s113o00 Somerton Park 9/1/2000 Sunday 1 The Baptism of our Lord.
"Then God said ... and there was ..." Gen 1.3
There are in the first chapters of Genesis two accounts of creation, essentially irreconcilable with each other, put side by side. There is this one, where everything is created in six days, with mankind, male and female simultaneously created on the sixth day as the pinnacle of creation. Then follows the account where, instead of creation happening at the speaking of a word from God, God created a hybrid being from the dust of the earth - much like a potter, and then like the ambulance officer, God breathes into the being the breath of life. This very much more 'hands-on' account continues with God creating the garden for the being to live in, and then the animals to be with in the creation. Finally, after no suitable mate is found, God performs surgery on the being - to create Adam and Eve from the hybrid.
These are essentially irreconcilable as chronological accounts. The one describes the creation of the material world, then the flora, the fauna, and finally humanity. The second assumes the material world, firstly humanity is created, then the flora and fauna, finally humanity is separated into male and female. The chronology of creation therefore cannot be the primary purpose of either of these accounts. If the chronology was of any importance, they could have been made to be consistent.
I don't know about anyone else, but when I read the first account of creation, I think of humanity reaching for the stars, and the spark of the divine which is in each and every one of us. When I read the first story I think that nothing is beyond us. We used to say of a talented young man: "The world is his oyster". Now I suppose we should amend this to say of young people, male and female, that we are reaching out to the universe. The miracle which is the Hubble telescope, shows us the extent of what may one day be humanity's playground.
But when I read the second account of creation, I think how we are rooted to the earth. If we don't keep our feet firmly on the ground, then, in all likelihood circumstances will quickly jolt us back to reality. But this being rooted to the earth is not bad. God cares even for us in our loneliness and isolation, and this stresses the importance of intimacy and relationship for us all.
And I suppose that all of us have these twin sides to our natures, and none of us are complete if we neglect the one and emphasise only the other. We have our dreams as well as our spouses (and others around us) to bring us back to reality :-)
So both of these stories of creation are important. Creation as we know it, is not adequately described by either one of these stories to the neglect of the other.
Each of the stories talks about us in relationship with God, with the rest of creation, and with humanity around us.
So the first speaks of humanity, created (not generically as with the animals, but uniquely as a species) as the pinnacle of creation, of us having dominion over the rest of creation, and of equality between those of different genders.
The second speaks of humanity and God being as close to us as the air we breathe, that our very being is enabled by the kiss of the divine, that we have a task to till and keep the earth and that the genders were created to help and comfort one another.
In both of these accounts the graciousness of God shines through every verse. Everything is positive and good - idyllic I suppose is the word. There is no threat, no lurking trap to trip humanity up.
I say this because I have sometimes heard those who believe God created everything in six days, also suggest that there is a time when God will say "enough" and the creation will cease to be. So, in this view, the purpose of the first account of creation inherently contains a warning that it can be as easily undone as it was done in the beginning. This seems to me to be alien to all of the themes of the first chapters of Genesis. Others will have to read the accounts themselves and come to their own conclusions. For me - this is the importance of seeing that the chronology of creation is not the primary purpose of either of these two stories.
No - the purpose of these stories are to affirm, in the one story and in the next that all people have been created good by God's design. God is as close to all people as the very air we breathe.
Humanity is very good, and this is not a conditional goodness - conditional on our acceptance of it's reality - which is just as well. Often we put ourselves down - even those of us "with faith" (or is it especially us "with faith"?)- which seems a oxymoron - a contradiction of terms. Neither is it a conditional goodness - conditional on our acceptance of a particular set of doctrines. The word "Christian" does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament, let alone in the first chapters of Genesis.
So I believe it follows that all people have a right to intimacy and relationship - to find and to be a help and comfort throughout life. Our marriage service has the couple affirm that they believe God has brought them together. The very traditional form of service has the words: "With my body I thee worship" - a very strong statement - particularly startling in the light of the injunction to worship God alone.
In fact this leads me on to wonder actually how many of us who "believe" actually believe these things. The Bible begins with such an unqualified statement of the graciousness of God and the goodness of the creation. Yet the Church so often is seen as "down in the mouth" - fearful of creation and the direction in which we seem to be going.
Do we actually believe that God is as close to us and to all people as the air we breathe? Do we believe that all of humanity has a right to intimacy without interference from outside? Do we believe that we and all people are good, and that God does not repent of creating the universe?
For all that might come after in the words of scripture, the Bible's first word is about goodness and confidence and the universality of the graciousness of God towards all people.
The message of the first chapters of Genesis, are indeed the message of God for all of time and all of humanity. It is, in this sense, the same message of Jesus, whom this day we hear God, in the gospel story for today, calling "Son".
And I point out that God says to Jesus "with you I am well pleased" before Jesus had in fact done anything at all. According to Mark, prior to his baptism, Jesus had said or done nothing what so ever. He had not healed a soul, preached a sermon, hadn't even the nucleus of a potential following. And yet God says: "with you I am well pleased". How often do we who believe think that God loves us because we are disciples? - That God loves us because we have tried to do the right thing? - That God loves us especially because we come to Church and worship?
These words tell us that God actually loved us before we became disciples, before we tried to do the right thing, before we began to come to Church ... For that is the sort of God we worship ... And these words tell us that God loves others before they become disciples, before they try to do the right thing, before they begin to come to Church ...
In fact it would not be far fetched to say that Jesus was enabled to minister to others in the light of this affirmation by God that he was a child of God, and that God loved him prior to doing anything. We too are enabled to minister to others in the light of the affirmation by God that we are a child of God and that we are loved prior to us doing anything. And we minister to others by reaffirming that they too are children of God and are loved by God prior to them doing anything.
Of course, if we hold courses for parents bringing young children to be baptised as a precondition for that baptism, or if we put preconditions (like attendance at worship) on baptism - has not the Church, not just failed to proclaim what we are all about, but in fact denied the central tenant of our faith? We have failed to proclaim that God loves us and all people, as we are, before we do anything.
For the affirmation that Jesus and we have heard, sets the parameters of how we relate to others. Unconditional acceptance by God, allows us to unconditionally accept others.
And of course it is not that we only have this affirmation once in our lives. For Jesus, the words were repeated on the high mountain at the Transfiguration. Here God puts the divine seal on that ministry of unconditional love, as Jesus travelled the land, sitting down and eating with saints and sinners alike.
For us too, as we come to the Lord's table to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, God reaffirms to each and every one of us that we are worth sending Jesus to live and to die and to rise again for. Coming to Church might seem something "we" do, but the affirmation that God gives as we come is in fact far more precious and enabling, for our own health and ultimately for the wholeness of the entire human race.
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