Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Another Creation Story?

Sermon preached October 21, 2012, based on Genesis 1:1-2:4a (read in worship the previous week) and Genesis 2:4b-24.

I want to begin this morning with something that seems so far removed from this ancient story as to be almost comical. I want to very quickly try and explain Twitter. Twitter is an online tool for what is called “social networking,” something that used to be done over dinner or drinks, but is now done via computer or smart phone. Most users of Twitter have their profiles open to the public, which means that whether one is signed up for a Twitter account or not, their information and comments (what they call “tweets”) are accessible. One distinction about Twitter is that any post or comment you make has to be 140 characters or less. If you do have an account, you then “follow” other users so that their tweets show up in your feed, and you can interact with other users.

There are a variety of ways people use Twitter. Some use it solely to connect with people they actually know. Some use it to connect with other people who have similar interests. Some use it to promote their business or brand, or in the case of celebrities, themselves. There are those who use Twitter in one direction only; that is, they only send information out and don’t interact. Most, however, end up having “conversations” with other users and engaging with each other.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I use Twitter. I follow people I’ve actually met and many that I haven’t. I follow people who are in ministry, or have shops on Etsy, or are interested in the environment, or have adopted, or are just interesting or funny. There is one particular user I follow with whom I agree on almost everything. He tends to Tweet a lot of social commentary, focusing on race and gender and sexual orientation. He has an interesting perspective on the world. He often Tweets in spurts, sort of making lists of opinions on certain things, Tweet after Tweet. Usually, I’ll read through his blurbs and find myself nodding my head in agreement. “Yes, that’s so true.” “Oh, what a good point.” Eventually, though, he’ll drift over into the one area where we strongly disagree: religion. See, this user is an atheist, an intellectual who believes religion is ridiculous. One of his frequent comments is about how all religions are just myths. He recently Tweeted in annoyance at how Christians call Greek and Roman god stories myths as though they are any different from our own faith stories.

Does he have a point? I mean, last week we read through the beginning of Genesis, an account of how God created the universe, including the Earth and human beings. This story is immediately followed by the one we heard this morning, another account of how the world was created. Two different stories. In one, the universe was created in six days; in the other, one day was all it took to create the earth and its inhabitants and the rest of the universe wasn’t mentioned. In the first story, male and female human beings were created at the same time, and after all the other animals. In the second, the male human came first, then all the other animals, then the female human. They also just have very different tones to them. Which one is true? Are either of them true? What about what science says about how our world was created? Are these really just myths? Because let’s be honest: if we were told these stories came from some other tradition or culture, and not from the Bible, we’d call them legends, or “creation myths,” and not even really consider believing them, right? Isn’t that what we do? I mean, come on, woman is created from the rib of man? Humans are made out of dust, like a kid playing with Play-doh? God sets a dome over the earth to separate heaven from earth, like we’re a big planetarium?

In my three years teaching Confirmation, reading these two Creation stories was always a big moment for the kids. Many had “come out of the woodwork” for Confirmation, not having been in church since they were baptized, but even those who had gone to Sunday School every week had a revelation. They knew the stories, but they never really thought about the fact that they were two separate stories. I think our society does that too: Creation happened in 6 days and Adam and Eve were the humans created. Right? So when we sit and read the stories, and they realize there are two, separate, different stories, they start asking all those same questions. Perhaps some of you are experiencing this same event this morning. Maybe some of you never realized there were two different stories. Maybe some of you knew, but always had those lingering questions. Maybe some of you felt guilty for questioning Scripture. Maybe others accepted the stories as part of our tradition and the validity of evolution without ever really thinking about it.

They are big questions, though. It is amazing how something as simple as figuring out that our Bible contains two different accounts of Creation can shake a person’s faith. All of a sudden, we wonder about the authority of the Bible. We question all we believe, and why. If those stories aren’t real, what is? How can we believe anything in the Bible? If one is true and the other isn’t, then how can we tell what else the Bible gets right or wrong? Do we hold the Bible as the holy “sufficient rule of faith and practice,” or not? What is the truth?

And here’s what I tell my Confirmation students, something I had to discover myself when all these questions arose for me in seminary, as we dissected every last word of the Bible until it seemed to have lost all meaning and sanctity: there is a difference between TRUTH and FACT.

Factually, perhaps the story we shared this morning may not have happened. Factually, although it does mesh a little better with the scientific explanation of the origins of the universe, the story we heard last week might not be quite right either. However, we can find truth in both of them.

Here are some truths I make out. First and foremost, God is the author of Creation. However it happened, beginning with the Big Bang or before that or through some other theory, God is the Creator. Another truth: human beings have a special role in creation. We have reached the point where we have the ability to destroy everything in a way nothing else on Earth can, and the capacity to see, at least in part, how the consequences of our actions will play out in the future. That endows us with a particular responsibility to care for God’s creation—to be good stewards of the Creation of which we are a part. Related to that, another truth: we are deeply connected to the earth, to dirt, to the very fibers which make up this planet. In Hebrew, we can see the wordplay: adam, human, was formed from adamah, ground or soil. Another truth: Human nature is not a duality of body and soul but a single living being, dust animated by God’s breath. More truth: male and female are both images of the Divine. Also, maybe God doesn’t get everything right the first time. In this morning’s story, God made every animal and bird as failed attempt at a partner for adam. Another truth, and hold onto your hats for this one: sexual intercourse is a divinely blessed act. Both stories make a reference to it: in the first, God tells the humans to “be fruitful and multiply,” and in the second, the man and woman cling to each other and become one flesh. More truth: Creation is very good, and ideal when there is diversity—many different plants and creatures and fish and waters. And yet more truth: like air, God is invisible, but knowable in movement and action. God’s wind swept over the waters at the beginning of creation; God’s breath brought life to human beings.

There are is probably a lot more truth to be found in these stories, and certainly in the rest of the Bible. And perhaps by the dictionary definition, they are myths—stories of heroes or deities or events of nature without a determinable basis of fact. But then, maybe that’s ok. We’re not claiming the facts, necessarily, but the truth that we can learn about God through them, which we see with the help of the Holy Spirit. As we hear more stories from our faith tradition in the weeks to come may that same Spirit of Wisdom and Truth guide us to know our God more fully. Amen.

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