“Spoken into Creation”
A Sermon on Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a for Trinity Sunday, Year A; preached June 11, 2017, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister
As a clergyperson, I get told things from time to time that I simply don’t know how to react to. It’s an occupational hazard, you could say—one of those things they don’t really teach you about in seminary. I’m never quite sure how to respond, for example, when someone—upon finding out I’m a pastor—starts apologizing profusely for the swear words they used in my presence a few moments before. Nor is it usually clear what someone I do not know is looking for when, unprovoked, they start handing me all their childhood baggage about growing up Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist.
There are other things you hear as a clergyperson that you do begin to react to, because you inevitably know what’s coming next. Perhaps the classic one is when someone begins to say, “You know, I really feel the presence of God when I’m out in nature…” When you hear this, it’s easy to begin tensing up… not because there’s something inherently wrong with that sentiment—I know there are plenty of you here in this congregation who resonate with it; I myself certainly have had my moments of awe and mystery in nature, too. But as a clergyperson, you start tensing up when someone begins that statement because of this sneaking suspicion about what’s coming next. More often than not, of course, “I feel the presence of God in nature” is a person’s prelude to saying “so that’s why I don’t go to church”, or even “I don’t need to go to church.”
This is on my mind today for two reasons. First, this weekend has brought us finally, it seems, into real summer warmth and a break from all the gloomy gray skies we’ve been enduring. The foliage outside is lush—at least where it’s not been eaten by the caterpillars. In just a little while, we’ll get to enjoy some wonderful time together outside, in the beauty of God’s creation, with the grass beneath our feet, the trees above our heads, and sounds of birds echoing in our ears.
The second reason, of course, is our hearing this morning of the first creation story from Genesis.
These majestic, almost-poetic verses from the very beginning of the Bible paint a cosmic and transcendent picture of God’s work of creating “the heavens and the earth.” A story like this invites us to marvel in the beauty of the branches of the trees around us. It invites us to rejoice in the finest details of the songbirds as they fly overhead. It invites us to stare in awe at the expanses of blue sky and white clouds for hours at a time, basking in the warmth of summer’s heat.
There is something else present in this creation story, though, that we often overlook. Perhaps this is because it isn’t as pretty. Perhaps it’s because it’s scary. Or perhaps it’s mostly because we have a hard time picturing it. What I’m speaking of is… the chaos. In the beginning of God creating the heavens and the earth, all was formless… void… darkness and chaos.
We do not live on that side of creation, though. Our vision and experience lies solely after God began bringing order to that primordial chaos. We have no neutral island separate outside of this creation on which to stand and observe “objectively.” And so even with our best and deepest imagination, it is hard—if not impossible—to imagine what that formless void, that watery chaos, was like.
The work of God in this creation story is all about the work of bringing order out of that chaos. In the midst of watery chaos, God stretches clear a space in which life can not only exist, but flourish. The jumble of waters upon waters is separated out, so everything can have its place: sky, seas, dry land. All of this ordering, this chaos-clearing, this place-making… And all of it is pronounced good… good… very good.
For a story that speaks of so much being good, you might be surprised to hear that this version of creation is handed down to us from a people who were experiencing much that was not-so-good. Scholars tell us that this creation story— which is in fact newer than the much-less-orderly one in Genesis chapter 2 that stars Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—this creation story we’ve heard today comes to us from among the Israelites as they were in exile in Babylon in the 500s B.C. These people, they were experiencing the world as anything but orderly. The chaos started gathering as Jerusalem was destroyed and they were hauled off across the desert to live out their days in a foreign land, under foreign rulers, who worshiped foreign gods. In this life of exile, they experienced poverty. They knew unemployment. They struggled with times of famine and hunger. Their futures grew bleak, and in the face of all that they had lost, all that they had suffered, they began to lose hope. All around them, the world had grown formless, void of meaning. All around them chaos reigned supreme.
In the midst of that life in exile, in the midst of the pain, the people were forced to ask deep and hard questions about who they were and how they had gotten there. And from these questions comes forth this majestic affirmation—this majestic statement of faith or “creed” (if you will). In the midst of a world in which it seemed that their dreams had been defeated, a world where their god had lost, the people assert with all the more clarity and grandeur that God is, in fact, the creator of all. God is, in fact, the Lord of all life, the one who speaks a word that cuts through the chaos so that order can emerge.
This was no mere aspirational writing, I dare say. Their words were not only hope of what God might do, what God could do. This story of creation is a witness to what they saw God doing, already, in their midst. In their world writ void of meaning, in their world ruled by chaos, they nevertheless saw God at work. They still saw God making order in their midst. They saw God take the stuff of their new reality and arrange it in new ways so that meaning began to emerge. As God worked, the people saw that Babylon, the seemingly all-powerful and irrepressible monster of chaos, was not bigger than God. God was bigger than the void that filled their lives. Even here, God was putting things where they belonged. Even here, God was creating meaningful life. Even here, God made things and declared that they were good.
It makes me think about our own world today, because—let’s face it—ours is a world filled with chaos. Not simply the political chaos in our own country, although that certainly contributes. All over the world, countries and societies are in upheaval. The aspirational dreams of the West, which once propelled forward entire generations, suddenly seem fuzzy and out of focus. The promise of prosperity no longer seems extended to all people, and many of us face the reality that our own lives will not be better off than our parents, and our children’s future may not be as good as our own. Even the future of this very “creation” upon which we stand—this earth and its waters and skies and ecosystems—it is uncertain and threatened.
It is bleak. In the face of this bleakness, it is hard not to lose hope. And in our hopelessness, we lash out. We lash out with violence. We lash out with hatred. All around us we see the hands of terrorism at work. All around us we see the hands of racism at work. All around us we see the hands of extremism and nationalism at work. They are the monsters of chaos, and they feel overwhelming. We feel powerless in the face of their irrepressible advance. It is easy to feel that the world has become void of meaning. It is easy to lose hope.
But just as our ancestors in Babylon suffering in exile discovered, God is bigger. God is bigger than violence, our hatred, our injustices, and our brokenness. God is bigger than the monsters of chaos. Here in this place, God is setting things in their proper places. Here in this time, God is taking the meaningless void in our present world and arranging it in new and meaningful ways. Here in our world, God is creating new order and new life out of the stuff of chaos. Here among us, God is making things and declaring that they are good.
My friends, can we see what God is doing? Can we, like the ancient Israelites, look up and witness our God, who is bigger than our present reality, scooping up the chaos and the void that seems so deep, and forming it, shaping it, creating it into something new?
On a beautiful day like this, surrounded as we are by the beauty of God’s handiwork, it is hard not to seek God’s presence in the awesomeness of this creation. And that is okay. We should look to the natural world to be reminded of what God can do. It is good to look.
But that is not all… That’s not the hard work; that is not the challenge before us. And, in fact, that is not the core invitation of the story of creation. So, sure, go, sisters and brothers, and look at creation around us to see what God has done… but then go deeper. Go and look at our world and all the chaos that lies within it. Go and look within your own life, and search out the disquieting chaos within you. And so looking, there see. Knowing what God can create, see what God is creating. Knowing what God can do, see what God is doing.
Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto God, now and forever. Amen.
 This sermon was written collaboratively with the Rev. Adam Yates of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, East Haddam, CT, with final versions edited specifically for each congregation.