The Parable of All Creation

2019-09-01 CombinedSCRIPTURE: This was done in church in a Reader’s Theatre style with three different voices reading the parts. Gary was Narrator #1, Reeta Narrator #2, and Martha read as God from the Family Room.

Genesis 1-2:3a (Adapted from The Voice Bible) :

Narrator #1:Out of nowhere, time, space, and all the living whirl forth as God speaks the universe into existence. With the utterance of the Holy voice, creation takes form, chaos yields to order, light eclipses darkness, and emptiness fills with life. Not long after God creates the first humans, Adam and Eve, the story takes a tragic turn when the first couple disobeys the clear instruction from God not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story then goes that humanity falls from God’s intended perfection. The disastrous consequences of this decisive act are demonstrated in Cain’s murder of Abel, Noah’s flood, and the Tower of Babel… and all the other examples of our human imperfection. But before all that…

Narrator #2:In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth belowHere’s what some say happened: At first the earth lacked shape and was totally empty, and a dark fog draped over the deep while God’s spirit-wind hovered over the surface of the empty waters. Then there was the voice of God.

God: Let there be light.

Narrator #2:And light flashed into being. God saw that the light was beautiful and good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light “day” and the darkness “night.” Evening gave way to morning. That was day one.

God: Let there be a vast expanse in the middle of the waters. Let the waters above part from the waters below.

Narrator #2:So, God parted the waters and formed this expanse, separating the waters above from the waters below. It happened just as God said. And God called the vast expanse “sky.” Evening gave way to morning. That was day two.

God: Let the waters below the heavens be collected into one place and congregate into one vast sea, so that dry land may appear.

Narrator #2:It happened just as God said. God called the dry land “earth” and the waters congregated below “seas.” And God saw that the new creation was beautiful and good.

God: Earth, sprout green vegetation! Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants and all sorts of fruit-bearing trees.

Narrator #2:It happened just as God said. The earth produced vegetation—seed-bearing plants of all varieties and fruit-bearing trees of all sorts. And God saw that this new creation was beautiful and good. Evening gave way to morning. That was day three.

God:  Lights, come out! Shine in the vast expanse of heavens’ sky dividing day from night to mark the seasons, days, and years. Lights, warm the earth with your light.

Narrator #2:It happened just as God said.  God fashioned the two great lights—the brighter to mark the course of day, the dimmer to mark the course of night—and the Divine needled night with the stars. God set them in heavens’ sky to cast warm light on the earth, to rule over the day and night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that this new creation was beautiful and good. Evening gave way to morning. That was day four.

God: Waters, swarm with fish and sea creatures. Let birds soar high above the earth in the broad expanse of sky.

Narrator #2:So, God created huge sea creatures, all the swarm of life in the waters, and every kind and species of flying birds—each able to reproduce its own kind. And God saw that this new creation was beautiful and good. And God spoke this blessing over them:

God: Be fruitful and multiply. Let creatures fill the seas. Let birds reproduce and cover the earth.

Narrator #2: Evening gave way to morning. That was day five.

God: Earth, generate life! Produce a vast variety of living creatures—domesticated animals, small creeping creatures, and wild animals that roam the earth.

Narrator #2:It happened just as God said. God made earth-creatures in a vast variety of species: wild animals, domesticated animals of all sizes, and small creeping creatures, each able to reproduce its own kind. God saw that this new creation was beautiful and good. And God paused.

God: Now let Usconceive a new creation—humanity—made in Our image, fashionedaccording to Ourlikeness. And let Usgrant them authority over all the earth—the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the domesticated animals and the small creeping creatures on the earth.

Narrator #2:So, God did just that. God created humanity in God’s image, created them male and female. Then God blessed them and gave them this directive: “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of this estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.”

Narrator #1:The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.

God:(to humanity) Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant that grows on the earth and every fruit-bearing tree. They will be your food and nourishment. As for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and every small creeping creature—everything that breathes the breath of life—I have given them every green plant for food.

Narrator #2:And it happened just as God said.  Then God surveyed everything God had made, savoring its beauty and appreciating its goodness. Evening gave way to morning. That was day six.

Narrator #1:So, now you see how the Creator swept into being the spangled heavens, the earth, and all their hosts in six days.  On the seventh day—with the canvas of the cosmos completed—God paused from labor and rested. Thus God blessed day seven and made it special—an open time for pause and restoration, a sacred zone of Sabbath-keeping, because God rested from all the work God had done in creation that day.

SERMON:

Please pray with me: May the words that I speak reach the hearts that need to hear them. May the thoughts that I share inspire thoughts of your own, and may all of us recognize and remember that we are in the presence and grace of God, now and always. Amen.

Here we are at our last week in combined service this summer where we have been exploring the parables of Jesus together. Jesus gravitated towards this style of storytelling which was a classic Jewish way to teaching. Jesus used parables to teach his listeners about what the goodness of the Kingdom of God was like or to warn them about the trappings of the Kingdom of Earth. We learned that the parables, that sometimes seem so simple to some of us because we’ve heard them all these years, were actually quite provocative and controversial back in Jesus’ day. So often we want to fit the characters in these stories so that they make sense for what we know our world is like. But the parables were so much more mysterious than that. Jesus was trying to teach a new thing! He wasn’t trying to teach about this world, but about the upside-down world that God intended!

He wanted his listeners to perk up at those places in the stories that just didn’t make sense so that they ended up with more questions than answers. He wanted and wants those that think they know everything about God to keep wondering! As we listen, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the early listeners and wonder how the stories would have landed on their ears and in their hearts!

To make these stories hit us in a similar way I love to rewrite as I did a few times this summer. The parables should make us uncomfortable and shake us up. They should inspire us to change! To transform! It’s exciting to bring the Bible alive so we can get a little closer to the mysteries of God. Scriptures, after all, are human words trying to wrap themselves around the mystery of God’s Truth. All we can do, if we really want to steadily move towards realizing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, is keep reading, listening, being curious, being wrong, trying over, reworking old ideas, and exploring new possibilities. Today, I want to introduce another idea…

During my time at Atlantic School of Theology I did a self-directed study called “Right Relationship with Creation” and my final paper for that course was called, “Why Did God Create Carnivores?” In it I wanted to think about the question “why do bad things happen” in a world that is supposed to be made “good”. This question can come up when creation to fighting back against humanity (and maybe it should, but that’s another sermon) and we experience natural catastrophes like floods, earthquakes or tsunamis.
We might ask, “If there is a God who loves humankind, then why did God create a world that fights back against us?” Or maybe, “If God is good, then why would God create creatures that killed each other?” Or even, “Why would God not stop any of these things from happening if God is so good?”

Sometimes who we have been taught God is by Jesus  versus what the scriptures sometimes say really make us ask these kinds of questions don’t they? It is ok to ask these kinds of questions! Faith is belief in spite of doubt, so that doesn’t mean not asking questions… it means recognizing that we can never know all there is to know! Keep asking questions, but never give up on God just because you don’t find the answers right away!

There are so many articles and posts that both support and refute ideas that God is “Good”, that maybe God causes destruction as punishment, or even that say that if God is really all powerful then evil wouldn’t exist unless God made it. There are so many debates like these.

But, I’ve also read some really good responses to these kinds of arguments. One was a compassionate poem by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson called “How not to respond to a flood” the first stanza goes like this:

Don’t respond with theology.
God isn’t angry, and God doesn’t want devastation.
Your sin didn’t cause the flood
that swept away your home, your town.
God doesn’t punish Houston, and
didn’t punish Miami or San Francisco, or New Orleans,
because God isn’t in the storm.
God weeps at our suffering. God loves.

While I was writing that paper on carnivores, I ran across two main thoughts that addressed my question. One was that all natural evil (disasters and carnivores and such) resulted from “the curse” that we learn about in the second creation story in Genesis. You know the one where Eve (that tricky woman) convinces Adam (that innocent man) to eat the apple from the tree and as a result of Adam’s fall – all of creation is doomed forever… you know the one !
The other theory was that evil (as some describe all carnivores and natural disasters) are necessary to maintain the ecosystem – that they are just part of the natural order of things – an order that is literally selfish by nature.

Thankfully, I came across a third theory from a theologian named Stanley Rice. He caught my attention because his theory pointed out the lack of biblical support and substantial biological difficulties of “the Curse” idea about evil AND he also said that the selfishness of the natural order doesn’t really jive with the Loving God that we came to know through Jesus Christ.

As Christians, who believe that God created the world, how can we really believe that God creates an order of things that is at the very least selfish and at its worst cruel?  The God we learned about from the life and example of Jesus was neither selfish, nor cruel, right? Rice suggests that we can look to what have learned about God from Jesus and impose that onto the natural world to move closer to the answers we seek. Thinking like this helps us learn lessons like we heard in Rabbi Artson’s poem. Lessons that remind us that, “God weeps at our suffering.” That “God loves.”

Just as we have learned to read the parables, whenever we read scripture, we can look for that part that doesn’t seem to make sense! Let’s be careful not to line up the characters and events in a way that WE think the world is or ought to be. Instead, let’s dig a little deeper for the lesson that it contains about the world, about the kingdom, about God, and about our relationship with all of the above!

So, how do we apply that to this reading of Genesis today? What does this story tell us if we read it with an eye on understanding that God is unconditionally loving and compassionate – as in ‘one who suffers with us’? What doesn’t it tell us that we thought it did? The reading tells us that in the Beginning there was only God and then God created everything. What it doesn’t say is who or what God is. God just is…period.

God’s spoke and the rest came into being –  Light, Earth, Sky, Sea, Sun, Moon, Stars, Vegetation and all the creatures, Humankind –God made all of these things and God saw that they were… Good! We must as if that means what WE think it means, or is “good” different in the “eyes’ of God? These are the kinds of questions that help us get a little closer to the mystery that is God.

The earth was commanded to be fruitful and multiply,  “Let the earth bring forth” was the command – no longer would God create from scratch – that work was done – creation would carry on from what God had made… God provided everything that would be needed to be fruitful and for creation to be an ongoing act of God and then God rested.

God made human beings in the likeness of God to act in the ongoing care of creation. The responsibility is given to rule, as God would rule – not with self-serving power or for personal gain – but as rulers who serve all of creation selflessly with love and compassion as their guide. We were supposed to provide care to what God had created and ensure that it was maintained in the “good” state in which it was made…. If we think about God in terms of unconditional love and compassion, then that is how we must interpret words like dominion and authority. Those words mean something very different than manipulate, force, and exploit when we know God to be loving and compassionate.

The scriptures are clear on this too: We are made like God, but we are not made into Gods. God is still the ruler of ALL, but we are entrusted with the care and concern for all that God made and commanded the earth and sea to continue to create!
So, where did we go wrong? We forgot. We forgot that what God made was already good in God’s eyes, so we tried to change it to make it better to what we thought it was good in our eyes. We forgot, because we weren’t made perfect even if we were perfectly made. And that means we make mistakes.

We ruled according to our own will and pretended that it was the will of God. When we do that there are consequences for our mistakes. Not delivered as punishment by God, but as a natural result of our actions. Like getting too close to a fire and getting a burn: nobody burned you to teach you a lesson, it happened because that’s what fire does – it burns. Once certain actions happen certain reactions will follow. The choices that we have made to treat the earth and seas as we have, for as long as we have, lead to the condition that the earth is in today.

Actions have consequences and climate change is a real consequence of human action. I think this first creation story tells us what we need to do to fix our mistakes – if we still can. We need to start seriously thinking about what it means to serve the earth as one that has the power to make changes to its condition. We need to start serving the needs of the earth and all of creation as God entrusted us to do.

We rely too much on our own understanding of what is good and serve our need and ultimately greed before considering the whole of creation. If we think of the story of Creation as a Parable, then this story teaches us about the consequence of serving ourselves instead of serving God. The consequence of our action is climate change, global warming, and species extinction and more.

The bad news, and good news, is that we were given free-choice by God. That’s what got us in this trouble, but it is also what could get us out of it! Of all the creatures, we have the unique ability to discernwhat it means to be in right relationship with the rest of creation. We have the power to make changes that could help and heal creation. Let today’s scripture remind us all that God is entrusting us to do God’s will in the world.
So, the questions I want to leave us with today: “where do I see that I am serving my own will before the will of God for creation?” and “What can I do about it?” If we all asked ourselves those questions, remembering the unconditionally loving nature of the God that Jesus taught us about, I think the world would be a very different place. We each have to own our part in destroying the planet before we can do anything to make it right. It is an extremely daunting task, but I implore you to not let the magnitude of how far we have fallen stop you from helping all of us get back up. That’s the work now… to get back up – we can be the kind of servants of this amazing earth that God intended us to be. It just takes the willingness to try and it starts with you, and you, and you…. may it be so…. Amen.

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