CREATION: THE FIRST OLD TESTAMENT ESSENTIAL

GENESIS 1 & 2

JULY 5, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Today we begin a new sermon series based on a book, which I found while wandering through Parables book store. The author Tremper Longman III (who names a kid Tremper?) , is an adjunct Old Testament professor at my seminary, and the title of the book, Old Testament Essentials, caught me eye. When I saw it I thought to myself, Hey, this could be fodder for a new sermon series.  And lo and behold, here we are.

            Most Christians I know love the bible.  Some even revere the bible, but they often do not know what to do with the Old Testament. There are a number of reasons for that. One, it is long.  I mean really long.  Even longer than my sermons! It comprises seventy-seven percent of the bible, and it jumps around in time, rather than staying in straight chronological order, thus its often hard to keep the basic plot of the Old Testament together. Two, it comprises different styles of writing. There are historical books and prophetic books and poetry and wisdom literature even something called an apocalyptic book, and each type of literature requires a different reading strategy.  Three, some parts of the Old Testament are strange and some even downright embarrassing. Take, for instance, the wars of the book of Joshua, where God calls on the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in Canaan, or the curses of the psalms, when the psalmist calls on God to injure and kill not only his enemies but his enemies children. What is a good Christian supposed to do with these parts of sacred scripture?

            As a result a good number of us stay in the New Testament as much as possible. After all, we find Jesus Christ in the New Testament.  Hes the center of our faith. Hes the one who died for us and and saves us from our sins. We thinks, We dont need the Old Testament any more as long as we have Jesus.

            There are, however, a couple of problems with that. One is the problem of heresy. On occasion some church leaders have tried to make the argument that the Old Testament is no longer relevant, some even suggesting it should be removed from the canon of Scripture. In the second century a preacher named Marcion began teaching this. He believed that the Old Testament with its God of wrath was out of harmony with the New Testament and its presentation of Jesus as a God of love. His viewpoint gained significant traction at the time, but ultimately the broader church recognized that the Old Testament was indeed Gods word to humanity and Marcion was excommunicated for his views in 144 AD.

            Of course, the biggest reason for sticking with the Old Testament is the fact that Jesus was a student of the Old Testament, and he even berated his disciples for being slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken (Luke 24:25). He then went to explain how all the Scriptures (meaning the Old Testament) pointed to him (Luke 24:26-27, 45-48).

            So, given what Jesus said about the Old Testament, I want to embark on a fourth month journey through it, utilizing Temper Longman IIIs Old Testament essentials. He lists seventeen, and he begins with the story of creation. As we do, I want us to understand what the first two chapters of Genesis have to say about creation, about humankind, and about women.

            First Creation. Right out of the blocks the Bible addresses the ultimate question Where did the universe come from?  Why does it exist? Well, Genesis tells us that it exists because God called it into being. The universe did not appear out of nowhere. It didnt just happen by accident. Whether it had to do with the Big Bang or in conjunction with evolution, it came into being from the hand of God.  And it was good.  God said so after the sixth day, before he took a day off to kick back and relax.  So we learn, that God created the universe and what God created was good.

            Thats not all.  The narrative makes it clear that the universe came into being in a very orderly fashion.  Consider the six days of creation and how they fit together. On first glance, it appears that these might be literal twenty-four hour days of creation.  After all, right from day one they are described as having and evening and morning. Lets look closer, however. Closer examination shows that the author of Genesis could not have thought of these days as literal days with literal evenings and mornings because days as we know them require a rising and setting sun, a moon as well a stars, and these are not created until the fourth day.

            No, the first three days involve the creation of what we might think of as realms, and the last three days involve the filling of those realms by inhabitants of the respective realms.  So in the creation narrative days one and four go together, days two and five go together, and days three and six go together.

            Check it out. Day one, the creation of light, and Gods separating the light from the darkness making day and night.  Then in day four God populates the light and darkness with the sun, the moon, and the stars.  Day two, Gods making the sky and the waters, and day five populating the sky and the waters with birds and fish.  Day three, Gods separates land from the waters and on day six God populates the land with animals and human beings. 

            Got it? First, the creation of three realms, days one through three, and then the population of those realms, days four through six. So clearly God must be a presbyterian in that God does things decently and in order.

            Whats the first line of the Apostles Creed?  Does anyone remember it?  I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  Thats what the bible teaches.  God created the universe.  And it was good.  And it was done in an orderly fashion.  Thats as far as the bible goes.  We can let scientists debate how it happened and how long it took. Whatever the scientists say doesnt alter the fact that God was behind it, and God had ordered it and it was good.

            Second humankind. The manner in which God created Adam and Eve emphasizes the dignity of humankind.  At the writing of this creation account, there was a competing creation account from the Babylonians. We wont get into all the details of that account, lets just fast forward to the end of the Babylonian creation account. According to the Bablyonian narrative, creation came into being through the warring of competing gods. Marduk the victorious god, took Tiamat, the vanquished god, and split him in half like a shellfish, and with the upper half of the body Marduk made the heavens, and with the lower half Markuk made the oceans. Then Marduk turned his attention to Tiamats chief demon, a demon named Qingu. Marduk executed Qingu, and after the execution he took some clay, mixed it with Qingus blood and made human beings.

            So the competing creation story of the time had gods fighting, with the victor creating the heavens and the earth from a vanquished god and creating humankind with a dash of demonic blood. The bible offers a vastly different viewpoint of humankind. The creation of Adam from the dust of the ground and the breath of God, rather than the blood of a demon, speaks to the dignity of human beings.

            Return with me now to the sixth day of creation. Genesis 1:26 to be exact.

 

            Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

            So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

 

            And so, God created humankind in his own image. What does that mean?

Let me see if I can illustrate the point by taking out a $20 bill.

            How many of you would be pleased if I gave you this $20 bill? What if put a little doodle on it? Would you still want it? What if I were to crumple it up into a ball, would you still want it? What if I were to stomp on it would you still want it?  Too bad. Im not giving it to you.

            Now why is this $20 bill worth $20? Is the paper worth $20? Is the ink worth $20?

Is that little security strip they put inside the bill worth $20? Well if the paper, the ink and the security strip inside aren't worth $20, what makes this bill worth $20?  Its worth that much because the US Government says its worth that much. And to verify this bills value, the Federal government puts its images on that bill.

            So, how do we know that we have value? Because God put His image in us. As someone said, God signed us with his DNA! We are made in the image of God. We have intrinsic value. The creation account underscores the dignity of humankind.

            Finally, note what the creation account says about women.  The creation of Eve speaks volumes about the relationship between the genders. First, we have the word helper in Genesis 2:18.  Follow along as I read it.

 

            Then the Lord God said, It not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as a partner.

 

            Before we read the idea of subordination into the word helper let us remember the same word is used elsewhere in the bible to refer to God who is the helper of his people.  Think allies and partners in the business and battle of life.

            Second, we have the story of her creation. Remember it?  Ill summarize what comes after the verse we just read from the second chapter. God puts Adam into a deep sleep, takes a rib from his side, and creates Eve. That God took something from Adams side and not from his head or his feet is theologically and practically significant. Eve is neither superior to Adam or inferior to Adam, she is his equal.

            Boy, and its taking society a long time to catch up with the second chapter of Genesis were where we see woman as equal to men. We still have a way to go.  We are still battling equal pay for men and women in the corporate world, and if the feminist movement did anything that was right, if nothing else it began to elevate our thinking about women that men and women are equal different, different, but equal. 

            Maybe you heard the story of the creation of Adam and Eve from a feminist perspective? According to that story one day in the Garden of Eden, Eve calls out to God, "Lord, I have a problem!"

            "What's the problem, Eve?"

            "Lord, I know you've created me and have provided this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals, but I'm just not happy."

            "Why is that, Eve?" comes the reply from above.

            "Lord, I am lonely."

            "Well, Eve, in that case I have a solution. I shall create a man for you."

            "What's a man,' Lord?" Eve asks.

            Hes somewhat of a flawed creature," says the Lord, "with aggressive tendencies, an enormous ego and an inability to empathize or listen to you properly. All in all he'll give you a hard time. But he will give you some good times, too."

            OK, Ill take him" says Eve.

            "Yeah, well," says God, "You can have him on one condition."

            "What's that, Lord?"

            "You'll have to let him believe that I made him first.

            Lets stand and sing and prepare to come to the Lords table.