by Pastor Doug Stratton — June 7, 2020
Genesis 1:1-2:4 (MSG)
CCI: The story of Creation points to God’s purpose in creation. Nothing exists for itself.
For our scripture reading this morning, I want to share with you a reading of the retelling of the first story of creation from Genesis 1. This retelling is set during the time of Exile in Babylon. It was written by Rachel Held Evans in the book Inspired. Rachel was just 37 when she died last year from complications from the flu. She left behind her husband and 2 children ages 1 and 3. Rachel was looking forward to telling her children the Story of God: (share video).
Where is your brother?”
Even in the soft glow of the lamplight, Mama’s features look worn with worry. The challah has been baked, prayers have been said, and Papa has put down his tools and is bouncing little Hanan on his knee. Sabbath has officially begun, with or without Hannah’s delinquent younger brother.
She’d done her best to track him down. As the sun receded over the vast Babylonian territory, she ran up and down the river Chebar, shouting Haggai’s name and knocking on nearly every door of their dusty little town known as Al-Yahudu, “the village of the Jews.”
“He knows the way home,” Hannah says, the familiar scents of home soothing her into blithe resignation. “He’s not a baby anymore, Mama. He’ll be an archer in the army in just two or three years.”
Mama mutters something under her breath about cold desert nights and loose Babylonian women.
Not two minutes after Hannah collapses at Papa’s feet, eager for another of his evening stories, Haggai bursts through the front door like a hungry puppy.
“Sorry I’m late!” he shouts, breathless. “I was in the city.”
“Just as I’d feared,” Mama says.
Haggai moves with the restless energy of someone with news, someone with a story to tell.
“They were celebrating the Akitu festival,” he says. “You wouldn’t believe all the food and drink! Women everywhere were dancing. They gave me figs and olives. And they told the most amazing story, Papa, the story of how Marduk became the most supreme god and established his throne in the great temple.”
Mama and Papa exchange looks.
Haggai, paying no mind to the tension in the room, straightens up, clears his throat, and with the authority of a wizened elder, relates to them the tale:
“In the beginning, before the heaven and earth were named, there lived two wild and capricious gods: Tiamat, goddess of salt water, and Apsu, god of freshwater. These two gods mingled together to produce many other gods, filling the whole cosmos with clamor and chaos. Nothing was in its right place.
“When the younger gods grew so noisy that Apsu couldn’t sleep, he resolved to kill each one of them. A battle ensued, but instead of quieting the noise, Apsu faltered and was killed by Ea, father of the great Marduk.
“Enraged, Tiamat advanced on Marduk and his forces, backed by a massive army of demons and monsters, hurricanes and hounds.
“But Marduk was a valiant warrior, so he challenged his great-great grandmother to do battle alone with him. The two fought and fought until Marduk captured Tiamat in a net and drove a great wind into her mouth so that she became bloated and slow. Marduk shot an arrow into Tiamat’s belly, cutting through her insides and puncturing her heart. Then he split her body into two pieces, flinging half of the corpse into the heavens to hold back the waters behind the firmament, and the other half to the earth to hold back the waters that rage below. From her hollowed eyes flowed the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
“Then Marduk made the stars and moon and assigned the gods to various duties. He put everything in order—sky, land, plants, and animals. Among the gods he took the highest place, and from the blood of his enemies he created humanity to serve as their slaves. Finally, Marduk saw that a great temple was made in his honor, a temple from which he could rule and rest.
“He lives in the temple, right here in Babylon, to this day,” Haggai concludes. “And the king is his emissary.”
Haggai takes a bow.
The house is quiet for a few minutes. Only the crackling fire joins Hanan in his cooing. Mama and Papa look sad.
Finally, after what seems like a very long time, Papa invites the whole family to gather around him.
“I have a story too,” he says, a twinkle returning to his eye, “one told to me by my father, which was told to him by his father, which was told to him by his father. It is an old story. So listen carefully.”
“In the beginning,” he says, “before heaven and earth were named, there was Elohim—there was God.
“Now the cosmos was formless and void. Nothing was in its right place. But the Spirit of God hovered over the chaotic waters and said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light, and it was good. God separated the light from the dark, calling one day and the other night. This is what God did on the first day.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be water above and water below.’ So God made the firmament, a great dome to hold back the waters of the sky, and it, too, was good. God separated the waters, calling all that was above heaven, and all that was below earth. This is what God did on the second day.
“Then God separated the land from the seas, and God said, ‘Let the land produce all kinds of plants—fruit and flowers, wheat and willow trees.’ And sure enough, the land sprouted. Grass grew. Grapes ripened. Trees stretched out their arms and dug in their roots. Lilies bloomed. All of this God did on the third day, and it was very, very good.
“On the fourth day, God pinned the lights to the firmament: sun, moon, and stars. ‘Let these lights serve as timekeepers,’ God said, ‘to mark the days and years and special seasons.’ And God saw that the lights were good, each one in just the right place, each one with a special assignment.
“Then, on the fifth day, God said, ‘Let the waters below teem with living creatures and let birds soar through the sky.’ So God stocked the oceans with sharks and eels and seahorses and fish, and God filled the sky with eagles and sparrows and hummingbirds and owls. The whole earth was swimming and flying, swarming and soaring, but still it wasn’t enough. So on the sixth day, God created all the animals of the land: cattle, camels, sheep, snakes, mighty stags and timid field mice, ferocious lions and wise little ants. And God separated all the creatures into families and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply! Fill up the earth!’ But still it wasn’t enough.
“So God said, ‘Let there be people. And let them rule over my creation as my emissaries, little kings and queens, created in my image and of my nature.’ So God made people on the sixth day, and God told them to be fruitful and to multiply, to use all the plants and animals for their good and to be responsible with the world.
“When God reached the seventh day, God saw that creation was in order. Everything was in the right place. The work was finished, and all of it was good. So on the seventh day God rested, which is why we rest today.
“It is a holy day,” Papa says, “set apart to remember our good and sovereign God.”
Their home is quiet for a moment.
“You mean there was no great battle?” Haggai asks.
“No battle,” Papa says.
“No grandmothers getting split in two,” Mama adds.
“And all people are God’s emissaries, not just the king?” Haggai asks.
“Yes. All people are God’s emissaries,” Papa says.
“We are each created in God’s image, charged with watching over creation. We are not slaves, my son.”
Haggai thinks for a moment. “But what about a temple? If Marduk lives in the temple, then where does Elohim live? We don’t have a temple for him.”
Hannah lowers her head to avoid catching her parents’ eyes. She knows this is a sensitive subject throughout Al-Yahudu, for once her people boasted a beautiful temple, one renowned throughout the world. But the Babylonians destroyed it. The God of the Jews has no place to live.
But Papa doesn’t grimace. Instead, he says, “Ah, that is what makes our God so great, Haggai. Our God doesn’t need a temple of stone from which to rule and rest. Our God’s home is the whole earth. God rests and rules everywhere. There is a song that puts it well. It goes:
“‘Heaven is my throne,’ says the LORD, ‘and the earth is my footstool.
“‘Do you think I need a house to be at home? Have I not made everything you see? The whole universe is my abode!
“‘The only thing I want,’ says the Lord, ‘are people with humble and contrite hearts, people who observe my ways. In the presence of those people I will make my home.’”
Hannah is surprised to see that Mama is crying. Haggai, too, looks somber.
“I’m sorry I was late for Sabbath prayers,” he says.
“It’s all right, little king,” Papa says, tousling his hair. “God is slow to anger and quick to forgive . . . Now, let’s get on with supper.”
(Rachel Held Evans, Inspiration, Copyright 2018, pgs 1-5)
When God began creating – During the exile, this story of creation was used to answer the questions that arose when the Jews encountered the stories of their captors. By all evidence available, Marduk was the stronger god. Those who worshiped Marduk had defeated the troops of Yahweh.
But in this story, we meet a God who had a purpose for everything that was done in the creative act, the very first phrase underscores that creation was not a moment in time, but God began creating and God is still the creative, sustaining God that we encounter in this story.
If we look at the poetic form of Genesis 1 we will see an interesting parallel between days 1-3 and 4-6. You see, Genesis 1 is a Hebrew poem. In the first 3 days of the creation account God sets in place the backdrop for the second 3 days. Day 1 – god separated Light from darkness, day 4 – God placed the lights in the sky. Day 2 – God separated the waters above from the waters below, day 5 – God filled the seas with fish and the sky with birds. Day 3 – God prepared the land with plants, Day 6 – God filled the land with animals and humans. And then God celebrated all this work with a day of Sabbath, a day of rest, of celebration, a day of refreshing. And ALL that God created was good, it was very good, we may even say it brought God pleasure.
Nothing was created for itself, all had a purpose, all served another. Even when God reached the final stage of creation, people were not created for themselves, but they were created in God’s own image, to care for and to tend the rest of creation. That is why it is critical that we be mindful of this world – that we care for creation.
As the reading I shared pointed out, the creation stories of all the neighbors of Israel began with the capricious acts of the gods. However, our God did not create out of jealousy, or anger, or warfare, or lust. Rather, God created in love. God created as an expression of God’s goodness. Whether light or darkness, it was good. Whether sea or land, it was good. And it was all related. We might even say God created because love can do nothing but give of itself.
In the beginning of the Bible, the intimacy of God with creation is seen when we read, “the Spirit of God, or breath of God (the Hebrew word is RUACH and it can mean breath, wind or spirit), moved across or brooded over the waters.” God was close enough for creation to feel God’s breath. And in Genesis 2, God “breathed” into the nostrils of the man the breath of life. Imagine being so close to one you love that you can feel their breathing and hear their heartbeat. That is the intimacy God shares with the created order. And it was out of that intimacy of the relationship between God’s own triune nature and creation that humans were born.
God’s intimate love for us granted us freedom to obey or to disobey, to follow or to go our own way, to grow or to remain in our ignorance. God’s intimate love not only gave us freedom, that love also drove God to redeem humanity when we had gone our own way, disobeyed and chosen ignorance. The intimate love of God for creation drove God to become a member of creation. That is the miracle of the incarnation, that God would become a human with all the weakness and longings and hopes and illnesses and experiences that we have.
Now God invites us to continue to incarnate that intimacy by embracing the image of God, and living in God’s power through the Holy Spirit. You are God’s creation, made in God’s likeness and that does not change when others tell you are worthless, and it does not change when you do not follow God’s design, and it does not change when it feels like you are being treated as less because God loves you and God longs for you.
Now is your chance to open the door and welcome the intimate love of God into your life. You can experience the breath of God, you can experience the embrace of God. Simply come home when God calls.
But even if you are late, in the words of Papa, “It’s all right little king, little queen, God is slow to anger and quick to forgive…, Now, let’s get on with Supper.
~ Pastor Doug