160424 – In the Beginning

(pulpit guest: Rev. Deb Foster of St. Mark’s United Church, Whitby)

In the Beginning: Part 1 & 2

Genesis 1:1-8, 2:1-4a & Genesis 2:4b-7, 4:1-5, 8-9

A long time ago,
In a galaxy far, far away,
Rather, in a church, far, far away,
Or not so far away,
It was a Sunday,
And the offering plates were passed around
As usual,
But this particular Sunday
A slip of yellow paper
Was placed with the money on the plates.

The slip of yellow paper,
After going through the hands of the counters,
With some confusion,
Was left on the minister’s desk,
As a “we’re not sure what to do with this” item.

Later the minister looked at the paper.
She smiled. It was a question.
It was right up her alley.

“Creation and dinosaurs. How can that be?”

A fantastic question.
She loved dinosaurs and their story.
And she loved our scriptures.
What a perfect slip of yellow paper.
What a wonderful question to investigate.

The question was addressing
‘in the beginning’ –
How can there be Adam and Eve,
And a 7 day creation,
And …at the same time another story
About dinosaurs and the big bang
And a world that is 13.8 billion years old?

The truth is…
Each of these is an ‘in the beginning’ story.

Part One of ‘in the beginning’
From our scriptures,
Gives us accounts of creation,
Stories or myths, through the lens
Of ancient people, of how they
Understood and shared what they knew
And believed about God and life.

Part one of ‘in the beginning’
From science gives us an account of dinosaurs
And the Big Bang,
And rocks, minerals, atoms, biology,
Biochemistry, astronomy, and all the other fields
Of science.

This one yellow slip of paper,
Was asking, was bringing together, as a question,
Science and faith?  How can that be?

Looking at the two accounts of creation
In that Part One of In the beginning,
That is spread over chapters 1 & 2 of Genesis,
We have learned over the years
That these accounts, these chapters,
Are not to be read as a modern book,
With chapter one leading into chapter two and on.

These accounts of creation don’t flow together,
They can’t be applied to fit with the history of time,
Or the story of the universe.
They don’t fit.
It doesn’t work.
We needn’t try and that’s okay.
The two creation accounts are actually
Opposed to each other
And neither fits with science.

The first account is of the God
Who is the creator of all the ancients knew
And all that we know, the whole universe,
Light, dark, day, night, and everything in between.

The second account, or story, is of the God who
Is close to us and who walks with us, talks to us,
Comforts us, and guides us, the bible says,
Kind of like a gardener in a garden
That is referred to as Eden.

So on perhaps another slip of paper,
Maybe green,
We might put instead of
“Creation and dinosaurs how can that be?”,
But a new question:
why did the ancients keep two different
Stories about God and creation and not
Ditch one of them?

Or what new information is offered to us
When we understand these
Two stories, or myths, as telling us about God
And not creation at all?

Putting these two scriptural accounts together
Gives us an image, a picture,
of God…
of a transcendent and at the same time
an immanent God,
Without the stress of trying to make the stories work together.
Our God, who the ancients knew,
Was and is the creator of even the sun and the moon
That other ancients thought were gods in the sky.
And our God is the one who draws us into relationship
With each other, with God, and all of creation
Every rock, tree, bug, nebula.

This is God, “in the beginning,” “in the beginning” of the whole world!
Part One of in the beginning
And different from the “in the beginning” of science.

But there is another “in the beginning” story.
Not about creation or God at all.
It is the “in the beginning” part two
That another question asks.
Perhaps this one we put on a blue slip of paper.

This question, part two, is why do the stories
Of the generations of the people of the earth,
Begin with murder?

Part two begins with a man  named Abel,
Who was a keeper of sheep, a shepherd, a herder,
And Cain was his brother, a tiller of the ground,
A farmer,
Both sons of Adam and Eve from that story.

They fought as brothers often do.
Cain killed Abel.
One killed one.

And then Cain went out and built a city
And the verses that follow
Tell the story of the rise or
Beginnings of civilization
Which consisted of more murder.

All in one chapter, chapter four of Genesis,
Where one kills one,
The revenge consists of sevenfold for the tribe,
And then revenge becomes
Seventy sevenfold,
And we learn of this escalating violence
And murder that comes with
‘in the beginning’ of people
Broken by the beginning of civilization.


This is the explanation offered
By a biblical scholar and historian,
John Dominic Crossan, many of you know and read,
But historical sciences reveal likewise.


Part two of ‘in the beginning’
Was not before all time with God,
Nor creation,
Not the 13.8 billion years ago either,
But only about 6000 years ago,
About 4000 bc, or chapter 4 of Genesis.


Science and history tell us it was the coming
Together of those living in the geographic
Area of the Middle East,
Who would become the Egyptians, the Sumerians,
The Mesopotamians,
The people who began villages alone the Fertile Crescent
Of the Trigris-Euphrates, Nile and Indus river valleys.


This time period in science is called the Neolithic period
And was the transition time of human history
That came about with domestication of crops,
Animals and irrigation.


Our scriptures tell of this transition time period as well but
Through the lives of people  in stories, people
Who began to move from being nomadic herders
To settling in one place.
The bible uses Cain and Abel, even later
Esau and Jacob,
To tell about our human history, our violence,
How we came to have
The nation against nation story through time.


Once a people has the ability to settle in a place,
Make it home,
Have agriculture, food, irrigation,
Domesticated animals,
Then they organize,
And they grow,
And then others see what they have,
And they want in,
And to protect and defend this heavenly settled life,
They create a border, or a fence, or a wall,
To keep some in  and others out.


In our time, the idea of a all
Has been very recently raised again.
I wonder if Mr. Trump has read Genesis.


With armies and walls and power, empires evolve.


There have been many empires over 6000 years,
And in their beginnings, as now,
They exist because of lust for land, power, control,
Needs and resources, defence and protection,
And those who have are the rich in empire,
And the poor, oppressed, sometimes conquered,
Are those outside of the empire.


Cain the farmer.
Abel the herder.
One killed one.
Esau the hunter,
Jacob of the settled tents,
Esau, like some people today even,
Gives up his birthright for food
To his brother Jacob.
Each founders of nations.


The story of the rise of civilizations and empires,
Is the story of escalating violence,
Another, or part two of “in the beginning.”
We are part of that ongoing story.
We’re not more violent.
There’s just more of us around the planet,
And we’ve learned to be better at it
With better, more effective ways
Of protecting, defending, caging ourselves in
And others out, using
armies, tanks, planes,
Guns and then there is collateral damage,
And the damage done to creation itself –
To the land, water, animals, vegetation,
Relationships broken all around.


In 6000 years we’ve gone from iron weapons
To hydrogen bombs.
We’ve gone from the Sumerian Empire
Through the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman,
British, Spanish, French…American…
And where does ISIS fit in?


The bible teaches us about the world
And God in it, and of the consequences
Of empires, power, control, greed,
And how with God, we have the power
To bring an end to these things,
To have a new beginning, part 3.
The bible tells us how God
calls us to make it so.


Through the prophets and through Jesus
We hear what it is to live according to God’s will,
God’s peace, God’s justice,
God’s harmony and hope for all the world.


Science and history teach us about
how things are, how they came to be, why they are,
The Big Bang, and evolution, and civilizations, wars, empires,


The bible, our scriptures through the ancient lens,
Tells us about God and the path God calls us to follow
To lead us out of our brokenness.


Galileo said in a letter about 1615,
“The scriptures tell us how one goes to heaven,
Not how heaven goes.”


Over these last few months,
Years even,
The new question that has been asked
Has been about why is there such violence
And power and corruption,
May be for another slip of paper?
Gray perhaps?


Think of our world, events and troubles:
Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan,
The Central Republic of the Congo,
North Korea, China, Islamic State,
Missing girls, and suicide pacts,
And then our own systemic injustices,
And challenges to our governing systems,
Our poor, our marginalized,
Our Aboriginals, our women,
Refugees, the lost, the lonely, the hungry
On our streets.


Is it new?
Not really.
Is the answer from the scriptures still valid?
You bet.


Jesus says it is about love,
Love one another,
Share the table,
Share food, shelter, protection, warmth,
Instead of building walls and empires.


Jesus speaks about God’s banquet,
Where all are welcome and fed –
The flip side of empire.


On fb a few months ago,
There was a beautiful picture of a long table
Spread with food and the caption was:
When you have what you need,
You build a bigger table not a higher fence, not a wall.


Another said,
If we can find the money to kill people,
Can we not find the money to help people?


It’s amazing what one can find on Facebook.


In the beginning was the word,
The ordering principle of the universe,
Of the way things should and can be;
In the beginning was God,
In the beginning God created,
Part one, the bible tells us, and science describes how.
And in a later beginning humanity became broken,
An “in the beginning” part two.


With that came harm to all of creation,
The breaking of all sorts of relationships.


But we are made in the image of God,
The relational image,
We’re called to live in relationship
With God, with all of humanity and all of creation.


Both science and faith teach us about
Living together and the consequences of not doing so.


Today is the end of earth week.
Friday was Earth Day.


This week, and next and the next,
let us open our hearts to the new beginning,
To living, loving, and having our hearts beat together
And as one with the heart of the universe,
The heart beat of God,
In the manger of creation.


Let’s open our eyes and our ears
To the places where the Spirit is known,
And has been working, flowing as grace
To us and through us
Showing us the power and possibility,
The hope and the promise
That it need not be
As one killed one then sevenfold
And seventy seven fold,
But one can love one,
And then seven fold of love unfolds,
And seventy seven unfolds, and love
Spreads over and over.


Let’s know and name to each other where the Spirit
Has brought new life into our lives,
Into the lives of those we know,
Into the world,
Because believing and naming,
And sharing,
Is to know and to trust,
And that changes so deeply who we are
And who we can be in our core.


And that too is an “in the beginning” story.
We are part three of “in the beginning”, a new beginning
That is possible with God
As God is among us, between us,
Around us,
And within us
This day and always,
As the ancients wrote,
As the bible tells us so.


Thanks be to God.