HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
September 10, 2017
Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4 (NRSV)
“In the beginning…”
It seems so simple. And yet it is so very complicated. “In the beginning…” sounds like the beginning of everything, but it’s not. It’s hard to pinpoint an absolute beginning because there really isn’t one. God has no beginning, as we profess that God has no end. Instead, this is the beginning of something different. This story tells of the beginning of our world. It is also the beginning of the Bible, and all of what follows tells us of this amazing God who started it all in creation.
You all may remember a movie from back in the late 70’s called Heaven Can Wait. It tells the story of Joe Pendleton, a pro football player who had some injury setbacks early in his career. However, as the movie opens, Joe has just learned that he will be the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams in the upcoming season. Joe is so excited with this news that he decides to go on a bike ride. His path takes him along a winding mountain road. Just as he is heading into a tunnel on his bicycle, the scene cuts to the other side of the tunnel where a sports car begins passing a tractor trailer on the left side of the narrow, two-lane road. So, Joe Pendleton enters the tunnel on his bike on one end, and two vehicles riding side-by-side enter on the other. Viewers hear a terrible crash. The screen goes totally black. Then there is silence. After a few moments of total darkness and silence, a tiny light appears. We hear the sound of a saxophone playing a tune. The light slowly grows larger and larger until it illuminates the next scene. And the movie continues. (I’ll stop there so I don’t spoil anything if you haven’t seen the movie.)
I imagine creation must have been something like this. A scene of chaos and destruction—the crash and the silence and the total darkness—into which a tiny light suddenly appears and then begins to grow and illuminate an entirely different situation. This was the beginning. The beginning of our world. The beginning of us. The beginning of our knowing something about this God who created it all.
God’s creating work began with nothing—dark, formless, void—these are the words that describe what God had to work with “in the beginning.” Then God speaks and all of that begins to change. First, light. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And as that pinpoint of light grows to illumine the formlessness, the void, we begin to understand that everything that follows will be completely different; in this illumined creation, there will be form, life, and light. And it will be beautiful, “good.”
So God’s creative work continues. After the light on day one, there is the oceans and the skies, then the dry land and vegetation. And on the fourth day, the light is categorized into a greater light to rule the day and a lesser light to rule the night, a sign to mark the seasons, and days, and years. Then God calls into being creatures of the sea and birds of the air, followed by the land-dwellers—everything from great beasts to creepy crawlers. And the capstone of those land-dwellers is humankind, made in the very image of God, and given dominion over every living thing that God has created.
Again and again, God speaks into the void, and out of nothing comes this amazing, beautiful, complex creation. Then, at the very end, God essentially grabs the hand of humankind and says, “You are a part of this, too. Everything that I have made, I now give over to you; to have dominion over, to make fruitful, to fill and subdue.” God’s creation isn’t just a product, it’s never finished. Creation takes time, it is a dynamic process, where one thing builds upon another, and then another. And I think what it’s important for us to see and to understand here is that as much as God was a part of creating and ordering chaos “in the beginning,” God is still creating even today. And as we weak, flawed, failed human beings try to have dominion over the earth, as we try faithfully to keep the order, the goodness of God’s creation, God is still there, God is still involved; God is still ordering chaos and bringing light to the darkness. And that’s why John can write, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The truth of the matter is, despite the beauty and goodness of God’s creation, life is still a jumbled, chaotic mess. Each of us can think of these times in our lives that could be described as formless, void, and dark. And as we go about in the world, we come face to face with other people who feel as if these are the words that describe their lives as well. Every human being faces these times in which everything seems to be completely chaotic, as if life is falling apart at the seams. Sometimes this happens because of our own bad choices, our failure to exercise dominion in a way that honors God. But sometimes, tragedy strikes out of nowhere; a person is fired, an accident happens, a disease takes hold in a body, a child disappears, a tornado strikes, war breaks out, or a person is victimized by some terrible act of violence.
Still, what we learn about God in the creation story is that into all our stories of jumbled, chaotic mess, we will hear the voice of God speaking light, and life, and love, and hope. And we can know this is true because God has been speaking, creating, ordering, re-creating since the beginning of time. It happens time and time again. We will see it as we work through the Biblical story in the coming months. Over and over again we will encounter this God who promises and provides. The God who provides light and life for all of creation is the same God who provides a lamb at the binding of Isaac, and the same God who makes a way for Jacob, and the same God who gives the Israelites manna as they wander in the wilderness decade after decade. The presence of God has been a constant since before the beginning, and just as God brought light and life at creation, so will God continue to provide for us through his presence. God will speak into the formless void of our lives.
Sometimes, God’s words will bring hope, and meaning, and purpose. Sometimes God’s word will create comfort as the chaos of our lives is ordered. But if we are to acknowledge God’s continuing creative work, we also have to recognize that sometimes, God will speak demands that make us uncomfortable. The order of the world that is seemingly comfortable will be shaken up as God re-creates it according to the order of the Kingdom. Such times will feel disorienting to us, it may raise doubts in our minds, challenge our faith. But if we look back to this story, the story from “the beginning,” we will see the radical re-ordering that is central to God’s creative work. And we can know that in this story there is life.
There’s an old nursery rhyme that goes like this:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Our children’s books depict Humpty Dumpty as an egg that falls off a stone wall. Without even seeing the illustrations, it’s easy to imagine the broken shell scattered all about the ground and the runny yolk oozing through the grass. We can picture the legion of “king’s horses and king’s men” trying to piece together this impossible puzzle, all to no avail, of course. The scattered mess remains.
But not so in God’s creation. Unlike the nursery story of Humpty Dumpty who could not be put together again and was left in pieces…we can be formed and filled anew! No matter how much we may mess up our dominion over the earth, no matter how hard we may fall, no matter how broken we may be, God will piece it all back together. God can take all the broken pieces, all the broken dreams, all the broken-up lives and re-create them into something beautiful, something good.
God’s intention for all of creation is goodness, and not just that creation is good, but “very good.” That is why “in the fullness of time,” God sent his own Son, the light of the world. And through Christ, God has shined a light into the world that is so bright that the darkness will never again prevail. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
We have this hope. We live in this promise. A long, long, long time ago, nothing existed but chaos. Into that formless void, God spoke. God spoke and light came. God spoke and there was order. God spoke and life was given. God still speaks. God still creates. God is the giver of life. And even still, God will make this whole creation, “very good.”