David A. Davis
June 11, 2017
For some people, the older they get, the earlier they wake up. It seems to be happening to me these days. I woke up very early a few a weeks ago. It was too early. I could see out the window that the sky was just starting to have some light to it. With the cool weather these last few weeks, the windows were open. As I tried to go back to sleep, the birds were breaking into song. I found that irritating. I actually got up, muttered something to myself, and went around the room closing windows because the birds were too loud. As I returned to my bed, I thought about what an old crank I must be, closing windows because the birds were singing. Then I felt sort of bad about it. I never did go back to sleep.
This week I’ve been reading Genesis 1. I’ve been reading it every day. That’s how I do my work. That’s part of the rhythm of my week. How I write sermons. This week it has been the story of creation, every day. So one morning this week, those same birds. Again I awoke way too early. About the same time. Just at dawn. And those same birds. For some reason, birds are louder at dawn. I decided not to close the windows, not to be a crank. Maybe that’s because I’ve been reading Genesis 1. I don’t know. But I got up and went downstairs. It was just after five. The dog didn’t seem all that happy that I woke him up. I made a cup of tea. I put on a sweatshirt and I went to sit on the back patio.
What happened next was the most beautiful of symphonies. The sounds of the breaking day were so wonderful. It wasn’t just a few birds. It was an aviary outside. I could hear some birds that were going back and forth chirping to one another. Others just playing a tune to announce the new day. So many sounds, so many notes. As the sky brightened and turned from a kind of grey to white and then to blue, the birds started flying around and I could see their color. I felt like that scene in and old Disney movie where the birds flit around in bright colors and the guy starts singing “Zip it eee, doo da de.” But my voice would have ruined the morning song. No lawnmowers. No leaf blowers. No cars. The dog sat right next to me. He was listening and watching too. I tried to count the different bird calls, the sound, the types. I couldn’t do it. There were too many. So I gave up and just sat there listening, watching in awe and wonder as my backyard was transformed into creation’s song, creation’s morning song, creation’s sanctuary.
I think that’s how your supposed to read Genesis 1. With awe and wonder. Or, maybe, it’s that reading Genesis 1 ought to stir the awe and wonder within you, so you can then listen and watch. Read Genesis 1 so, as Jesus would say, you could have the ears to hear. Folks read Genesis 1 in all kinds of ways, for all kinds of reasons. But what if you read Genesis 1 to sort of press reset on the awe-and-wonder place in your soul. The awe and wonder for all that God has done. Like our forebears in faith, who wanted to turn from the worship of many gods and the plethora of idols and to offer a witness to the God of all creation, the One God who made heaven and earth, that same God who gives breath to all humankind. Genesis 1. It’s a kind of palette cleanser. Allowing you to rinse after drinking from the world’s fire hose of idolatry and chaos and once again take in the beauty of God’s creation and receive with awe and wonder the promise and the knowledge that you have been created in the image of God. And that like all of creation, you belong to God and you are precious in God’s sight. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.
This week we had a church staff appreciation outing. I took the staff on a trip to New York City to visit the Cloisters, that part of the Metropolitan Museum that is just above Washington Heights. A stunningly beautiful place full of mostly religious medieval art, sculpture, architecture. We brought along Professor Paul Rorem from Princeton Seminary. Dr. Rorem is a professor of church history specializing in that time period. As we moved through the museum, he was teaching us and helping us to see various things. Sometimes he would point up high with one of those laser pointers. Other times he would point to the smallest of details in a painting with his pinky finger. He showed us how the earlier portrayals of Christ on the Cross depicted Christ as victorious and triumphant. Then, just a hundred years later, the art shifted to show his suffering and the withering of his body on the cross. He pointed out to me that the depictions of the Magi intentionally showed an ethnicity. In the Middle Ages, each of the Magi were portrayed as being from one of the three known continents (Europe, Africa, Asia). He pulled me across the room at one point to make sure I saw the sculpture of a bishop with a face that was clearly tired and worn. All kinds of wrinkles and bags under the eyes. “That bishop knew how hard pastoral ministry is,” Paul said, patting me on the back.
At one point we were standing in a group before a marvelous painting of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. Dr. Rorem instructed us to look for the theological takeaways. He stepped away and gave us time sit with the theological symbolism and note the smallest of details and ponder what the artist was trying to say about God and promise of the Gospel. When we all shared our observations and Dr. Rorem chipped in a few, the piece only became more beautiful, more meaningful. All as he pointed with his pinky finger.
I think that’s how you’re supposed to read Genesis 1. You ponder it as a piece of art and look for the theological takeaways, what the authors were intending to say about God and God’s promise. Notice: God said. God called. God made. God saw. God set. God blessed. God finished. God rested. God created. God is the subject. You can’t miss it, really. All that repetition. God as the subject. God is the actor. God said. God called. God made. God saw. God set. God blessed. God finished. God rested. God created. When God created. In the beginning when God created. When God began to create. All the creating comes from God. It all belongs to God. The light. The sky. The sea. The plants. The seasons. The years. The swarms of living creatures. The wild animals. The creeping things. Humankind. Humankind created in God’s image. All of it belongs to God. You and I and all of creation belong to God. Creation and our place in it. Our relationship to creation, before anything else, it’s a theological conviction. Because it’s God’s. God’s creation. God is the subject, not us.
What struck in this visit to the Cloisters is the meaningfulness of seeing the art in the context of those chapels and gardens, the rooms that have been recreated. Rather than standing or hanging in some large antiseptic gallery, it is as if you get to experience art in the way it would have been on religious display centuries ago, in its environment. Context and meaning.
The artwork of Genesis 1 is rightly viewed with the context of the canons of scripture, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Rather than lifting it out to pick some kind of argument with science that should have ended a long time ago or isolating it to convince yourself that all of scripture is therefore null and void in a post-modern world, the piece should be viewed in context. A meaningfulness that only deepens there within the environment of the bible.
For the God who began to create is the God who called Abraham and Sarah. The God who crowned David as King. The God who set God’s people free and the God who led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The God who spoke through the prophets to God’s people, who spoke about righteousness and justice and peace. The God who sent the Angel Gabriel to Mary, and the God who spoke from the heavens at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son.” The God who so loved the world. The God who gave up God’s Son to death. The God who raised him from the dead. The God who once again breathed the Holy Spirit just like at creation, this time upon the church. The God who inspired Peter and redeemed Paul. The God who authored salvation in and through Jesus Christ and by God’s grace and in God’s love, claimed us as God’s own beloved children. God’s new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to God through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5). God is the subject. You can’t miss it really. God said. God called. God made. God saw. God set. God blessed. God finished. God rested. God created.
When you view Genesis 1 as it hangs on the walls of scripture, there is theological symbolism not to miss and a takeaway about God and God’s promise. In the beginning. And it was only the beginning. With God as the subject. God is the actor. It was only the beginning. When God began to create.
The promise? What God’s people dare to believe? It is that God says. God calls. God makes. God sees. God sets. God blesses. God finishes. God rests. God creates. God began to create and God still does.
That brings us back to awe and wonder. Read Genesis 1 and press reset on the awe-and-wonder place in your soul. Allowing God to be the subject and believing the present tense of God in your life and in the world, in biggest of ways and in the smallest of ways, in the extraordinary and in the ordinary, amid fear and sorrow and amid joy and celebration, from the Korean peninsula to the sanctuary of your backyard. That knowledge, that conviction, that belief about the present tense of God, it ought to come with the awe and wonder of creation itself.
Remember what the psalmist said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” I was at the cemetery yesterday. I will be there this afternoon. I’m going to be there on Wednesday and next Saturday. And I will quote that psalm over and over again. When you read it there surrounded by death, it speaks of comfort. When you read it along with Genesis 1, it comes with this awe and wonder. Our help comes from God, from the same God who began to create. Like all of creation, you belong to God and you are precious in God’s sight.
Awe and wonder.
© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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