Genesis One is a hymn, not a history lesson. – Walter Brueggemann
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
29God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
The account of creation in Chapter One of Genesis is often in the news because fundamentalists insist that it is literal history and literal biology and literal geology. Creationists insist that it be taught in public schools alongside scientific theories about the origins of the universe and the human race. The problem with the Creationist’s argument is that Genesis One is NOT history. It was not intended to be history. It is a “theological reflection of God’s creative activity, not reportage,” according to Professor Walter Brueggemann (Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). Genesis One is an EXCLAMATON of praise! A Hymn, not a history lesson. And what it says about God and about us, unfortunately, gets lost in the heat of the argument about whether the 7 days of creation were 24 hour days; and whether it happened about 4,400 years ago; and whether Eve really was made from Adam’s rib; and where in the world did Cain get a wife to marry if his parents were the original man and woman? So what does the creation story in Genesis One really have to say about God and about us?
In the first place, it is generally agreed by most biblical scholars that the book of Genesis is NOT one of the oldest books of the Bible. As Professor Brueggemann points out, it was written at a particular time and for a particular purpose. Genesis One was written sometime during the 6th century Before the Christian Era (or B.C.E.). And it was addressed to the remnant community of exiled Jews who had been dragged off into bondage. The problem for those oppressed people in exile—living in the land of their conquerors and oppressors, far away from home—was that the Babylonian culture seemed so much more powerful and durable; and the Babylonian religion seemed to control the future. Where was God? Why did God fail to protect us? That is the context; and it is a desperate one. The people’s survival is at stake. In answer to this hopeless situation the Book of Genesis was written. NOT to make a scientific claim about how the world was made; BUT to make a confession of faith. The writer, surely as inspired by God as any writer in all history, suggests that God is the creator still—creator of ALL reality, even Babylonian reality; that creation reflects God’s nature and will and, above all, God’s love and goodness.
The single most important point that the writer of the Creation Story makes, I believe, is that God still moved over the dark waters of life, brooding over it and seeking to bring forth life. One of the most powerful verses in the Bible, verse 2, Genesis One, is that while darkness and chaos blanketed creation, “…yet the ruah (spirit) of God hovered and brooded over the surface of the waters…seeking to bring forth life. The ruah of God brooded over the surface of the waters, like a mother bird broods over her nest until new life begins to stir. It is a powerful image when you stop to think about it. What it means is that there is no chaos, no darkness, no tragic circumstance in which you or anyone else find themselves out of which God cannot bring forth life. For the Hebrew exiles in Babylon, that was the only question that truly mattered to them—would light someday shine in the deep and dark chaos of their lives? It is the only question that truly matters in the end for any one of us as well!
There are so many things that make us afraid today. We are afraid to leave our homes, to go shopping, and to ride MUNI. We are afraid of the mounting death toll caused by COVID-19, of the growing numbers of lost jobs and economic turmoil. We are afraid of our children missing out on their education, of the growing number of families who wonder when they will next eat. We fear for those with no place to find shelter, much less safe shelter. If you are black, normal activities for us like running and bird-watching are not guaranteed to be safe for them. When the President uses our sacred text, the Bible, as a symbol of division—to sow seeds of hatred, rather than love and healing—who by doing so, sanctions the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear a church yard, we have reason to be afraid. And so we live in fear and build up massive walls of protection, to keep ourselves from harm. We amass power, prestige, possessions, privilege. We get defensive, all in the name of survival and protection, to keep ourselves from being hurt.
And yet, thank God, there are intermissions, pauses (as Joanne Whitt preached a couple of weeks ago), breaks, a recess, interludes…when all of this fear seems totally foolish—a moment when we see, even if dimly, that it is possible to live life differently. A new thought crosses our mind, an ah-hah moment. We fall in love. A child is born to us. Forgiveness comes to us out of nowhere, at a moment we find the courage to confess honestly and accept responsibility. We meet one of the many health care workers who courageously and selflessly put their lives on the front lines. When asked, “Why are you doing this?” They respond with: “This is what keeps me feeling human. Every person I bring back to life, I think that I’m still connected to that person.” The ruah brooding over the chaotic waters of our lives breathes hope into us. And we realize that all along we are a child of God; made in the mage of God, we belong to God. No matter the circumstance we find ourselves at any point in life, it never changes the fact that we are a child of God and that we belong to God.
The whole point of the Creation Story in Genesis One, as I was taught by my Old Testament professor, Dr. James Muilenburg, is the climatic 7th and last day of creation—On the 7th day God had finished all the work of creation, and so, on that 7th day God rested. God blessed the 7th day and called it sacred, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. Consider the implications—even God had to rest. Consider the implications of ONE DAY A WEEK. One day a week, our worth is not dependent upon or measured by our productivity, but by God’s primordial, creative love. One day a week, words like should, ought, must have no power over us. One day a week, people who do not work, still are fed. On this day, we do not worship the clock, the dollar sign, the superego, we worship God whom we trust to run the world without our help. One day a week, we are reminded that we belong to God no matter, regardless, of the status, condition, circumstance of our lives. To the exiles in Babylon, the author of Genesis speaks the word of hope that God, creator of the universe, has NOT forgotten, but hovers and broods over the dark, chaotic circumstance of exile.
Calvin Trillin, the long time regular contributor to the New Yorker, whose essays I never miss, wrote about an end-of-the-summer gathering of camp counselors who used the occasion to share some of the highlights of their summer with children. One counselor shared her experience with one of the campers, a sunny little girl she called L. At camp, this counselor had the tendency to gravitate towards the child who needed the most help, and L was one of those. And here is what she shared: “This last summer, the camper I got closest to, L, was a magical child who was severely disabled. She had 2 genetic diseases, one of which kept her from digesting any food. She had to be fed through a tube at night and she had so much difficulty walking that I drove her around a golf cart a lot. We both liked that. One day, when we were playing duck-duck-goose, I was sitting behind her and she asked me to hold her mail for her while she took her turn to be chased around the circle. It took her a while to make the circuit, and I had time to see that on top of the pile was a note from her mom. Then I did something truly awful, which I’m reluctant now to reveal. I decided to read the note. I simply had to know what this child’s parents could have done to make her so spectacular, to make her the most optimistic, most enthusiastic, most hopeful human being I had ever encountered. I snuck a quick look at the note, and my eyes fell on this sentence: ‘If God had given us all of the children in the world to choose from, L, we would only have chosen you.’ Before L. got back to her place in the circle, I showed the note to Bud, who was sitting next to me. ‘Quick. Read this,’ I whispered. ‘It’s the secret of life!’
You are not what you do—your successes, your achievements and accomplishments. Your worth is not measured by the value of your stock portfolio, by the size of your bank accounts, by the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house and neighborhood you live in. Who are you? You are God’s child. You are the object of God’s love. You belong to God. God’s spirit is in you. That is all that matters. And nothing, nothing, can ever change that.