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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

God Creates

Gospel according to Genesis, a 3-week sermon series at the end of Summer, preached Sunday September 10, 2023 at the 9:30am worship service


Context

What is the good news? The good news is this God creates and recreates over and over again in love. The good news is this God tends and grows God's creation so all are cared for, always. The good news is even when we break from God, hurt one another or creation itself, this God is reconciling all things toward each other, and to God.


We find this good news in Jesus. We also find it in Genesis, the oldest stories of scripture about this God. For three weeks, we are going to read and study three scriptures from Genesis about the God who creates, provides, and reconciles.


Let’s pray and listen for the words of the Lord…


Prayer for Illumination


Scripture Genesis 1:1-2:4a

1 In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.


6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.


9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.


14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.


20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.


24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.


26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[d] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”


27 So God created humankind[e] in his image,

in the image of God he created them;[f]

male and female he created them.


28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.


2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all their multitude. 2 On the sixth[a] day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation.


4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.


Sermon, Creation Story 1

What do you notice about THIS creation story?

  • 7 days… 6 days of creation, 1 of rest, or Sabbath

  • Day 1 - heavens and the earth, a formless void, darkness, breath from God over the waters, light, day and night

  • Day 2 - a dome below and above, sky

  • Day 3 - waters gather, land, “good”, vegetation

  • Day 4 - lights in the sky, stars, sun, moon, “good”

  • Day 5 – water creatures, air creatures, “good”

  • Day 6 - earth creatures “good”, humankind in “our” image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[d] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

  • God created humankind[e] in God’s image, male and female

  • God blessed them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue (soothe calm pacify) it; and have dominion (responsibility, accountability)

  • I have given you every plant yielding seed and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.

  • God saw everything God had made, and indeed, it was very good. the sixth day.

  • The seventh day God finished the work, and rested


The OTHER Creation Story

But there is another story of creation. It comes right after this… Scholars believe it starts halfway through the fourth verse in Chapter 2. Let’s listen to it as well, and then we’ll see if we hear any differences.


Scripture Genesis 2

In the day that the Lord[a] God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,[b] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.


10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.


15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”


18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man[c] there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,


“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

this one shall be called Woman,[d]

for out of Man[e] this one was taken.”


24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.


Sermon B God Creates

Here are a few of the things that I found, with the help of some readings and study this week.

In this story, creation happened in a day, not across 6+ days.

  • There was water from below but not from above. The first story separates the waters, remember, into above and below. This one, the water is only below.

  • There’s no discussion about the stars sun moon etc… no focus on the cosmos… in this second story, its as if the heavens and the earth are all one big thing, no need to differentiate the different planets, stars, moons… “in the day the Lord God created the heavens and the earth…” One day, all of it happens.

Here’s another difference that you might have noticed, in the first story God was called God.

  • The word there is Elohim in Hebrew. The word EL is God in Hebrew, thus names like Joel Daniel, Michael all have God built into their names. But that ending EL-OHIM means that the word is plural. In the first creation story, the literal translation would be Gods… I’ve heard it suggested we could get the right feel for it if we translated it “the God Council.” Thus, in the first story, God says “Let us create humankind in our image.” Did you hear that, when we read that text through the first time? Some people quickly try to dismiss this, or explain it away, but I ask you to just see it and accept it for what it is… The first creation story, which is very very old, perhaps tens of thousands of years old, and was passed down orally for thousands of years before it was ever written down, came from a people who thought about a plural God, a God council.

This second story is a bit different in how it talks about God. It too is very very old, and was probably passed down orally, but whenever God is mentioned in the second story, God has a double name. Have you ever noticed, in the Old Testament, in many different English translations, sometimes the word LORD for God will be printed in small caps… a Big capital letter L then a smaller but still capital letters ORD… When you see that word LORD in the Old Testament, it is a sign of what came to be believed as the name of God, a form of the Hebrew verb “to be.” Whenever you see that English word LORD in the Hebrew bible, it is the translators trying not to say what some still hear as the unspeakable name of God. When rabbis see that Hebrew word, the name of God, they replace it on the fly with Adonai.


The 2nd creation story uses Lord God. As their story was told over and over again, in parallel to the 1st story, the plural God council was given a name, as THE God, the ONE God who created the heavens and earth in a day…


In the second story, what was created first? Yes, human beings, humankind. Many translate that as man, suggesting God created the male human first, and do so under the assumption or to make the suggestion that males have a certain priority. But scholars find no attempt to specify gender here. God just created human.


And from what? Yes, the earth, the dust of the ground. At funerals, we often say Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in reference to this text. In the first creation story, humankind was created in the image of the God council, and both male and female were created at the same time, and both reflected something inherent about God. In this second story, humankind is created from dust, without really mentioning the whole in the image of God thing.


In the first creation story, God’s breath, wind, spirit moved over creation to do what? Yes, it moved over the chaotic waters and separated things, light from dark, waters below from waters above, the waters from the land. God’s breath, wind, spirit sorted and divided and organized things as God spoke them into being.


In this second creation story, God’s breath wind spirit does what? Yes, breathes life itself into the dust creature, human.


In the second story, God plants a garden. Did you notice that? God works the land, and plants things, and then helps them grow, and then puts the human in the garden to assist with tilling the land, to care for the trees and plants.


Here’s a similarity between the two stories, humans are given every tree and plant for food. In the second, there’s the mention of the special trees, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, don’t eat from that tree human, but all the other plants and trees, fruits and seeded things are yours to eat and to care for.


Do you remember the order of the created beings from the first story? Water creatures, air, land, then humans. Right. So what about in the second story? Humankind first, then land creatures, and air creatures… no mention of water creatures.


In the first creation story, God speaks all these creatures into being. Its as if God has purposes for all of them, had visions of their differences and uniquenesses and spoke them into being and put them on the planet to fulfill God’s purposes, or maybe even God’s whim’s. Goodness knows, the sloth and manatee and platypus, God was just seeing how creative God could be. But there was no hesitation or wonder from God in the first story. God willed it, or thought it, said it, and it happened.


But look in the second story. God looks upon the human and thinks, there should be community, not just individual. So let’s give humankind a community. And so starts creating all kinds of new things, also from the earth. How about this one, no, well, what shall we call it, giraffe, okay? How about this one, no, okay, what shall we call it then, badger, got it. God doesn’t have the same confidence in this second story, nor is God as forceful with God’s abilities and power. God is still the creator, making creatures from dust, but there’s something about the God in the second story that is enjoying the interaction with the human. This God doesn’t really know which creation is going to please the human. And this God is clearly concerned for the human, and using God’s creative abilities to give the human companionship, but its like this God is surprised when creature after creature God creates and brings to the human, and the human, ADAM, says “that’s neat God, let’s call it a great blue Heron, but no, that’s not going to do it for me.”


So far, the word for human has been ADAM. That word ADAM was used in both stories to mean humankind. Remember in the first story, how God created ADAM in the image of God, but then the translation said male and female the God council created them… the Hebrew words for male and female were ZKR and QBH, which were gender words, often translated as male and female. Human, ADAM, is both ZKR and QBH, male and female. ADAM is in God’s image, and that has a male image and a female image, at the same time.


The second creation story is a bit different. Again, the word ADAM has been used here so far, to mean human. But when the LORD God has tried out all kinds of beasts and creatures also made from dust to find a OZR… a helper partner soulmate… for the ADAM the human, God gets a new idea, and puts the ADAM the human to sleep and from the side, some say rib, but I think it really means from the flesh of the ADAM… instead of from the dust from the flesh of the ADAM God creates a new being… and now, in the second story we have two ADAMS, one who is ash-e or woman and the other called aish or man. And these two have no shame in their bodies, or their differences, and together they become one being, one flesh again.


Two Creations?

So, two creation stories. Both of them very old. Both of them passed along orally for thousands of years before they were written down. Both of them trying to imagine what the great beginnings of all things might have been like. They are significantly different from one another in many different ways. But when those who came before us, inspired by God, sat down to retell the actions of God that define God’s true character they retold and kept both stories, because both tell us good news. This is a God who creates.


To God, be all the glory and honor now and forever more. Amen?


Charge


Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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