July 7, 2019

“The Earth is the Lord’s”
Psalm 24:1-2; Genesis 1:1-5, 1:31-2:3
A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi
July 7, 2019 (Pentecost +4) 

When I was in college I took Biology 101.  I don’t know what I was doing in that lab class with all the hard-core premed students because my major was International Relations.  I may have signed up for the class because I needed a science class and I heard that the professor who taught it was and excellent teacher.  All these years later I remember one particular lecture when he talked about how human life starts when an egg and sperm meet.  He drew some amazing pictures on the chalkboard (yes, I’m that old…my professors still used chalk boards). You could tell that the professor was excited to explain the science behind how just a few cells grew and developed into a whole human being.  

He illustrated how cells formed and split and differentiated.  Yet there was somewhat of a mystery in it too.  How did the cells know to differentiate at that particular point in the development of the embryo so that we have distinct respiratory and nervous systems? The professor left the class in awe of the human reproductive process.  

My guess is that he was a believer who wanted to show his students the awe and wonder of the human body—the body that God designed and created.  Yes, we humans have a part in the reproductive process.  But there is so much that happens beyond our actions, beyond our control, beyond our imagining.  My professor led us all to the point just short of saying, “And this whole wonderful, spectacular design and process was the work of a creative, imaginative and detail-oriented God.”  I remember feeling like we had experienced a holy moment because the lecture hall seemed to be filled with awe—I was in awe of God, and full of thanksgiving for the wonderful gift of life. 

The creation story in Genesis 1 was written to do for believers what that biology lecture did for me.  It was written to tell us about God and to encourage us to worship God.  As Elizabeth Achtemeier has written, the creation story is a confession of faith.  She said, “The whole chapter (Genesis 1) is intended not as a scientific account of how God created the heavens and the earth, but as a confession of faith.  ‘In the beginning God.’  That is the foundational statement” (The Lectionary Commentary, The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts, p. 4). 

The confession, “In the beginning God” was written by people who had observed creation—the heavens and earth, the land and seas, the plants, flowers, animals, and saw its goodness and blessing.  Their observations of the world around them were made in the context of their unique relationship with Yahweh, the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  This led them to say, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  The story of creation is a theological statement about God, and invites us to know God, but more importantly, worship God. 

We didn’t read the whole creation narrative in Genesis 1, but many of us are familiar with its poetic repetition of how God spoke, “Let there be light; let there be a vault between the waters; let the land produce vegetation, let there be lights in the vault of the sky, let there be, let there be…” and the result, “And it was so.”  God spoke, and it happened.  God’s word is powerful to make things come into being. 

And at the end of each day, after a creative act, “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day, the second day, the third day.”  We see a deliberate pattern in the creation of all things, an order.  It tells us of God’s intention and careful attention to creation.  This God who created is a God of order, who organized the chaos into something beautiful and meaningful. 

The creation story tells us that all that God created is good.  Verse 4 says, “God saw that the light was good.”  The phrase, “And God saw that it was good” occurs in verses 10, 12, 18, 21, 25--each day of creation; a chorus of affirmation and call to praise.  At the end, after creating humans on the sixth day, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (v. 31).  Not just good, but very good. 

The seventh day was set aside to rest.  “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3).  It seems to me that this day of rest is given to reflect on the work of creation, the amazing and miraculous and marvelous thing that God had done.  Too often when our day is done, when our work is over we don’t look back and reflect on all we have accomplished and the goodness of it all.  God provided for this day of rest not because God was tired, but in order to enjoy God’s handiwork, to revel in its beauty and majesty.  And God invites us to rest—not because we are tired—but in order to let go of our activity to observe and enjoy creation and the life that God has given to the world and to us.  God invites us to see how God created and how God sustains life, and then to respond in worship. 

This creation story was born out of a relationship with a good, powerful, careful and caring God.  Creation reflects these characteristics of God.  The God of creation is worthy of our worship. 

“In the beginning God” was a confession of faith made by those whose relationship with the Creator was very different from the relationship the nations around them had with their own gods.  David Atkinson notes that amidst the competing creation stories told by their neighbors in the Ancient Near East, Genesis 1 was written to call the Israelites back to worship “the one sovereign majestic Lord who, in the transcendent freedom of his creative Word, is the source of all things, all life, all creatures, all people.” (The Message of Genesis 1-11, p. 16).  Because they were a smaller group of people and the surrounding nations and cultures were so dominant, it was tempting to adopt their gods and their worship practices. 

But this sovereign God was different from all the other gods that were worshipped by the neighboring peoples, and was worthy of the Israelites’ worship.  The gods of the other peoples were many, but the God of Israel was one.  In other creation stories, divine spirits and cosmic matter existed side by side, whereas Genesis describes a God who exists apart from all that was created, and all creation depends on God for its existence.  For the Israelites, the sun, moon, stars and sea monsters are creatures, not gods.  Creation itself is not divine and cannot be worshipped as in the other religions.  In Genesis, God speaks and light is created whereas light emanates from the gods in other creation stories.  The God of the Israelites was distinct, different from all other gods worshipped by their neighbors. 

Genesis 1 tells us that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, the Creator of all things is worthy of our praise and worship.  

What in creation inspires you to worship God the Creator? 

When he was two years old, my nephew Micah taught me to appreciate really simple things like a leaf or rock.  I was playing with him at my parent’s place and decided to take him for a walk.  We didn’t get very far before he stopped to pick up a leaf that had fallen from a tree.  He spent a few moments holding the leaf and looking at it and saying, “leaf, leaf…”  I wanted to keep walking, but Micah just wanted to look at the leaf.  When he finally decided to move on, he went a few steps and found a rock to look at.  When we finally returned to my parent’s apartment, he put both the leaf and the rock into a clear container, then he took them out and put them back in, took them out, put them back in...  

Watching him, I learned to stop and observe the world around me to appreciate all that God had created.  We walk past leaves and rocks all the time, but when we stop to look at them, they speak to us of a creative God who has made an amazing world for us to live in.  Unless we take the time to observe, to look carefully at rocks and leaves, we miss the opportunity to worship and praise God for creation.  We miss the chance to proclaim, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” 

While we do not worship creation, we see and experience it as the handiwork of God which inspires us to praise and worship. 

The creation story also reveals to us who we are in the scheme of all of creation:  creatures, caretakers, the image of God.  In Genesis 1:28, God says to humankind, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground….” This month in worship, in our Intergenerational Activities and at Family Camp we will be reflecting on God’s creation, and our job as stewards, caregivers of creation.  

Today, we simply want to appreciate the fact that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” 

This week, open your eyes to see the creativity, majesty and wonder of God that is reflected in creation.  Take a walk, look at the sky and trees.  Even the weeds and rocks in your yard can tell you something about God.  Where do you see evidence of the work of a creative God?  Then give thanks to God for this wonderful world we live in.  Give thanks for the life God has given to all of creation, and to you.