The Sunday Sermon: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 29, 2019
Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31
Gathering In … Ordering Up … and this morning, Living Out.
The days are growing shorter and the nights are cooler. Next month and into November we will set our sights on some of the most important seasons and events in our lives together. On the first day of December a new church season begins. So, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” we’ve begun again “gathering in” with one another, and seeking to gather anyone and everyone who isn’t here on Sunday mornings, but ought to be here. We do this every Fall because we’re a family and our relationships deepen, thicken, when we’re together – laughing, crying, learning, loving.
Whenever we gather in, gather together, we are reminded that our lives are “ordered up” in a profoundly counter-cultural way. We are Christians and we embody an alternative way to what most of the world around us offers. It is the way of resistance to a system which is characterized by power exercised over others, by control of others, by ranking as the primary principle of social organization, by hierarchies of dominant and subordinate, winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, honored and shamed. We are reminded when we’re here together and empowered for the rest of the week when we’re not to offer an alternative to those ways of the world.
So we come to the third, and final, part of this sermon message series: Living Out.
Pray with me …
So, what does “Living Out” look like? I think that’s an easy question to answer. Actually doing it, actually Living Out that life is the hard part. Understanding how we’re supposed to live is found all over the place in the bible. What scripture do you think of when you consider this question? Where would you first turn in the bible to find out how you’re supposed to live as a Christian? The Gospels, most likely, and the stories of the life of a human who so fully “lived out” a life in communion with God that we call him God. But also, perhaps, the book of Act’s descriptions of life in the early church or Paul’s letters to the first communities. Moving backward in time, the Hebrew Scriptures also share their wisdom through prophets, priests, and everyday people. But this morning, we’re going back to the very beginning. In the book of Genesis we are given the very first instructions on how to “Live Out” the life we’ve been given and the life we have chosen.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Genesis 1:26-31. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
As we hear these verses, this part of the story of the Creation of the Earth and all that is in it as written in the first book of the Christian bible, we hear in the background all that has come before – the first five days. I don’t think we can help it, so familiar and so ingrained is this narrative in our lives of faith. We don’t remember many of the details, and I’m sure that we think we know more than we do about the first chapter of this first book. But we do hear the back story in our heads as we read this account of the sixth day. Light, waters above and below, dry land, the moon and the sun; fruit trees of every kind, swarms of living creatures and birds that fly above the earth, and … humankind.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and earth” is surely among the most memorable verses of the bible for most of us from the first testament. But what follows – the ordering of chaos, the separation of light and darkness, the separation of the waters from the sky, the “plants yielding seeds and bearing fruits,” the great lights – Sun and Moon, the “swarm of living creatures” in the water and “winged birds of every kind” – also runs through our minds, our memories. The first five days fill out the story as we read about the sixth day.
We also remember the seventh day as we read about the sixth day, of course: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day … (resting) from all the work that God had done in creation.”
Sabbath rest. But … at least for this morning … Not for us. God may have finished the work that God began on the seventh day, but we are far from finishing the work God entrusted to us on the sixth day: the Living Out of our humanity.
This whole first chapter of Genesis is a poetic narrative. We can hear that, right? It is lyrical. This first chapter is commonly assigned to the Priestly tradition, one of the four traditions (at least) that contribute to the stories and narratives in Genesis. What that means is that it was written by religious leaders to a specific community for a specific reason. In the case of Genesis 1, this creation narrative is likely dated to the sixth century B.C. In the sixth century B.C., the ancient Israelites were exiles in Babylon. This writing serves as a “counter witness” to the Babylonian propaganda that these exiles are being bombarded with. Namely, that the Babylonian gods are in control of the future, defeating the dreams of the God of Israel. Against such claims, Genesis One asserts that Yahweh is still God, the One who watches over creation and will bring it to well-being. To despairing exiles, it is here declared that “in the beginning God created.” And “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.”
Keep these things in mind. Understanding the origin of this writing, during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century B.C., means that this writing is not an abstract statement about the “origin of the universe.” It is a theological and pastoral response to a real historical problem. It is not a scientific description of how the world came into being, but a theological affirmation, a faith statement, about the character of God who is bound to this world, about the world which is bound to that God, and very directly about us, “humankind made in this God’s image.”
So, okay, if that’s the setting, what is being said? Let’s consider our reading: Do remember the rest of the creation story in verses 3-25 as you hear the ones we read this morning. As I mentioned, that’s inevitable for many of us, we can’t help but hear them. But our primary focus every time we hear or think of this narrative must be on the verses we just read. The writer does this for us: In verse twenty-seven, you can see and hear the word “created” clustered in a very provocative way. In fact, verse twenty-seven is set apart stylistically. (Take a look at it in your pew bible – it’s found on page one in the Old Testament.) This clustering and this different style suggest that everything that precedes this verse, these verses, wishes to focus on the creation of humankind. The whole creation story makes a claim, a theological claim about the character of God and God’s relationship with creation. We’ve already noted it: God is bound to this world, God’s world, and the world, God’s world, is bound to God. But God has a special bond with human beings – a closeness that elicits our joyful praise and a distance that allows our freedom. God has a special bond with human beings.
That sounds pretty self-centered, I know. One must have a pretty high opinion of humankind to place the focus of God’s creation on us – a “high anthropology,” as it’s called in theological discussions. And you know I do. I expect a lot from you, from “us.” If we had the courage to be all that God created us to be, this world would “rock.” But … the focus on us this morning is not to celebrate and sanctify who we are, what we’ve done and what we’re doing, but to critique and challenge it. If the closeness and distance of Creator and creature applies especially to humankind in relation to God; if human persons are honored, respected, and enjoyed by the one who calls us into being in special ways; if we are given our inalienable identity by being created in the image of God, then we are falling woefully short of what, and who, we were created to Be.
Of all the creatures in God’s eight creative acts, God speaks directly only to human creatures. In verse 29, we are addressed directly as “you.” We are the ones to whom God has made an intense commitment and to whom marvelous freedom has been granted. This was a profound assertion for Israel at the time of this writing. In the writings that follow, God must not be known through any cast or molten image, in anything fixed, but rather through the creation and most directly through the freedom of humanity to be faithful to God, the creating and creative energy of the universe, and gracious to one another and the rest of creation.
At the end of this incredible day, this final day of creation, God saw that it was not only “good” as on the days before, but “very good.” And we can just hear the sigh of relief and see the smile of satisfaction as God hallows the seventh day as Sabbath rest, lies down, eyes closed, and rests from all the work God had done. Not only is all complete and self-sustaining, but there are the perfect stewards to maintain the creation. And so … we finally get to the question that should haunt us this week: How are we doing with that?
How are we doing with our fruitfulness and our care of the fish and the birds and every living thing that moves upon the earth? How are we doing with plants and the trees and the air and the water? How are we doing with one another? It’s interesting to note, I think, that the first divine words to human beings in our bible are about being in relationship, not to God, but to the earth, to the creation, itself: “Fill the earth and subdue it – bring this creation along to its fullest potential, and have dominion over it – give it care, even nurture it, do not exploit it.” How are we doing with this?
Given the environmental and ecological tragedies of our recent history, the answer to our ecological questions are condemning. And as for how we’re doing with one another – our common humanity? You feel it, as I do. Something is very wrong. The denigration of other human spirits and the desecration of our common divine image make daily headlines. We can lay the blame at the feet of national, state, even global, leadership – other countries’ Dictators or Prime Ministers, Presidents and Governors, at our Senators and Congress people on every level of government, but how are “you” doing? How am “I” living into my God-given image? How are we living out our lives in the direction of love and compassion? Suffice to say, that we’re not really doing too well in our role as stewards of God’s creation and God’s creatures. I’ve preached sermons on Sabbath rest before, and I’ll undoubtedly preach them again. Sabbath is crucial, it is the crowning glory of this creation story, in fact. But I tell you this morning that we don’t deserve the rest of the seventh day … not yet. It’s still the sixth day for us. Let’s get to work, in small ways and big ways, in personal ways and in public ways.
You can get started right here in this place at this time. Sunday mornings on our campus include Sunday school classes for all ages, opportunities for fellowship and the sharing of lives for one another, and of course this hour of worship. Live out your created purpose in beginning right here with one another.
Last month we collected school supplies for Lotts Creek again. We had incredible response. The bin is almost full again and one corner of my office is covered with donations. We need to make arrangements for delivery in the weeks ahead. Live out your created purpose …
This very afternoon at 2:00 p.m. we are gathering again just down the road and across the street to bring the love we share here this morning to the residents at Friendship Manor. Everyone is welcome to come together again. Live out …
This evening, our small group is asking all of us, and more in the wider community, to come together to listen to and respond to one of the “enders of life as God intended,” gun violence. Six o’clock in the Parish House. Live out …
In two weeks, we take the lead once again in South Oldham’s Laundry Love ministry, providing more than coins and soap to all who bring their laundry to be cleaned, but providing community and shared life. October twelfth from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. at Crestwood Laundry. Live out …
The day after that our Annual Fall Festival will bring us together. Live out …
And those few scheduled events only scratch the surface of what we can do, what we were created to do, together. How will you live out your faith, your life, your love away from this place and these people? Figure it out. It’s what we’re called to do! We’ll need to take some “breathers” now and then, I know. Our “Sabbath rest” always takes place in the midst of our never ending efforts to follow the will of God in the Way of Christ. But lest we feel that the work is done, this morning is a reminder: This is still the sixth day.
We have been given every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit, and every green plant … for food. We have been given every beast of the earth and every bird of the air and everything that creeps on the earth and everything that has the breath of life and we have been given the task of caring for all of this. How are we doing?
With God’s help and through God’s blessing we pray … better every day until everyone is at the table and the seventh day Sabbath rest may be experienced by all.
Gathering In. Ordering Up. Living Out. There is evening and there is morning again, the Sixth Day. And this day is very good. Live out, O people of God.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 29, 2019