“In the Beginning…” How’s that for setting the scene! It’s kind of a Biblical version of “Once upon a time,” and though we aren’t talking fairy tales… we are embracing that same spirit of imagination, creativity, and adventure.
Those aren’t words overly abundant in the church world and few people ever get to be a part of “the beginning!”
Well lucky us as this evening we together embark on a new beginning… a new time, a new place, and an overflow of new opportunities! Are you getting excited?
Fittingly enough, its also the beginning of a new year, 2015, but I’m not doing a New Years sermon as they always seem a bit cliché and honestly, at 4 days in our resolutions are probably mostly broken by now anyway!
2015… Who here has seen “Back to the Future?” I’m not sure if anyone is aware of this, but we have now entered the year of which Marty McFly drove his Dolorean into back in ‘85 (did anyone get a hover-board for Christmas by chance?) Well we actually have until Oct 21st to invent if to prove the cult classic correct.
With the thoughts of new beginnings and first impressions swirling in my mind, intermixed of course with images of Christopher Lloyd, Michael J Fox and a little lightning, I’ll admit that I got a little stressed this week trying to come up with the perfect service for this 1st 5pm gathering…
Questions abound… what’s the perfect music (anything I’m not leading honestly,) what’s the perfect scripture, the perfect table configuration, and the perfect PowerPoint backdrop for the occasion. Actually I stressed about whether or not the powerpoint would actually work given the ongoing battle that is Ryan vs technology. After all, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression!”
So I envisioned this amazingly powerful, perfectly planned, soul-stirring, laser-lit, flawless hour of worship, with a grand finale of fireworks as a benediction so as to literally start this new phase, this New Year, off with a bang…
However the words flawless, planned, or polished just aren’t in the Sweaty Sheep vocabulary; fireworks in fellowship hall (though cool) probably wouldn’t impress the building committee; and beginnings are the start of a journey towards perfection and that’s an endless journey… they are about chaos, mix-ups, and bloopers (and those are sweaty sheep vocab words!
So I stopped worrying and did something crazy and outlandish… I opened my Bible.
Page one (the real page 1, the little Roman numeral pages with the table of contents and such don’t count. Actually, the original was a pageless scroll, but I digress.)
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We leave any big bang, Darwinian, crazy creationist battles aside as we continue… “Now the earth was formless and void. Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
So the scene is set; close your eyes and travel there…
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.”
First observation, the world didn’t start off perfect; instead, it was a formless void. It was dark. It was chaos, a blank canvas, and full of unknowns, but God flipped on the light switch, and despite the disorder, “it was good.”
I started to get excited… like I mentioned before, we are good at chaos; maybe we’ve got this church thing down after all!
“God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning- the first day.”
These five verses are far too rich to really do justice to in a single church service and we could approach them in a variety of ways:
The poetic character of the Hebrew language in which they were written, the lyrical iambic pentameter, provides a soundtrack to the divinely choreographed dance of creation that we could study, but not being Hebrew scholars we will leave that for some other day.
The implications that this passage has on the creation versus science battle are interesting and it’d be fun to play scholarly, tossing around phrases such as intelligent design and theistic evolution, but creation debates probably wouldn’t bring us any closer to the creator.
Maybe we should just sit in silent awe and get lost in the wonder of the world we live (that would’ve cut down on my work-load this week, but that Back to the Future hoverboard is more a reality than our group sitting silent and still!)
Instead let me highlight a little theological ambiguity that may well be answered by another passage, another beginning, in hope of guiding our creation process. It is a concept known as “Ex Nihilo,” or creation from nothingness.
Throughout time there have been many arguments over what it was (or wasn’t) that God created the world out of. The passage reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth…” Period, that’s the whole verse.
Was there dust and debris in the atmosphere? Was there an atmosphere? Christian’s are left wondering, scientists are left studying, and we’re only on day one, we haven’t even touched on the whole monkey to man thing!
One of those little satirical facebook pinup pictures helped to bring to light the simple yet contrasting beliefs. “Christianity: The In the beginning there was an ultimate being who created everything. Science: In the beginning there was nothing. Which exploded.”
Plato made famous the argument that “nothing creates nothing…” an stance against the “creation from nothing” or Ex Nihilo concept. Most denominations avoid taking a stance on the subject, outside the Mormons who have become known for their strong Platonic voice that “there has to be something of which to create from.”
Plato’s forefather, Augustine would agree with that statement, with one exception: “God alone,” he wrote,” is Being and willed to exist what formerly did not exist.” God is not a mere “shaper of formless and eternal primordial matter” and “does not work as a human craftsman does, making one thing out of something else. Instead, God’s Word alone created.”
“Bara,” the Hebrew verb used in Genesis meaning, “to create,” is relevant in supporting Augustine’s statement as it is only used for creation through God, not humans throughout scripture.
In our English Bible translations the word “create” simply means create, human or divine, but God’s creating the Heaven’s and the earth are much more than our craft-time adventures as humans, no matter how breathtaking a playdough masterpiece you shape!
Recognizing we’re not going to draw a conclusion on the matter (or lack there of) that God created the earth, lets move on. “Now the earth was formless and void…and God said let there be light.”
Todays about shining light on a blank canvas and embracing our rolls as the artists. And each of us is a new color that will help to add life to the picture to come. You cannot paint a sunrise with only yellow.
Lets look at another beginning, a sunrise, in the Gospel of John which, much the same as its Old Testament predecessor, opens with a poem…
“In the beginning,” it reads, but there is a definite this time. “was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
2 He (Jesus) was with God in the beginning. 3 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.”
Much like God flipped the switch in Genesis to shine on the physical world, Jesus, in the Gospel of John, provides an inner light to illuminate our spiritual world.
This passage is somewhat like the sequel, and at the same time the prequel, to the Genesis creation (that’s possible when the main character stands outside of time.)
“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.
Does that mean that Jesus was the dust and debris, the “primordial matter,” that God used to form the earth and the creatures that walk it? Was Jesus the sun and moon? Not quite, we are speaking of two different beginnings… but not separate.
In Genesis God created life by giving it breath… but in John’s Gospel, Jesus created life by giving meaning. There is a famous saying that plagues plaques and posters in many an office and living room that reads, “Life’s not about the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away!”
Our goal for this new beginning is to birth as many of those moments as possible, to add meaning, purpose, and life to a breathing community.
In the beginning was the word. Jesus is the word of God… that seems anticlimactic really… letters on a page; a conglomeration of consonants and vowels, there has to be a better metaphor than that!
“Logos,” is the “word” for “word” in this passage, and Aristotle defined it well by translating “logos” as “divine reason.” Jesus is the element of creation that gives our lives and our community a deeper reason.
Playing off God’s lighting the world, Jesus being the light of the world, and an earlier Plato reference, how many of you have heard of the “Allegory of the Cave,” Plato’s means of defining the life on earth.
The abbreviated cliff notes version places us as prisoners in a cave. Its dark, its kind of dreary, but its all that we know. Behind burns a fire; after all, God said ‘Let there be light.’ However you cannot see the flame, as your gaze is directed forward, so reality is not the fire, but the light shinning on the wall in front of you.
You are asked, as a chair is placed in front of the fire and its shadow appears on the wall in front of you,
“What’s that?” Referencing the image on the wall, not the object itself.
“A chair,” and indeed it is when all you know is shadows, but have you ever tried to sit on a shadow? The thing that separates a community of faith from a social club is meaning. It is the ability to see the flame not live in the shadows!
In verse 26 of that Genesis passage God first creates mankind, I want you to pay attention to the pronouns used here…
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in OUR image, in OUR likeness.” In the beginning was Christ, the “logos” or the “word” of God, God incarnate… In the beginning was the divine reason! What is our reason in this new beginning?
We are not caved prisoners today and though we may not have any clue what the creation process looks like for this community in the weeks and months to come, know one thing, we are called not just to breath, but live… and it’s a process!
Being the dork that I am, when I read a passage I love searching through a variety of translations, and this one stood out as we close:
En el principio ya existía el Verbo y el Verbo estaba con Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.
El Verbo… not word, but verb! From the beginning God was dynamic, an action, a movement, a process! My prayer is that we all jump two feet into this process and see church too as a verb!
Creation is a journey, and as the late and great Jerry Garcia once said, “the journey is indeed the destination.”