Sermon preached June 19, 2011
Texts: Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31; 2:1-4; Matthew 28:16-20
Dance With Me, Orleans, 1975
So… How did I get from Genesis 1 and Matthew 28 to a song from 1975 stuck in the jukebox in my brain? We may not have sufficient time this morning to solve that mystery, but I am going to make a connection.
Genesis 1. It is important to remember that Genesis 1 is neither biology nor geology. The controversies that have swirled around this passage are most often based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the kind of literature we are reading here, and many of those misunderstandings have come from the church side of things. I recall awhile back hearing a radio preacher, in a radio preacher voice tell, his listeners that if the first chapter of Genesis were not literally true, that if God did not literally create the world in seven days, the whole Christian faith crumbles. Hogwash. Genesis 1 is not biology or geology it is theology. It makes claims in the language of poetry about God’s creativity and God’s relationship with that which God creates.
But if we sometimes miss that this is theology, we also misunderstand what it may mean to claim that God is creator and creative. We misunderstand the theology.
The God of Genesis 1, and of the Bible, is a creating and creative God. Artistic language is often appropriate when trying to understand God – the language of painting, poetry, dance. Reading Genesis 1 you have a sense of God painting the skies, sculpting the earth. The creation of human beings has the feel of a dance. “Let us make humankind in our image.” Who is the us? And then humankind comes out male and female – multiple - - - the dance of creativity. The very beautiful poetic writing of the author of Genesis 1 is a reflection of the image of God in him.
So where do we misunderstand the theology? We often make two mistakes in thinking about God as creator. The first mistake is that we think of God as having created once, setting everything in motion, and then sort of walking away and letting us figure it all out from there. It is the image of God as the clock maker. God created the world, much like a clock, and it keeps ticking according to the pattern God established. Our job is to figure out the pattern and make choices that fit it. God can be caring, but God is distant – the man upstairs who never comes downstairs, so to speak.
The other theological mistake that we make in considering God as creator is that God is constantly involved in all that happens in creation so that nothing happens that God does not ultimately cause or allow to happen. The concept of a God who is all-powerful, causing all that happens leaves no room for human choice and freedom, yet we experience ourselves as having choice and freedom. Is this sheer illusion? Perhaps God steps back and gives us some freedom while retaining the right to overturn any of our decisions? This, too, is problematic. Why doesn’t God stop the drunken driver from killing the young child? Why doesn’t God hide the weapon from the inebriated person who in a blur of alcohol sees no purpose for his life? Why doesn’t God limit the reproductivity of the human race which threatens the planet?
The vision of God as creator and creating is neither the clock-maker God who winds things up and leaves them to their own devices, nor is it a vision of God the the absolute ruler, the emperor of the universe. The vision of God most compatible with the theological poetry of Genesis 1 is of a God whose purpose is on-going creative transformation and who is always at work in our lives and in the world through persuasive love. I like the way the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead put it when he wrote that God is “the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness” (Process and Reality).
The creative God is, then, always inviting our own creativity. The painting God invites our brushstrokes. The poet God invites us to share our verses. The dancing God invites us – dance with me. I bet you were wondering when I would get back to the song. “Dance With Me” is not simply a pop song from 1975, it is one way to consider the voice of God in our lives. Dance with me. God, in love, invites us to match God’s creativity with our own to make our lives better, to make the world better. God is always working with the world as it is – creating and re-creating – to move it to a better place.
This vision of God works well as we try and connect Genesis 1 with Matthew 28. God does not create the world and walk away. God does not have all the power there is. God creates, and continues in an on-going relationship with that which God creates. God is always at work, the work of creative transformation, by way of persuasive love. When the time required it, God touched the world in a unique way in Jesus. In our baptismal liturgy, in the prayer over the water we will pray: “And in the fullness of time, you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb.” Jesus invites us to dance with God in a new way. If Jesus is our vision of God, God is neither a disengaged clock maker nor an imperial ruler. Jesus engaged with the range of humanity, and was especially concerned to reach out with God’s love to those often considered unlovable. Caesar was in Rome. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth.
God is creative, persuasive love and our task in life is to be open and responsive to God’s creative love. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to seek to dance with the God of Jesus in God’s work of love, justice, reconciliation, peace, compassion. The creative God who created us in God’s own image invites us to be creative artists in our own lives.
We work creatively with God as we shape who we are. Each of us is born in a certain place and time, with certain parents. We cannot change any of that. I am taller than both my parents. Both my grandfathers were fairly bald. I was born in Duluth in 1959. My parents divorced when I was in my early 20s. God invites me to use my creativity to develop kindness, care, concern – but these qualities of character will be unique in me, as they will be in you. God invites us all to weave together our experiences in such a way that we become loving, caring persons, persons with sensitive hearts and generous spirits. God invites us to dance in this work of developing who we are.
We work creatively with God as we shape what kind of life we will lead. Qualities of character need to be embodied in the decisions we make about our lives – decisions about things like career and relationships. Perhaps some career choices are less helpful to our own development and to the good of the world. Choices about marriage and children need to be made wisely and well, and God is always persuading us toward choices that strengthen persons and families and that provide good environments for children.
We work creatively with God as we answer the question, “how will we contribute to the world?” Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian, says that what we most need to do in the world is find that place where our deep joy meets some deep need in the world. Finding that place is a creative act and finding out how best to match our joy and the world’s need is a creative act.
Today is Father’s Day, and what I am saying about God’s creative love and our response to it helps me understand the image of God as father. Father should not be our only image of God, but it is a helpful image of God if we think of fathers as providing love, encouragement, and teaching, but in their loving teaching and encouragement wanting their children to be able to dance on their own. Yes, father’s will be there when there is a fall – to pick a child up, to encourage them to try again. A father’s great joy is seeing his children become their creative best. There is something of the God of Genesis 1 and Matthew 28 in this picture.
A final image. In one of his poems, Walt Whitman ponders what life can mean in the face of difficulty and struggle: O me! O life!... who more foolish than I… What good amid these, O me, O life? And his poem ends with an answer:
That you are here – that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may
contribute a verse.
God’s creativity surpasses ours, and it stretches through eternity. The powerful play of God’s creative love will continue on. We each have a verse to contribute. And the next time you hear “dance with me” may it not be just on the oldies station, but deep in your heart whispered by the Spirit of God. Amen.