Genesis 1: 1-12; John 1: 1-14
Today let me let you hear something that I’ve only told to a few: there is a program that soothes me for a half and hour if I’m home for a late lunch that drives my artistic wife crazy. Now I know you’re thinking its Andy Griffith. No; I like Andy when I need to find my smile again. But I like Bob Ross, and “The Joy of Painting.” There, I said it. Perhaps I should join a support group of some sort! But what is in the head of the man with the paintbrush? Why, he gets to take a blank canvas, add any colors of the rainbow or mixtures of hues, and he, in thirty minutes, creates something out of nothing. Of course, it is not the way God did it; God really created something out of nothing! Bob Ross is more like an editor, isn’t he? The entire pallet of his mind is the nature that God has already created; if it was a painting on a computer screen, he could simply click on a tree and drag it over; or on a mountain or a brook and drag it over. But he looks at a canvas and still gets to decide what will be painted on it, and what scene will come to life before the viewer’s eyes. It’s just that Ross creates a picture from the images in his mind. But creating something from truly nothing: that magnificent, glorious, vast, and humanly overwhelming task belongs to the Holy One we call Creator. God looked into the nothingness, the “void” as it is sometimes called, and had to decide EVERYTHING! And what was God’s paintbrush: the Word! With a Word, remember: “God said,” there shall be brightness to be called “light;” and darkness to be called “night.” Did you notice that, because God can do what God wants to do, night and day were created even before the sun and the moon? Interesting …. How long do you think it took to decide what to call “day” and “night” and how to divide them? It boggles the human mind, but we are told, perhaps in comforting human terms, that it took a day. Wow! That’s either exact or a metaphor, but we will always come back to Scripture’s caution “With God, nothing is impossible!” Then God, with a word, called forth the colors of blue with white clouds, and gray with black clouds, and called them “sky.” And looking at our planet that perhaps did not yet have water, God named a liquid that gives us life and beauty “water,” and let its color be clear so that it could, a little like humans, reflect and refract God’s creation around it. What genius! Day two. And you think your days are full! Did you catch the sense that creation, when properly seen, can cause awe and celebration? Mary Ann and I, who were originally from the north, marveled at our children’s reaction to seeing snow for the first time! What was it like for the Apollo 11 crew to touch and see the moon up close with their own eyes for the first time? What is it like when a mother or father sees their baby, their creation in a matter of speaking, for the first time? These experiences are new and powerful! And you may have experienced a child’s squeals of delight upon seeing a squirrel in her backyard for the first time, or the yearning a child has when passing a pet store window! At Creation on the third day, God continued to create a playground for us, and it was one without the need for human concession stands. There were apples and nuts; brooks of water and bunches of grapes; there were animals that gave milk and some with fur that could be cut to keep us warm. What a giving God we have! God finished out the creation week with things we love and on which we depend: earth and the sea, plant life and fruit; trees and seeds; seasons that bring warmth and cold and rain and snow and sometimes colorful leaves; and so we wouldn’t have to invent flashlights (even though we did), God gave us the sun as a bright light for when we would most naturally work, and a night light called the moon for when our bodies would naturally want to sleep and the plants could collect needed moisture. What an ecosystem! Then came the day when God got to play the most: a day of naming amazing long necked yellow animals, “Giraffes;” large, trunked gray animals “elephants,” huge water creatures called “whales” that weighed a fraction of their land weight because they were in the sea; and then God created other strange creatures: purposeful to the Creator, later questionable in the mind of the public: hornets, piranha, fire ants, the duckbilled platypus, the gooney bird, and the like. We’ll have to ask God about those when we get to live above the dome, so to speak! And you’ll notice that the first blessing of the Bible is not on people, it is on God’s creatures. As the verse veterinarian James Herriot loved to quote says: “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small; all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all!”
But then came God’s most complex creation: beings that in some ways reflected the nature of their Creator. The Bible text is quite interesting at that point: let us make humankind in our image” it says in verse 26. Was God talking like a nurse in a doctor’s office who once asked me, “And how are we feeling today?” “We? I don’t know about you, but I feel lousy and that’s why I’m here!” I once replied in a not too polite and cranky kind of way. Why does God speak in the plural? Some have suggested, thanks to the powerful reminder in John chapter one, that the Living Word traditionally known as the “Son” or the “Redeemer” was also in the Godhead, along with the “Ruach” or “Spirit” that was also present (claim Trinitarian scholars). Others have noted that since God is eternal, like a ring, rather than with a beginning, like a starting line, God had other heavenly beings that were consulted: perhaps angels, perhaps of both genders, that pleased God and encouraged the Creator to make mortals in similar pleasing forms that inhabited divine space. Again make your list to ask when you cross over to the other side! This magnificent creation story doesn’t explain itself, but leaves us to abide in its wonder and, yes, its mysteries! So, perhaps in the likeness of angelic beings, God created ones like the ones that already were pleasing: male and female they were called. And to these beings (not creatures) God actually spoke; and remember, it was through speaking (voice and breath) that God brought life to what we call Earth.
Finally God, in a divine act of CPR, created eternally interesting bodies and then breathed life into them and chose to abide with them in a spiritual way. Only later, we find out in John, does God unselfishly come down in a mortal body, to empathize with, hurt with, laugh with, and suffer with us. But God uniquely kept a foot in what was divine, and another in what was mortal so God could experience how we hurt, why we sin, and why we fall. In speaking to humans initially, God gave instructions saying they were to be caretakers of the earth and the creatures and (perhaps implied) of one another. Human failings were better addressed in the second creation story in chapter 2. But isn’t it likely that life on and care for the Earth has not gone anything like life in and care of Heaven must be like? Certainly Heaven is not falling apart or being corrupted by dirt, pollution, or sin? But here we have responsibilities. I have gone back to children’s playgrounds I enjoyed as a child and been proud of how well some of them had been kept, and saddened by the sight of others. I have gone back to houses where I used to live and felt the same way. Does the home called Planet Earth need a little TLC? We are the managers of these apartments that we named North America, South America Europe, Asia, Antarctica, and the rest. Back in 1854, a Native American named Chief Seattle said these words to President Pierce: “One thing we know which the white man may one day discover- our God is the same God. You may think, now, that you own him as you wish to own our land, but you cannot. He is the God of man, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator… Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.” And in 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “the Genesis account [argues] that we are ‘a piece of the earth’ …. [And] the essential point of human existence is its bond with mother earth, its being and its body.”
Friends. today we have been reminded of the precious playground we have been given; a place where animals, plants, and people are meant to live. And the only one capable of sinning is the one for whom a Savior was sent; for we- you and I and our forebears- are the ones who are to care for, protect, and farm the earth. God’s weeps in wrath over arsonists who destroy acres of forests; and over melting ice caps that make some places too warm or too wet for habitation; and over skies that get clogged with smoke and lakes that get polluted with sewage. But as much as that affects the Holy Heart, God seems to spend the most time attending to the fickle and the funny; the philandering and sometimes faithful human beings who were made in the image of what was Heavenly. Awesome; God cares that much, showing us how to care. May we reflect our Creator’s care with what, and who, has been entrusted to our care. In the first book of Scripture for Christians and Jews, God looked at a black canvas, and with the paintbrush of the word, began to create. It was very good. With our renewed care, it still can be so.
Jeffrey A. Sumner October 28, 2007