Monday, June 16, 2014

Sermon on Genesis 1:1-2:4a, for Trinity Sunday, "It was very good."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—the God who by His almighty power and spoken word created the heavens and the earth! Amen. The Creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 is such a rich passage that we can only scratch the surface in a single sermon. It answers the deep questions of our existence, “How did we get here? And who are we?” The simplest answer is, God created us, and we are His creatures. To be a creature means that we were specially created by our Creator—we are not self-made, we are not accidents of nature, we are not eternal—we have a beginning and an end. That relationship of creature to our Creator is a very important one, and to scratch the surface of this reading, we’re going to reflect on what was “very good” about God’s original creation and mankind’s place in it, and what is very good about our relationship as creature to Creator. We’ll contrast that to what went wrong, and how God in Jesus came to restore the good in creation.
As God spoke all things into existence during that first week of creation, this pattern emerges as day by day, evening and morning, God creates, and then He surveys what He has created, and sees that it was good. After the sixth day of creation, when God has made His crowning work, man and woman, in His image, God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good. The careful organization of the days of creation show that God is a God of good order, of good planning, and finally the results of His work are good. There was nothing haphazard or unintentional about it, but God shaped the form or outline of creation in the first three days—the form of light and darkness, of sky and sea, of dry land and plants, and then in the next three days God supplied the fullness of creation. He filled in the outline with life and action. Sun, moon, and stars to sustain the light and darkness cycles, measuring times and seasons, birds and sea creatures to fill the sky and sea, and land animals and mankind to fill the dry land. And all that He made was filled with His goodness, care, and love—and man and woman above all else reflected Himself in His own image.
Why is it so very good and even necessary to relate to God on this level, as creatures—created beings—to our Creator? Take note that the first temptation to Adam and Eve involved a false promise to rise above their creaturely status—“when you eat this fruit, you will become like God,” they were told. But this was a lie. Despite our sinful desire to be in control, or to either reject God or to try to take His place (i.e. I make my own rules, answer to no one but myself, etc), we cannot change our status as creatures made by God. And that’s actually a really good thing, because it is with love and good intent that God made us, and placed certain limits on us to protect us. So to reject Him as Creator is to try to shut out His love and His care for us. Also, being a creature is actually a beautiful honor for us, because as one pastor put it, God enlists His creatures as “junior partners” to contribute to and share in His ongoing activity. So for example, in childbearing, we “procreate” with God, bringing forth new, unique life on earth.
Accountability is one big reason people reject God as Creator—simply because they don’t want to have to admit they are accountable to anyone. Life seems easier without accountability. However, tossing away accountability can make us very irresponsible and often selfish, as we are only concerned for ourselves, our own needs, and expectations. It can lead to hurt others. Cain threw aside accountability after he committed the first murder in human history, saying cynically, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is good and right, that part of our status as created beings, is to be accountable to God who made us, and understand and know what His expectations and commands of us are. Accountable to Him, God gave man and woman the positive role of stewards, or caretakers of His creation. To live accountably and care for God’s creation is hard work, but comes with great blessings and the reward of your labor, in all areas of life, from family life to career, from sports to the arts.
But we can’t even get this far in describing God’s plan for mankind, before realizing how far we’ve fallen from God’s original good design. Our “track record” is not one where we’re the scorekeepers and can fudge the numbers. Knowing God is Judge of all, does keep at least some of the more flagrant acts of sin in bounds. It helps to “curb” or “tame” the acts of open sin and rebellion against God. But it has not kept us from repeatedly breaking the rules and trying to change the score. Far from being happy as creatures, and living obedient and accountable lives to our Creator God, and serving Him and our neighbor as good stewards, humans have introduced every kind of sin and disorder into God’s creation. At every point that God has ordered and organized the creation for our good, we have seen fit to reorder or disorganize it. While the world as we see it today has remarkable beauty and countless wonders that bear the fingerprints and signature of our God’s designing hand—the world is also a far cry from the form and fullness that God originally made. From natural evils like disease, predation, and destructive weather, to moral evils like violence, hatred, selfishness, and lies, the world has long been plunged in the effects of our sin and rebellion. We find ourselves in a “wounded world” that we ourselves cannot heal—despite our best efforts. Having opened Pandora’s box, we cannot undo the damage we have done, least of all to ourselves. This is the work of sin, it is reaping what we have sown.
But thanks be to God that He loves His creation so much, and has invested so much into it! God witnessed the terrible state of affairs things had come to, and our human need. He alone is able to repair and heal the wounded world, and to cleanse the creation of all that is evil, broken, and sinful. And because He so loved the world, He sent His only begotten Son Jesus into the world, to take on human flesh into His divinity, and become one with the creation He had made. He bound Himself to the creation He had made. At the cross, Jesus assumed the burden of all the sin and evil that we were responsible for, as disobedient children, and He crucified and buried it, assuming the penalty of what we had done wrong. And with all sin and guilt bound to His death on the cross, He has cast our sins far away from us, into His tomb. By His victorious rising again, He has brought us back into right relationship with God—as creatures to our Creator—children of our Heavenly Father.

Now that we are redeemed, or purchased back for Him, He calls us His New Creation. He has begun His restoration in us. Being born again in Him of water and the Spirit, we have a future place in the home of righteousness, the home of all that is good. We anticipate the day, when this old, wounded, dying planet will pass away, with everything on it, and by the saving and cleansing work of Jesus Christ, we will be rescued out of it. Then by God’s almighty power He will create the New Heavens and the New Earth, that will again be very good. In that future glory, God in heaven will “make all things new”—free of the death, sorrow, and disease that fill the present creation. At the beginning of creation, what God had made was very good. Redeemed in Jesus and renewed by faith in Him—God is preparing us for the new day when everything will again be very good. Rejoice that God has not abandoned His creation, but loved it so deeply, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Note: This sermon was brief and underdeveloped, but there are many more themes that could be explored on the meaning of our status as creatures, especially, for example, that we were created for the worship of our Creator, which ties in with the Sabbath day, or 7th day of creation. The article "Back to the Beginning: Creation Shapes the Entire Story" by Charles Arand in the Spring 2014, Vol. 40 Number 2 edition of Concordia Journal gave some ideas. 

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Note on the Athanasian Creed: The end of the creed makes reference to all people rising and giving an account concerning their deeds, and that those who’ve done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. Examine these Scripture passages that refer to the judgment: Matt. 12:35-37; 25:31-46; John 5:21-29, esp. 5:24, 29 & John 6:28-29; cf. Rom. 8:1. While works are examined in the final judgment, those who have “done good” by believing in Jesus are spared eternal judgment on account of Jesus’ righteous life.
  1. In Genesis 1, why do you suppose God’s evaluation of His work was “good” on each of the first five days, but “very good” after the completion of His creating work on day six? What was the creation like when God finished? How would “harmony” fit as a description of the relationships between God, humans, and among the living creatures?
  2. How does the creation show God’s planning, order, and design? How did days 1-3 create the “form” or outline of creation, and days 4-6 create the “fullness” of the creation?
  3. Though Adam is not explicitly given responsibility until the more detailed account of his creation, in Genesis 2:15-17, why was/is it good for mankind to be answerable to God, knowing His expectations for life in His created world, and being accountable to Him? Why do people want to reject that accountability? Rom. 1:18-25; 3:10-20; Luke 20:24-25
  4. How was evil, disorder, and rebellion introduced into God’s perfect creation? Genesis 3. How have we been adding to that since? Romans 3:10-29. How does it affect our understanding of our predicament? 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Mark 16:14.
  5. How did God invest His love and effort into restoring the ruined creation? What did it cost Him? John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-12. What is the future goal and completion of Jesus’ redemption of creation, and how will it again be very good? What will be our place in it? Revelation 21:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 3:11-13. 

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