At Church we have been working through the ‘acts’ of Scripture. Last sunday I preached on the story of Creation, we explored Genesis 1 and Psalm 104. We started by listening to Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold, exploring the world view and theology of the song.
We then looked at Edouard Manet’s 1863 painting, Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. Asking what was the worldview and theology of the painting. Noting the way that the work copies the composition of Michelangelo image of God creating in his Sistine Chapel Fresco. Manet replaced God, in his painting with a young bohemian, thus effectively removing God from the act of creation. The desire for Eden stays but God is gone and hedonism reigns.
Amy Stephenson did a great job of writing up my sermon. Below is her write up.
Create and Sustain
Can you picture it? The people of Israel sit alongside the rivers of Babylon. Looming over them is the magnificent city of their captors. At the pinnacle of the city is the Babylonian temple, the Ziggurat, laden with it’s stories of capricious gods and violent clashes creating the cosmos, stories which cast humanity as slaves to the divine. As the fire crackles one of the elders clears his throat, silence falls and everyone leans in, the elder starts his story with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
Think of the effect this story would have had on the captive people of Israel. It re-cast them in their own story, no longer were they merely slaves, they were priests created to work alongside the High Priest in stewarding His temple.
God builds His temple
The language of the creation story is mirrored in the building and commissioning of God’s temple in Israel. The Israelites would have understood what can be lost on us reading the same story today – that God built the earth to be His temple, His dwelling Place, He is not separate from it but intimately connected.
The Hebrew word we translate as ‘create’ is ‘bara’, which means more than just create, it means to sustain, commission, to give purpose and function. John H. Walton explains God’s relationship with His creation, saying that “as a result of taking up his residence in the cosmic temple, he sustains the functions moment by moment, as the very existence of the cosmos depends on him entirely. Both initiating and sustaining are the acts of the Creator God.”
We see this language of God sustaining the world in Psalm 104:
You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,
and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.
You cause grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for people to use.
You allow them to produce food from the earth-
wine to make them glad,
olive oil to soothe their skin,
and bread to give them strength.
The notion of God being intimately connected – even sustaining – every function of the earth can be hard for us to grasp. We can hold a theology which no one has necessarily taught us, but which says that God exists somewhere outside of the universe, that He is separate from the world. And we can pray for Him to occasionally intervene in our day to day, but He is generally not a part of the small things of our lives, they are not important to God.
Like Manet’s picture we desire to return to the Garden of delight, but without God, in fact re-casting us in His place.
Perhaps as we hear the story of creation today it is not us that need to be re-cast in our minds – it is God. The language of being stewards of God’s earth is familiar to us, but do we consider that we are inhabitants of God’s dwelling place? And that God is dynamically involved with every function of the earth?
This way of seeing God’s relationship with the day-to-day changes everything. There is no separation of what matters to God and what doesn’t. We live our lives as priests in His temple, commissioned to work for and alongside Him.
God didn’t create the world and then leave. He created it as a place for Him to dwell and He invests in and sustains it’s every function. And our day-to-day involves Him, He hasn’t left us, He didn’t disappear.