Sunday, March 05, 2017

Creation Stories

The Five Mighty Acts of God
I. The Creation

Folks keep telling me they wish we had a Bible Study, or that they knew more about the Bible, or that they knew more of the Church’s basic teachings. As our Lenten journey begins this year, let’s do exactly that. Come let us learn together. Please turn in the Book of Common Prayer to page 845. There you have before you “The Outline of Faith” or what is also called “The Catechism”. The word Catechism means “teaching”, the words, catechist means “teacher”, catecheumenate means “those who are learning” and catechesis is the process of teaching and learning together. 

As we think about the Biblical narrative, let me suggest that we organize our thoughts around God’s great plan of salvation under five headings. They are easy to remember as; “The Five Mighty Acts of God”. What are they, class?
Act I. Creation
Act II. The Exodus
Act III. Jesus Christ
Act IV. The Church
Act V. The Christian Hope
Our lives, our pilgrimage toward heaven is woven through and through in this ongoing narrative. The Catechism begins with a section on Human Nature. In other words; “Who are we; In the Beginning?”

But first, let me ask you this; How did the Bible come to be? The Bible did not come to us as we now have it, signed sealed and delivered as a fait accompli. What was the process by which the Bible was transmitted and assembled over thousands of years? How did people of faith bring these stories together? Think about it! Where did it all begin?

The truth is that it all began in an oral tradition that endured over hundred’s of years. But even before that, there were the experiences of God. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachael and Leah  and their experiences. Moses and his. Then they told their stories of their experiences of God. The people entrusted the transmission and the preservation of these stories to folks who could read and write; the scribes and the rabbis. These people became the teachers and storytellers of a very special kind. These stories were so precious to the people of God that eventually they were written down. These experiences and the stories they shared became the primary vehicle through which we became The People of God.

Then the stories were woven together by folks who treasured various traditions of understandings. They preserved their traditions and stories in scrolls beginning with the Pentateuch or the Law; the first five books of Moses; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. 

As time went on there was the period of the Judges, the Kings, the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms. They were all were written down by the scribes and eventually there was a whole collection of scrolls carefully preserved for the transmission and the preservation of the stories and traditions of God’s people. This collection of Scrolls began to be called a sacred library. And as you know, the word for library in Greek and Latin is “Biblia” from which we get our modern day word “Bible”, God’s Holy Library. 

Still, few people could read, the scrolls were kept in the synagogues and then the churches. They were heavy and cumbersome and very expensive. Eventually the monks of the church became the publishing society of what historians call “The Dark Ages”. For these monks, especially those in Ireland, they regarded every single word ever written as holy. Thankfully, they preserved the literature of Greeces and Rome and antiquity. As for the Bible they began to assemble these scrolls into books. Their exquisite illuminations, such as the Book of Kells, are a magnificent tribute to western art and spirituality. 

When Christianity arrived in Britain and Ireland between the third and sixth centuries most of the monks and clergy could only carry two books with them; typically John’s Gospel and the Psalms. They were big heavy books. John’s Gospel was regarded then as the most faithful, beautiful,  and exquisite presentation of the person of Jesus Christ. The Psalms of course were carried because they were the Prayer Book of Jesus. After all, as an observant Jew, Jesus would have read the Psalms from beginning to end every month as we still do, those of us who follow the church’s 30 day lectionary for the reading of the Psalms. 
With the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, the Holy Library of Books, became available in a more manageable format as a single book. Literacy spread like wildfire. Everybody wanted a Bible.
But don’t forget how it all began. When you read these sacred pages, they are an invitation for you to remember that God invites you into a living encounter with the Trinity of Persons we see in the Creation itself; God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.

Act I The Creation

There are actually three Creation stories if you include the Prologue to John’s Gospel. Listen to how John’s Gospel begins; 
“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…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus was there right in the very beginning. According to the Johannine account of the Creation, Jesus is the Word of God!

In Genesis we read two accounts of how things were in the beginning. By the way, the method of storytelling favored by the rabbis was to give two answers for each question asked. This method of teaching was a way of cultivating dialogue and encouraging critical thought so that we might enter into deeper relationship with the living God. Thus when the people gathered by the campfire and the children asked where we all come from, the rabbis would tell more than one story.

For instance, in the first chapter of Genesis, we read;
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the 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. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good;”
Notice the magnificent Hebrew poetry, and the cadences that speak of God bringing order out of chaos, as if all of time and space came into being out of nothing through the power of God. 
And it was good! 
“Then came the canopy of space, the waters above and below the earth,” This was now the second day and what God did was good.
“Then God gathered the land into one place, there was vegetation and fruit trees and so on and this too was good.”
On and one this creation story goes as you know, and all went well.
“Then on the sixth day, God created humankind in God’s image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 
God blessed them. Then, God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”
There it is; the first creation story. God made everything that is and it was good. It was very good.

As you know, things did not go so well in the second Creation story. 
There is a very different tone in this story. This is not the same kind of Hebrew poetry. In fact if you know your Hebrew you’ll notice right away that this is a whole linguistic style as if written by a different author. Read it for yourself. It begins with the 4th verse in the second chapter of Genesis
Listen to what it says; 
“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up…then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
You don’t even have to know Hebrew to notice that we’re talking about a different story here. Also this word “Adam” literally means “mud man” because he was made out of the mud that God created from the ground. Then “God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’”
God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam and created Eve. Soon enough there was the business of the snake, the apple, the disobedience, the shame, the hiding,  the blame and the coverup.
I often think that the nakedness of Adam and Eve is not is not so much about a physical nakedness but a metaphorical one.  It was impossible for either one to accept responsibility for what they had done because of their disobedience. They chose rather to “cover up” their responsibility and accountability. Rather Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake. 

What had been that state of satisfaction and goodness in the first creation story now becomes a state of alienation between the man, the woman, the created order, and worst of all God. Then enmity breaks out between the children, Cain murders Abel and the and the social alienation among all humankind enters human history.  God asks this fundamental question “Where is your brother Abel?’ Cain replied, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” That still statement haunts all of history. 

Notice that there are two narratives for us to consider in our life with God, one in which we walk with God and one another as the redeemed and the forgiven of Christ; and the other in which our alienation takes us far from the goodness of God.

Paul puts it this way in today’s Epistle “As sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, so death spread to all because all have sinned…For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.”

In the wilderness we are confronted with the reality of sin and evil within ourselves.

In today’s Gospel we read of how Jesus faced down the evil one in the greatest temptations of his life. Of course Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. God knows he could have. But we do not live by bread alone. Besides, as Jesus told Peter, if you love me you will feed my sheep. All of us will feed the hungry. I’m sure Jesus was tempted to do some kind of fancy trick like jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove once and for all that he is God. But Jesus tells the devil; “Don’t tempt me!” Perhaps the greatest temptation of all would be to take all the nations of the earth, claim their power, and impose Christ’s will on everyone. But that would not change the human heart. God’s power is not found in armies or weaponry. God’s power is shown rather in his dying love through which we are finally reconciled to him and to one another. Finally Jesus dispatches the Evil One; “Get away from me Satan.” 

In the Creation story from John the Word becomes flesh. Then there are the two creation stories from Genesis, one in which we walk with God and one another in peace. The other in which guilt, blame, coverup and rage rules the human heart. Those two story lines continue through scripture was we waver between sin and redemption, self will and obedience, blame and forgiveness. These two story lines weave their way through all of human history.  

Imagine that we gather together this day in the rabbinical tradition to reflect on our Creation. Imagine asking how did things came to be the way they are. I might reply let me tell you two stories of how they were in the beginning. On the one hand all was well between us and God. On the other hand, things went very badly in blame coverup and violence. The question is not how it came to be that way. The question is who we will choose to be today! 

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

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