Sometimes we sit around the dinner table and tell our family stories. Sometimes the kids groan and complain that they have heard the stories before, but now and then Kurt and I think of a new one. They especially like to hear stories of their two grandfathers who died before Kurt and I met. They like to hear stories of their grandmothers and their parents when we were young, especially the embarrassing stories, and the ones of us getting into a little bit of trouble. We all need to pass on stories of our history to the next generation so we know from where we come. These are our origin stories.
The Bible starts with origin stories too. The first book in the Bible, Genesis, is a book of stories of some of the first families in our history with God, at least those of us in the Judeo Christian family. And, of course, the first two stories are creation stories. Yes, by the way in case you didn’t know it, there are two versions of the Creation Story, one in chapter one and a second version in chapter two. The second story is actually the older and shorter version. It’s the one that talks about Adam and Eve. The first story is the one we read today: it’s the one that tells the story using the poetic frame of 7 days with the refrain: “It was evening, it was morning, day one…” and so on, at the end of each day.
This creation story was developed in about 600 BCE during a time when the people of Israel were in exile. They had been taken away from their land as prisoners and were living in Babylon. The story was written in poetry form, and is written for the purpose of what we call proclamation, or telling the story of God. We might call it a sermon.
The creation story was not written as a historical document, got that. And it was certainly not written as a scientific explanation of the creation of the universe, you can quote me on that. But let’s just take a moment now, to address that. I asked a couple of our science teachers in the congregation how they deal with that question. Because I know it’s common for people to think that you can’t be a Christian be a scientist, because scientists believe in evolution and creation and evolution just don’t seem to jive with one another. One of our science teachers told me that she gets asked on a regular basis by her middle school students: “Are you a Christian?” She treads lightly, as teachers should on speaking of personal belief. Because they don’t think scientists believe in God. And they don’t think Christians believe in evolution. She tells them that she is a Christian and that she is a firm believer in the science she teaches. Of course, one way to deal with their question is that each day in the Bible is not a 24 hour day.
But I would invite you to look at this story in a completely unscientific way. The ancient people who wrote this story never intended for us to read it as science. The story was written to give hope to people who were living in exile. As Walter Bruggemann points out, the creation story was not written as “an abstract statement about the origin of the universe” (Genesis, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1982, p 25). It is “a theological and pastoral statements addresses to a real history problem. The problem is to find a ground for faith in this God” when their experience seemed to deny God” (ibid). The creation story calls them to put their trust in God when their current experience includes “sickness, poverty, unemployment, loneliness, that is, every human experience of abandonment” (ibid).
So you have these ancient people, who have put their trust in God, and they are feeling abandoned. And so their religious leaders draw upon this ancient creation myth that is part of their religious tradition and craft it into poetry and hymn of praise all rolled into one.
Myth you ask? Did Pastor Cheri say myth? What does she mean by myth? Is that like on Myth Busters? Something that may or may not be true? Myths are made up stories, aren’t they? No, fables are made up stories.
By contrast, myths are stories that are part of our sacred tradition, much like a story that is told around the family dinner table. They give meaning to our life together. We tell them to explain why we are the way we are. “You like to take things apart and have ever since you were a little boy; you remind me of your grandfather, let me tell you a story about that.” Will we tell the same details of the story in the same way every time? No. Will the story perhaps get more interesting every time we tell it? Of course. Is the story true? Yes. If we get a tiny fact a little bit off does that mean we are being dishonest? No. That is not the point of the story. We are telling the child how he is like his grandfather. We want him to feel a connection to his grandfather. That is the point of the story. And that is what is true. That is a family myth: a story that explains something and connects the past to the present and to the future.
There were many creation myths circulating in the ancient world. The creation story that we have in Genesis chapter 1, made its way to the Israelites in exile in ancient Babylon. It was similar to one among the ancient Egyptians. The story has truth because it tells us important things about how God relates to us and we relate to God. Now let’s be honest, no human being was there when the world was created, so no one was there to record the order of things. But we have this story, and so as people of faith, we have to discern whether or not some truths have been revealed from God to ancient people which ring true to us. As I read this origin story, I find some truths that are compelling as part of the human story in relation to God.
The first thing we notice is this, God speaks the creation into existence. The idea of call is an important one in the relationship between God and God’s people. We are going to spend several weeks this summer in Genesis, looking at origin stories, and we will see call stories. God speaks; God calls us and people have a choice. Will we respond to God’s call? So it is striking that in the story of creation we find God calling, or speaking, each part of creation into existence: God spoke, light and it appeared; God spoke sky and it appeared. Over and over again God speaks and creation responds.
The next thing we see is that everything that God creates is good. For people who are living in exile, these words give great comfort and encouragement. All is not lost. When creation began it was good. God pauses every day to see the creation. When God pauses to see the creation God delights in what God has created. We are God’s creation. The creation brings God joy. We bring God joy! Writer Debie Thomas puts it this way: God “steps back to behold all that is taking shape before his eyes. Like a musician who thrills at a swelling harmony, like a poet who gasps at a beautiful turn of phrase, God lingers over his creation — every leaf, every wing, every stream, every child. He's perceptive, and patient. He observes. He attends. He notices. I come from a God who pays delighted attention” (Source: Debie Thomas http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20140609JJ.shtml).
Remember that this creation story was written down for people living as prisoners under foreign rule. They held onto the promise that God delights in God’s creation. As they heard their origin story of creation, they believed that goodness can be restored. We can believe that too.
Another thing they learned as they heard the story was this. God does not just create something static, like a builder builds a house and then walks away (Bruggemann, p 18). God’s creative work is ongoing and vibrant. Frederick Buechner writes, "Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new out of them. If you think you're seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you're crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again, either." (quoted in http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20140609JJ.shtml)
Our relationship to God as our Creator is ongoing. Remember in our story from scripture this week (Genesis Chapter 1 from the Message paraphrase for those following along from afar):
God says: Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth
The story tells us that as part of creation we are in this with God. The creating acts will continue and God expects us to work with God in caring for this creation. We are in this together. We keep creating with God.
And then on the 7th day, God rests and the tradition of Sabbath rest begins. The Creation Story reminds us that we are people of rhythm, work and rest, production and renewal. God expects rest to be part of the rhythm of life. This has been the way of things from the beginning. Rest is in the first chapter of our holy book. How can we possibly fail to take care of our bodies and our spirits? How can we fail to renew our souls when from the beginning God has reminded us to rest by God’s own example? This is our origin story as the family of God.
So where do you find yourself in this origin story? There are several, four to be precise, messages in this story. Any of one them might be the message you need to hear today.
11) God calls creation into relationship. We each have a relationship with our Creator because at a moment in time our Creator called us into being. We each have a bond to our Creator. This is a spiritual bond that draws us to God. The connection between Creator and Created One is, I believe, one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
22) Our Creator delights in us because we are God’s creation. We bring God joy. That is our job and we do it just by being. In the story, the creation does not do anything. It just is and God says it is good. We bring God delight and joy simply because we are.
33) The Creator God is continually creating. You just have to look at the world to see this is true. Every Spring we see it. Every time a baby is born we see it. With the gift of every new relationship with see God’s creative action. When we experience the call of God on our lives, that is God’s creative force in action. God creates. As God’s created beings we are part of this creative action. We get to be creative too, because we are made in God’s image. Every creative ability comes because we connected to God.
44) Even God rested and we are commanded to rest with God. A balanced life demands both productivity and rest.
The creation story is rich with meaning for our lives today. This Origin Story of the human family tells us who we are. We belong to our Creator God. Our Creator God delights in us and continues to create with us. And our Creator values Sabbath rest as part a balanced life.
This week I invite you to respond to this creation story in some way. It’s summer so it’s a great time to enjoy creation and delight in it with God. Perhaps this afternoon you can enjoy some Sabbath rest and take a break from your work: both your work for pay and your house work. Do something that relaxes you and give thanks to God for time and space just to be. Or maybe you want to do something creative: paint, draw, or sew and remember that you are creating because you are made in the image of the one who created the universe.
The Creation Story is our Origin Story. We belong to God. The Creator created all of creation. And God said, “It was good, so very good.” Let us share in God’s delight of this wonderful creation.