In the Sound of Music, Maria teaches the Von Trapp children how to sing with a song called “Do-Re-Mi” that includes the line, “Let’s start at the very beginning, A very good place to start.” While Maria wants to teach the children to sing – and experience joy – this also proves to be a reminder to all of us that the beginning is in fact a good place to start.
Launching into a new sermon series always feels daunting – and exciting- at the same time. This fall, we will be exploring highlights from the Old Testament, looking to the ways that God speaks to his people through the stories and experiences of people before Jesus.
And the beginning seems like the right place to start.
While Genesis 1 starts “in the beginning,” and lays out a broad spectrum of God’s creative powers, sun, stars, oceans, plants, people, etc., Genesis 2 digs into the special creation of humankind in the image of God.
The first thing we can see in Genesis 2:4 is that the overview from Genesis 1 is still valid: the heavens and the earth once did not exist but God did.
We can disagree about so many things in the Bible, but our understanding of the world is absolutely influenced by whether we can accept that there is a Creator God who intentionally formed everything… from scratch.
Think about that for a minute. God created from scratch.
There was no blueprint outside of God. There was no world to mimic. There was no outside influence on what the world would look like. But God created because God had an idea and authority to make this happen.
I once operated with a blueprint. In college, I served as an assistant to the builder of a house. More accurately, I was the assistant to the second assistant. I think that roughly translates to “gofer.” I carried wood, hammered nails, and, reluctantly, helped wire the electric sockets. While each of the sockets we did that day needed to be rewired after the inspector came through, that wasn’t the most egregious error our boss made that summer.
When the house’s internal beams were completed, it was discovered that the foundation was off by 1/100 of an inch. While that seems like a small amount, unless you’re competing by distance for an Olympic medal, the degree of error was augmented by the levels of floorboards, joists, house levels, etc. until the ceilings on the second floor were off by … a foot.
The builder had not followed the blueprint, and had haphazardly set us to work.
In the story of Creation, there is nothing haphazard – but God’s creative powers are above reproach, each item, each hair, each blade of grass, is set out perfectly, intentionally, and powerfully.
So what then do we do if we have read and understand Genesis 1 and then read the opening verses of Genesis 2? We find ourselves in Genesis 2:5-7 with a decision to make: Genesis 2 says that there were no plants on the earth – and no rain had yet fallen – but God created humankind. For the skeptic in us, that may create a problem: the first two books in the Bible don’t have the same chronological order for things.
But that doesn’t mean that they disagree.
We must remind ourselves that the first few books of the Bible would have been passed down orally for centuries, and that people passed these stories down orally. Have you ever heard the same story told by two different people, say the story of how a couple first met or how the proposal went down? While the two people may recount the story differently to their children – especially if they’re Bob Saget on How I Met Your Mother -the end result is that they are ultimately married.
So, if the story of chronology in Genesis 1 doesn’t agree with Genesis 2:5-7, what is the point of Genesis and the different stories?
Consider what is the same in both stories: God created humankind from the dust of the ground – and breathed life into that first man.
Whether you take the story literally – or figuratively – the point is that humanity came existence because God a) intentionally created and b) used God’s own divine breath to make people out of the substance God had just created (the dirt of the ground).
In both settings, God created humankind imago dei — in God’s image. Out of God’s substance. Regardless of what you’ve been told before – regardless of the value that you or someone else has placed on your life – you are created in the image of God.
You have the ‘divine spark,’ God’s creative breath, in you.
And God wasn’t content to just create humanity and send it off spinning like a top, or, like someone proposed once, like a Watchmaker who wound up the clock and then walked away from it.
No, God created humanity to be in the midst of this lush, perfect garden that God had created – he filled it with trees that were good to look at and eat. And then God made the center of Garden: he put the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the whole set up.
And he told the first man – let’s call him Adam – not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge because he would certainly die. While we are not solely focused on the way that the good garden God created became corrupted, it is important to recognize that in creating humankind, that God intentionally allowed for the choice making, both good and bad, of all humanity. God could have set up a series of dominoes and called it humanity; God could’ve made us like marionettes like Pinocchio longing to be a real boy.
And yet, God created us in God’s image and gave us the power to choose good or evil. God created us with the power to choose God – or not – because God creates with the desire that we will want to be with God. But God will not force us to be.
God wants what is best for this man he had made: God makes him a partner – the woman – and forms all of the animals for the man to name them.
The story goes something like this: Adam was walking around the Garden of Eden feeling very lonely, so God asked Adam, “What is wrong with you?”
Adam said he didn’t have anyone to talk to.
God said, “I was going to give you a companion and it would be a woman. This person will cook for you and wash your clothes. She will always agree with every decision you make. She will bear your children and never ask you to get up in the middle of the night to take care of them. She will not nag you, and will always be the first to admit she was wrong when you’ve had a disagreement. She will never have a headache, and will freely give you love and compassion whenever needed.
Adam asked God, “What would a woman like this cost me??”
God said, “An arm and a leg.”
Adam asked, “What can I get for just a rib???”
God as we understand him is Trinity, or three-in-one, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God IS community, and God offers us community by bringing us into communion with God – and with each other. But none of that is possible if the first man has no one to be with. So God creates the human partnership through the story of the first man and the first woman.
But, how should we put this, God is not interested in freeloading! God presents the first man with a job, with a way of participating, and creating with God. God could easily have created the animals and named all of them, but those who carried the story of Creation from the beginning of our faith understood that God wants humanity to be creative partners with God … from the beginning and moving forward.
Which leads us to this: we live in the in-between, between the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil which ultimately allowed for the sin of the first man, and the Tree of Life. If we fast forward thousands of years, or better yet, to the last book of the Bible, Revelations, we see that the Tree of Life again exists in our reference.
First, the author of Revelation tells us that he has received a vision of a “new heaven and a new earth,” a place where the people of God will be intimately, immediately, absolutely present with God himself. Here, pain and suffering, death and crying, pain and trouble, will be no more just like the existence of everything “good” when God initially created it. Here, the spring of the water of life – promised to that Samaritan woman at the well – overlaps with the Tree of Life:
“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
What God created in the beginning, God will fulfill.
What God intended for all of us, God will make an abundant reality.
That is the future; that is the hope.
But God created us – and God continues to allow us to live, and work, and move, and play with that future ahead of us.
So what of the now? What are we to glean for the very moment?
We are neither in the beginning nor at the end but somewhere between the two trees.
We are created in the image of God.
We exist by the breath of God’s divine life.
We bear the creative powers of God in the world.
We are created for community and blessing to each other.
We are individually sculpted to participate in God’s good plan for the world.
So, where does that leave us?
It should leave us empowered, hopeful, and focused: God is moving in our world with a plan for our good and we get to participate.
What will you create this week? What will you nurture in someone else? What will you recognize is your long dormant gift? What will you do for the kingdom of God?
Even in the middle, something new can come. Even now, there may be a moment where someone will someday remember: “In the beginning….”