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Thornbury Parish


Genesis 1.1-2.4: Sermon

preached on 23rd February 2014

Its a great mistake to take Genesis literally. St Augustine in the 4th century argued strongly against a literal interpretation of the creation stories. Fundamentalism and literalism are fairly modern approaches to Scripture and they are misguided.

Genesis 1 is a wonderful text, far richer than a historical chronological report would be. It is an ocean of meaning that we can swim in.

Likewise it is a fallacy to suggest that science and faith cannot go together. Lots of scientists have faith, and understand that science is simply our current human understanding of how the universe works. Why the universe is there at all is way beyond the reach of the human sciences. Physics cannot go beyond the moment of the Big Bang - if there was one, which seems a reasonable theory at present - because that event brought into being the laws of physics by which we understand everything else. But God-talk goes beyond that and says why did it happen, what’s it all for? What does it mean?

Genesis 1 gives us some clear answers to those questions.

1. It all comes from God - it is only there because of God. Whatever the mechanisms that God used to bring about a universe, or many universes, Big Bang, evolution, or whatever, the driving force behind all that is what we call God who creates, who pours out himself in endless joy of creation.

2. It is good - or it is meant to be. Gen 1 affirms the essential goodness of the material world. That message is reaffirmed for us in the incarnation of God as Jesus of Nazareth - entering and becoming a mere part of the material world affirms its goodness and God’s love for it. So we dont have to be so spiritual that we forget our materiality, our physicality. God loves the fact that we have bodies, as well as souls.

3. We have a special role and responsibility in the world - a special way of relating to God, symbolised by being made in the image of God, and a special task - to look after it all. Oh dear, whoops - we have made a mess of that then.

Fortunately although we have made a right old mess of our task as stewards of creation, God has not finished. He didn't just wind up the clock and then walk away and let it run down. Paul used creation language again in Romans - he talked about the creation groaning in longing, waiting for some future release into freedom and glory, like a woman in labour, struggling to give birth but it is taking so long and being so painful.  What wonderful words, Paul could see that the salvation Jesus brought was not just about humans sin being forgiven, it was much broader than that, it would affect the whole world, nature herself. Just as Genesis 2 and 3 tell us that human sin messed up the way the world worked.

There is more to salvation than just saving humans. We tend to think of ourselves as the centre of - well if not the universe, then the world. But that is rather egocentric. After all we have only just arrived. From the perspective of the earth, we are very recent newcomers.

The earth has existed for 4.5 billion years. If we represent that time as 24 hours, a day from midnight to midnight, the first forms of life would appear at 3.30am; the dinosaurs would finally go extinct at 11.40pm; the stage of evolution which split humans from chimpanzees was at 1 minute and 17 seconds before midnight; and homo sapiens arrived with only 3 seconds left.

Does this sound like we are what it’s all about? Not really! And given the damage that we have done in the last few milliseconds, it’s tempting to think, the sooner our race dies out the better  - for creation. But Paul says we hope - with patience - for that which we have not seen. We don’t know what it will look like, but we know a redeeming God, who brings life out of death and who is endlessly creative. That hope says - there is more to come and it will be more glorious.

Meanwhile Jesus says, look at the birds, look at the lilies, the wild flowers. Can’t you see the joy and fun of God from whom such things come? Can’t you join in the rejoicing? Relax and laugh, enjoy it. don’t be so taken up with your worries that you forget to look around you and notice the beauty of the world. All this was made to be loved and enjoyed, and we have lost the plot, we have missed the point. We were meant to reflect the image of God in the world, and until we are doing this again, nature around us ‘groans in travail’. Creation is waiting for us to catch on, to recover the plot, and then there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus said ‘I came they may have life and have it more abundantly.’

Revd Dr Jan van der Lely