Worship Where You Are

The Worship Where You Are blog contains what we think of as "first drafts" of the sermon for each week.  They are prepared mid-week for people who might not be able to be present on Sunday morning but wish to still participate in the worship experience.  They contain scripture, the sermon text, a few questions to ponder and a closing prayer.  May they help you in your faith journey.

All Bible verses come from the Common English Bible

Back to Bible Basics - Ruth

Ruth 1:1-18

The family in Moab

1 During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. 2 The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.

3 But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. 4 They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.

5 But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.

6 Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. 7 She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.

8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

10 But they replied to her, “No, instead we will return with you, to your people.”

11 Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? 12 Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the Lord’s will has come out against me.”

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

“Send her back!” was the chant being echoed at a recent rally for President Trump in North Carolina. While these words were directed at Representative Omar, they would have fit just as well in our story of Ruth. While we do not know for sure when the Book of Ruth was written, it is thought to have most likely been written in a post-Exile time frame. Its own message would therefore be meant to be read in tension with the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah who called for Israelites to abandon their foreign wives, to “send her back” as it were.

Read in this context, Ruth becomes a powerful message of how an outsider, a foreigner, a Moabite is more faithful, loving, and kind then any of the Israelites she interacts with. At a time when nationalism and purity were being valued in Israel the story of Ruth challenges people to remember the contributions of outsiders. Ruth is important for what she does and her faithfulness, but for who she is related to, her great-grandson is David, the most revered leader of Israel.

In the opening passages of this story, we see this distinction that is being created between the unfaithfulness of the Israelites and Ruth’s own faithfulness. Naomi and her family live in Bethlehem, which literally translates to “house of bread.” They are a part of the clan of Ephraim, which translates to “fruitful.” They are living in the land that was given to them by God. Yet, when famine comes to the land, rather than trust in the faithfulness of God to provide, they leave this land of bread and fruitfulness and going to the live among the Moabites. What is worse, in violation of the rules of the day they take Moabite women to be their wives. Early readers would not really be surprised that this lack of faithfulness results in the death of Naomi’s husband and sons, leaving her widowed in a foreign land with her daughters-in-law in tow. Echoing her own lack of faith, Naomi, blames herself and God for what happens, feeling she now be called “Mora” for she is bitter at God.

Looking for some signs of hope, Naomi learns that the famine has lifted in Bethlehem, and that God is providing for the people. She decides to return home but first she attempts to send back her daughters-in-law. Women, especially widows, in this time period had very few rights and outside the care of their family were basically doomed to poverty and subsistence living. Despairing at her own fate, and wanting better for Orpah and Ruth, Naomi tries to send them away. Saddened, Orpah agrees to go but Ruth chooses to remain.

It is in this moment that we see the beginning of the contrast. Naomi struggles in her faithfulness to God. When times get hard, she leaves or sends others away. She does not believe that God will provide for her or others. By contrast, Ruth is willing to have faith. She pledges to be with Naomi, to follow her and to follow God. Her commitment is not a temporary thing but meant to last a lifetime. Naomi may want to give up on God, on Ruth, and on herself, but Ruth will be faithful.

Ruth’s faithfulness is transformative for Naomi but also gets noticed by others. Later in the story, when Ruth meets Boaz, he has heard of her faithfulness and is impressed by it. In the end, it is Ruth who raises his attention enough for him to seek to marry her and redeem her family. In the end, her faithfulness elevates all of them, Boaz, Naomi, and really all of the people of Bethlehem who see in the faithfulness of a Moabite the unconditional love and faithfulness of God.

I want to return to those chants at the rally in North Carolina for a moment. When I learned about them, I was saddened because this is not the United States that I know and love. We are better than this. It is too easy for all of us to resort to chants about those who are not like us. It is easy to demonize and hate those who hold different political views than us, who do not look like us or dress like us, or who even are of a different faith than us. Our desire for purity and uniformity is only natural, but I would argue it is not what God wants from us.

In the story of Ruth, we see the faithfulness of a foreigner. We see someone who is loving and kind to those who are not like her. In that acceptance we are given a model for who we are meant to be. We also are reminded who God is. God redeems Ruth and cares for Ruth just like God is ready to redeem and care for Naomi, Boaz, Israel, and all of us.

I am not asking you to agree with Representative Omar about her politics, but we need to remember that she is a child of God and the chant of “send her back” seems to reject that belief. I am also not asking you to agree with the people at the Trump rally about their politics, but we cannot chant “send them back” either. To be faithful followers of God, I believe we are called to see good in Representative Omar and in President Trump supporters. It can be easy to yearn for a kingdom, a land, a place where everyone is like us and agrees with us, but not only does no such place exist, it is not what God wants for us.

Israel was made better and stronger by the faithful example of Ruth, the Moabite, who better exemplified faith in God and others than Naomi did. We are made better by our community, those who are like us and those who are different than us. There is a dangerous undercurrent in our culture today that seeks to divide us. It seeks to divide us into red states and blues states. It seeks to divide us into urban and rural, black and white, male and female, left and right. It is seeking to divide our denomination as well into progressive and traditional. We can disagree on things and yet our disagreements do not need to divide us.

Ruth is a powerful reminder that God is always challenging our assumptions and desires. You think that nothing good can come from a foreigner who does not know God. Let me tell you the story of Ruth the Moabite, who shows a stronger faith in the God of Israel than Naomi, the Israelite does. Whenever we are tempted to think that way of others, let us remember Ruth and reach not for hatred and division, but instead for kindness and love, and the unending faithfulness that Ruth displays, to God and to each other. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

Who are the Moabites in your life that you struggle to see as faithful and loveable?

When is a time where you have been like Naomi and struggled to see how God is loving you?

What does it mean to you to commit yourself to follow God and someone else, no matter what?

Prayer:

God, in the brokenness of our lives you come again and again and offer us love and life. Help us to remember that even in moments of deep despair, you are with us. Help us also to see you in those people who are not like us. Help us to see the stranger not as someone who is foreign and different, but just another child of God. Give us the faith of Ruth, that we might be loving in kind and always trusting in you. Amen

Back to Bible Basics - Moses

Exodus 3:1-14

Moses at the burning bush

3 Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. 2 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. 3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

4 When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

Moses said, “I’m here.”

5 Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” 6 He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. 8 I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. 9 Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. 10 So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 God said, “I’ll be with you. And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”

God’s special name

13 But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”

 

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When it comes to classical stories from Sunday school, Moses is one who rightly commands a lot of attention. It is only fitting for us to take it up again as we seek to unpack these stories from our past. Knowing the story of Moses is essential for getting back to the basics of the Bible because the actions of God done through Moses are a defining part of the stories of the Old Testament and a lasting legacy of the Hebrew faith. By exploring them again we are able to learn how God calls someone out of the wilderness and into a unique role as the savior of a nation.

Several movies have been done around the story of Moses. On the children’s side there is the movie “Prince of Egypt” and on the adult side there is “The Ten Commandments.” These movies do a great job of visually capturing the story of Moses, but their own retelling can sometimes cloud what we actually know from scripture. For example, very little is said about Moses’ life being raised by the daughter of pharaoh. More important to scripture is the underlying idea that Moses was born at a time that the pharaoh was worried about the rise of the Israelites and so sought to further oppress them. After killing an Egyptian, Moses flees from the law and finds himself tending sheep among the family of Jethro, whose daughter he marries. It is here that he receives his pivotal call from the burning bush.

We could say a lot about what Moses does in leading the people out of Egypt.  We could say a lot about the ways that God seeks to shape and form the Israelites as they move to the Promised Land. Today however, I want us to focus on this initial call to ministry that Moses receives. No Sunday school telling of the story of Moses would be complete without the burning bush, Moses removing his shows because he is standing on holy ground, and call of God empowering Moses to go forth.

At a clergy gathering recently I was reminded of one of the critical details of the story of Moses’ call. We have no idea how many other people saw the burning bush. If you look at the story, in verse four, it is only once Moses takes interest in the burning bush that God speaks to Moses. For all we know, several other travelers wandered past this same burning bush and thought nothing of it. What makes Moses stand out to God is that he sees this burning bush, marvels at it, and wonders why it must be burning in just such a way. This ability to notice, to wonder, and to seek answers is what makes Moses the person that God is going to call to lead the people out of slavery.

Moses has an amazing and daunting call. His call has several parts. On the surface, the hardest part seems to be that he is going to free his people from physical captivity in Egypt. It turns out that as difficult as that is, it is the easy part. It only takes a matter of a few weeks for the people to be free from Pharaoh. It takes forty years in the wilderness for them to be free of the emotional and spiritual slavery of Egypt and ready to enter into a new land and a new relationship with God. Moses is called to help them do both parts, and the second one is much harder than the first.

I believe that we are all called by God in different ways. When we are baptized, confirmed, or renew our baptismal vows we make a promise. We swear to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. That is quite a call to ministry that we are all taking on. I believe that this call is at the heart of our baptism because it is at the heart of what God is calling Moses to do and it is at the heart of what Jesus did in his ministry. As a part of our baptism we are all called to join in the liberating work of God in the world.

What does that look like? I think the other thing I like about the vow is how broad it is. We are resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Kind of like with the burning bush, we are called to this work because we notice the need for the work. For some people resisting injustice means protesting the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexican border. For others it means standing up against gender discrimination in the workplace. For others it might mean organizing workers to join a union. It might mean advocating for the rights of unborn children. It might mean reducing your carbon footprint by cutting back on meat consumption to try and prevent global climate change.

The point I am trying to make is that resisting evil, injustice, and oppression can seem political, but it is apolitical. Republicans and Democrats are called to do it in our baptismal vows, so are liberals and conservatives. The call might look different for a member of the original tea party protesting the tyranny of the British, than it would for Harriet Tubman as she helped her fellow slaves escape the south. It might look different for a retired grandparent volunteering their time in the local schools to help tutor kids than it would for a solider, serving our country by fighting terrorism around the world. The question is not is God calling you, the question is what is God calling you to do?

Moses learned about his call when he noticed something strange, a burning bush, and turned aside from his ordinary life to explore it. In doing so, he became a part of God’s liberating work for the Israelites. What is the burning bush in your life? Who is God calling you to reach? Sometimes that call means a lifetime of work and other times it might just be for a short while. God might just be calling you to help with Vacation Bible School or to teach Sunday school for a year, not to drop everything and to go to seminary to become a full-trained Christian educator. Where are you seeing God at work and wondering what you can do to help? Where is God showing up in unexpected places in your life?

Today we are celebrating and blessing Susan Cafferty who has been responding to a call to ministry that God has placed on her heart. For those of you who do not know Susan’s story, this call has taken a long time of growing and developing. Susan first showed up at this church after the insistent invitation of a friend. She was warmly welcomed and over the next few years settled in to helping out in the church. Then one day, Pastor Chad approached her and asked her to consider helping with Care Ministries. Next she was also running the Aid program. Later on, she became a lay speaker. Now she has done the required training to be called a Certified Lay Minister. Her call has evolved from a few small tasks around the church to being an indispensable member of the staff, a constant source of help for our church, but also a blessing to the Annual Conference as she serves to help others who are exploring their own calls to be lay speakers. I do not just share these stories to celebrate Susan, or to embarrass her, but also to make a point. Her call to ministry has been changing and growing as she has continued to explore this great and mysterious God who speaks to us from burning bushes and calls us into strange and terrifying work. Susan has said yes to that call. I hope we all do the same when God call us as well.

Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What do you remember most about the story of Moses?

Have you ever had a “burning bush” moment where you felt God was speaking to you?

What do you think God might be calling you to do?

Prayer:

God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you speak to us all in strange and mysterious ways. Open our eyes to see your presence in the burning bushes all around us. Open our ears to hear the cries of injustice. Grant us also the courage and strength to respond to your call and to do your work in the world. Amen

Back to Bible Basics - the Story of Another Joseph

Genesis 39

Joseph’s rise and betrayal

39 When Joseph had been taken down to Egypt, Potiphar, Pharaoh’s chief officer, the commander of the royal guard and an Egyptian, purchased him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master’s household. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful. 4 Potiphar thought highly of Joseph, and Joseph became his assistant; he appointed Joseph head of his household and put everything he had under Joseph’s supervision. 5 From the time he appointed Joseph head of his household and of everything he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s household because of Joseph. The Lord blessed everything he had, both in the household and in the field. 6 So he handed over everything he had to Joseph and didn’t pay attention to anything except the food he ate.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.

7 Some time later, his master’s wife became attracted to Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”

8 He refused and said to his master’s wife, “With me here, my master doesn’t pay attention to anything in his household; he’s put everything he has under my supervision. 9 No one is greater than I am in this household, and he hasn’t denied me anything except you, since you are his wife. How could I do this terrible thing and sin against God?” 10 Every single day she tried to convince him, but he wouldn’t agree to sleep with her or even to be with her.

11 One day when Joseph arrived at the house to do his work, none of the household’s men were there. 12 She grabbed his garment, saying, “Lie down with me.” But he left his garment in her hands and ran outside. 13 When she realized that he had left his garment in her hands and run outside, 14 she summoned the men of her house and said to them, “Look, my husband brought us a Hebrew to ridicule us. He came to me to lie down with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me raise my voice and scream, he left his garment with me and ran outside.” 16 She kept his garment with her until Joseph’s master came home, 17 and she told him the same thing: “The Hebrew slave whom you brought to us, to ridicule me, came to me; 18 but when I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment with me and ran outside.”

19 When Joseph’s master heard the thing that his wife told him, “This is what your servant did to me,” he was incensed.20 Joseph’s master took him and threw him in jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were held. While he was in jail,21 the Lord was with Joseph and remained loyal to him. He caused the jail’s commander to think highly of Joseph.22 The jail’s commander put all of the prisoners in the jail under Joseph’s supervision, and he was the one who determined everything that happened there. 23 The jail’s commander paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s supervision, because the Lord was with him and made everything he did successful.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

There are two Josephs that are talked about in scriptures. There is Joseph the husband of Mary and the step-father of Jesus. Then there is the man he is named for, Jospeh, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, of amazing technicolor dream coat fame. Today we will be learning about that Joseph and the lessons we can gather from this story of his rise and fall.

Joseph was born into a family of twelve brothers. He was a child of Jacob’s old age and so was beloved by his father. This love was so great that his father gave him a beautiful robe (an amazing technicolor dream coat). The obvious favoritism of Jacob rubbed the other sons the wrong way. They grew to resent Joseph for this. Matters were only made worse when Joseph reported having a dream once that all his brothers would one day end up bowing before him. Hot tip for you, if your brothers are already jealous of you, don’t tell them you have dreamed that some day they will be serving you. The brothers decided they’d had enough, and they threw him in a pit and sold him to slavery. So it was that Joseph came to be in the house of Potiphar.

In chapter 39 of Genesis that we read from today we see how even as a slave, Joseph’s talents were quickly recognized. He is given a great deal of freedom and trust by his master. What is more, we see how he is able to be successful with the things that are entrusted to him. This is a theme that will be repeated several times over the course of the story, both with Potiphar, the jailer, and then later Pharaoh. Despite his circumstances in life, God is with Joseph. Maybe this is part of what attracted Potiphar’s wife to Joseph when she tries several times to seduce him. In the end, being unable to tempt him, she falsely accuses him of rape and has him arrested.

As you probably know by now, one of the questions that I like to ask is who are you in this story? It can be natural to identify with Joseph. After all, he is the hero of the story. He is also someone that many of us might want to be: smart, good-looking, beloved by his parents, blessed by God. Still, I wonder if we are better off seeing ourselves as one of the other people in this story. I say this because I know that while I wish I was Joseph, that very fact makes me much more likely to be one of the other characters who jealously watches his rise.

To illustrate this point a little further, I want to tell you the story of another Joseph. Once there was a boy from Chicago who travelled down to Mississippi to visit his family members. He was only 14 years old when he was accused of grabbing the waist of a 21-year-old woman and uttering obscenities. In retaliation for this, two men kidnapped the boy, beat and mutilated him, shot him in the head and then dumped his body in the river. Now his name was not Joseph, his name was Emmitt Till. His crime was being black. The woman that accused him later admitted that she lied about the interaction. The two men who brutally murdered him were acquitted by an all-white jury. A year later, protected by double jeopardy, they openly admitted to their actions.

These stories seem remarkably similar. Fueled by hatred and jealousy, people in positions of privilege and power lash out against another person. In Joseph’s case it leads to first slavery when his brothers do it, and prison when Potiphar’s wife does it. In the case of Emmitt Till it leads to death. Now, I am not saying that any of us is guilty of causing the imprisonment or death of another person, but I do think we are all guilty of letting jealousy destroy relationships and cause harm.

The story of Joseph is not just about what God does in Joseph’s life, but how those around him react to it. Some are able to see God at work in another person and rejoice in it, like Jacob, or listening to it, like Potiphar, the jailer, and later Pharaoh. Others however are not able to celebrate it. Instead, the light of God that shines in Joseph only serves to illuminate their own darkness and they seek to destroy that light. Joseph’s brothers seek to get rid of the light. Potiphar’s wife wants it for herself and when she cannot have it, she too wants it destroyed.

What do we do, when we are confronted with the great things that God is doing in others? Are we willing to trust in and celebrate that good work, or do we find ourselves jealous? Are we willing to let God’s light shine through another, or do we want that light just for ourselves?

These are hard questions to ask of ourselves and they are not easy to find the answers to. We have a dark legacy in our country of trying to shut out the light in others. Our history is stained with the crimes of racism and sexism. We have enslaved and destroyed cultures that were different then our own. We have denied people the right to vote because of skin-color and gender. We are still actively silencing the voices of many who seek to speak out.

There is a phrase that is getting used more and more in some circles, “centering marginalized voices.” What it means is deliberately stepping back and creating room for other voices to be heard, especially those voices that have been pushed to the margins. It is not an easy thing to do. It requires a lot of humility and patience to step back and let another voice be heard. The fact is, it is not about us, it is about the people around us who have been unable to speak. Joseph was the younger child and a Hebrew slave; his voice was not one that people would have listened to when he spoke. Centering the marginalized voices would mean listening and giving credit to what he had to say, not merely what his brothers felt or what Potiphar’s wife had to say about the incident. Emmitt Till’s voice was not allowed to be heard, but even before he died, do we really think that white people in Mississippi would have listened to him over the testimony of a white woman? Certainly, the all-white jury was willing to listen more to the voices of the two white men accused of the crime and not any of the evidence that pointed to their guilt.

The story of Joseph is the story of the amazing things that God is doing all around us. The question is, how do we react. Do we believe that God can be at work in people who are not like us, or are just not us? Are we able to see God at work in people who look very different whether because of their gender, their skin, their style of dress, or anything else about them? Humility is not merely avoiding being boastful about our own gifts, it is also being able to celebrate the gifts in others.

Jesus came to earth as a dark-skinned child, born out of wedlock, from the backwater town of Nazareth. In this most unlikely of persons, we find the Son of God. Our own assumptions of power and privilege are challenged when God shows up in unexpected ways and faces. We are challenged to see God in those around us and respond like Potiphar and the jailer. We need to get past our own jealousy and desire and let God do amazing things.

Questions to Ponder:

What stands out to you about the story of Joseph?

When is a time where your jealousy has gotten the better of you?

What can you do to recognize God’s gifts and graces in the people around you?

Prayer:

God you show up in this world in wonderful and amazing ways. Help us to see you at work in the lives of those around us. Help us to remember that your blessings come to us not always directly but through the loving hands of others. Open our eyes to see you and our hearts to love you in all the shapes and forms you take in the world. Amen

Back to Bible Basics

Thoughts on the passage:

Normally, we like to use a brief passage of scripture or maybe even as a much as a whole chapter as the focus for the worship service. This week we are starting our summer sermon series called “Back to Bible Basics” which will look at the classic stories that many of us might have heard for the first time in Sunday school years ago. Since some of us did not go to Sunday school and for others that was a long time ago and we do not remember it, I felt it would be good for us to look at these basic stories. These core stories make up our faith tradition and give us so many great insights into who God is and what God has done, and is doing, in the world.

We will be looking at these stories chronologically and so naturally we start at the very beginning with creation. There are three parts to the creation story, and they span the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. I did not feel it was possible to capture the full essence of this story with just a small portion of the text and it felt like too much to try and read all three chapters as a part of a worship service. Instead, I found a compromise. Archbishop Desmund Tutu wrote a children’s Bible that retells the stories of scriptures in a manner that is easily accessible to children. As we look at the basic stories of our faith, I think it actually helps to approach them at a basic level first and then to dive deeper from there.

As I mentioned, there are three parts to the creation story. The first one tells the story of creation spread over six days. Creation begins with the void, the waters of the deep, and chaos. Into this space, God begins to work to create order. First there is light and darkness, then on the second day there is sky, and the third day land. On each day, more and more is done to provide order and structure to creation and through it all the same message resounds, it is good. There are several key points that are made in this part of the creation story. First, it is God’s hand at work that is bringing order to the world, God is the prime mover in this story, the beginning of everything we know. Second, creation is an ongoing act that God is involved in. Third, creation is good.

I want to pause a moment on this last point because it is one that has importance for two reasons. The first is that this message is one that stands in contrast to the creation stories of various mythologies present in the Middle East. The Babylonians for example have some similar themes to their creation story but for them, creation, and specifically humanity arises out of evil rather than good. We can take for granted the inherit goodness of creation and humanity, but this was not a universally held belief. The goodness of creation also is meant to inform our actions. If we believe creation is good and beautiful, then we need to ask ourselves what our role needs to be in the care and protection of that creation. Are we doing all that we can to be the faithful stewards that God wants us to be when we are brought into the creation story on the sixth day? The goodness of creation, and humanity is a central element of this story.

The second part of the creation story is the story of Adam and Eve. Over and over in the Bible we see the shifting from the big picture to the little picture. There are times when we are reminded of the vast greatness of God and God’s plans for the whole of creation. There are other moments where we shift down and see the personal care and attention that God gives to each and everyone of us. The first chapter of Genesis tries to capture the vastness of God’s scope and power. The second chapter tells us of God’s intimate care and focus on each one of us. In the story of Adam and Eve we see the love that God has for humanity in how God attends to the needs of Adam, gives him breathe and life, but also helps him to have a partner.

If the first chapter is meant to tell us the author of creation, God, and the nature of creation, goodness, the second chapter tries to capture its purpose: community. We see this need for community on two levels, first the relationship between God and humanity, but also the need for community between Adam and Eve. We are meant to be in relationship with God, with the world, and with each other. The story of Adam and Eve frames that partnership and shows God’s level of caring that extends to a personal relationship with each of us. Like Adam, we are formed by God, are given the breath of life, and are meant to be in relationship with the divine.

The third part of the creation story is often referred to as the Fall or the story of Original Sin. This part of the story attempts to bridge the gap between the beauty and goodness of creation as God intends it in chapter one, and the realities of our world as we know it today. We can see the beauty that God intends in creation and yet we know that it is not always that way. We experience brokenness in our relations. We are not in harmony with the world and the rest of creation as God intends. We are not in harmony with each other and know brokenness in our personal relationships. We are not in harmony with God and often feel distant from the one who created us.

What is the source of this brokenness? In the story of the serpent, we find a source for this disharmony, our inability to follow God’s rules and respect the natural order of the world. One of the mistakes that I think we make in this story is that we correlate the serpent of the creation story with the devil and evil. In doing so I think we enter into the blame game that entraps both Adam and Eve. The brokenness in this story is two-fold. First, both Adam and Eve are not able to listen to God’s command to not eat the forbidden fruit. The second brokenness is that they are never willing to account for their actions. Neither Adam nor Eve is willing to stand up and admit that what they did was wrong or acknowledge the ways that they fell short. Instead, what results is the broken relationship between humanity and creation, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and God. Until we are willing to admit our own role in a problem we will never be able to repair the damage of a relationship.

In these three parts of the story, I hope we understand why this creation story really becomes the building blocks of the story of the Bible. Over and over in the coming weeks we will see these same themes be repeated. We will be reminded of God’s desire for a personal relationship with all of us. We will see the ways that we in humanity turn away from creation, from each other, and from God, and we will be reminded again and again that God knows our fundamental goodness and is always open and ready to seek that new relationship with us.

I wanted to end with a poem I found by Mary Oliver.

The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, 
I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever

We need to remember that the God who created us and called us by name is still with us and is whispering to us. God is speaking through the voices of creation and God is speaking through stories of scripture. Let us listen to those whispering words of the Holy Spirit and know that the separation and brokenness we see in the world is not a “forever” moment. It is a temporary point as God continues to bring all of creation back into order so that it can once more reflect the beauty and goodness of that sixth day when God looked out over everything that had been created and called it very good.

Questions to Ponder:

What do you love most about the creation stories in Genesis?

How would you describe your relationship with God, creation, and humanity?

What is the original sin in the story to you?

Prayer:

God you created us, blessed us, and called us very good. Help us to remember your role in the creation of the world and to always seek a better relationship with creation and with you. Amen