Toorak Uniting Church

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Order and Chaos

Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9:00am, 22 May 2005

This morning we will look, in some depth, at the first three words of the Bible: In the beginning (one word in Hebrew) God created.

The first thing I’d like to draw your attention to is the first letter of the first word, which is at the same time also the first letter of all of scripture. It is the Hebrew letter Beth.
There is a picture of the letter on the front cover of your order of service. Beth is not only the name of this letter, it is also the word for house, or shelter. Beth’El for instance, the place where Jacob receives his vision of the angels going up and down to heaven means "house of God" and Beth Lehem the place where Jesus is born but also the place that plays such an important role in the book of Ruth, means "house of bread". And if you look at the letter closely you can see that it indeed has the form of a house, or a shelter, it’s got a roof, a floor and a wall holding the roof up.
The word for blessing, beracha, also starts with this letter and again this is significant: A blessing is a place of shelter, a place where for a moment we can get away from the storm, the rain and the difficulties of life.

Hebrew is written from right to left, so if you look at the beginning of the text because the Hebrew is written from right to left, the text begins with the back wall of this shelter, and it is open to the front where it is the start of the first word and the many more words that are still to follow, words that will form the story of Genesis, go on into the five books of Moses to be followed by the whole richness and wealth of the rest of scripture.

Rabbinic interpretation tells us that this is no coincidence. They say this is first letter forces us to look forward, and that there is no going back beyond the back wall of the Beth, the shelter God offers. What was before that has nothing to do with us, because it is what God has chosen not to reveal in his Word. Where God came from and what happened before creation we do not know because God has not thought it necessary for us to know. What is important for us is to know that to start with, from the beginning God provides shelter for us humans. Not only in his word, but in everything he does.
From the beginning it is that God is busying himself with: creating shelter, creating a wonderful place to be for us and for all creation.

The first word Bereshit means from the beginning, from the outset, not only in a temporary manner, but also indicating priority: This is what God did to start with, this is what God will always start with, this is a beginning that keeps happening all the time whenever God is around. It is very difficult to translate this concept into English, but in the Hebrew it is all there: The starting, the priority, and the extended and lasting aspect of it in time. The word used for create re-enforces that. The tense used here is the continuing past-present-future. A tense none of our modern languages has. A tense used to indicated that something has at some time started to happen, is still happening in the here and now and will keep happening in the future.

In the beginning God created.

This not only means that God, at some point in the history of the world decided he wanted to create something, it also means that creating is something he does and keeps doing as a prime activity. There are always new beginnings and creatings going on with this God. It’s his core activity.

And the rest of the chapter suggests it is something he enjoys: Time and time again it says "and God saw that it was good" and at the end there is the satisfied rest after a job well done. This God likes what he is doing and he gains satisfaction from getting it right.

In the beginning God created.

It is what God does, what God still does and will keep doing.
He creates a beautiful world out of the formless void covered with darkness. He brings order, sets the scene for what is to follow, he separates light and darkness, up and down, water and water, sea and land.
Bit by bit the picture is filled in, bit by bit the world takes shape through God’s loving creating: This is good he says, and this is good, yes, and this is good too. And this, this is very good!

The very good we hear only once, at the very end, when God creates himself a friend, somebody to share all the goodness with. In this last work of art God puts most of himself, his heart and soul goes into it, so that this creation carries his very image into creation. People, meant to be friends he can share with, creations he has put so much of himself into that they reflect his very being. When he is done with those there is this immense satisfied sigh: This is so very good!

Genesis 1 is a story, not a report. It is a hymn, a statement of faith. We believe God is a creative and creating God, out to bring order into chaos, light into darkness, life out of death. We believe that everything that is good and beautiful has been created by this God, through his Spirit who, as it says in the Hebrew, sits brooding on the empty void until something starts to happen. We believe that God loves us more than anything else he has created and that he put a lot of himself into us. In us God shows himself. We can make who and what he is visible in creation because what he is, is part of us. We believe that Jesus Christ was the first and only human being who completely succeeded in living that true image of God in all respects in the world.

We also believe that, from the beginning, what God has created and still is creating is good, very good.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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