July 22, 2012
In the beginning, God creates. Word turn into world, heaven and earth, day and night, land and sea. Living creatures of all kinds emerge, human beings among them — all set down in their place, given what they need to live abundantly, fully, at peace and in balance with all that is. And when God finishes, God looks out at this precious creation, and God sees that it is good. It is very good.
Written it is believed in the 6th century before the common era, the opening story in the book of Genesis, held for the Hebrew people who living in exile in Babylon the primordial memory, the foundational story of what it means to be human in a world that is created. For some of us this story may sound more like myth than fact, perhaps more poetry than precision, but those that wrote it and those that heard it so long ago were not concerned with fact or precision. What they were concerned with was truth and when they heard this story they heard something deeply true. And the Truth that this story affirmed for them was that the essence of creation is goodness; that balance, harmony, living abundantly and with joy with all creation is God’s intent; it is how we were made and what we were made to do. And it was good. It is good!
And then it wasn’t. It was not good. In fact, it was bad, very, very bad. Creation began unraveling with that first shot and so shocking was it that it took a moment or two for those in that movie theatre on Friday to even realize what was happening? One person who was there that night told a reporter in a flat and stunned voice “One minute we were watching the movie and then chaos broke out. I thought it was the end of the world.” And in a way it was. The world ended for 12 lives that night and for the families, for the community around them, perhaps even for all of us – something of the goodness and blessing of creation dulled.
The Hebrew people told a story about the beginning of it all and we have been telling stories ever sense. There will be many stories that will be told about what happened in the early hours in that movie theatre. What led up to that moment and what happened afterwards. Telling stories is what we do. Words create our world. They give to shape our understanding of the reality. They enable us to interpret what is happening and make meaning from it.
We tell stories every day about everything but I when we get down to the heart of the matter we really only have a few foundational stories. I remember in my Hebrew Scriptures class, our professor asked us to tell him one thing that we absolutely know to be true. One thing that really matters about all else. What is the dry ground you can stand on with the flood waters are rising? Tell me about that story he challenged us.
For the Hebrew people in Babylon, in that time of the exile, with all that they had known in ruins. With broken hearts and broken lives, they told their foundational story. They remembered “in the beginning” and as they remembered hope replaced despair, trust replaced fear. The story helped them interpret the reality around them and make sense of it. It helped them to see the gap between their lives now and the lives that were God’s gift and promise to them. And in seeing the gap between what was and what was supposed to be, they found strength and grit to make a corrective. To commit themselves to return to that gift and that promise. They found the strength and grit to commit themselves to living again as it was “in the beginning.”
And for them that meant recommitting themselves to right relationship with God through prayer and praise. It meant living in right relationship in their own lives by walking in the path of righteousness; and it meant recommitting themselves to living in right relationship with each other and the world by speaking the razor sharp indictment of the prophetic voice naming what had gone terribly wrong in their world and working to tear down social, economic and political structures built on violence and greed and to replace them with ones that upheld the values of care and compassion. They remembered their “in the beginning” and so they began again.
Now what is your foundational story. What is the dry ground that you stand on? We as a church have one. It is a story we return to over and over again when we are facing challenges or when we are wondering where it is that we are to go and do and be in this world. Out story goes something like this. We are a spiritually inclusive faith community that welcomes all wherever they may be on their faith journey. We welcome believers, and questioners and questioning believers as we seek to walk with each other in the way of Jesus, loving kindness, doing justice and walking humbly with our God. It is a good story. Very Good.
And I believe that we, as a nation also have a foundational story or perhaps better said we had a foundation story for I fear we are forgetting it. It was a beautiful story all about “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” about melting pots, tolerance and new beginnings. About opportunity and innovation. About strong and healthy communities where success was measured not in the wealth of the few but in the well being of the many. It was a beautiful, precious story. But that story is beginning to dim. And I fear a new story is beginning to be told.
Let me tell you something about what I fear is becoming our new story. As Mark and the kids and I were driving up to ME on Friday night, I was telling them how torn up I was about what had happened in that movie theatre. How terrible it was. And my 15 year old daughter said to me “I don’t see why you are getting so worked up about it. Things like that happen all of the time.” Things like that happen all the time.
Is that our new story? Is that going to be the foundational story that our fifteen year olds will tell about who we are as a nation? Will that be their foundational story? A story based in violence and fed by fear. A story of our slavish obsession with individualism thinking we have the right to have or do whatever it is we want regardless of the cost to society? Where we lament the dead but are perfectly content with the laws that very well may have contributed to those deaths, to quote Bill Moyer. Where the “right to bear arms” means we can walk home with the fiercest of guns and where in our delusions our battle fields now become, college campuses, grocery stores, and movie theatres?
Like those Hebrew people I fear we as a nation are living in exile. We are living in exile from our best of ourselves. And I believe we need a corrective. The Hebrew people remembered their defining truths that were held for them in their foundational story. They remembered and they recommitted themselves to it. They remembered their “in the beginning.” Will we?
On December 24, 1968, with the sun dawning over the horizon of the moon, humankind saw this creation in its entirety for the first time. Out the window of the Apollo 8 capsule, floating there in the quiet of space three men gazed for the first time upon their home, the earth, whole and complete, floating there in the endless expanse of space. And in the quiet of that dawning moment Frank Bowman one of the astronauts whispered “So this what God must see.” And then in an address to the American people, these astronauts chose not to talk about the technology that had brought them so far, or their plans for what they were going to do next. Instead resting in that Sabbath view they said “We are now approaching lunar sunrise and for all the people back on earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.” And then they began to read these words: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and God said let there be light. And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.
Have we forgotten? Have we forgotten the view? Are we so swept away by the new narrative of our time that we can no longer remember that it need not be this way. Is the horror of last Friday really the new narrative, the foundational truth that our kids are using to understand the world and our place in it?
I say no. It cannot be. So let the corrective begin. Let us recommit ourselves to right relationship with God through prayer and praise. Let us recommit ourselves to each other with care and compassion and most especially, most urgently, let us recommit to right in their relationship in our national life together. Let us have again the razor sharp prophetic voice naming our love of violence, our insatiable greed of insisting we are entitled to anything we want regardless of the cost to others that wanting may bring. And Let us get back to the good work of building up living giving, justice making ways of being with each other that lead us into a recalibration with the peace, harmony and abundance that was and is “in the beginning.” Amen