“HOW IT ALL BEGAN”

Genesis 1:1-2; 2:3

May 25, 2008

 

 

            Do you ever use one of these when you travel?  We do.  It’s a Triple A tour book with a list of hotel-motel accommodations and points of interest along the way.  It is our Bible when we travel.  We seldom stay in a place that is not listed here.  In addition, it provides valuable information as to what to see while traveling.

            For example, listen to where I took Trudy on one of our first dates.  I’m reading a description of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

 

            Rancho La Brea Tar Pits, Wilshire Boulevard and Carson Avenue, are among the richest sources of Ice Age fossils.  These sticky asphalt beds trapped and preserved prehistoric plant and animal life.  More than 3 million fossils have been recovered from the tar pits.  The viewing station and observation pit show how specimens appeared when discovered.  findings are in the Page Museum.  Visitors can view paleontologists excavating site in July and August.

 

            Now, I know what you are thinking ... boy what a romantic guy taking Trudy to the La Brea Tar Pits!!!!  Actually, some of you are probably thinking, not my idea of a fun time.

            And that’s how many feel about studying the Old Testament.  It seems outdated.  Also, like the La Brea Tar Pits, it is filled with sticky, gooey messes.  I mean, what about all that Old Testament violence, and those funny people with all their strange names and customs, and what about the God of the Old Testament?  The God of the Old Testament appears so stern and harsh and vengeful.

            Given those sentiments, one might ask, “Why are we embarking on a five month study of the Book of Genesis?  After all, couldn’t our time be more wisely spent studying the New Testament rather than the worn and outdated Old Testament?”

            Well, hardly and I say that for a couple of reasons.  First, we cannot fully appreciate and understand the New Testament without a familiarity with the Old Testament.  Reading only the New Testament is like only watching the third act of a play.    We get the message of the play, but we missed so much of the play only catching the third act.   The same applies to the New Testament.  If we miss the first act we miss so much in the New Testament.

            But there is another reason for spending time in the Old Testament, and it is the more important reason.  You see, the Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible.  In Jesus day there was no New Testament, and when Jesus quoted the Scriptures, he was quoting the Old Testament.  Furthermore, when the Apostle Paul referred to the Scriptures as being inspired by God, he was also referring to the Old Testament.  There was no New Testament at the time.  So then, if the Old Testament was good enough for Jesus and the Apostle Paul, then it’s good enough for us!

            As we begin this series, however, I want to make a personal comment.  I am personally disappointed by the controversy surrounding the first book of the Bible.  By that I mean, this first book of the Bible has become a source of division within and beyond Christendom.  The book has been dragged into court, debated by school boards, and seen by some as a litmus test on how seriously one takes the Bible.  Some go as far as to say that if you do not believe in a literal, twenty-four, six days of creation, then you do not believe in the Bible.  Other say if you do believe in a literal, twenty-four hours, six days of creation then you are a strict fundamentalist out of touch with reality - sort of a dedicated dimwit!

            I do not want to get into that controversy here.  I believe that discussion is best handled in a classroom setting of give and take and not in the pulpit where one has little opportunity to come back at the speaker.  I will, however, say this.  The Bible is not a science book, it is a theology book, a book about God, and when we turn the Bible into something it is not we run into trouble.  Imagine, if you will, attempting to explain something to a preschooler.  One would use different concepts, different language, different images in describing something to a four-year old than say a thirty year old.  Well, imagine God having to explain the origins of creation to human beings who were still preschoolers in the realm of science.  God would explain the origins of creation differently to a preschooler and an adult.  That’s what we have here - God’s attempt to explain the origins of creation to a pre-scientific world.

            And what does this first chapter say to us?  It says five things.  First, this first chapter tells us that the world did not come into being by chance.  Instead, God brought all things into being.  God is the creator of heaven and earth.  And by the way, more and more modern scientists are saying the same thing.

            Listen to the insights of the astronomer Robert Jastrow.  He writes,

 

            I am fascinated by strange developments going on in astronomy - partly because of their religious implications and partly because of the peculiar reactions of some of my colleagues.

 

            Now the essence of those “strange developments” according to Jastrow is that scientists, like himself, can trace the origin of the Universe all the way back to the Big Bang or some other theory, but they cannot go back any farther than that, and when they try to trace it back farther, they keep coming to the same conclusion.  What’s the conclusion?  Well listen to what the agnostic Jastrow says.  He makes a startling confession.  Here are his words,

 

            Now we would like to pursue that inquiry farther back in time, but the barrier seems insurmountable.  For the scientist who has lived by this faith in the power of reason the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.[1]

 

            In other words, Jastrow sees a connection between the limits of science and the witness of Scripture.  In this regard I think of the little boy who went to the art museum.  He had walked into an exhibit and saw, across the expanse, an entrancing portrait of a beautiful woman.

            “Dad, she was so pretty,” he said, “that I walked closer and closer.  As I approached the portrait I noticed the texture was unlike a brush painting.  The artist had repeatedly used his finger on an ink pad and impression by impression had formed the entire picture with his fingerprints.”  So it is with creation.  The closer science gets, the more science sees God’s fingerprints.

            Second, this chapter not only states that creation was no accident, but also this chapter underscores the order of creation.  Day one, day two, day three, God makes the point that the Universe came into being in an orderly fashion.

            Maybe you remember the politician, the philosopher, the biologist and the builder who were arguing about which of their professions were most consistent with God’s character.  The philosopher said, “Well, first and foremost, God is a philosopher because God created the principles by which we are to live by.”

            “Ridiculous,” said the biologist.  “Before that God created man and woman and all living things, so clearly God was a biologist.”

            “Wrong,” said the builder.  “Before that God created the heavens and the earth.  Before the earth there was only chaos and confusion.

            “Well,” said the politician, “if it weren’t for politicians where do you think the chaos came from?”

            Actually, they are all wrong.  According to the first chapter of Genesis God is a Presbyterian because God created everything decently and in order.

            Thirdly, this first chapter tells us that everything God created was good.  Unlike the Greeks who said the spirit is good and matter is bad, God says it’s all good.  We know that inside.  After all, why do we hate to think about dying?  Why do we enjoy it here so much - the moon, the stars, the mountains, the beaches, the flowers?  Because it is good.  Have you noticed the number of restaurants and bars in our metro are that have added outside dining and drinking areas?  How come?  Because people like to sit outdoors, enjoy God’s creation because it is good.

            Fourth, the first chapter of Genesis not only underscores the origin, order and goodness of creation, but also the immensity of God.  The God of Genesis is not some puny god like the god of fertility or fire, or the moon good, but rather the God of it all.  The God described in Genesis is so different from the Canaanite God of fertility or the Babylonian moon god.  No, the God of Genesis is not limited to any realm or any particular object of creation.  The God of Genesis is bigger than that.  God created “all that,” and has the power of “all that,” and when we reflect on what God has created we get a sense of the sheer immensity of God.

            To picture the immensity of God, imagine this.  Imagine our sun to be the size of a volleyball.  We’ll put the sun, the volleyball, here where I am standing.  We’ll give Steve here a mustard seed representing Mercury, and ask him to march off 82 steps.  That would be about right proportionately.

            Then we’ll take about 60 more steps more and put down a BB for Venus.

            This green pea will represent earth, and we’ll take 78 more steps.

            For Mars we’ll us a pinhead and set off 108 more steps.

            Now we’ll really have to move.  For the next planet Jupiter, we’ll use an orange and take 788 steps.

            After that we will take 934 more steps and put a golf ball down for Saturn.

            Now it really gets involved.  Mark off 2086 steps more for Uranus and put down a marble.

            Then, another 2,322 steps from there and we arrive at Neptune.  Let a grape represent that.

            All this will take us two and a half miles and we haven’t even discussed Pluto, since he was demoted recently from the list of planets.

            Now, using our rather crude scale, just guess how far we would have to walk before we reach the nearest star?  6,730 miles!  And that’s just the nearest star among billions of stars.

            Sort of mind boggling, and when we affirm our faith in the Apostles’ Creed and say, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” we are affirming, among other things, the sheer immensity of God, a God much different from the God of Israel’s neighbors.

            Now, hold onto that thought about the immensity of God as we turn to the fifth thing this firs chapter underscores.  This chapter also underscores the great care and love that God has for the created order.  Note the care and thought that goes into day of creation.  Each day is carefully orchestrated.  Nothing is haphazard.  Each day builds upon the previous day and, in turn, builds upon the next.

            My thoughts go back to our newlywed years.  We did not have a lot of money in those days and for our first Christmas we could not afford much.  I was only making $600 a month working full time at the Boise YMCA, so we made decopage pictures for our parents.  And let me tell you, a lot of love and thought went into those pictures. We took time choosing the right photos, used the proper glue to attach it to the wood, chose the best wood and lacquer, and just the right steel wool to finish the project, and we liked what we had done.  Like God we pronounced, “It was good.”

            As we draw this message to a close, I want us to hold two images in our hands, one in our left hand and one in our right hand.  In our left hand I want us to hold the immensity of God, and in our other hand the love and concern of God for what God has created, especially us, you and me.

            With both things in our hands, the immensity of God and the love and concern of God, think about that issue, that person, that situation that has your stomach in a knot.  I do not know what you face this morning, but id do know who will get you through it.  God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth will get you through it.

 


 

[1] Robert Jastrow, “The Secret of the Stars” N.Y. Times Magazine, 229 W. 43rd Street, June 25, 1978.

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