This is a sermon preached at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling KS on Sunday, June 11, 2017, based on Genesis 1-2:4, and Ephesians 2:4-10. (Click on scriptures to read text)
Stories about our origins are inspirational. That’s why we like to hear people’s stories. For instance, we ask couples, “How did you meet?” What we’re really asking is, “How did this love begin?”
Little kids will often ask, “Where did I come from?” There are lots of funny and imaginative ways to answer that question. The stork, the watermelon patch…. Some kids will come up with their own ideas. One mom says, "When my daughter asked where babies come from, I turned the question around on her. 'Where do you think babies come from?' She replied, 'When two people love each other the dad buys a pumpkin seed and gives it to the mom. Then her stomach gets big like a pumpkin!' The mom was so speechless, she just said 'That's exactly right, honey!'"
One of the big questions of all time is, “Where did the world come from?” “How did all this begin?” There are lots of different ways to answer that question, too. An archaeologist will tell the story one way, and a biologist will tell it a little differently.
Today we read the theologian’s answer, Moses the prophet’s answer. The answer is a little different because, really, the question is a little different. The Bible is the story of God’s great love for us all, so this story is the answer to the question, “Where did this love begin?” This creation story from Genesis is our story.
As I was studying this creation story this week, I noticed something I’d never noticed before. The first three days are all about organizing. Maybe I recognized this because this is what we’re doing at my house. Our lives have been like the creation story. As most of you probably know, we just moved here to Sterling a little over two weeks ago. That first day our new place was a formless void. It was! An empty house. Silent. Peaceful.
And then our stuff arrived and there was chaos – and that’s how the Living Bible describes the earth at the beginning. The Living Bible says earth was a chaotic mass. We had a chaotic mess at our house. Boxes everywhere.
When your house is a chaotic mess of boxes, how do you solve that problem? You open the boxes. When you open them, you let the light in. That’s the beginning of organizing the chaos – turn on the light so you can see what you’re doing. That’s what God did, too, on that first day. He started organizing by turning on the light and separating the light from the darkness. Separating. I’d never noticed that word in Genesis before. Separating is organizing.
And on day two the organizing continues. God separated the waters below from the waters above. Organizing. He even made labels. He called the waters above, “sky.”
And on day three God did some more organizing. God separated the water from the dry land, and made two more labels, one that said “Earth” and one that said “Seas.”
That might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to me because I have always considered myself a creative person, but for so many years it seemed like my main purpose in life was organizing. I was the organizer at home, and at my job, and at church, too. Bleh. No beautiful paintings, no flowery poetry, no imaginative stories, none of the usual stuff we think of when we think about creativity. Just file cabinets and labels and spreadsheets.
I was disappointed in myself, because although I was pretty good at organizing, I didn’t think of that as being creative. But here in Genesis, God the creator who created EVERYTHING, started off by spending the first three days of creation organizing. Organizing IS creative.
What is really happening here? When God was creating the world, God had a vision for what could be and he was making it happen. When we are organizing, we too have a vision for the possibilities, what could be, and we are making it happen.
Another word for creativity is inspiration. The middle part of that word, the S-P-I-R part means breath or spirit. Inspiration is literally putting breath in, putting spirit in. In our modern thinking, we don’t automatically think of inspiration being connected with God and the Holy Spirit any more, but this word originally meant to receive the breath of the divine. Inspiration, creativity, is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, helping us to imagine the possibilities, to be inspired.
When God gets to day 6, the day he makes humans, God says, “Let us make humankind in OUR IMAGE…” We are made in the image of God. We too are creative. Our creativity is the Holy Spirit at work in us. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, the more we are able to be creative – in art, in music, in writing and poetry, but also in organizing and problem solving and in finding ways to help one another and love one another.
The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy that all scripture is inspired – some versions of the Bible say instead, “God breathed.” The Holy Spirit works in us to guide us and help us, but we’re not always so good at listening and understanding.
One day a boy was watching his father, a pastor, write a sermon. The boy asked, “How do you know what to say?”
“Why, God tells me,” said the father.
“Oh, then why do you keep crossing things out?”
Listening to the Holy Spirit can be challenging.
We think of creativity and inspiration as something to do with art or music, but it can also be simple problem solving, finding new ways to do something. Years ago, when the company Johnson & Johnson first began selling bandages, they only sold large surgical dressings. Earle Dickson, an employee of Johnson & Johnson, was married to a woman who was accident-prone. Whenever she had a cut, he would make a bandage by taking a piece of the surgical dressing and putting it in the middle of a piece of tape. After awhile he got tired of the amount of time this took, so he started making them in batches and using pieces of crinoline to cover the tape until he needed to use them. Voila, a ready-to-use bandage. Earle’s boss saw him using one of these and decided to mass produce them. He called them band-aids.
Creative problem solving. Inspired by the Holy Spirit living in us.
Creative inspiration can be challenging and difficult. We need that creative Spirit to keep on working in us because God has made us a part of creation. In verse 26, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over…” everything. Dominion means to reign over, to have authority. The Bible calls someone who reigns a king. And in Deuteronomy 17, God gives instructions for kings. Proverbs 16:10 says that inspired decisions are on the lips of a king, and the instructions here in Deuteronomy are help us see how not to mess that up. They say:
- “The king will be someone whom the Lord your God will choose.” In other words, remember that authority comes from God. Stay humble. (17:15)
- It also says “kings must not acquire many horses or many wives or excessive silver or gold” (v16-17 paraphrased) In other words, don’t be greedy. Greed is one of the big ways we get messed up.
- It also says to keep a copy of the law, the torah, the first five books of the Bible, for themselves and read it daily, following all the words of this law and these statutes.
We all are made in God’s image, and we are given authority over all that God has created, and that makes us like kings, and so we too need to pay attention to these instructions:
1. Don’t be greedy
2. Keep on reading the instructions (the Bible)
3. Stay humble
In the beginning God created a beautiful earth and marvelous, majestic heavens and put humans in charge to help maintain….no, actually not maintain. In the instructions in Genesis God says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill….” That word fill also means “replenish.” That’s more than maintaining. That’s recreating. We are fruitful and productive through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and our creativity helps replenish the earth.
In the beginning it was a beautiful picture – the Garden of Eden full of all kinds of plants and animals, and Adam and Eve walking with God…and then things fell apart. Sin came into the picture and things got messed up. Let me read you how the message version puts it in Ephesians 2, verses 1-5:
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.
God’s vision for us is good. God sees in us not only what is, but also what is possible. Through Jesus Christ, God has created us anew, recreated us, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
All through this story of creation God looked at what he had done each day and saw that it was good. But on the sixth day, the biggest day, the day on which God made humankind in God’s image, verse 31 says that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
Very good. Humankind, made in God’s image. Very good. We, humankind, are God’s masterpiece. You and I. We are God’s magnum opus. We are God’s masterpiece, made in God’s image, which means we are also creative, whether we’re creative about organizing and making spreadsheets, or painting, or making music, or whatever we do. And we’ve been re-created through our faith in Jesus Christ, so that we have that creative, life-giving Holy Spirit working in us, helping us to do those good things God planned.
What are those good things? There are so many ways we could answer that. There are lots of good things for us to do, and while we’re doing them, there are some important things for us to remember…things we find in our instructions from Deuteronomy about remembering who made us, our creator. As we sang at the beginning of the service, we were made to worship. The object of our worship is the one who created us and gave his son Jesus for us, gave us his Spirit to be with us always. But we can easily slip into worshipping the creation instead of the creator.
In E.B. White’s book there’s a pig named Wilbur. One day Wilbur finds out that pigs are raised to be killed and turned into bacon and ham, and that farmer Zuckerman will probably do this with Wilbur.
So Charlotte the spider comes up with a plan to save Wilbur. First, she weaves the words “SOME PIG” in the middle of her spider web over Wilber’s stall. This makes everyone think that Wilbur is something special.
Another day, Charlotte weaves the word: “TERRIFIC.” This convinces Zuckerman that Wilbur is so terrific that he should take him to compete in the county fair. Finally, Charlotte weaves the third word into her web: “RADIANT.” This summons the whole county to visit the Zuckerman farm to see this radiant pig.
Charlotte has definitely convinced people that Wilbur is a special little guy. Yet once the Zuckermans get to the County Fair, the spider has one more chance to show off her friend. So Charlotte weaves her final message. This time it says: “HUMBLE.” All the fairgoers agree: that’s one humble pig.
E.B. White adds: “Everybody who visited the pigpen had a good word to say about Wilbur. … ”[Italics added]
God has given us so much – a beautiful world to live in, and abilities and inspiration to be a part of the ongoing replenishing and re-creation of our world. One way we keep from getting caught up in worshipping the creation – be that things or people or ourselves – is to remember to keep thanking God for those things and people and abilities we have.
We are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things he planned for us long ago.
You and I and everyone we meet are God’s creation, a part of God’s great love story that began with those words, “In the beginning God created….” We’re all God’s masterpieces, re-created through Jesus Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit to be creative as we worship God with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength, and love one another with the love God made us to share.
So let’s share our inspiration. You are God’s masterpiece. What do you look like as God’s masterpiece? And what good things are you doing? It could be things that you’ve already done, are currently doing, or maybe some things that you haven’t done yet.
Draw something, write something, take a picture and post it below in the comments or bring it to church and post it on our bulletin board or post it on our Facebook page.
Here are some of the responses currently on our bulletin board:
Here is a response from one of our UPC members:
Pastor Melissa asked us to think about what our re-creation in God’s image might look like. The story of creation from Genesis in the context of continuing re-creation reminded me of the way the earth itself continues to be re-created. We see re-creation in seasonal changes, but even bigger changes occur frequently. Island building in Hawaii is a good example. The molten lava rolling up from the depths of earth moves to expand the island’s surface area. The cooled rock is not friendly to life, but over the years it also becomes transformed into lush productive land.
That re-creative process is also destructive. The lava covers highways and demolishes buildings. The same process is true for other natural geological forces. Earthquakes tear down mountains; fire destroys vegetation; tsunamis wash away beaches and all that is built or stored on and around them.
Our own re-creation also goes through periods of tearing down before the new emerges. My retirement removed the joys and responsibilities of roles I had developed over many years. That change was long-anticipated and carefully planned. But then I consider others whose times of change come suddenly—unplanned and unwelcome. Carol’s stroke took mobility and some mental fluidity from her. So we are prodded to think about the destruction that accompanies re-creation, and wait patiently for what new creation will emerge.
Carol and I talked about this yesterday, and imagined what new focus has emerged for each of us through these changes. The reflection has helped us see ourselves and each other in our new contexts more clearly.
Thank you, Pastor Melissa
 Three Minutes a Day, Vol. 27, Christopher Books. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/c/creativity.htm