This morning I would like to explore some aspects of the creation story with you in depth rather than try and look at the whole story in a more general way.
The first thing Id like to draw your attention to is the first letter of the chapter and, because Genesis is the first book of the Bible, of the whole Bible. It is the Hebrew letter Beth.
You will find a picture of this letter on the back cover of your order of service. Beth is the name of this letter, and is at the same time also the word for house, or shelter. And if you look closely you can see that the letter is shaped like a shelter or a house: it has a roof, a floor and wall holding the roof up.
Hebrew is written from right to left, so if you look at the beginning of the text in Hebrew the back wall of this house is where the text starts, and it is open to the front where the words are beginning to give shape to the story of Genesis.
Rabbinic interpretation tells us that this is no coincidence. There is no going back before the first letter they say, this is where Gods word starts to give us shelter and whatever happened before that God has not chosen to reveal to us 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.
The first letter, symbolises the shelter God gives through his word, and at the same time shows us there is a limit to what we are able to know. Not everything has been revealed. What God gives us at the beginning God is shelter, floor, wall and roof, and boundaries to separate us from what is not for us to know.
The first word in Hebrew is Bereshit which can be translated in different ways: it means from the beginning, when everything was beginning, indicating something active and dynamic rather than static and fixed in time. It says something like: everything was beginning and while that was happening this happened, God created heaven and earth. It is a word that suggests continuity, the creating something that has never stopped since it started at that beginning when God began to create. Creation thus not a matter of 7 days but an ongoing and never ending activity that perpetuates into the present day.
In the beginning God created, very much like a playful artist, playing around with matter, with the material from the voic which carries all the possibilities and opportunities of what could ever be in it, but needs a creator, somebody taking and shaping it to take form in all the diversity creation offers.
To start with there is tohoevabohoe a Hebrew word we find only here in the Bible. Its related to other words that help us guess what it means, but even by just listening to it carefully you can figure it out: there is no form to it, no contents, no clarity. Its limitless chaos, a formless void. And over that formless void lies a blanket of darkness covering the deep. In the English translation it sounds like a pretty grim place while in the Hebrew it is more neutral and less menacing than it may sound to us. There is just nothing much there, there is no direction, no boundaries, just limitless being and at the same time limitless potential. Its all there, it just has not yet come to light, literally as well as spiritually.
Over that primal soup sweeps the wind of God. The Ruach, the Spirit, like a hen brooding on her eggs. Creating an atmosphere of waiting, of expectancy, of excitement: Something is going to happen, something is stirring, but it is not yet clear what......
So, in the first two verses the scene is set.
What follows is, in a way, quite simple: from that formless mass, out of the deep covered with darkness God brings forth order, division, boundaries, separation.
Between light and darkness, between water and water, between above and below, between dry land and sea covered land. It is all a matter of boundaries, of ordering what is already there, God creating heaven and earth in a ongoing process of creation.
And out of that first, primal division and limitation the rest is brought forth: vegetation on the dry land, bearing seeds and fruit, lights in the sky to rule over the day and the night and to separate light and darkness. Then there are living creatures in the sky and in the sea, followed by animals in all shapes and sizes on the land, and last but not least God creates humankind. In his own image.
Now for a moment I would like you to forget about evolution and creation theories and all of that. I want you to just listen to the story and let it convey its message to you, listen how those ancient rabbis tried to pass their faith on to a next generation through the story of creation and how they pictured it might have happened, how they pictured God at the beginning as a force for good, for order, full of creativity, bringing creation to light, calling what is into being, enjoying himself immensely doing it and getting a lot of contentment out of it for himself.
After every "day", after every episode of creating it says God saw that it was good, until when human kind is created it even says that he thought it was very good.
Somebody is enjoying his work here, ordering chaos and formlessness into something beautiful and comprehensive. Somebody is enjoying himself with making things good in every direction and in every aspect of being. God begins and cant seem to stop creating once he has started. His spirit sits and broods and sweeps and brings to birth endless possibilities and innovations. Bit by bit creation takes shape and at the end there is this enormous sigh of content: See it was very good.
A hymn on creation and its creator it is, a statement of faith about a good God who holds everything in his hands and enjoys creating order out of chaos, beauty out of nothing, light out of darkness. It is not only that however, at the same time it is a political statement. Those rabbis, when they composed this hymn lived in exile, under foreign dominance not able to say straight out what they think, nor allowed to confess to their religion. Something that gives a bite to the whole thing it would not otherwise have, not only is it a confession of faith to be passed on to following generations about who God is and what he does, it is also a subversive statement directed against the dominating powers and religion of the day: The Babylonian sun and moon gods are scaled down to lights put in the sky by Israels God to help people distinguish between night and day. The sacred nature of agriculture, plants and seeds and fruits that was accompanied in Babylon by child sacrifice and bloody rituals something that the God of Israel, one late afternoon, set in motion as a work of art and a gift of beauty and order that is given as part of the creation humans are given to enjoy and live in.
Humankind created last, the crown of creation, created in Gods own image, looking like him, feeling like him, invested with his powers, gifted with his playful creativity. Simply because God wants company, somebody to share, somebody to give his all, somebody that will be his friend in the midst of all this beauty He has created.
A song is sung here at the beginning of scripture about a God who takes pride in his work and enjoys bringing order and beauty to the earth. About a God who is in control, even of the lesser gods that may, some times seem more important and powerful. About a God who wants company, somebody like him, to share with, who will be part of his creation and care for it, who will be a companion to him, a likeminded friend he can give this wonderful work of art to look after and to benefit from.
The gospel of John says, in the first chapter, when it recounts its own creation hymn, that the Son was with the father from the beginning and it is here where we encounter the son, or the image of the son for the first time as the companion God is looking for. The human being in his image, created in his likeness, somebody to trust and to love. There from the beginning in the sense that the son is the perfect image of God. Was in God as a perfect image from the beginning, even before all the ordering and creating starts. As is the Spirit, that aspect of God that broods and brings forth. The Ruach, Gods breath breathing life into the void, and bringing life out of the deep, up to the first light of creation. God three in one from the beginning, expressing itself in all three forms from the very start of creation.
God a never ending movement starting with the decision to call a whole world into being outside himself and the desire to create something new and altogether different. God the Father the initiator if you will, God the Spirit the agent of creation, God the son the relating of God to his world on a level that is both intimate and deep.
That God is what Christians are called in the gospel of Matthew to carry into the world. God the creator who is at the beginning of it all, God the Son in whom Gods image was reflected perfectly and God the Holy Spirit who keeps brooding over anything that is still tohoevaboe in this world. Baptism a symbol of this very process: God the Father calls from the waters of death, from the flood, his children to reflect Gods image in the way the Son reflected that image to perfection, they receive God the Spirit who will brood over them bringing forth in them light from darkness, order from chaos, fruit and a wealth of possible shapes and forms and ways of being.
We are those children of God, blessed with the trinity, called to be Gods friends and stewards in creation, to share with him, to show his face, to reflect his image in the world.
The story of Creation ends with God resting. That is also very significant: There is room for rest, for satisfied enjoyment of a job well done, time for leisure, for slowing down and taking it easy.
In a world like ours, in a Church like ours that is very important. The whole godhead comes to rest on the seventh day. We are made in Gods image and if we want to be true to that image rest is part of the package. Not only the creating of a good and wonderful world, not only the working for justice and peace, not only the tireless looking after creation, but also the contentment of rest, the celebration of work done, tasks finished and the time to hallow the time taken out is to be taken seriously.
Something we, Christians of the 20st century may feel we are far too busy for. Amen.