Good morning, Friends!
Today’s message started one morning earlier this week when our custodian came in. I asked him how he was doing. Gene kind of winced and rubbed his back and said, “Another lousy day in Paradise!”
I don’t know if that’s what Adam said on the 8th day of the world. Seems like Adam had everything a human being could want. A garden. A beautiful wife. No dress code to worry about. It was perfect! It was just like the world that was handed down to us.
And we’re never satisfied. We’re so ungrateful. We get up in the morning and say, “Another lousy day in Paradise!”
Every now and then, we need to go back to the beginning. Today, we’re going to read one of the earliest stories of the Bible – the very first story of all.
I want you all to listen to it. I know you’ve probably heard it before. But I want you to listen, with fresh ears and an open mind. Because this story is trying to tell us something important. And I want to see if we can discover what that important something is.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty; darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters God called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.
God also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in God’s own image,
in the image of God they were created;
male and female God created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that God had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work God had been doing; so on the seventh day God rested from all this work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creating that God had done.Genesis 1:1-2:3
It always pays to look closely at the very first words in a story. Do you all remember the first three words? “In the beginning. . .”
A lot of old stories start out “Once upon a time. . .” or “A long time ago. . .” or “There once was a king. . .” Today’s story isn’t like that. “In the beginning” means that this is the story that comes before all other stories. This is the first of all stories we hear.
Those three words, in Greek, are just one word: Genesis. That’s where the name of the book comes from. The name of the book is simply the first word in it.
“In the beginning. . .” There’s no time frame. No date is assigned. This isn’t a history book, not in the usual sense we talk about history. This is a book about beginnings – but it doesn’t give us any date stamp or any details.
Now let’s look at the first four words of the story. Do you remember what those four words are? “In the beginning, God. . .” Let’s stop right there a moment.
At the start of all things, God was here. God came first. There was no time when God was not here, when there was something or somebody else around. Without God, nothing else happens. Without God, it doesn’t make sense to talk about time, or space, or matter, or movement, or anything else.
We can’t talk about anything, without God being here. We might forget about God. We may not acknowledge God. But God is here, whether we remember God or not.
That’s a lot to say, in just four words. But let’s take it a step farther, and look at the first five.
“In the beginning, God created. . .”
The Greek word we translate as “created” means “to make a place habitable”. Just like you’d fix up a new home, paint it, and fill it up with stuff. God took what was there, and God made a world out of it. The Latin word for “to create” can also mean “to start a new city”. It can mean “to beget, to be the parent of.”
It can also be translated, “In the beginning, when God began to create. . .” That suggests the creation isn’t finished. There’s more to come. Maybe God’s not done yet. Maybe on the 8th day, God set to work and started fixing up some more stuff. Maybe we are God’s 8th day of creation. That’s a whole lot of meaning to pack into just a few words.
“In the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form. It was empty of life. There was no light. Darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Holy Spirit – the breath of God – was moving like a wind on the waters. . .”
It doesn’t say how long that took place. Doesn’t say if it was a day, or a year, or a billion years. Time hadn’t really been invented yet. It was just darkness, and the endless breathing of the Spirit of God over everything that was there.
Before you write this off as a fairy tale, I want you to notice how closely the story of creation follows what we know from science.
First, there’s light – the light of creation. Then matter is brought together into a gathered place that can be called a world. Then oceans form, and life appears.
In our translation this morning, it says God created a vault. In the older translations, it says God created a firmament. See, in ancient times, people believed the whole world was surrounded by water. What God did was, God created a kind of a dome or clear shell that surrounded the world. God pushed back the water above and the water below. And in that space that God created, God made a world.
Up in the heavens, God made stars and stuck them to the vault of heaven. The vault would move, and the stars moved with it. In the book of Job, God asks, “Were you there when all the morning stars sang together, and the children of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7)
Then there’s plant life, which pretty well matches what we know. Then animal life appears in the ocean. Bugs and birds come later, and then mammals, and then human beings. Really, the picture that’s presented here is very close to what we’ve learned from science.
I’m not one to count days literally, and I don’t think it matters – if God watched over things for a much longer time than a 24-hour day, that just makes me even more impressed.
What really matters is that God was there. God is behind and beneath everything there is. Everything refers back to God. What Genesis is saying is that God isn’t just responsible for a few things – God is responsible for everything.
There’s something else going on, too. At the end of each day, do you remember how what God says? “And God saw that it was good. . .”
The word for “good” in Hebrew is tov. So, at the end of each day, God says, “Tov! Tov! Good! Good!” Sometimes you hear Jewish people say Mazel tov, which means more than just good luck. It means may you be blessed. May you have a good destiny. May your life unfold with blessings. So, every day, God says, “Tov!”, and at the end of the week, God says, “Tov meod!”, which means “Very good!
Whatever God creates is good. We human beings may have messed things up, but everything started out good. When God saw the depth and breadth of everything that God had made, it was very good.
Part of our job, every day, is to echo what God says. We should be saying “That’s good! That’s great! Wow, God, your world is so beautiful!” Praise is one of the most natural prayers there is! We should all be praising God, every day. We should be talking with everyone we meet about how incredible the world is, and how much we appreciate it.
We shouldn’t be saying, “Another lousy day in Paradise. . .” We should be saying, “God, your world is so amazing! Just give me some time, Lord, to understand one more thing today. I could never run out of all the new things you’ve made. Whenever I look at your world, my jaw just drops. The more I look, the more amazed I feel!”
I want you all to notice something else. Time after time, God says, “Let there be such-and such,” and it happens. We don’t know how God does it. But Genesis says God only has to speak a word, and whatever God says, happens.
“Let there be light. . .” and there was light. “Let there be earth and seas. . .” and they’re there. “Let there be life on earth, and life in the seas. . .” and suddenly the world is overflowing with more life than we can ever imagine.
The word of God is the power to make things happen. God only has to say one word, and a whole world is made.
That’s really something to remember, because later on, in the Hebrew Bible, the prophets said, “Thus says the Lord. . .” and nothing can stand in the way. What God says, happens. When God says, “Let my people go!” there’s no king on earth who can keep them in chains. The prophets knew that the same power of God, that was here at the beginning of all things, is still here. And if God says a word, nothing can stand in the way. No power on earth can ever block or divert or hold back the power of the God who made all things.
There’s an echo of the same thing in the New Testament, whenever Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I tell you. . .” That’s the same power of God in creation. When Jesus says to someone, “Get up and walk!” that person is changed, and they can walk again. When Jesus says to someone, “You’re clean now” or “Your sins have been forgiven,” that’s the unstoppable power of God in his voice.
When God said, “Rise!” on Easter morning, that wasn’t something new and unusual. God made all the life there is, right back at the beginning. Breathing new life into Jesus, and having him rise from the dead, was not that different from giving all of us our life back at the beginning.
When Jesus says, “I will be with you, even to the end of the world,” Jesus is claiming the same power that was there at the beginning, at the very creation of the world itself. We need to be listening to Jesus, to hear the power in his voice.
One of the most interesting sections in Genesis is when it talks about how people were created. It says that both men and women were “created in the image of God. . .” We are equal. We are different, but we were made on the same day.
One of the ten-dollar words that skeptics like to throw around is that religion is anthropomorphic. That means that skeptics think we made up God, we invented God, to look like us. In reality, it’s the other way round. We are made in God’s image. We are meant to be close to God, almost like a reflection of God in a mirror.
The better we are, the less phoney we try to be, the more like ourselves we try to be, the higher we climb, the more we start to look like God. We should be able to look at each other and see God’s love reflected in each other’s eyes and in each other’s smiles. We should be able to look at our neighbor, and see God there, looking out of their soul.
People are always going on about how important it is to be creative, but we almost never say why. Creative work may be interesting, but that’s not the real reason it matters. We need to be creative, and support each others’ creativity, and look for creative solutions, because the more creative we are, the more we are like God, who’s the one who created us all.
Every time we find a new way. Every time we make things more beautiful. Every time we fix something that’s broken. Every time find something that’s lost. Every time we give something new life. That’s God’s work that we’re doing! Creative people literally make a world, or make the old world new, and we are all called to be a part of that work of creation.
“And on the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day God rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
The whole idea of a Sabbath comes from what God did. After building a world, and filling it with life, after creating days and nights, sun, moon and stars, after turning the key and starting it up and seeing how good it all was, God Almighty, the maker of all things that are seen and unseen in this world, went out into the back yard, laid down in the hammock, picked up the Sunday paper, and had a good long rest.
I talk with people all the time who tell me how tired they are. How rushed their week is. How they feel like they never spend time with their family. And I always ask them, “Do you ever take yourself a sabbath? When was the last time you took a full day off, and did nothing at all? Didn’t catch up on the laundry, didn’t pay the bills, didn’t clean house or pull weeds? Not a sick day, but a day to rest, a day to find yourself again, a day to remember who you are?”
Most of the time when I ask people that, they hang their head or make an excuse. “But excuse me,” I say. “If God Almighty took a day off, what makes you think that you can just go and go and never get some rest? Do you think you’re better than God?”
Rest is holy. Rest is a sacrament. I don’t think we should feel guilty about it. It’s right there in the very beginning that human beings should have one complete day of rest, every week.
One day a week we shouldn’t say, “Oh, God, I can’t make it out of bed!” We should say, “I can rest today! This is God’s day. God and I are going to rest today, and admire how beautiful it all is. This is my appreciation day. This is my praise day. This is the day the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
The story of creation in Genesis doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t give a really satisfactory reason for why there’s pain in the world, for example, or why there’s cancer, or why people don’t live up to that image of God in them. A single story may not be enough to tell it all.
But no matter what, remember that in this first story, in the beginning, God was here. God brought everything together, and called it good. God made us good, and God made our bodies good, and God made the world itself good.
Whatever else we know, every one of us is made, in some way, in God’s image. When we are creative, when we are loving, when we choose life, when we recognize our place in the world, when we praise God and see the goodness of the world, and when we rest and enjoy and bless the world, we are imitating God.
And it could be that all the work of creation isn’t completely finished. When we preserve God’s world, when we care for it, when we clean it up, when we recognize that all of life is God’s gift, then that 8th day of creation is starting all over again.