new life, new order, to the chaos. It all starts with God.

We’ve taken this chapter, these first words of the love letter from God, and turned it into a battle field.  We fight over what the words mean, how they should be interpreted.

The literalist wants to understand the words just as they are written without allowing them to hold any symbolism, wants to hold God to a seven 24 hour day creation, wants read further in Genesis to understand the earth to be young, likely less than ten thousand years old. Literalists hold tightly to the order of things, Light and dark, before the sun and moon, man created last as the crowning glory of all creation, the icing on the cake. The literalists fill pages with their proofs of their position. They even build museums and run research institutes to promote their theology.

And this morning, we’re not saying that this position is right or wrong. Our God is big enough to have created in this way.

Others, we’ll call them Old Earth Creationists, just as vehemently, point to the other book of revelation, nature, creation itself, and struggle to bring the words of Genesis 1 into alignment with what they see in nature, fossils of long dead creatures, evidence of the earth moving effects of an ice age, early human and human like remains that scientific dating places much older than 10,000 years.  They too write at great length putting scientific proof beside literary symbolism to show argue harmony between the words of the bible and nature around them. They see science, and the findings of science, as a road to seeing God, a way to understand how things came to be. For them a simplistic word spoken to make things happen insults their intelligence, flies in the face of what they see around them.  These folks hold to a theory called Intellegent design, which puts the controlling hand of God in a creative process that has been going on for millions of years.

And this morning, we’re not saying that this position is right or wrong. Our God is big enough to have created in this way too.

In all of our arguments, debates, and angry shouting matches,  we get so wrapped up in our positions, and their implications to the rest of our understanding of theology, that we often forget those first words, the real source of hope, In the beginning God… We are so busy trying to understand creation in human terms, bring it down to our level, that we end up making God small, losing the wonder of a spirit moving over the waters, of a voice that can create just by speaking, of the water itself that becomes the medium of new creation, water and chaos that is conquered.

We want to understand and describe it in our terms, but that is just not possible, no more possible than actually being able to understand how something like the Pillars of Creation can be 7000 light years away, or 4 light years long. We can say the words, we can try to wrap our earth bound heads around it, but we really can’t begin to fathom what it really means. We have no reference points that really make sense of it. The act of creation is bigger than our minds can comprehend, the God who does the creating unimaginable.

Creation is a matter of faith, its the only way it can be, whether or not you hold to one interpretation or the other, or something in between, faith says, In the beginning  God…..

Salvation is also a matter of faith it’s an offshoot of creation a product of God’s continuing work in the world, God’s love for the creation and the created, God’s grace

Mark, in our gospel reading this morning, shows that quite clearly as he lines up the creation story of Genesis 1 and his account of the baptism of Jesus. Look at the players.

We hear the voice, the same voice that says Let there be Light, saying “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  The light, a new light has come into the world and God is again separating the light from the darkness.[1] There’s the reference to God seeing, seeing it was good. But it’s just not the voice, the spirit is here too descending toward the water, descending to the same place it was at the very beginning, now descending on to Jesus as he comes out of the water.

And the water itself, the same water that once covered the earth in death, now covers Jesus and out of it comes a new creation, salvation in the flesh. Emanuel, God with us. God’s new work of creation.

And we can’t really understand this new creation, this God become man, fully God and fully man, anymore than we can understand the creation of the world or the new creation that we become in Jesus Christ, through his sacrifice on Calvary for us, any more than we can truly understand how, or even why, God would bother with us, his human creations on an insignificant planet, orbiting around an insignificant star that we call the Sun.

We can’t understand what everlasting life might look like either, or why it might be offered, why God chooses to love us. We have no idea where heaven is, so far the Hubble space telescope hasn’t found it, or what it will be like.

All we can do is hold on in faith to those words “In the beginning God”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

In the beginning God saw that it was good

In the beginning God said let us create man in our own image

In the beginning God saw it was all very good

And then we forgot God, rebelled,  sinned against God, thought we could go it on our own

And then there are new words…..for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

As Jesus, the son, steps out of the water on the day of his baptism, greeted by the voice of his father and the sound of a doves wings as it descends onto him, he begins his ministry, proclaiming a new creation, a new kingdom, the kingdom of God come to earth. He also begins his journey to the cross where he will carry the burden of all of our sins, where he will die for us. On the day of his baptism he begins to usher in a new creation, a new kingdom, one that is both here now and also not yet complete.

As in Genesis 1, so in our lives, the first day is just a little unreal, perfect in the memory of it, almost unreachable, seen in a special kind of warm light.   It ends.  The evening comes and soon a new day will arrive and then another and then another and before you know it, a history starts to be formed.   You have days to look back on eventually and they are not always pleasant.   Things crop up that do blot out the light after all.   Shadows form.   The chaos God pushed back in Genesis to create his cosmos rears its head whenever it can, disorienting us.

And as the days accumulate and the memories (good and bad) pile up, we feel a little desperate sometimes.  A little wistful, a little empty, we have a longing or hankering for . . . something, for a better country, a better life.   We hanker maybe for what things were like on the first day, or maybe in a place we call the good old days.    So we wonder if we can ever get back, ever get to the point of living with hope and with good possibilities instead of with bad memories and with past disappointments.

I think we all know these feelings,

Two things give us hope as history and the endless press of days weighs us down.

The first is from Genesis 1 itself.

Yes, the first day passed as it had to do so we could move on with the story, but on that first day—when all was new and fresh and full of possibility—there is just one character in the larger story who is on the scene and that is God himself.  The first four words of the Bible are really all you ever need to know: “In the beginning God.”

In the beginning God.   That may well say it all.   God was there in our beginning and that means he’ll be there at our ending, too.   And because that is true, we know that there won’t really be an ending to any of us.

And that’s the second thing that gives me hope and it comes from our second text this morning is the voice that started creation introduces Jesus to the world with “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus Baptism marks the first day of his ministry which continues as we read another familiar passage “On the first day of the week . . . the women went to the tomb.”  What they found on that particular first day of the week changed everything to the point that we Christians still gather on the first day to remember a resurrection that changed everything and that provided a new beginning, a new start, a new first day that returns each and every one of us individually and all of us collectively to a time of new possibilities, to a place where the sins and regrets of the past really are forgiven and blotted out, to a place where hope shines out with all the possibility God once had in mind when he began the whole story with the sound of a voice in the emptiness, “Let there be light.”

And there was light.   There was a morning.  There was an evening.  There was the first day.   God was in that first day and he is in all the days that follow, even to the end of the age and beyond. In Jesus, God begins a new creation as Jesus steps out of the water at his baptism.  That is the good news the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray,

Father, Creator of all things

We find our hope in you,

Our comfort in you.

We cannot begin to understand your ways

Or even how you do the things you do

How you speak things into being

But we find our hope in your everlasting grace

We find our anchor in the words In the beginning God

And we stand amazed at your love for us

Through Jesus Christ.

In whose name we pray

Amen

[1] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mk 1:11.

The Almost Final Step

On Wednesday of this week, I was examined by Classis Huron of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). It’s the last step in the process toward ordination. I’ve been working on, and finished a Master of Divinity. I’ve been examined by the faculty of Calvin Seminary, the Candidacy Committee of the CRCNA, and received a call (job offer) from a church. The examination is the last hurdle.

Of all of the exams, this one is the most onerous. Two examiners are assigned, one to delve into practical matters and one to cover theology. Both contacted me, in one way or another, before the event and gave a very broad idea of what they might ask. It was broad enough that virtually anything was on the table. There were about a hundred people in the audience and they were allowed to ask questions as well (there weren’t many of those).

After about two hours, the questions stopped and all but the delegates were asked to leave the room. It seemed to take a long time, but we were called back in and, while the chairman tried to add some drama, implying failure, I was passed.

I felt a lot better as it was announced this was behind me. I don’t suffer a lot from nervousness, but this experience, with its broad scope, and answers, which are, by their very nature, sometimes controversial, did push me as far as I have been pushed in recent years.

The title of this post is “The Almost Final Step”. There is one more, the Ordination Service. It will be a celebration, not a trial, but it is the final step in this journey. That service will be held February 28th at 7:30.

During the questions, I was asked to reflect on God’s work in this whole process. All along the way, God has been pushing, prodding, and opening doors. The presence is much clearer in retrospect than it is in the moment, but, I know that as this journey continues to unfold, God will continue to be there, out front, marking the way.