Creator, Christ & Spirit, All Good Stuff, All God Stuff

A sermon based on Genesis 1: 1- 2:4a
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 11, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott

A little girl asked her mother, “Mommy where did the first people come from?” Her mom answered, “God made the first humans and they had children and they grew up and they had children and then children just kept growing up and having more children. ” Two days later the girl asked her father the same question. The dad answered, “Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved.” The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom, how come you told me the human race was created by God, but Dad said they developed from monkeys?” Her mother answered, “Well, dear, it’s very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your Daddy told you about his.”

Our long reading today has to be one the most discussed, debated and argued parts of the Bible. It’s the first creation story. Many might think it is only a part of one longer creation story stopping before the Garden of Eden part. But, see, there are actually two separate creation stories in the Bible, it is just that most of us blend today’s reading into the Garden of Eden story the one with Adam and Eve. That’s actually a separate and different creation story. The Garden of Eden story is not in the reading, there is no mention of Adam or Eve. In the Bible the Garden of Eden creation story comes next in Genesis, and while we may have been taught, and may still think, it is a part of the creation story we are looking at today, it actually is not. It’s in Genesis for sure, but the Garden of Eden story is thought to have been written much earlier in a different time, by a different author and in a very different context for a different audience.

And for the record, neither today’s creation story nor the Garden of Eden creation story were meant as science or scientific evidence by the authors. We can see this in today’s Lectionary reading, where the sky’s described as a dome that separates the waters of precipitation that fall to earth and the bodies of that fallen water on earth. It’s a wonderful image, and if we think about it, an understandable description of the illusion of the sky being a dome set over where we live, but it is not in any way how the earth and weather work. It’s clearly written without the benefit of the earth sciences. As the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary puts it:

Having no idea of infinite space, the writer thought the sky was something solid, either metal or ice, held up by pillars. This dome provided living space between the waters above (the source of rain and snow, flowing thorough windows) and the waters on and below the earth.

This creation text is not a science text. It’s a poetic description. Taking today’s reading as literal, as science, is at best an anachronistic misuse of its intent. One of the world’s leading Old Testament scholars, Walter Bruggemann states that:

We must see that this text is not a scientific description by a theological affirmation. It makes a faith statement . . . scientific, descriptive reporting is alien to the text and to the world of the Bible. 2

Dr. Bruggemann then goes on to note that the story,

makes the theological claim that a word has been spoken which transforms reality. The word of God which shapes creation is an action that alters reality. The claim made is not a historical claim but a theological one about the character of God who is bound to his (sic) world and about the world which is bound to God. 3

By arguing over today’s verses scientific nature we miss the theological lesson of the good news in first creation story. It’s a theological lesson that I don’t recall hearing expounded by anyone who insists we read the text literally be they fundamental theists or atheists.
And ironically the theological lesson of good news is literally in the text. Our reading today has the good news of God in control of chaos by simply the breath of Divine words. It has the good news that God has made everything and declared it all good. It has the good news that God loves all that is. It has the good news that ALL humans are made IN God’s image.

Our lesson today was written around the time the Hebrew people were defeated by Babylon, when the God they imagined as their battlefield championed appeared to have abandoned them. Their old view of God and the world had been replaced by chaos, and a sense they were bad and creation was not good either, and that God did not love them, and that they were of little value.

This creation story is a beautiful, poetic re-imagining of God by the author or authors known as the “Priestly Writers.” The very first story of the Bible, you see, has this whole new way of understanding God. God is in control. God made everything and declared it good. God loves all that is. ALL humans are made IN God’s image.

You may recall a few weeks ago on youth Sunday that we discussed that Paul claims God is that which we live and move and have our being in, that God is reality and reality cannot logically be denied. Our lesson is not in conflict with Paul’s claim– it can be heard to suggest much the same, since the very breath of God through the Word of God forms everything. All that is, is goodly and Godly made and we are made IN God’s image.

The Priestly Writers felt it was very important to especially uplift that humans are of great Divine value. While describing God’s grand finale of creation – of making living creatures– the story zooms in on humankind. In that pericope the writers set out a special Divine conversation. Verses 26 and 27 read :

Then God said, “Let us make 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, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Women and men, girls and boys are created IN God’s image. I like to hear that as meaning we are both physically made within God, and that our essence contains and is meant to reflect the very image of God. In other words, we are soaked with God in our existence . . . and in what we exist in. And in that existence the first creation story captures the idea that we experience God as the creator, and also in the creation, as well as in our fellow human beings.

I want to emphasize those three experiential aspects of God, in the Creator, creation and humankind. You may have thought it odd that we have an Old Testament Lectionary reading on Trinity Sunday, since the Trinity seems to be a New Testament thing. But the Trinity doctrine is not set out in the New Testament or for that matter anywhere in the Bible. I’ve mentioned before that the idea of the Trinity was created by a 3rd Century lawyer named Tertullian. He came up with the Trinity model as an argument, proof if you will, against prevalent claims in his day that Christianity was polytheistic worshiping more than one God in the form of separate deities, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Tertullian intended to prove how that was actually monotheism and he used the word Latin word for theatre masks “persona,” to describe the different roles of God. 4 The Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – or as progressive Christians tend to list them, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit– is a model for understanding the different aspects or characteristics of God that humans experience. God’s presence.

Tertullian was arguing – showing– that God can be one being, yet encountered in reality in different ways. Since he used a theatre metaphor . . I will too. It is easy to understand that I have been experienced in three roles in theatre, sometimes as a writer, sometimes as a director, sometimes as an actor. All different aspects of my one being. Only with the Trinity model, it is of course about experiences of the divine, Yahweh, God, THE ONE we live and move and have our being in.

And to demonstrate how the Trinity model can be applied to theology of the Old Testament we can overlay it on the creation story in what I think is a helpful way.

The Bible is a compilation of books that form stories with a chief character we call God. God is introduced right away in our reading, literally in the beginning both of the Bible, the story and the universe. And we hear God first as Creator. The aspect of God that put into motion the creation of creation. We can hear the Creator aspect, as what Aristotle, Newton and Thomas Aquinas refer to as the Prime Mover or the Unmoved Mover. Sticking with the theatre motif, the Creator is like the playwright.

That Creator part of God relied on Ruach, the Hebrew aspect of God that we call the Holy Spirit to unfold creation’s script, to direct if you will what the Creator role of God wrote.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

The wind is “Ruach” the Spirit of God. We can understand God directing creation, making it happen in general through the Holy Spirit. We sense (hear, see, smell, touch) God’s spirit infused in whole of it, the animation, the playing out of that which was and is created, a pretty sunset, a beautiful flower, rivers, children, all of life itself. Wherever we go there is God’s Holy spirit, we can say it is God’s image in the whole of – the rest of– creation.

This is just one way to hear the Trinity model with respect to the Creator and Spirit. The aspect of God that moved the Spirit to sweep over the chaos of a formless void and darkness is the Creator, the playwright. The aspect that put it all into play is the Spirit, the director.
So where does Christ come in in this version of the Trinity model? Christ is in the zoomed in part of the creation story, the part where “God created humankind in [God’s] image, in the image of God [, God] created them; male and female [God] created them.” God as Christ is the experience of God acting in us, humankind. So one way to understand it is that we are a very particular part in the creation play written by the Creator and directed by the Spirit. We incarnate both as we act the Divine role we are given. Jesus the Christ is the perfect example (and I mean that literally) of God’s incarnation acting through humans. Christ is the aspect of God found acting in humanity. We are the actor part of God. That. Is. Our. Role. Jesus portrays this role perfectly.

The Tertullian Trinity model can apply to the creation story. We experience God as the Creator – in the role of the universe’s script writer.We experience God as the Spirit – in the role of the director of that script. We experience God as the Christ– when humans act the role of the image of God. Those are all roles the One God is experienced in our lives and in our reading today. The One God is the Creator of the script of the universe’s existence. The One God is the Spirit that directs the universe’s existence. The One God is the Christ acting in humankind . . . us . . . as the image of God as the hands, the feet, and the voice of the One God.

Creator, Christ and Spirit. All good stuff. All God stuff. AMEN!

1. New Interpreters Bible Commentary, V I, p 344.
2. Bruggemann, Walter, Interpretation, Bible Commentary, Vol 1, on Genesis, p 25
3. Ibid., p 26.
4. Borg, Marcus, The God We Never Knew, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, (1997), 98.