Friday, July 6, 2018

Genesis 1:1 - 2:4 "Original Blessing"

         If you even only half-listened to the Scripture reading because you have heard it so many times before, you know that, in the beginning, in the very beginning, it was good.  It was all good.  It was a gift. That is the fundamental truth of this first creation story in our Bible.  It is not, in my humble opinion and according to all reputable Biblical scholars, that God did it all in six days some 6000 years ago.        That being said, here is a paraphrase I found this week of those first few verses in the Biblical Book of Genesis:
“In the beginning was the gift.
And the gift was with God and the gift was God.
And the gift came and set its tent among us,
first in the form of a fireball
that burned unabated for 750,000 years
and cooked in its immensely hot oven
hadrons and leptons.
These gifts found a modicum of stability,
enough to give birth to the first atomic creatures,
hydrogen and helium.
A billion years of stewing and stirring
and the gifts of hydrogen and helium
birthed galaxies - spinning, whirling, alive galaxies
created trillions of stars,
lights in the heavens and cosmic furnaces
that made more gifts
through violent explosions of vast supernovas
burning bright with the glow
of more than a billion stars.
Gifts upon gifts, gifts birthing gifts, gifts exploding,
gifts imploding, gifts of light, gifts of darkness.
Cosmic gifts and subatomic gifts.
All drifting and swirling, being born and dying,
in some vast secret of a plan.
Which was also a gift.
One of these supernova gifts exploded in a special manner
sending a unique gift to the universe,
which later-coming creatures would one day call
their home.”
         In that first creation story in Genesis, we are told six times that it was all good – a gift.  The blinding light was good. The earth in every conceivable way was good.  The plants that blossomed and all the vegetation that grew on the earth were good.  The sun, the moon, and the stars that exploded in the heavens were good.  The birds and all manner of fish were good.  The animals – domestic and wild – were good.  And the humans that were created in the image of their Creator?  Not only were they good, they were blessed.
         And yet, in the long history of the Christian Church, it has chosen to focus instead on a literal reading of the other creation story in the Bible.  It is like the first chapter or so of Genesis never existed.  Down through the ages, the Church has been quite adamantly focussed instead on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent story of the fall.  
          I do not know why except that St. Augustine in the fifth century made a very convincing case for the fall from grace, pointing to banishment from the garden paradise as the reason for the world’s terrible consequences – everything from snakes having to crawl on the ground to pain in childbirth to the expectation of a life of hard labor –
but most of all condemning all humanity to the doctrine of original sin.  And all as a result of a clearly mythological incident that involved a serpent that wound itself around the tree branch in front of Eve and offered that apple that she and Adam nibbled on. 
         And so, even today we find that much of our Christian tradition and doctrine is founded on a belief in our separation from God, in our inevitable flawed nature, and in our inability to do anything good.  In short, we are taught that we are born with a defect, with a very big problem, one that is nestled right there in our DNA. 
         Any of you who grew up Catholic might resonate with what Elizabeth Jarrett Andrews wrote in her blog, “ I understood myself to be fundamentally wrong, and faith was the antidote. Every time I screwed up, deliberately hurting my boyfriend, turning my back on a stranger in need, lying to my parents, my ‘sin’ was a guilt-soaked reminder of my hidden, awful nature.”  And she is not even Catholic.  She is a Methodist!
         This doctrine of original sin, this idea of our fundamental wrongness, that something within our nature is – and always will be – contrary to God - is tragic really –
and has led many who claim to be Christian to live in condemnation and judgment of others and in guilt toward themselves.  It has also left us homophobic and xenophobic among other phobias. 
         Christianity is the only one of the three major world religions to embrace original sin.  Did you know that?  Islam does not, nor does Judaism.  Jesus had never heard of original sin – and probably would have been quite shocked if he thought that some people understood God as anything other than the loving Creator, the Eternal Abba, the Compassionate Parent. Such goodness of both Creator and creation lay at the root of the wisdom literature with which Jesus would have been familiar.
         So – our question this morning is this? Is there another perspective for us as well?  What if we believed differently, and, instead of setting aside the first chapter of Genesis, what if we embraced it?  What if we took to heart the goodness of creation – and the goodness of all that is within it – including us?  What if we affirmed original blessing instead of original sin?
         We are going to be looking through that lens of original blessing as we focus for the next four weeks on what is known as Creation Spirituality. 
Creation Spirituality is an ancient tradition that is now most associated with a former Dominican monk, Matthew Fox.  He was instrumental in resurfacing this theology in the 1980’s and 1990’s. 
         Feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther described creation spirituality this way:  Creation Spirituality starts with original blessing, rather than with original sin. It regains the understanding that our original and true nature, the original and true nature of all things, is ‘very good.’ Although this good original self has been obscured and distorted by alienation and sin, it is still our authentic self. Redemption comes to us, not as a power alien to our natures, but as an ‘aha’ experience that puts us back in touch with our authentic natures.”  In other words, Creation Spirituality seeks to show us the world and ourselves through the lens of original blessing.
         Ruether continues by noting that                                                                                                                                                       “Creation Spirituality unleashes vitality, creativity, and playfulness. It is generous, mutually affirming of diversity, and non-competitive. It does not set up competitive dualisms between males and females, celibate and married, heterosexual and homosexual, white and black, Christian and non-Christian, us and them. It is egalitarian and pluralistic, rejoicing in the interconnectedness of a rich cosmic community.”
         How would we live our lives differently if we lived truly connected to the origins of creation and the Creator?  What if we really trusted, as author Danielle Stroyer postulated, “Before anything else is true about us—before we can talk about what we are good at or what we are bad at, what we loathe and what we favor, before we can talk about gifts or struggles, virtues or vices, before we can even begin to talk about what it might mean for us to be saved—what is true is that we are in a relationship with God, and God started it. And God is sticking with it.”
         How would we live differently if we believed in the goodness of all creation rather than in the unfixable brokenness of it all?  What would we do differently if we just knew that we  - each one of us – are God’s beloved sons or daughters, that we are linked to God the Creator through an unbreakable bond of goodness and blessing?
         Would we live with a spirit of compassion?  Would we live more appreciative of our diversity?  Would we live joyfully and playfully and creatively? Would we paint window panels even though we are not a Picasso?  Would we sing even though we are not a Pavarotti? Would our relationships be healing ones rather than those that tear off the scab time and time again?  What kind of faith community would we choose to be?
         We are going to think about those questions even as we will have an opportunity to do some rebuilding in the next four weeks. You see, we are going to take a stab at reconstructing our faith on a foundation of original goodness or blessing rather than original sin. Of course, as Lutheran pastor Monte Stevens observed, It’s not that we need to be blind to people’s failings but (we need to ask ourselves) how do we see them on their deepest level.  Because how we see them at their deepest level is ultimately how we will treat them, and how they will feel as they walk through our doors.” Or, I would add, into our lives.  Will we see them first as potential terrorists – or racially inferior to us?  Will we see them only as lazy or old or conservative or liberal?  Will we be closed and fearful – or open and curious? Will be begin with a yes – or a no to them?
        Here in our church, we are going to begin with an intentional yes as we reflect on Creation Spirituality as a way of life because, well, because, as theologian Richard Rohr wrote, “you cannot begin with no, or it is not a beginning at all.”
         “Yes”, of course, has to begin in the heart of each one of you, in that place where your spirituality takes root.  And so, In order to journey from that place, we will acknowledge the four paths that Matthew Fox outlined in his writing about Creation Spirituality, the paths that express the breadth and depth of our relationship with God the Creator, the paths that, if followed, will lead to our own transformation.  They are:
• the first path - recognizing and celebrating the inherent goodness of all creation (including our own potential for good)
• the second path - befriending dark places and times in our lives and in the world as potential gateways to new life
• the third path - rejoicing in divine creativity and affirming our ability to be creators as well
• the fourth path - embodying compassion and power to bring more wholeness and justice to the world. 

        We will have opportunities here in worship each week to celebrate, to acknowledge the darkness, to create, and finally to be empowered to bring Jesus’ message of reconciliation and justice to the world. 
         Here in worship, it will be all about original blessing – and the inherent goodness of every single one of us.  Why?  Because God does not make junk and because goodness and blessing is as old as the world itself. 
         As one blogger I read this week wrote, Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s leading physicists…began his book, A Brief History of Time, with this story: A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy.  He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. 
         At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said, "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." 
         The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "And what is the tortoise standing on?" 
         "You’re very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady, "But it’s turtles all the way down." 
         As the blogger went on to explain:  “The little old lady may not have had all her facts straight, but she knew something has to support the universe.  (However), what holds the world up isn’t turtles, of course, but blessing, God’s blessing….It’s blessing all the way down.”
         So come with me these next four weeks and explore this notion of original blessing and Creation Spirituality. We will be in the light – and in the dark.  We will create, and we will find the tools to be empowered, so that we can more readily and faithfully say to God, each day, ““Hey, God, look, I want to live out of my goodness today, so feel free to help create that opportunity for me.” Hey, God, because I am blessed, how can I be a blessing to others?


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