Hi, ya’ll. Feels like Sunday was a year ago. But it’s only Tuesday. Here’s the first sermon of our 9-month journey through Scripture.
“Living Plan B”
Text: Genesis 1-9; The Story, Ch. 1.
It’s here! All summer, we’ve been preparing for The Story…today we begin. And what better place to begin than…in the beginning! The Bible’s version of “once upon a time…”
What follows “In the beginning…” are some of the most familiar stories in Scripture – Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark. Most of us know them well. Even people who claim no religious affiliation at all decorate their nurseries with Noah’s ark themed bedding! These beginning stories are, in some ways, part of our collective conscience.
And yet – they raise a lot of questions.
Why, for example, are there two creation stories? (Did you notice there were two? And that they don’t agree?)
The simple answer is that two different authors wrote them, at different times for different reasons.
The first story – Genesis 1 – is a carefully crafted, beautifully poetic prelude to the story of God and God’s people. We might say it is the series pitch for a new television series. It introduces a world so dramatically different than our own: a perfectly magical place in which progress exists without pollution and expansion occurs without extinction. It’s the perfect setting for a love story between Creator and creatures to unfold. The stage is set.
And that’s as far as Genesis 1 goes – just far enough to grab your attention and get you to tune in for the first episode of this drama. And that first episode begins in Genesis 2.
But before we jump ahead, let’s look a little more carefully at Genesis 1. It is immediately obvious that this series pitch has been carefully scripted. It follows a beautifully lyrical pattern: “And God said…and it was so…God saw that it was good…and there was evening and there was morning, the [first, second, third…] day.” There is a symmetry and rhythm to the story that speaks of the intentionality of its author.
And what is the author’s intention? Most scholars agree that Genesis 1 was written as an introduction to a history book – the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible that tell the history of the people of Israel.
It is likely that this history was drawn together by an editor – traditionally, Moses. Moses probably didn’t actually write the history, but gathered oral traditions, genealogies, and political records into a single anthology. And when he did so, he provided an introduction to the anthology, an interpretive lens through which those sources ought to be read.
That interpretive lens is the creation account in Genesis 1. It reflects the worldview of the Hebrew people at the time of Moses.
Their understanding of geology, for example, would have been land suspended between two waters – a dome of water above, from which the rains fell down, and a dome of water below, from which the oceans and the streams bubbled up. So on the second day in Genesis 1, God separates the waters from the waters – and then, on day three, dry ground emerges from the lower dome of water, creating land and sea. The account isn’t intended to teach science, but it is consistent with an ancient scientific understanding of how the world worked.
Similarly, on day four, sun, moon and stars are created. Light has already emerged on day one – not inconsistent with what we call the Big Bang Theory (the scientific version, not the television show!). Later, on day four, particular lights are placed in the upper dome to give light to the earth. In an ancient world where many people worshipped the sun and moon as divine beings, the Biblical story tells us that sun and moon are part of the created world. They are not divine, but made by the Divine!
Such details would have been especially important to Moses as he wrote a history explaining Israel’s religious identity. They were a monotheistic people – believing in one God – while most of their neighbors would have believed in many gods. Why would an author go out of his way to describe each detail of creation in step-by-step fashion? To make clear where the line between Creator and creation lies. To introduce them to the Creator God. Genesis 1 introduces a larger history of a particular people by teaching them their creaturely identity and their relationship to their Creator.
So if Genesis 1 is the series pitch, that introduces the whole story – what about Genesis 2? Why do we need it?
Well, Genesis 2 is the opening scene of the first episode of the series. That premiere episode begins with creation, continues with rebellion, and ends with un-creation or de-creation, in the form of a flood. It extends from Genesis 2:4 through Genesis 9.
We have in the opening scene a careful introduction of the main characters. The focus here is on relationship – on God’s relationship with human beings; on human relationships with the rest of the created world; and on the relationships among human beings. There is less attention to when and how creation occurred, and more attention to who was involved. The cameras zoom in on divine-human encounters in the garden and the conversations that occur between them. When the raw footage reaches the editing room, it is the development of relationships that determine the order that the clips are spliced together, rather than the chronology of it all.
And so we have seeming inconsistencies with Genesis 1 – but we also have a beautiful, tender account of a loving God who breathes his own breath into dust of the earth to form a living being that bears the divine image. We have a man longing for companionship, who finds his beloved in another being so like him and yet so distinctly, wonderfully different. And they together share a vocation and a life-purpose of caring for the land and the animals and the whole of creation.
It is a perfect world. God talks with them in the garden that is theirs to enjoy. They are together in every way and unashamed. Life is good!
Perhaps this is when we cut to a commercial break – or jump off the couch to grab a bite to eat. And when we return, things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse!
As we enter the third chapter of Genesis, Eve speaks to a crafty serpent, and Adam is with her as they choose to listen to his voice over God’s voice. The actors decide that they can write a better storyline themselves, and they try to take over the director’s job.
And from there, it all falls apart. This first episode, that opened with so much promise, ends with a reversal of all the good that has already happened.
The seven days of creation began with God calling forth order out “formless and void” waters of chaos. Now, in Genesis 7:10-11, the waters spill over their boundaries and the earth becomes, again, “formless and void,” engulfed by water. The flood is a de-creation, a reversal of the creation event. We are back where we started, in utter darkness.
And the credits roll on episode 1 of this series.
And at this point, we might think – why bother with this? Its one thing for a story to draw us into suspense and tug at our heartstrings, but must it end so bleakly? Why bother to tune in to see what comes next? The beauty of this perfect world that so captured our imaginations has already been destroyed. We didn’t even get to linger there for few episodes before it fell apart.
Why bother with this story at all?
The “why bother” is answered by the shimmering colors of a rainbow breaking through the darkness as the credits close. The Creator God who was merciful enough to clothe Adam and Eve in their shame was also merciful enough to save human and created life. And now, that God makes a promise in the form of a rainbow that destruction is not the end of the story.
Why bother with this story? Because it is our story.
We find ourselves in it. We recognize ourselves in Adam and Eve, who want what they can’t have and who know right from wrong and still choose the wrong. Isn’t that us? Don’t we do that?
Why bother with this story? Because the rainbow gives us hope that God blesses Plan B’s. Most of us don’t have the good fortune to live “Plan A” our whole lives. Things happen. We make decisions that muck up the path God planned for us. Other people make decisions that get in the way. Simply put: sin messes up “Plan A.” And hopes are dashed, we feel lost and alone.
The next episodes of this series – Abraham, Joseph, Moses – are all about learning to live Plan B – and C, D, E and F. They are about seeking God when we feel abandoned and forgotten; about forgiving ourselves and others; and about trusting in a merciful God when we live in an unyielding and unmerciful world. About following God while we live Plan B.