sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/27/2013
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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
As we said last week, Genesis 1&2 are trying to do what the best poems are always trying to do:
arrest our assumptive plodding along,
wrest our attentions from the numbing distractions of this world,
and draw us into beauty and truth that can transform us at the deepest levels, quickening our hearts and minds to re-enter the world
invigorated by our encounter with it.
Tragically, Genesis 1&2 have for many become, instead, a stumbling block. Either for those against whom it is wielded as a weapon in a contentious debate about origins, or for those who for one reason or another have developed callouses against its subversive power. Our goal is to create breathing room for Genesis to speak to us afresh the life-giving words it’s long been longing to speak. Words that waken us to a world alive with wonder, mystery, and purpose.
A quick review:
Genesis 1&2 are telling the story of God entering into creative relationship with existing chaos and bringing order and purpose to it, dividing it up and giving it function. Genesis 1&2 are about functional creation, not material. They are about God creating an ordered system and creating function and functionaries within it. They are about God giving purpose and function to functionless things that seemingly already have begun to exist, at least from a material perspective.
Just before the beginning, Genesis asserts, the world was disordered and functionless. It was welter and waste, formless and void, darkness over the deep. The breath of a creator unlike any ever imagined by human beings hovered over the chaos, like an eagle over her hungry, needy chicks.
This creator, in our Jesus-informed and nature-revealed understanding, is a community of Love, the universe’s first universe, an organized relational system, giving and receiving, and out of that unceasing exchange, ever-creating.
The chaos, at beginning’s advent, frothed and foamed, disconnected at the heart of itself, if it could even be said to have a self. It was, like all chaos, enslaved to its own purposelessness. Powerless.
Until the creator.
Until Elohim spoke.
What kind of word?
A command? Yes.
An invitation? Yes, that too.
A word of loving, life-giving authority, language that bid order into being.
Let there be.
Let there be light.
And the chaos heard.
It received the voice of love deep into itself.
And with that, the formerly order-less, shadowy darkness became a womb.
A womb that gave birth to light.
Light that God calls “Day,” interestingly, rather than “light” - because what God has created here is nothing less than the basis for the function of time.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
From that day forward, the creative community of divine Love continued their creating.
Let there be.
Let there be.
Let there be.
And in fits and starts, mostly graceful and good, there was.
First there was every doing and then every doer.
On day two he creates – brings into functional existence – all that is necessary for the function of weather.
Time. Weather. And now on day three, the basis of food. Three days, and all the functions we need for life have been established.
[Not quite convinced? Consider the creator’s promise in Genesis 8:22, after the flood of Noah’s time - which is, of course, a return to chaos and disorder, followed by re:freshed creation:
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
Day and night
Will never cease
Food, weather, and time in reverse order, never to cease. An affirmation of the goodness of God who has made the world for our benefit.]
And then on days four and five God creates the functionaries to accomplish their tasks and to fill the spaces he has made for functioning - the lights in the heavens to mark the times and seasons, the plants, fish, birds, animals…
And finally, the freest and most functional of the creation, humanity itself.
And God created the human in his image,
in the image of God He created him,
male and female he created them.
Human beings are creatures who not only fill the earth, but they also fulfill a function in relation to the rest of creation (to subdue and rule), in relation to God (image-bearers) and in relation to each other (male and female).
And this story isn’t just a bedtime story to help us fall asleep at night, comforted by a pleasant picture of our beginnings, to satisfy our curiosity. No, it has some very important things to say to us about who God is, and who we are, and what our lives are all about. It tells us where we started and where we are going. It is, most of all, a daytime story. A story for the work of our lives.
Last week we said it’s a good news story, because it says that God created the world not to exploit us and use us, but rather he created it for our benefit. And that he is a God who made us free and all of creation shares in our freedom. Because he is a God of love, and love only exists in the context of freedom. And so his creating tools are invitation and blessing, tools that allow him to remain vulnerable before his creation, in the service of his ultimate purpose, which is Love.
And now onto the new.
4 things today:
1. The Cosmos as Temple. Genesis 1 is describing the creation of the cosmos as the inauguration of a Temple.
2. The Cosmonauts as Priests and Image-bearers. Human beings have a particular role as image-bearers to represent Elohim throughout the earth.
3. Life as a Work-in-Progress. Our function is established, but our functioning is a journey, a road stretched out before us.
4. God-Connection as Essential for Life. Connection to God is required to come alive.
ONE: Cosmos as Temple
Genesis 1 & 2 aren’t hiding the fact that they are describing God making a Temple in which he can dwell. Our first clue that Genesis 1 is describing the inauguration of a temple is the fact that it takes 7 days. Inauguration rituals were common in the ancient world, and they always take 7 days. If you read the account of the inauguration of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings or 2 Chronicles, you’ll see a 7 day dedication followed by a 7 day feast. Also, it is a well-known temple inauguration image in the ancient world to have gardens situated next to sacred spaces, with fertile waters flowing from the deity to bring abundance to the earth. Which of course is what we have with the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2.
In Genesis, God is making the chaotic cosmos into his temple. In the ancient world, temples weren’t so much gathering places for worship (although they did have that function) as they were places for the deity to have a center for his rule. It’s his home, but more importantly it’s his headquarters, not unlike the White House here in America. The earth is like God’s holy of holies, the specific sacred space where his presence is most profoundly felt.
The parallels to the cosmic temple of Genesis are all over the descriptions of the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament.
The outer courtyard has the water basin – the sea
And bronze pillars – the pillars of the earth
In the antechamber (further in) were the menorah - the celestial bodies of day 4 in Genesis; and the bread of the presence represented food provided by God.
A veil separated the heavens from the earth – the place of God’s dwelling from the place of human habitation.
Listen to Isaiah 66:
This is what the Lord says:
“Heaven is my throne,
And the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
And so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.
This idea of the cosmos as God’s Temple is a big deal for at least two reasons.
One, it tells us a lot about what God is up to in the world today. And it tells us what our job is, as well.
The Sabbath, for example, in Genesis, was not a peaceful reward for hard work. As if God had done all this work of making everything and was exhausted and ready to chill for a while. No, for the ancients, the idea of rest wasn’t about taking a break and kicking back to watch a football game as much as it was about what comes after a crisis. After a crisis, one could get on with the normal routines and business of life. The Sabbath is the climax – everything is set in place, and now it’s time for the grand opening, the deity is ready to rule.
So when Genesis says that on the 7th day, God rested, it’s saying he had finished his creation work – the labor of creating his temple, his headquarters, getting it functional – and he was now taking up residence in his throne room, the earth, in order to get on with the business of reigning. It’s not relaxation, it’s true engagement. I like how Emily Swan of the Ann Arbor Vineyard describes it: engagement without obstacles.
God, in other words, isn’t a watchmaker God – wind things up and let them go. And he isn’t just keeping an eye on everything to make sure no one screws things up, as we sometimes imagine. No, he’s got his sleeves rolled up, a smile on his face, and a kingdom to rule over and provide for.
TWO: Cosmonauts as Priests and Image-bearers
So what’s our role? Well, we are two things in this story. We are the priests in his cosmic temple. And we are his image-bearers. We are taking care of the business of his temple, carrying out his rule and reign, his emissaries to the far corners of creation. This is why we are commanded to go forth and multiply – Elohim’s influence, his care and his provision, his rule and his reign are to be creatively and faithfully exercised throughout his dwelling place. Love wants to bring order and function to every corner of the earth. The naming of the animals represents the beginning of this task.
Thus the importance of Jesus telling us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In ancient Mesopotamia, kings would conquer new land, and set up statues in their image to mark the extent of their kingdoms. This is how Genesis describes human beings, as image-bearers. In the ancient world, defacing the image of the king was an act of treason, warranting exile or death penalty. Which means dehumanizing human beings is an act of treason against the King whose image we bear. Anything less than loving other human beings de-humanizes them. It’s an act of treason to hate, to exploit, to use, to disdain, to shame, to do anything that doesn’t hold another image-bearer in high honor, to do anything that violates their freedom as an emissary and priest of God.
THREE: Life as a Work-in-Progress
Did you read Genesis 1 & 2 this week? Perhaps you noticed that God sees each of his creatures, and saw that they were “good.” All of them, that is, except human beings. This is suspicious isn’t it?
Here’s what’s going on with that. “Good” in Genesis doesn’t mean morally good or pure. Good means “functioning properly.” Like when you get a used car, and you might say, “the brakes are good, tires are good, engine’s good, but the shocks need some work.” We human beings, Genesis is telling us, are on a journey. We aren’t yet good (as in fully functional), since we, like God, have freedom to determine if we will take up the function for which we were created. It is a dance with him; God is a gentleman, a respecter of our personhood and our freedom. The enemy, of course, who shows up in Genesis 3, is always a violator of our personhood and our freedom.
The question for us is the same question posed to Jesus, and that Jesus poses to us. What will we do with our freedom? Will we, in fear, put our trust in the one who violates our freedom and promises that we can be gods instead of priests and image-bearers? Or will we, in love, put our trust in the one who made the world for our benefit, and who made us to join him in the life of Love? (this is, in part, what the two trees are all about…)
Our lives can be a cooperation with God, or a resistance. And as we go, so will go the whole of creation. How much suffering in our selves, in our brothers and sisters, in the other creatures, in 0the planet itself has come from our resistance? How much joy might come from our cooperation?
Romans puts it this way:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Jesus answered God, of course, with the first wholehearted, wholebodied, wholeminded, wholesouled YES in humanity’s history, which is why he is called our high priest, and the image of the invisible God. And it’s why he calls us to follow him, in the loving obedience that restores our humanity, causing us to be priesthood of believers, and allow us to be re-faced as image-bearers, working together to favor, count, and connect those who have been de-faced through disfavor, discounting, and disconnection.
There is space and mercy for this journey, because God has given us freedom to learn what to do with our freedom, space to grow up as it were; but at the same time, the stakes for our response to his invitations, his vulnerably presented commands are no less than cosmic.
FOUR: God-Connection as Essential for Life
Finally, Genesis 2 shows us that connection to God is required for us image-bearers to come alive.
7Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
The earth may be the holy of holies, and God may have made us as priests and image-bearers, but without God’s breath, without him coming near and us receiving him within ourselves, we are as functional as dust.
But when the earth and the divine are connected, something happens.
This is why Jesus poured out his Holy Spirit on Pentecost. His wind, his breath, waiting to be inhaled.
Breath comes in and the world looks different. Power is released. A new creation begins.
Do you want in on all of this, this task, this purpose, this journey to new creation? Then ask for God to come near and breathe in you.
The message of Genesis is that we need.
And we have.
The two always together in this world Elohim has made.
We need light, and God provides it.
We need food, and God provides it.
We need breath, and God provides it.
No, there is never a question about our needs and God’s provision. Not since the beginning of time itself.
There is only the question of God’s Love and our response. He is vulnerable before us, waiting. Will we be vulnerable before him, and come to him for life?
1. Take a walk. Notice everything you see that is functional and ordered, and consider how it came to be that way out of whatever chaos or disorder it originated in. The beauty of nature, trees, plants, clouds, etc. Homes and business and yards and roads. Also notice whatever you might see that is dysfunctional, or disordered and consider what led to it being in that state. Broken down, abandoned cars. Neglected homes. Pollution, trash, etc. Reflect on the role of cooperation (or not) with the creator in both states of being. Reflect on that which is ordered and functional in your life, and what is not, and what the role of cooperation with the creator has led to both states of being.
2. Repent for any acts of treason against the creator. Any ways you have de-faced an image bearer. You can do that right now, here, up front this morning if you’d like. Consider making it right with that image-bearer in the future, to the best of your ability. (Remember, re-creation always begins with vulnerable words and blessing.)
3. Invite a divine to dust connection in your life, to breathe life and power and new perspective into your life.