In the Beginning….

Genesis 1:1-13 NRSV

 The Ginormous Story

VIDEO: Children of Eden

Let there be

Let there be

Let there be…light

I woke up from a curious dream
I dreamed a perfect garden
And there were whirling shapes
And swirling sounds
And I wasn’t lonely anymore

I woke up from a wonderful dream
Woke, full of energy and hunger
And now this hunger will be stilled
And my emptiness be filled
As I set about to build
My dream

Let there be, let there be morning
Let there be evening, day
Let there be, Let there be waters, weathers, winters, wonders
Let there be land and Speeding comets with hearts of ice!
Spinning planets with rings of fire!
Cosmic sparks and quasars and quarks
And suns convulsing
Pulsars pulsing
Let there be Whales! Snails! Sharks! Larks!
Apples trees with dappled barks!
And granite mountains and flaxen plains
Giant lizards with tiny brains
Flourescent fish and crescent worms
And a million bugs and trillion germs

Let there be
Let there be
Let there be

You just saw a performance of Children Of Eden, a musical based on the Genesis stories of scripture, book by John Caird of Les Miserables fame, and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, known also for Godspell and Wicked. This particular live staging is from the 2011 production of the Actors Charitable Theatre in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Children of Eden tackles one of the most known [and misunderstood] stories of scripture. Creation. Creator. Sky, water, land. Plants. Animals. People. How do we make sense of it all? Creation stories are huge in every culture of the world and certainly this particular creation story is not the only one. For example, in the Americas, the most well-known creation story that is truly American is the Popul Vuh, the Mayan story; in English, the Book of Counsel or Community. The Popol Vuh was found in the Guatemalan Highlands, somewhere around 1550. Its significance looms large because it is the main surviving Mesoamerican creation document; the others were destroyed during the various conquests. The Popol Vuh’s story focuses on the creation of all in nature, including human beings who eventually are made out of corn. Popul Vuh continues with the adventures of the twin gods, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.[1] Here is an excerpt:

This is the account of how all was in suspense, all calm, in silence; all motionless, still, and the expanse of the sky was empty. This is the first account, the first narrative. There was neither man, nor animal, birds, fishes, crabs, trees, stones, caves, ravines, grasses, nor forests; there was only the sky.  The surface of the earth had not appeared. There was only the calm sea and the great expanse of the sky. There was nothing brought together, nothing which could make a noise, nor anything which might move, or tremble, or could make noise in the sky. There was nothing standing; only the calm water, the placid sea, alone and tranquil. Nothing existed.

There was only immobility and silence in the darkness, in the night. Only the Creator, the Maker, Tepeu, Gucumatz, the Forefathers,* were in the water surrounded with light.[2]

For the next month or so, we will be focusing on stories—creation stories from sacred texts, but also the stories of our lives. While we explore the two creation stories in the book of Genesis, we journey alongside the children in our faith formation class, who are learning about the same stories. It is appropriate, too, that a week from now, Sept. 16-18, our Jewish brothers and sisters will be celebrating Rosh Hashana. This festival is the Jewish New Year celebration that commemorates the creation of the world. Jews pray and reflect on their sins against God or against their fellow human beings. Of course, there is food, special teaching and worship, and the Shofar–ram’s horn—an instrument blown to symbolize an awakening from spiritual slumber. Rosh Hashanah is a time to emphasize the special relationship between God and humanity. So it is appropriate for us to be exploring Genesis during this time; after all, Genesis [bresheit in Hebrew] is one of the five books of Moses called the Torah [or Pentateuch]. Remember too that the word “torah” can also be used to refer to the entire Jewish bible (the body of scripture known to non-Jews like us as the Old Testament and to Jews as the Tanakh or Written Torah). Torah can also mean, very broadly, the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.[3] As we look at the Genesis creation stories, remember that these stories are shared. Christians, Jews, and Muslims draw from the same stories—though we often write and speak in different languages.

Of course, there are a million different directions in which to go with this first Genesis creation story. Right of the bat, let me say something. We’re often tempted to turn Genesis into a science vs. religion argument. This debate is distracting, because surely we cannot compare the days of creation in Genesis 1 or the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 &3 to the theory of evolution. Do we really expect this road to lead us to real answers? Instead, we must all keep in mind that the Genesis stories are small parts of a larger story—just like our daily stories are part of the great-big story of our lives. In fact, as I mentioned before, the word Torah is used to describe different parts of one big thing. So Genesis is not just about chapters 1-3, but about the whole, ginormous story. Let us look at the creation stories as scenes in a larger act of a dramatic play. There are characters. There are sets. There are lighting schemes, entrances and exits, symbols, and props. And someone wrote it!

Who did write these creation stories? In traditional Judaism and Christianity, the Pentateuch [five books] is considered a faithful and exact record of the word of G-d to the prophet, Moses. On the other hand, there are many who believe that various authors at various times put together these stories in Genesis. This is known as the Documentary Hypothesis or JPED. Honestly, I don’t have time in a sermon to explain this. But let’s just say that there are many perspectives about Genesis authorship—debates that go on and on. Of course, archeological discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls open up even more debate about the Bible. I think we miss the point though, if we focus only on the author[s] of Genesis. Any great story that we cherish surely has an author or authors. But it is the story itself that we cherish. So it is with Genesis and any sacred text. The story is sacred to us and to Jews and Muslims alike, because faith plays a part in it. People of faith believe that God is in the story, that God is the main character who loves humankind and is active in their lives. There is no room for hate, exclusion, or separation in such a story of hope, beauty, and divine spark. Who wrote it–Important perhaps–but a question that probably won’t be answered to our satisfaction.

And anyway, Genesis isn’t trying to bombard us with details to figure out. Much is actually hidden in the story—yet to be revealed and written—without periods and exclamation points, but instead, a story with commas and three dots in a row. Even the start of Genesis 1:1 is mysterious. In the beginning is actually the title of this writing. There is no date set for when everything started. Was it a big bang or a cosmic collision of stars? These things are not important in the story. What is important is that Elohim [God] was…darkness was…then Creator began creating…plants, animals, sky, land, water…harmony…and above all—light! These words and phrases at the start of Act 1 are important. They are setting the stage; they are dramatic, beautiful, and mysterious. And they reflect upon us a hopeful, wonderful idea—that this Elohim-Creator can break through darkness, chaos, and emptiness. This Creator wants light to happen, to reveal, to shine, and to be…good. In these first few words of the great-big-story, we discover a bit about the personality of this Creator, to be revealed more and more. This Creator enjoys creating. This Creator thinks light is pretty special. This Creator judges all that is made as good.

Honestly, though, most of us have skipped ahead in the story. We know that this Creator kept on creating. We know that the story keeps moving forward to human beings. The story continues on in Exodus. We hear the story of Moses and the Israelites. They struggle, but this Creator goes before, with, and after them. They journey. They develop a relationship with this Creator. They love and are loved; they walk in darkness and find light. And then, as Christians, we skip ahead to places like the Gospel of John, re-telling and re-interpreting this story with: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[4] The story gets personal. We start to see hope in this Creator. Life and light shining even in all of our darkness? A Creator’s light and love that can overcome all of the emptiness and fear inside us–this is good!

And that is part of our story, isn’t it? For we all have stories of pain, sadness, joy, hope, despair, light, and darkness. Some of us tell ongoing stories without periods and mostly commas–how we are still overcoming darkness. Sometimes we tell stories of addiction. Sometimes we tell stories of broken relationships, of times when we felt that we were completely alone. At moments, our stories are joyful: we finish school; we find a life partner who loves us; we forgive and are forgiven. Our stories often include births and deaths, tragedies and triumphs. And all these little, daily stories are part of a ginormous one.

Friends, I believe that the creation story is best experienced as part of our own personal story—not as a black-and-white description of what really “happened” billions of years ago. I think that if we experience it personally, then we have the opportunity to experience re-creation and renewal in ourselves, alongside Jews, Muslims, and all who share this planet. For we all have stories to share and to tell. Our stories remind us of our common values and humanity, our common questions, our common love, hope, and need for community. And this creation story reminds us that the Creator is interested in love, in light, and in all that is good. This should move us to see our neighbors around us as good creations; this should move us to care for trees, and plants, and animals. This should move us to love.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson puts it this way:

The first story we are given is of a God who cannot bear to be alone. A God who is driven by love to create a world of flowering and cascading diversity in which nothing is precisely like what came before it; in which each new creature is delightfully fresh and novel; in which God, thrilled by each new creation, says: This is good. God cannot be God if God cannot love.[5]

And so, good creations of God that you are—tell your stories. Listen to someone else’s story. And may love and light be the threads that weave our stories together. Amen.

[2] Popol Vuh: Part I, Chapter 1

[3] The Book of the Torah, Mann, Thomas.

[4] John 1:1-5, NRSV.

[5] Shavit Artson, Bradley, The Bible is a Book of Inclusion and Love.

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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