s113o03 Lockleys 12/1/2003 Baptism of Jesus Sunday 1
"In the beginning É" Genesis 1.1
There are two accounts of Creation. This fact should not surprise anyone for there are four accounts of the life of Jesus, we call them the gospels. Why do we have four gospels? Again, the answer is not complicated, because one does not tell the complete story. So too, why do we have two accounts of creation? Because neither the first nor the second is complete on its own.
It is actually quite vital to realise that these two accounts of creation are in fact chronologically inconsistent. In the first, humanity, male and female, equally and instantaneously, are created on the sixth day, after everything else, including the birds, the fish and the animals. In the second account, humanity is created first, before the garden is planted and populated by the animals and the birds. Finally the woman and the man are made distinct beings from the one.
This is what the Bible says, and as I say, the two accounts are chronologically incompatible. There is no way we can say that at the creation, this happened first, and then something else happened. It might be the order the first puts them, which is contradicted by the second, or vice versa. Therefore the first lesson I would draw from this is that the chronology of creation is not of first importance for the Bible. Neither can be taken to be a literal account of the sequence of events, for that would be to deny the sequence of events the other describes. If the chronology of creation was important to the Biblical authors, or indeed to God, then it is not unreasonable to expect that the Bible could be consistent about it.
I am no more likely to assert that the chronology of the life of Jesus described by Matthew is true, when there are significant differences in the other gospels. I take what is important from each of the gospels, and consider the chronology of events to be relatively unimportant.
If the chronological order of creation is not the message the Bible wants us to accept, the question becomes, what is the message the Bible does want us to accept?
I like to think of the first account of creation as humanity seeing the universe as our oyster. We are children of God, and male and female are equal and the pinnacle of creation. Nothing is impossible, all things are within our grasp.
I like to think of the second account of creation representing our earthly side, where to remain grounded we need to keep out feet firmly on the ground. We are not creatures simply of intellect - emotions, physicality, relationship (as distinct from equality) are all important.
Some people are anxious to assert that God made the universe in seven days, and I strongly suspect that they do this to also imply that God can just as quickly and easily call it all to a halt. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realise the reason for this - it is to introduce an element of fear - if you don't repent now - you might just miss out - and burn in hell for all eternity! Now I want to point out that fear makes no appearance in the creation stories before the serpent appears in chapter three. God did not create us to be afraid. We are created good. More fundamentally - I would not worship a god who arbitrarily condemned individuals to punishment through an accident of history.
If you want to ask my own personal opinion, I have no difficulty recognising and appreciating the truths that each of these chronologically inconsistent stories of creation impart, without switching off my brain which reasons that the theory of evolution might be chronologically more likely.
Similarly my scientific reasoning knows that the light God created on the first day is rather more intimately related to the sun and the moon as would be suggested in the story which sees these created separately from the light, on the fourth day. So I have no difficulty with the theory of evolution, for this is just a modern approach to the question of chronology - a question of minor importance for the Bible. The scientists will always be finding out more, and as we continue to look we will see more of the beauty and wonder of God. When we cease to look and we become motivated by fear, we will cease to see that beauty - a God ordained beauty which surely is a gift we are meant to appreciate not close our eyes to. More importantly if we close our eyes to see the beauty in ourselves, we may well be deluded into thinking that we are eternally unworthy and become a prey to fear.
I believe that the world also needs to hear another message from the first chapter of Genesis. We still desperately need to hear the blessing God gave humanity in the beginning, after which the first words which humanity were actually to hear: "Be fruitful and multiply". (1`.28) Physical intimacy and procreation is essentially the first thing spoken to humanity in the Bible - indeed I am sure it could be argued that the blessing was to be fruitful and multiply. Intimacy and procreation are God's blessing to us. I find it no wonder that people rebel against the efforts of society and indeed the church to hide this away - when they have traditionally told us to consider matters of intimacy and procreation unmentionable. God certainly doesn't.
I should mention that I have been blithely saying that the fist account of creation is the one in Genesis chapter 1, the seven days account. And the second, beginning in the second half of the fourth verse of chapter 2, combined humanity then the animals then man and woman made distinct. Scholarship tells us that probably the second actually was written before the first. Again, this should not surprise us. As we mature as individuals we can see more of the universe. Scholarship also tells us that these different stories have different authors - they are not both written by Moses. Again, this is nothing that should surprise or perturb us. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John exist side by side - each giving us their unique perspectives of the life of Jesus. The Old Testament is constructed similarly.
But there are a number of things that do perturb me about the teaching of the "creationists". Firstly, they would assert that they take the Bible literally. I would assert that they in fact misread the Bible, making it say what they think it says. I have provided today a synopsis of the words in chapters one and two of Genesis for anyone who cares to do so, to take them home and look in your own version of the Bible to see whether the sequence of events as I have listed them is wrong.
I would also deny any charge of being "liberal". I take the actual words of the Bible far more seriously than the creationists. I have been preaching since 1977 and every time I have preached I have preached on the words of scripture. In the last seven years alone I have posted about 345 sermons on the Internet. Each could be reached from a scriptural index (some have actually dropped out because of change over of computers and ISP's). That index has links to 34 sermons on the OT, 70 on Matthew, 39 on Mark, 55 on Luke, 55 on John and also 92 on the other books of the New Testament. The evidence is there for all to see that I take the Bible seriously, encompassing a wide variety of scripture.
The second thing that would perturb me about the teaching of the "creationists" is that for me, the good news is not that we are accepted into God's kingdom when we believe that God created the universe in a particular order (whatever that order is?). God accepts the worship of all except when it is at the expense of someone else. It seems to me that the creationists' worship is by definition exclusive of those who believe somewhat differently from themselves. Of course it is not just creationists who do this. The same teachings affect our own denomination - otherwise there would be no point in me standing up here and saying these things.
It is important to recognise where truth lies. There is a fundamental question of whether God is inclusive or whether God is exclusive. There are certainly enough Anglicans who believe the later.
I want to return to those two fundamental insights that the two accounts of creation give us - that the universe is humanity's oyster and God is concerned even about our solitude.
From these two truths I take it that there is nothing that cannot be achieved if we work together as equals, for all of humanity is made for each other. On the other hand everything will be lost if we try to "go it alone" or one group tries to dominate others. This is not how we were made in the beginning and so it is a denial of God's handiwork.
The "we" (working together) refers to us as individuals, to ourselves as a denomination, to us as Christians, and as people of faith, indeed as humanity in general. The good news is that this is what God wants and we need have no fear as we accept others as equally loved in the eyes of God, and whose contributions are accepted by God as readily as are our own. God did not create us to be afraid, afraid of God for we have been made "very good". And as we work together with others, we will find there is nothing to be afraid from others either.
It is my personal opinion that the likelihood of overwhelming calamity is far greater if humanity continues to not work together as equals, than it is that God will call a halt to the creation preserving a remnant who have spent their lives doing little else except fearing this would happen.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.