June 23, 2019
Second Sunday after Pentecost
When I was a little girl, a Saturday morning treat was homemade biscuits with chocolate gravy. Yes, I said CHOCOLATE gravy. A thin milk chocolate sauce that you pour over buttered biscuits. Trust me…it’s delicious. There were many Saturday mornings in my childhood when my grandmother would be serving these up, and her baby brother, my great Uncle Kenneth, would walk through the door. He seemed to have a sixth sense for when chocolate and biscuits were on the menu. My uncle was a bear of a man who would have been terrifying to my young self, if he didn’t always have an impish grin on his face. When he would come in, my grandmother would fill up a plate of biscuits smothered in chocolate for him, and bring him a glass of milk. Then she would set the entire gallon of milk next to him which he would use to continue to fill his glass until all of the biscuits were eaten.
When Kenneth was sitting at the table eating chocolate and biscuits with us, my grandmother would sometimes tell a story about him. How he was born just a little over three pounds and when they took him to the hospital in the big city to get help, the doctor took one look at him and told his mother to go home and forget about him—that he wouldn’t survive. So they went back home. But of course, she didn’t forget about him. What mother gives up on her child?
So as the story goes, Kenneth was carried around on a pillow until he was a year old. And when he was old enough to eat solids, his favorites were chocolate and biscuits and Hershey’s Bars. The older kids would always make sure that Kenneth got all he wanted of those treats—denying their own desires to fatten him up. And it worked. He survived. He thrived on their love and devotion. And grew into the man sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table, still being served his fill of chocolate and biscuits by his devoted sister.
Our stories shape who we are. They make meaning of where we came from and where we are going. In their details, we find clues about what we value. This story of my uncle and the chocolate and biscuits lives in my memory because it speaks to the deep, ingrained values of my family. To the open table of my grandparents’ home—if you walk through the door, you are going to be welcomed and when you sit at the table you are going to be fed. And fed abundantly. And for my grandmother and her nine siblings, this story lived on because it spoke to the precarious nature of childhood. Out of the thirteen children born to my great-grandparents, three died as babies or young children. Kenneth was a miracle to them. Despite the advice of the professional that he wouldn’t make it, and they should resign themselves to that reality, the family persisted in love. They insisted on a reality different than the one they had been handed. And their love triumphed and Kenneth was saved.
We all have these stories that make meaning for our families, for ourselves. The ones we pass down to our own children. The people of Israel were no different. They had these foundational stories that shaped them and spoke to what was important. That helped them to make meaning out of the world around them—a world that was often hostile and difficult to navigate. Many of those stories are found in Genesis, and this summer, we will explore them together.
Today we heard the story of the first creation narrative. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…”
Over the years, this particular account of creation has caused no shortage of debate. Is it true? Did God create the world in seven days, just like it’s outlined here? If so, how do we make sense of the theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that shows that the world as we know it today evolved over billions of years and that humans are relatively new to this place we call earth?
Many who accept the science of evolution but still want this story to have meaning and purpose, have called it myth and refer to the role of mythology as a way for our ancestors to explain the world as they knew it.
But many theologians today, particularly Walter Brueggemann, have begun to insist that this text is neither the language of “scientific history” or “mythology.” Instead, they claim that this first Creation narrative is a proclamation. In it and through it, the authors proclaim something vital to their understanding of themselves and their relationship to God. They proclaim that God and God’s creation are bound together. That God spoke all of creation into being and will continue to be in relationship with it. This narrative, therefore, is not an abstract statement about the origin of the universe but a theological statement about God’s faithfulness to this creation.1
This proclamation was a big deal. Because it was made in spite of the reality that surrounded the early Israelites. Most biblical scholars agree that this story was finalized in the sixth century BCE—about 2600 years ago. And that the text is addressed to the people of Israel living in exile. Despite the promise of God to make a great nation of Israel, they had been defeated. The Babylonian Empire had conquered Israel and dispersed its people. It would have seemed to the Israelites that it was the Babylonian gods who controlled the future, that the God of Israel had been conquered. But against such claims, it is affirmed in this story of creation that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is still God, the one who created and the one who continues to watch over creation and will one day bring it to fulfillment.
Twenty-six hundred years after the Babylonian captured the nation of Israel, we continue to live in a world that makes us wonder if our Creator is invested in relationship with the created. Particularly us, human creatures who have so often turned away from God’s call. But this story in Genesis declares that the relationship between creator and creation is guaranteed, even if it is delicate and precarious at times. And that relationship between God and creatures like ourselves is not one of coercion or requirement or obligation. It is one of trust. God invites us into relationship.
Furthermore, what this particular creation story proclaims is that all creation, all created things including humans, are a blessing. God declares them good. And we must remember that God brought this creation into being out of a formless void and darkness. Out of chaos, God brought order. This story reassures us that even out of the chaos of our world and the chaos of our lives, God calls us to a greater purpose.2
It is also in this story that we hear that we were created in the image of God and that the rest of creation is given to our care. This implies both power and great responsibility. But we must tread carefully with the words dominion and subdue that are used in God’s speech to the newly created humans. Because those words have been misused to justify great damage done to God’s creation. So we must insist that the dominion and subjugation called for at creation was not about exploitation and abuse but about humans helping God to “secure the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition.”3
Like we see in Jesus of Nazareth, the one who rules is the one who serves. In creation, we were called to be “agents of God—to whom much is given and from whom much is expected.”4 As far back as creation, we were called to serve.
This identity as agents of God speaks to our yearning for a sacramental existence. A yearning to be in sacred relationship with our Creator. At baptism, we make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the baptized, and we make this deep claim when we say the words, “You are sealed as Christ’s own forever.” This is an extraordinary claim. In it we are saying that that you are marked, named and destined for a different kind of life, a life defined by gospel tradition and the faithful people of God, not by the prevailing culture and ideologies of the world that surround you.5
This creation story in Genesis, and the other foundational stories of this first book of our Bible, gave Jews in exile a distinct narrative identity that proclaimed a truth for them that was not controlled by the Babylonian Empire. In the same way, the act of baptism and the story of Jesus’ love for us, grants us a distinct identity that gives us value beyond what anyone else tells us we are worth.
Beginning with this story of creation, we, the people of God, begin to really understand who we are. We are blessed. We are made in God’s image. We are called into relationship and covenant. We are the creation of God—to whom much has been given and from whom much is expected. May we live into that call today and every day. Amen.
- Brueggemann, Walter. “Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—Genesis.” Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982, 26-27.
- Brueggemann, 29-30.
- Brueggemann, 32.
- Brueggemann, 33.
- Brueggemann, Walter. “Preaching from the Old Testament.” Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019, 8.