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The Beginning of Everything

Epiphany 1 2015, Common Lectionary Year B

Genesis 1:1-5

©Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

Genesis 1 Hebrew

“In the beginning, when God was creating the heavens and the earth,
the earth was formless, empty, chaos,
a wasteland.”

I may be biased, but that has to be one of the most majestic opening lines in all of human literature.
These words are grandiose, eloquent, poetic,
a symphonic prologue to the
human spiritual grand narrative of our civilisation.

And they have to be,because this opening verse is the Bible’s Big Bang.
This is the beginning of everything.

If I can quote essayist Debie Thomas a moment,
she writes,
“If we in the postmodern world struggle to see truth in [these words], it is not because Scripture is lying. It is because our post-Enlightenment imaginations are impoverished.”[1]

Our invitation today, is to feed those impoverished imaginations
by entering into the rhythm and cadence of this text to find
not facts to prove,but truths to live by.

When the earth was formless, void,
the Ruach Elohim,
the Spirit of God, brooded like a wind
over the chaos,
and God spoke, and there was light.”

Somehow, in those opening 27 Hebrew words,
the story of the Beginning of Everything
is contained;
the story science tells of a 14 billion year old energetic explosion from which the universe emerged,
to coalesce into suns and planets,
upon one of which
matter further complexified to form
animate creatures
capable of complex speech and thought,
capable of love and wonder,
capable of asking “Why?”
“Why creation?” Why us? Why we?[2]
is all here in these opening verses of the Bible.

These are hugely significant questions for the human race.
How we answer them will have impact on how we treat ourselves,
how we treat one another,
and how we treat this planet we call home.

If we take the evolutionary scientific approach,
we can be appropriately awestruck
at the sheer luck that we,
formed of stardust,
cooked at just the right temperature, on a planet just the right distance
from a rather insignificant aging star,
with just the right combination of chains of carbon atoms,
are actually here!
But if I may paint with broad strokes,
this story is a wonderful exploration of the
“how” and “what”questions, but not the “why.”

The boldness of Scripture is that it attempts
to open up possible answers to the great “why?”
with this hymnic claim:
of the reality of a good God,
a good world,
and a beloved humanity.
There is a creative tension (literally) in this opening verse.
First we see a beginning,
in which there is chaos, emptiness,
dark wildness, primordial depths of the abyss (tohu ve’bohu).
And hovering, sweeping, brooding
over this chaotic wildness
is the Ruach Elohim, the Spirit-Breath of God.
Brooding, gestating, warming coldness to lively warmth.

This Breath speaks,
a divine, creative word is uttered,
and light shines into the darkness!
Immediately, we are told,
God beholds what she has
spoken into being, and declares it “Good.”
The goodness of light spills over the darkness,
giving it a name and a blessing:
“Night” becomes not merely the absence of light,
but the time for rest and renewal;
darkness itself becomes,
by the Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of God, good.

The narrative goes on past the verses of today’s reading
to portray the Divine Creator at work.
By a word, fashioning the complexity of creation.
Seven times God steps back to relish, delight,
observe, linger, dwell, gasp in awe, thrill over, gaze in wonder,
at all that God has made, declaring all of it… all of it… “Good.”

And who is to say that the God who speaks
new life, goodness and beauty into being
at the beginning of everything, then,
has stopped now?
Of course not!
New snow, new day, new rain, new birth,
new hair growth after chemotherapy,
new energy after healing antibiotics,
new families created from the love of strangers now partners….
The earth is filled with a creative energy that is good.

Marcus Borg
(one of our favourite scholars of Bible)
says
“The creation story is strikingly world-affirming….
Against all world-denying philosophies, Genesis affirms the world as the good creation of the good God. All that is, is good.”[3]

Let me push this question back onto us now:
What would it mean for us to inhabit our place in this world,
numbed as it is and we are
by a relentless barrage of news about
atrocities of every conceivable ugliness,
rampant anger, nihilist rage, corruption, greed, war, you name it…
what if we inhabited this chaotic world
NOT believing the worldly narrative of inevitable destruction,
but living instead this Biblical vision of God and God’s world as inherently good?

How might we respond, for example,
to the seemingly impossible call to repair the damage of human-wrought climate change,
or the call to work for peace with justice,
or the call to engage in ethical investment,
or to promote sustainable agriculture,
or the reconciliation of peoples of different languages, cultures, races,
if we truly, deeply believed,
and lived believing that
the “world’s default setting… is not evil,
but radical, world-altering good?”[4]

What difference might it make if we lived believing
that over every chaos, every emptiness, every untameable wildness,
broods a God whose creative essence
and breath is to create from such chaotic matter
an entire universe of goodness?

What would it take?

Which brings me for a closing moment
to the Gospel story,
the baptism of Jesus.
John baptizes crowds who have come out to the Judean wilderness,
in search of something to alleviate the chaotic oppression
of Roman vassalage.
John preaches a baptism with water for the repentance of sin.
John’s worldview is that of CNN and Fox –
the world has gone to hell in a hand-basket,
it’s our fault,
and there’s not much you can do about it,
except lament or retreat.

Into that world, stepping into the Jordan,
symbolic of those primordial waters
of chaos, bleakness, emptiness, brokenness,
walks Jesus.
And at that moment, the heavens are ‘torn open.’
The literary tension is back in full force….
and what will come through that torn canopy of heaven?
A God on a rampage?
Breathing Hell-fire and brimstone?

No!
At the beginning of everything that would become the Gospel, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ,
what emerges, what comes to rest, hovering over the wildness and chaos,
… a brooding dove! The Ruach Elohim!
She hovers above this mortal one,
and then the creative voice of God is heard,
and that word uttered is – you guessed it!
one of love, blessing, of goodness, and delight!

“My Son, the Beloved!”
Creative blessing, enfleshed in humanity,

Just as we are called to be.
Creative blessing, enfleshed in humanity.
The Beginning of Everything.

 

1 “The Best of All Beginnings”, e-zine article on Journey with Jesus, June 2014.
2 For a fascinating exploration of how religion and science tell the same story, but from a different perspective, see Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning. (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011).
3 Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.
4 Thomas, ibid.

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