“In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth….”
Isn’t that the most beautiful way to begin a book? In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth. I spent last week on Study Leave at Princeton seminary at the Frederich Buechner writers conference where I heard well known writers talk about what it means to be a writer, how one goes about getting published and the discipline and the creative process of good writing. I then played hooky from a morning session and went to a local coffee house and wrote this sermon based on the first chapter of Genesis.
One piece of advice publishers gave when presenting a book proposal is grab the reader’s attention right away. They said, the first 100 – indeed the first 50 words should draw the reader in, or the manuscript will go into the rejection pile. The first nine words of the Book of Genesis is the beginning of a poem, written in Hebrew, by a priest over 2000 years ago to a people that were living in exile on the banks of the Babylon. The writer and the people are trying to make sense of the chaos of their lives. And so the author makes this beautiful statement: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” What a powerful statement.
Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Genesis states that the main theme of this text is “God and God’s creation are bound together in a distinctive and delicate way. This is the presupposition for everything that follows in the Bible.” he says.
"B'reishit bara Elohim." In the beginning of the beginning that is always beginning, God created the creation that is still.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth.
Ironically, or perhaps not so ironically these nine words have been bludgeoned and made into a controversy. We have polluted these words in much of the same way we have polluted the God’s creation. We have argued over what the author meant and didn’t mean, who the author was or is, and when exactly the beginning was. We have torn the sentence, parsed it, manipulated and taken ownership of it, as if it could only belong to one group of people and not to another, as if it is our own writing and not someone else’s. It such a beautiful, little sentence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The author is expressing a statement of faith. He is expressing His faith. The author is a poet, whom I imagine, walked out into a cool night and felt a breeze on his face and the earth at his feet and he looked up at the clear night sky, where there was nothing about thousands of stars. There were no street lights or city lights to subdue what he saw -- only the breath taking panoramic view of the night sky and the milky way and shooting stars and he realized that only a creator God could make something so beautiful. Only Yahweh, could be responsible for all that was before him. Did the author know his words would be mauled and manipulated? Did the Creator know His creation would be pulled and pillaged? Why did the author write such beautiful words? Why did God create the earth? I imagine it is because God could not help himself. God by his very nature is a creator. If you want to know God and become closer to God, go explore what God has created.
I love this quote on the cover of the bulletin this morning by Steve Dewitt. He says, Nature is God’s self-portrait. Nature is not God, but it reveals in a physical form what God is like. The other day, we took our kids to an art museum and we sat on a bench and I taught Jackson how to study a piece of art. – At least, how I study art. I explained, these benches are here, so you can be still for a while and just look at the art. You see if you walk by a piece of art you may only see shapes and colors, it may invoke a feeling, like peace or chaos, or it may just be shapes and colors. But to truly understand it, you need to sit still and take it in. Sit here on this bench and look closely at the piece. What colors does the artist use? What way did the artist’s brush stroke? The longer you sit, the more you see. If you sit long enough you will have a deeper understanding of what the artist’s intentions were and you always walk away, thinking “that is so cool!” And you know that if you sat longer, you would learn even more. The artwork is not the artist, but it does reveal something about the artist.
Nature is God’s artwork, and while God is nature, it does reveal something about God. Let’s think about this for a while. Let’s sit on our pew bench and study God’s artwork. The priestly writer in the book of Genesis says in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God started with a blank sheet of paper and so he began. He began with light and darkness and then he made the oceans. The oceans cover 71% of the earth service.
We are a water planet. Without the oceans, nothing would exist. It is responsible for the carbon cycle which influences climate and weather patterns. The world ocean is the habitat of 230,000 known species. What do the oceans tell us about God? Like the ocean, God was here long before we were and will be here long after us. Like the ocean God breathes life into the earth and all its inhabitants. Like the ocean, God is majestic and is transcendent. We would not be here if it weren’t for both.
The next day God made the Land – The earth. The soil, the mountains, the forests, the deserts. If you have ever driven across the United States, you know how diverse and beautiful the land is. Even the flat planes of Kansas have a beauty that is overwhelming. Like the snow-capped mountains that we cannot keep our eyes off of, like the forests smile of pine. God is not afraid to be beautiful.
God then started to design plants. God is the ultimate botanist. He made flowering plants, conifers, gymnosperns, ferns, clubmosses, hornworts, liverworts, mosses and algea. There are about 315 thousand species of plants on our planet. We have discovered that these plants are for eating as well as for healing. Some are nutritious and others are poisonous. All serve a purpose. This artist, this creator God creates with purpose. Everything God creates has a purpose.
Then God made the birds of the air and the animals on the land. Now we have decided that some of these animals are more important than others – but the Bible tell us that even the Sparrow has home in God’s kingdom. Think about the delicacy of a humming bird, the paws on a lion, the design on a cobra, the feathers of a macaw. What fun God had in creating these creatures. What fun God had in designing the giraffe and the platypus. What joy God had in creating a Labrador. What pleasure God took in sculpting the dolphin. What emotion God had when he conceived the Eagle. Each creature is so unique, one can only assume they were made and designed with great love. This artist, this creator God has a sense of humor, is whimsical, and joyful and emotional and loves to create.
And then God made us. Human beings, with brains that were able to be stewards of God’s masterpiece. Human beings that need the ocean waters to survive and the vegetation to thrive and the animals to live along side. I wrote these words in a crowded coffee house in Princeton New Jersey. I stopped writing and looked up and looked around at this part of God’s artwork -humanity. There were people of different ages and skin color. Some were hairier than others. Some were young and others were older. All of them sipping coffee or tea and talking on their phones or staring into screens as I was. All of them were the child someone. All of them thinking, creating themselves. This artist, this creator God designed human beings to be co-creators with Him.
On the last day, God rested. God sat back in his recliner and put his paint brush to his mouth and looked at his masterpiece. He watched a flock of geese take flight on a October morning, against a bright blue sky, as golden leaves shimmered in the morning dew. He watched the watercolors of the sunset over the mountains and found joy as he blended purple and red against a darkening sky. He laughed out loud when he watched sea lions play in the ocean, and he smiled when saw butterflies dance in the morning dew. Oh, how God loves all that he has created. How he loves his masterpiece. What do we learn about God by looking at nature? We see that God is the ultimate artist, botanist, scientist. We see that God did not just create once and called it good, God is still creating, will keep creating long after we are gone and will always create for the good. We see that God creates order out of chaos. We see that God does not lack in the imagination.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name. Give us eyes to see the beauty of your creation; give us ears to hear the music you play for us; give us the senses to know the goodness of all you have made, O God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen