Saturday, June 14, 2014

And God saw that it was good

Genesis 1:1-2:4

Here is an ancient story. Tiamat is the goddess of chaos and of the ocean. Her spouse is Abzu, the god of fresh water. In one story, their marriage causes a peaceful creation of the cosmos, a bit at a time.
In a story from the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, their story is very different. Tiamat gives birth to a generation of lesser gods, who also marry and have children, more gods. Their father Abzu makes war on the children and he is killed. Tiamat goes to war against her husband’s murders, and she is killed by Marduk, the storm god.
Her body is cut open and the heavens and the earth are formed from her dead body. Her eyes became the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and her tail became the Milky Way. Tiamat’s lover Kingu was also killed. His blood was mixed with the clay of the earth, creating humankind. These humans were intended to be servants of the gods.
This story was developed by the 15th century BCE, so about the time of Moses. It was told and adapted over time, as different peoples made it their own, giving the gods local names, and more stories, and variations of the stories, and so forth. This story of Tiamat, Abzu, and Marduk was the story of creation that was told and believed by the Babylonians while the Jews were held there in exile.
What do you notice about this creation story? Lots of gods, lots of chaos, lots of violence, creation out of dead bodies and blood, humans serve the gods … Creation in this story is born of violence and evil. If I were a Babylonian, I would be terrified of these gods, since they regularly choose to make war and kill people and other gods.
The creation stories we know from Genesis 1 and 2 give a strong contrast to the creation stories of the surrounding cultures. They were put into the form we know today by priests and leaders living in Babylon during the exile, to be sure the people would never believe that the local gods were just as good as YHWH.
What are some things you notice about the Genesis story? One God, goodness, in God’s image, no violence, order from chaos.
Let’s talk about some of that: There is only one God, who can do everything. This God has no beginning and no ending – there is no mention of birth, mating, or death. Instead of chaos, God gives order to this creation. There is a place and a purpose for everything. There is no need for God to have a spouse to help with creation; this God creates everything there is from nothing – theologians call this creation ex nihilo. This God creates simply by speaking.
All that God created is good – a strong contrast to the violence and evil and death that pervades the Babylonian story. In the Babylonian story, humans are created in order to be slaves to the gods; but in Genesis, humans are created in the image of God – with God’s purposes in mind. For example, humans are charged with caring for the created world just as God would.
This first chapter of Genesis has the rhythm of liturgy – that’s why I invited you to participate in the reading. “And God saw that it was good” is a repeated refrain in the text. I imagine congregations through the ages sharing in the reading, reinforcing the message of the goodness of God’s creation.
Psalm 8 gives us a wonderful opportunity to praise the God who creates everything, including us, and who cares for us so dearly that we are almost divine. When we compare ourselves to the majesty of creation and of creator, we are insignificant – yet we are crowned with honor and glory by the one who created and still creates us.
… I like using this very first story in Scripture to present God as one, as powerful, as creative, as caring, as ever-present, as desiring a relationship with creation. The Genesis text says that at the beginning the wind from God moved over the waters. The Hebrew word for wind also means breath and spirit. Last week we thought about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a strong wind. And in the upper room, we reflected on Jesus breathing into the disciples, perhaps blowing them a kiss of the Spirit. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was present at the beginning of creation, and that it was through him that everything was created. As Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples, he was present at the beginning, breathing life into the created world.
Especially, I relate to the concept of the goodness of creation. The refrain of goodness echoes throughout the text of Genesis One. Sun, moon, and stars, day and night, seasons, water and dry land, fish and birds, plants and spiders, all this is good. Humans are good, created in the image of God – almost, but not quite, God. Created to care for God’s creation with the same tenderness God would use. Created to form families with healthy relationships. Created to live in healthy relationship with God. Created good.
We have a tendency to use creation for our own purposes, using up resources today instead of preserving them for future generations. We do not care for creation as God would.
We have a tendency to forget that all of God’s children were created good. We tend to judge one another, and think that some are not as good as others. Throughout human history, one group has labeled themselves as better than good, in comparison with others. One or more groups have been labeled as not good, and even as not fully human. But in God’s eyes, all are created good. Granted, some of us do things that are not good, but our actions have nothing to do with our God-created goodness.
Last week on America’s Got Talent TV show, Anna Clendening sang the song Hallelujah beautifully. Her story is important. She suffers from severe anxiety disorder, and struggled to even be on stage. Howie Mandel suffers from anxiety as well, and went on stage to encourage her after her song, telling her how proud he was of her because he knows how hard it was.
Ethel Waters was the author of the song, His Eye Is on the Sparrow. Her signature song was Stormy Weather. Later in her life, she toured with Billy Graham. She was a Black jazz singer who appealed to both black and white audiences, and overcame many of the prejudices normally applied by society to black women. “I am somebody, ‘cause God don’t make no junk,” she said.
We can remember this affirmation about everyone. We can remember that despite our varieties of skin color, our varieties of mental and physical health, our varieties of size, our varieties of intelligence, our varieties of sexual orientation – in spite of all our differences, inside we are all the same – created by God, and created good.
Here is your challenge for this week, and far beyond this week. Let us remember to treat each other the way God intends, as God’s beloved and very good children. Let’s look at each person we encounter as equal to us in goodness, gifted differently, created by God. Let’s strive to have the healthy, good relationships God envisioned for us, from the beginning.
Please pray with me. Majestic God, you created all that is. You created us humans in your image, so that we could care for creation with your purposes in mind. We are your hands, caring for your good creation. Inspire us, guide us, fill us with your Spirit. Amen