Monday, February 1, 2016

The Story 1. The Beginning Of Life As We Know It

Readings; Psalm 8, Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 4:35-41, Romans 8:18-23
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 31, 2016

I was watching the local TV news whilst living in West Virginia. There had been a gas explosion in a home in a small town and a reporter had gone there to ask the locals what had happened.

The first guy they interviewed was a man of a few, well chosen words. 'So,' asks the reporter 'Do you mind telling us what happened.' 'Well sir, it was all quiet like it usually is round here, then out of nowhere... BOOM! Whole darn top of the house blew off. 'How did it happen?'' 'I done told you. BOOM! That's how it happened. BOOM!'

The earliest chapters of Genesis tell the story of the beginning of life as we know it. It's all about the 'BOOM!, 'About the Boom, About the Boom.'

There is the BOOM of 'Creation'.
There is the BOOM of the events theologians call 'The Fall'.
And our section of readings from the Story ended with a 'BOOM' of 'New beginnings'.

Let's think firstly about the 'Boom of Creation'

The intention of these earliest passages of the bible is not to give us a scientific explanation of how all life began. God made us capable of figuring that out for ourselves. Instead we have two creation narratives about 'Why' we are here. The two stories are slightly different.

In the first creation story order is created of chaos. A seven fold process, at each stage described as 'Good'. On the sixth day, the pinnacle of God's creation, humankind, comes into being. On the seventh day God takes a timeout.

The second creation story is about relationships. How God relates to humans, how humans relate to creation (including animals) and how humans are created for relationship with each other.

We'll be talking a lot in this series about the 'Upper Story' and the 'Lower Sory'. The 'Upper Story' is the story of what God intends, the 'Lower Story' about the way we fail to be the sort of people God intends.

The 'Boom' of creation is the 'Upper Story' picture about how things could be. A perfect world. A paradise of Eden. Perfect harmony between God, humanity and all creation. The crown of that process, God's most loved, most treasured, most adored thing God created is, of course, the duck billed platypus. No. It's you and me. Humanity. People. Women and men and children.

God's pleasure was to bring you and me into this world that we may enjoy unlimited, unrestricted fellowship, with God, creation and each other. One of the great foundational Presbyterian documents, the Westminster Confession, puts it this way. 'The chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God for ever!'

One of the fascinating mysteries of the creation process is that God gives us the capacity to reject God's intentions. Some commentators explain it this way. Love has to be consensual. To experience true relationship there has to be the capacity for trust, and the willingness to please. So God gives us free-will. We are not robots, programmed to react in predictable ways. R2-D2 is a cute little guy, but would you want to go on a date with him? Love has to be given and returned. And that's where we hit our next 'Boom'

The Boom of the Fall.

A song by Larry Norman, titled 'If God is my Father' contains these lyrics: “Once we were happy, oh, yes, once in the garden, But then a lie broke the stillness, And our hearts began to harden.

I've known people dismiss this story of Adam and Eve on the grounds that it wasn't possible we could all be descended from one pair of ancient ancestors. They miss the point. This is a story about the desires and motives and capacity to pollute paradise that is a part of every persons D.N.A. The 'Boom of the Fall' is that we are all Adam; we are all Eve.

Scripture uses a little 3 letter word to describe our 'Lower Story' addiction. SIN. Romans 3:23 'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' The result of falling short of what God desires is that we are broken. Beautiful, but broken.

In our lives is the capacity to do all the things Adam and Eve are described as doing. We question God's word and are presumptuous of God's grace. 'Has God really said?' muses the Tempter. We disbelieve our actions have irreversible consequences. 'You will certainly not die' says the serpent. We do all we can to cover up our failings. Adam and Eve hide in the bushes and refuse to answer when God asks 'Where are you?' They are afraid.

And it just gets worse. Having broken fellowship with God, having not returned the love they had freely been given, everything becomes a struggle. Life is an everyday battle. To tame the wilderness. To earn a living. To find a home. To raise a family.

With the birth of Cain and Abel violence enters the picture. The very first act of war stems from prejudice and jealousy. Cain doesn't like the fact that God looks more favorably on Abel's way of making it through life, than his own. God cautions Cain. 'Sin is crouching at your door'. Cain doesn't get it. 'Boom' there it is. 'The Lower Story'. He murders Abel.

As humanity populates the globe the legacy of hate, anger, murder and deception plays out. It still does. But we are about to leave the 'Lower Story' and return to the 'Upper Story'. God still cares. God still wants that fellowship, still believes in humanity. The first tactic that God uses to restore that relationship is a reboot. As the computer technician played by Chris O'Dowd in the comedy 'The I.T. Crowd' used to say, 'Have you tried turning it off and on again?' The boom of the Fall is counteracted by...

The Boom of New Beginnings

'New Beginnings' is a bit of a buzz phrase for us as a congregation as we are involved in a process with our Presbytery of investigating new ways of doing mission as a church here in our community. A far more drastic new beginnings was called for as humanity descended into a spiral of corruption. God looked and saw nothing good, except for this one lone ranger called Noah, who lived in the middle of the desert.

The ultimate reboot takes place. God backs up the best of what God had made, stores it on a flash drive called the Ark, and then wipes the whole of creation clean. After 40 days and 40 nights Noah and his family become the new beginnings of human history.

There's a lot of craziness about this story. As Noah builds his boat, people laugh at him. He has his doubts, but trusts God more than his doubts. The trust in God that he has, that faith that drove Noah to take the least obvious and less traveled path, to do things right, even when they seemed incredulous? This is counted to Noah as righteousness.

As the new beginning reaches it conclusion and dry land appears God gives the 'Lower Story' people a full color, upper story, multi colored, oft repeated, billboard in the sky. We call it a rainbow and with it comes with a promise from God that 'Never again will there be a flood to destroy all the earth.'

Water, and the washing away of sin, remains a powerful Christian symbol. One of two sacraments practiced by Reformed churches is that of baptism. Through baptism we welcome people as part of the family of God. Baptism marks new beginnings, the beginning of a new life in Jesus Christ.

Something baptism can't do though is take away that 'Lower Story' desire to go our own way rather than God's way. Right after the flood, 'righteous' Noah messes up big time. He gets drunk, ends up passed out on the floor, his sons see him and are kind of 'Ha-ha, look at dad' about it all, and it becomes clear that, although a reboot has taken place, the virus that caused the system to collapse has not been eradicated. Sin is still with us.

In chapter one of the Story, the beginning of life as we know it, we see three 'Booms'.
  • The BOOM of 'Creation'. God's design for our lives is that we enjoy fellowship with God, creation and each other.
  • The BOOM of the 'The Fall'. Just like Adam and Eve, in each of us is the often practiced capacity to go our own way and break fellowship with God
  • The BOOM of 'New Beginnings'. God always makes a way for our fellowship to be restored. Trusting in God is always the right thing to do. God is prepared to reboot our lives, wash sin away and grant us new beginnings. That is something we recognize through baptism.
In time, a new way is revealed for God to demonstrate God's grace and love. It begins with a couple called Abram and Sara, and ends up as the calling of a whole nation to model for the world what faithful living could look like. Back to the garden, we cannot go.

Yet as the story unfolds we will see how God is never going to call it a day when it comes to loving us. We are still the apple of God's eye, the pinnacle of God's creation. We are still beautiful, but broken. The 'Upper Story' hasn't changed. God keeps faith. The challenge for our personal story, is... will we keep faith with God!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

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