Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

The Christ of Creation

Rev. Kathy Donley

04/23/17

 

Scripture Lesson:  Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-20; Colossians 1:13-20

 

The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a parochial school for lunch.  At the head of the table was a large tray of apples.  A teacher wrote a note and posted it on the apple tray: “Take only ONE.  God is watching.” Moving along the lunch line, at the other end was a large tray of chocolate chip cookies.  A girl wrote a note, which she put next to the tray of cookies, “Take all you want.  God is watching the apples.”

 

Adam was returning home late one night when Eve confronted him. "You're seeing another woman, aren't you?" she accused. 
"Don't be silly," he replied. "You're the only woman on Earth." 
Later that night Adam woke up feeling a tickle on his chest. "What on Earth are you doing?" he asked Eve. 
"Counting your ribs."

 

Telling jokes is part of an old traditional way to celebrate Easter.  For centuries, the week following Easter Sunday, including this Sunday, was observed as days of joy and laughter to celebrate the resurrection.  Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, told jokes, sang and danced.  The custom came from the teachings of the early theologians that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.  The Easter laugh, they called it.[1] 

 

If you are in church the Sunday after Easter, you deserve some Easter laughs.  And if you are here today, it is probably because you are here almost every week.   You are hard-core.  You can handle straight theology.  So, let’s talk theology, shall we?

There is a lot of it in the two passages we read.    The creation of the world is at the beginning of the Bible. Genesis is where the faith story of the Hebrew people begins.  They might have chosen to begin with the origin of God’s covenant with Abraham, but they didn’t.  They chose to begin before Israel was formed.  It sets the stage for an awareness that the story of God and the world is larger, grander, than the story of any one people.

 

Genesis 1 and 2 together offer two stories which affirm that God created the world with intention and purpose.  The creation only exists because God willed it into being. 

God bends low to the earth to scoop up mud and create the human being “Adam.”  His name is Adam because he was made from the earth, which is called Adamah in Hebrew.  God makes creatures from the earth and calls them earthlings.  The earthlings are placed in a garden which is a good place for them.  We earthlings are intimately connected to the earth by God’s design – and God has declared that good.

The God who willed the creation into being has enormous power, but does not wield that power to dominate the creation.  From the beginning, it seems that God has chosen to share power with us.  In Genesis 1, God names the Day and the Night and Heaven and Earth and the Seas.  In Genesis 2, Adam names all the beasts and birds. Naming was important work in the Hebrew culture.  God does not do all the work of creation, but shares that task with Adam.  

There is a role for humans in creation.  We have a job – to till and to keep the creation.  Genesis 2:5 indicates that two things have to occur for growth of the edible plants and trees. God must provide the rain and humans the labor. “God intends from the beginning that things not stay just as they were initially created.  God creates a paradise, not a static state of affairs, but a highly dynamic situation in which the future lies open to various possibilities.”[2]

 

The plan includes permission “you may freely eat of any tree in the garden” God says . . . and prohibition “except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “Human beings before God are characterized by vocation, permission and prohibition.  The primary human task is to find a way to hold the three facets of divine purpose together. . . . It is telling and ironic that in the popular understanding of this story, little attention is given the mandate of vocation or the gift of permission.  The divine will for vocation and freedom has been lost.  The God of the garden is chiefly remembered as the one who prohibits.”[3]

Brueggemann is right, I think, that we mostly remember God that way in this story.  But I also suspect that we have not taken seriously enough the idea that humans have limits. There are and should be boundaries to our behavior with regard to the rest of creation.   “It is our destiny to live in God’s world, a world not of our own making, to live with God’s other creatures, some of which are dangerous, but all of which are to be cared for.  Our task is to live in God’s world, with God’s creatures on God’s terms.”[4] 

 

We have not done this well.  The creation is in crisis because of us.   The very ones God entrusted with the care of creation are the ones most responsible for its degradation.

We are one week past Resurrection Sunday, one day after Earth Day.  While we are talking theology, it seems appropriate to talk about how resurrection is related to creation. The letter to the Colossians does this superbly. 

It says that Christ is the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead.  Firstborn refers to rank and status in a family.  You remember that the firstborn son in Hebrew culture had unique privileges.  Christ is the firstborn over all creation and therefore ranks superior to every created being.

Christ was present at the beginning of time.  Proverbs 8 describes the wisdom of God as a person.  It says, “When God established the heavens, I was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep, when God made firm the skies above, when God established the fountains of the deep, when God assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before him always.”  Several New Testament writers identify Jesus with God’s wisdom.  Christ embodies the very wisdom of creation which makes sense of the universe and helped set it in motion.

 

Christ is the firstborn from the dead.  Something has gone terribly wrong.   We have not lived up to God’s high hopes and expectations for us.  The goodness of creation has been subverted, but resurrection brings the possibility of beginning again.   “Christ died in the brokenness of the old creation and rose with new life that is death-defying.”[5] 

 

Christ is firstborn of all creation and firstborn from the dead.  There is an epic arc to this story.  Christ is the connection between creation and resurrection. 

 

Paul piles up the words to try to communicate the enormity of God’s work in Jesus the Christ.  In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible, and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.

 

The Colossians believed that their world was run by invisible forces beyond their control.  The gods of the sea determined the success or failure of sea voyages.  If you were fighting a war, you had better offer a sacrifice to the god Mars, god of war.   Paul calls these invisible entities, the principalities and powers.  We might tend to dismiss this way of thinking, but perhaps we should think again. 

 

Sometimes we hear that a whole bunch of people are out of work, and we’re told that the economy is to blame.  What is that?  Have you ever seen the economy?  It is one of those powers that pulls our strings, affects our well-being, even though we can’t see it.  We can’t touch and see “capitalism” or “consumerism”.  Our ancestors called them “gods” and named them Mars, Jupiter, and Venus.  We call them “politics” or “economics” or “ideologies”. 

 

Paul uses the language of principalities and powers to describe the systems and institutions and cultures which exploit and dominate and violate and oppress human life.  These systems may have started out to serve good and lofty ideals but they inevitably become twisted and distorted and soon serve the wrong aims and ends. 

 

The brilliant theologian and Bible scholar, Walter Wink, says that like other parts of creation, these powers are good, they are fallen, and they must be redeemed.[6]  Christians sometimes talk about salvation in very personal, one-on-one terms.  But here we see that Christ is creating reconciliation on a cosmic scale, reversing all the destruction that the powers of greed and hate have caused.

 

When the Powers are transformed and reconciled to God, then there will be no need to struggle against the oil industry drilling under rivers and streams.  When Jesus is Lord in every corner of creation, there will be no species loved by God on the endangered list, no contaminated water in Flint or Hoosick Falls, no clear cutting of trees, no dying coral reefs.   

 

In Christ, all things hold together.  As the Rev. Fred Anderson says, “This tells us that this world is not under the control of national leaders, thirsty for power, or weapons of mass destruction--nuclear or otherwise--nor those crazed with a religious zeal . . . What holds this world together is not the survival of the fittest nor the unending cycle of violence since Cain and Abel acted out in the various theaters of hatred in today's world, nor even the continuing biological cycle of birth, life, death, decay and re-birth that we see in nature. What holds this world together is the power--the life force--of the One who created and redeemed it and who in sovereignty over it all continues to hold it together. The cosmos belongs to the Cosmic Christ and will not be wrested from him; in him all things hold together”[7]

 

Christ reigns from the beginning of time, well beyond each of us.  But Christ also reigns in and through each of us who claim him as Lord.  If anyone is in Christ -- new creation, Paul says.  You and I are called to manifest that reign of Christ in our lives, seeking reconciliation where there is alienation, healing where there is brokenness.  We know there is profound brokenness in God’s good creation.  We know that the task of human beings is to till and to keep the creation.  We are made in God’s image.  God has given us responsibility for our own lives and for the care of God’s good creation.  God has high hopes for us, high expectations of us, and Christ, the firstborn from creation and the firstborn from the dead, is our sovereign. 

 

In this post-Resurrection world, we live within the kingdom of God, the reign of the Christ in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  And so, sisters and brothers, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints. . . God has rescued us and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

 

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

 

 

 


[1] http://www.joyfulnoiseletter.com/hhsunday.asp

[2] Terence Fretheim, New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1, (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1994), p. 349.

[3]Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching,  (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1982), p. 46

[4] Brueggemann, p. 40.

[5] Nijay K. Gupta, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Colossians, (Macon, GA:  Smyth& Helwys Publishing, 2013) p. 58.   

[6] Walter Wink, The Powers that Be, (New York:  Doubleday/Random House), p. 31.

[7] Rev. Dr. Fred Anderson, http://day1.org/1074-image_of_the_invisiblesermon at www.day1.net, November 25, 2007

 

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