Emmanuel Baptist Church

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

Click here for directions
 

A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

God's Courage and Ours

Rev. Kathy Donley

10/29/17

 

Scripture Lesson:  Genesis 1:1-2:3

 

The opening chapter of Genesis offers such a majestic beginning to the Bible and to the Beginning itself.  With the rhythm and beauty of poetry, God speaks and invites something new into being, over and over again. 

Imagine with me a time lapse movie of Genesis chapter one.  The screen starts out dark, then blazing light appears and then the sky with clouds.  The waters roll into oceans and rivers and lakes.  The seas fill with the tiny life forms of clams and mussels and seahorses and jelly fish, then seaweed and coral,  and finally the giant manta rays and sharks and sea turtles, dolphins and whales. Back on dry land, rolling hills form and majestic mountains push up almost to touch the sky.  Grass and meadows interspersed with forests of redwoods and cedars and oaks and maples cover the land, except for the deserts and tundra.  The trees and sky fill with flocks of geese and red-winged blackbirds and songbirds of all kinds.  We see swarms of bees and hummingbirds and dragonflies.  We hear and feel the thunder of buffalo and wildebeest and elephants.  And finally we see the creation of human beings, male and female, in the image of God. 

After each day’s work, God says “it is good.”  In Hebrew, that phrase ‘it is good’ does not mean a kind of neutral, uninvolved evaluation. Rather, it is meant to signal pleasure and joy.  It conveys delight. [1] Delight is an adult’s wonder at a pristine snowfall on evergreen trees or a child’s joy at the announcement of a Snow Day.  Delight is the deep contentment of fading pinks and yellows and oranges as the sun sets on a day lived well.  It’s the fascination and suspense of watching a giraffe give birth or the awe-inspiring sight of a humpback whale throwing itself out of the ocean. 

God is delighted by creation.  Every single day we hear:  “It is good.  It is good. It is good, it is good, it is very good.”  And we can interpret “God delights, God delights, God delights.  God fully and completely delights.” 

And then, on the sixth day, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image and let them have dominion.  Dominion indicates an exercise of power.  In the beginning, God chooses not to be the only one who exerts creative power in the world.  God shares that power with human beings.  God entrusts the precious creation, the creation in which God completely delights, into the care of human beings. 

This word dominion has been so abused, that we must pause to think about it in relation to the rest of scripture.   The very next chapter of Genesis says that Adam and Eve were put into the garden with instructions to till and to keep it.  To till and to keep – to tend, nurture and protect. Leviticus 25 and Psalm 24 proclaim that the earth is the Lord’s.  Humans are entrusted with God’s good creation, but we do not own it. God’s intention is that we who bear God’s own image would use the power entrusted to us to preserve and enhance the life of God’s delightful world.  We are to tend, to serve, to protect. the precious creation, not to exploit or destroy it.

God takes a great risk in sharing power with us.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes,

In the beginning God was lonely, suffering
though everything in the universe was held within.
Unfulfilled, overpowered by chesed-energy
God breathed out, kissed out, sent it all out,
every possibility that ever was and would be.
I imagine God was frightened.
What a terribly momentous step,
even with overflowing love as catalyst and reference point.
What if something went wrong
if the universe made its own choices at breakneck speed
if there was no breathing any of it back in again.
Once it began, this process more powerful than its Creator, with beginning middle end all at once, all possible -- how could there not have been Divine panic?”[2]

 

There is real danger in God’s action.  Giving humans dominion might well jeopardize the well-being and even the very existence of all that God has created. 

This week someone used the word “weary-making” to describe on-going conflicts in their denomination.  “Weary-making” is such an apt way to convey these fights that are completely at odds with God’s purposes.  I began to wonder what is weary-making to God. 

Perhaps it started as long ago as when  Cain killed Abel.  

Or when people waged war, over and over again,  in God’s name. 

How weary was God when we made dynamite and used it to blow the tops off mountains? 

When human creative power invented and intentionally dropped the first atomic bomb on other human beings  -- was that the point when a weary God said to herself, “What was I thinking?” 

And how weary is our loving,  long-suffering God as humans continue to wantonly destroy the places inhabited by all kinds of creeping, swarming, nesting, swimming creatures in which God delights?

This month we have been exploring the concept of fearlessness.  God modelled fearlessness by entrusting humans with freedom and power and dominion.    As those who are made in the image of God, we are challenged to live in imitation of God’s own fearlessness.

What might our fearlessness look like?

It might mean having confidence that God exists at all, and that our feeble attempts to describe or relate to God are worth it.  Karl Barth, one of the most important theologians of the last century, wrote about 12 books of theology.  Late in his life he imagined approaching heaven with a wheelbarrow full of his books.  “The angels laugh,” he said.  “Here comes old Karl with his pushcart full of Dogmatics.  He thinks he knows.  The angels laugh.”   Fearless living might mean knowing that all we can say about God is inadequate and therefore must be said with humility and a sense of humor and  openness to other possibilities. 

It might include trust that God is still bringing order out of chaos.  In the Beginning, God did not first destroy the chaos.  Instead, from the midst of chaos, God summoned order and beauty, purpose and meaning.  And thus, fearless living on our part might require trusting that God is still doing so, even when the chaos around us is all that we currently perceive.

Fearlessness means living into the implication of God’s trust in us. Psalm 8 describes human beings as a little lower than the angels.   God must have high hopes for us, high expectations of us.  Why else would God have risked the well-being of creation by making us its caretakers? 

Presbyterian minister, Fred Buechner writes, “Genesis points to a mystery. It says that we come from further away than space and longer ago than time. It says that evolution and genetics and environment explain a lot about us, but they don’t explain all about us or even the most important thing about us.  . . . It says in short that not only were we created by God, but also that we were created in God’s image and likeness.  We have something of God within us the way we have something of the stars.”[3]

We are made of star-stuff and we bear the image of God.  If we could begin to grasp just a small sense of that truth,  then surely our living would become more fearless.   If we could attain a sense of God’s high hopes for us, God’s longing for us to accept responsibility as stewards of creation,  then we would walk the earth with more boldness and courage, don’t you think? In so doing, we would bear hope infuse peace and bring joy.    Perhaps we might even offer delight to our world-weary God. 

God was fearless in the Beginning, but God’s most courageous act was the Incarnation.  “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” John’s gospel tells us.”  The same God who created the day and night and dry land and oceans and every living thing, the same God who breathed life into human beings and pronounced creation “very good”,  that same God became flesh and dwelt among us. 

In Jesus of Nazareth, God’s courageous engagement with the world continues.  God entrusts to human parents, the baby Jesus, God at his most vulnerable.  Like his heavenly parent, Jesus models shared power. He invites, but does not coerce, others to join in the kingdom of God, the reign of God. He does not embrace the trappings of political or military or economic power, but says instead, “I am among you as one who serves.”   As a human being like us, he demonstrates fearless obedience, even as he lays down his own life for the world which God loves.

Jesus, who courageously risked everything, invites us also to live courageously, to participate fully in the reign of God on earth.  We are stewards, not only of the environment, but of all the resources entrusted to us.

In this week ahead, we ask you to prayerfully consider your support of Christ’s ministry and mission as found within this congregation of disciples.     Ask what percentage of your income God is calling you to give.  Ask what percentage of your income God is inviting you  to return to God, to risk for God,  in response to God’s own gifts of freedom and responsibility.   Ask “how courageous can I be?”

Sisters and brothers, we are made of star-stuff  and we bear the image of God.   God has entrusted us with much.  God has high expectations of us and high hopes for us.  May the courage of our living and our giving  bring joy and bear hope and infuse peace.  And may we bring delight to the Divine heart, so that we will hear “it is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good.”    Amen.

 



[1] William Greenway, For the Love of All Creatures: The Story of Grace in Genesis (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2015), p. 89.

[2] https://theshalomcenter.org/node/282

[3] Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets:  A Memoir (New York:  HarperCollins, 1991), p. 44.

 

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