First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
June 18, 2017
“With”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith

Genesis 1:1-2:1a (Adapted)

Voice 1: In the Jewish tradition, retelling scripture’s story allows the listeners to enter into that story as if it were ongoing. As you hear the familiar words of the creation story from Genesis, use your imagination to see, hear, smell, touch and taste life bursting all around you. Everything is new and fresh. And everything is good. Let us hear anew the old words and be reminded that God has not finished with creation yet – that God’s breath still passes over the waters creating and renewing goodness. Let us hear and become part of the story.

Voice 2: 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. Then God said,

Voice 1: “Let there be light”

Voice 2: And there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light

Voice 1: “Day”

Voice 2: And the darkness

Voice 1: “Night”

Voice 2: And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said,

Voice 1: “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

Voice 2: So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome

Voice 1: “Sky.”

Voice 2: And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said,

Voice 1: “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”

Voice 2: And it was so. God called the dry land

Voice 1: “Earth,”

Voice 2: and the waters that were gathered together,

Voice 1: “Seas.”

Voice 2: And God saw that it was good. Then God said,

Voice 1: “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.”

Voice 2: And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. And God said,

Voice 1: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years., and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.”

Voice 2: And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separated the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said,

Voice 1: “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”

Voice 2: So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying,

Voice 1: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

Voice 2: And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said,

Voice 1: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.”

Voice 2: And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said,

Voice 1: “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 overall the wild animals of the earth, And over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Voice 2: So God created humankind in the image of God. God created them; male and female. God blessed them, and said to them,

Voice 1: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Voice 2: God said,

Voice 1: “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

Voice 2: And it was so. God saw everything that had been made, and indeed it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that had been done and rested on the seventh day from all the work that had been done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that had been done in creation.

 

Genesis 2:4-7 (Common English Bible)

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. On the day the LORD God made earth and sky—before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the LORD God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— the LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.

 

Walk with me for a moment into the newness of time. All is still. All is quiet. The din of war has not yet come upon the earth. The poison of greed and corruption has not yet bubbled up from the human soul. The chaos of pollution has not yet seeped across the waters, the soil, into the air. It’s crisp and clean and innocent. The wind arrives from…. somewhere… perhaps the southwest out of the canyon or from the north out of the great plains, sending waves across the grassland. A whirlwind of dust is kicked up and a shape is formed as it rises into the morning sky. Breath. Breath. A holy breath upon the land. The new day begins.

It’s an experience that has been known by people around the world and throughout time. A scene from which the great stories of creation are born.

From the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, we hear of a divine hand taking a lump of clay and blowing the creative, life giving breath into it to create a creature of the earth. Adahm… not a name but a description: earth creature. Our tendency to name this first ancestor of ours “Adam” came later when it was more important to name things than to understand them.

The second, shorter account of creation in our holy scriptures is actually older than the first. It’s an account of blessing and wilderness, an account of the nearness of God and humanity’s propensity for control and tendency to mess things up. Even though the story ends up with the earth creatures getting expelled from the place of their origins, it is ultimately a story of blessing.

The first, longer, more orderly story comes from a time much later, when the people of God had been thrown into the chaos of exile. It’s a story of order and goodness, told during a time when life was neither of those.

We aren’t the only one with such stories in our backpacks. We aren’t the only ones that have more than one story.

The Egyptians had more than one story of creation as well. They told many diverse accounts of how creation occurred. One told of a world that arose out of the lifeless waters of chaos called “Nu.” The first thing to emerge out of the waters was a pyramid shaped mount called the benben, a pedestal upon which the creator god, Atum, would dwell and life was brought forth. If you lived in the area from where this story comes, you would know that every year, the River Nile would flood and recede, leaving behind the fertile soil that would bring forth life for the coming year. I can imagine sitting on the hillside watching the receding waters and knowing the nearness of God, bringing life back to the land.[1]

The Japanese tell tales of a young pair of deities that were given a golden spear. Together they stood on the floating bridge of heaven, dipped the spear into the ocean and stirred. As they brought the spear up out of the water, brine dripped off its tip and an island formed. They descended onto the island, took up residence, wed and gave birth to the remaining islands of Japan and the deities that would rule them.[2]

Hinduism emphasizes the divine nature of breath as that which comes from Brahma to give life – a life which is sustained through the eternal, non-physical presence of Brahman.[3]

A variety of native American spiritual practices and stories express that the presence of the four winds connect all things, past and present, unifying nature, humans and the Great Spirit. [4]

In the eternal quest to understand a relationship between the divine and humanity, a universal expression repeatedly rises to the surface of the pool of these stories: that the divine is in the midst of creation. At the center of the great creation stories, coming into being is a sense of “with-ness.” It’s a sense that whatever force there is that gives life, does so as an intimate, relational act. And it’s often expressed as breath.

You can hear it in the Hebrew word for Spirit “Ruah.” Ruah… The breath of God which, once breathed into the dust of the earth, brings it to life. You hear it in the Greek for spirit or breath: “Pneuma.” It’s the air that encompasses the whole world. It’s what holds us together and gives life. And that life can’t be sustained unless the air, the pnuema, is within creation. With.

We not only desire to be with God but in our seeking such, we discover that God desires to be with us. It’s why spiritual practices remain even though organized religion comes and goes and has somewhat of a life-span. There’s a sense of with-ness that permeates our soul. Some find they can be more with God in community when the community picks up and emulates the very nature of the divine: Compassion, understanding, comfort, challenge through support and learning, empowerment – all characteristics of God. But they are also characteristics of the communities of faith that tend to survive through changing times and cultures.

Often, it is when we separate ourselves from the divine that we get into trouble. When we are no longer “with” God we end up being “with” something or someone else. It’s what we call “sin.” Sometimes it’s the very institutions that are supposed to bring people into relationship with God that promote the separation by instituting practices and belief structures that promote a distant, unapproachable, hidden God, based on judgmental doctrine that serves to manipulate and control rather than invite or welcome. Sometimes the relationship with God is relegated to priestly mediators. I am saddened every time someone comes to me and seeks my prayers because, in some way, I am closer to God than they are. I always want to tell them to just stop and breathe and in that breath, they are as close to God as anyone else.

If we listen closely to the original stories, from our own sacred texts as well as those of others, we can be reminded of, as Diana Butler Bass has put it “a God who comes close, compelled by a burning desire to make heaven and earth and occupy human hearts.”[1] This is a theology of connection. It’s a faith grounded in the value of intimacy with the divine, not just from our seeking God but from God seeking us. It’s not simply about connecting with a savior that will take us to God but living in relationship with one who brings God closer to us in ways that the very nature of God will become our very nature as we live and move and have our being in those characteristics.

We hear it in the circuitous nature of John’s gospel as it goes round and round to explain how God is in Jesus and Jesus is with the disciples and so the disciples are with God just as they are with Jesus. “The Father and I are one,” is how it goes in John 10:30 and then Jesus breathes upon his followers and fills them with God’s Holy Spirit. That with which Jesus is one is now one with his followers as they breathe, as they take in the divine nature of their teacher. With.

As we move ever deeper into the summer season of the Spirit, we can rest gently into the creation stories, of our faith, of other faiths and cultures and let the Spirit connect us to that timeless, borderless, ever-flowing, creative essence of God that not only gives us life but connects us through time and across oceans with others. You’ve often heard that expression that we all breathe the same air. Yes we do. And that breath can serve as a reminder that in all time and places God is with us.

So breathe. Just breathe. And know that God is with you – that God is with us.

 

 

[1] http://www.egyptartsite.com/crea.html

[2] condensed from the Origin of Japan and her People, http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/CS/CSJapan.html

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/deities/brahma.shtml

[4] Lakota Creation Story from Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center, an outreach of St. Joseph’s Indian School. http://aktalakota.stjo.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8816

[1] Diana Butler Bass, “Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution.