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Creation

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Genesis 1v1-2v3, Creation

Light 7, 16th February 2020

[1] I am going to be talking today mainly about our first reading in Genesis, rather than the gospel reading in Matthew, though I will touch on that. The lectionary reading in Genesis gives us the whole of the creation story. Or at least the first creation story, because there are two. The first is broad brush, the second concentrates on Adam and Eve.

 

Many of you know that Rachel and I lived in Nepal for a number of years. While there, it often seemed that every other sermon was on creation. Why? I do not know for sure, but I think it is because it gives a firm grounding to Christian faith in a country where Christians were in a minority, and persecuted. It shows God, the Christian God, being ultimately in control, whether people acknowledge it or not. And there is a broad plan, with man given dominion over the earth and all there is in it.

 

[2] Genesis tells us of a God who creates everything, who is Lord of everything, who make things and who sees that they are good. In the creed every week we acknowledge one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. This is a passage that for us, too, the ground of our faith. We start from an acceptance that the universe, and all that is in it, is God’s, made by him.

 

It is a pity then, that this passage also divides. It divides Christians, between those who see it as a poetic way of describing God creating, and those who see it as literally true. It can also divide Christians from a society that assumes we do not take science seriously, preferring to believe in fairy tales. Genesis becomes a touchstone for a division between faith and science. Creationism is not as prevalent among Christians here as it is, say, in America, but I think there is a growing assumption in the modern world that science is in opposition to faith. That belief is irrational. I do not think this is true, and that is what I would like to think about this morning.

 

[3] The world, the universe, is an amazing place. Our knowledge and understanding of it can fill us with awe, in the immensity of space, the intricacy of life, the variety and beauty around us. It can, and frequently does, point us to God, not away from him. In fact, the vastness of the universe speaks of a Creator who is far beyond our imagining. The scale of the universe is awesome. The galaxy on the screen, like ours, contains a couple of hundred thousand million stars like our sun. Light takes a hundred thousand years to go from one side to the other. I wonder what the writer of Genesis would have made of such scale. God is probably greater than even he imagined. It is a humbling thought, especially when we also believe God loves and cares for us.

 

[4] The church has regularly had battles with science, or ‘natural philosophy’ as it was known before the 19th century. The church defined understandings of the world that did not really come from the faith or the Bible as dogma, and treated anyone who suggested otherwise as heretics.

 

Galileo is the classic example. The accepted worldview up to the 17th century was that the earth was the centre of the universe, and that all the heavenly bodies revolved around it. [5] Galileo, from his astronomical observations, proposed that the earth, and the planets, revolved around the sun. He was indicted for heresy, and only acquitted by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

 

Galileo’s view did come to be accepted, but the church has always had a tendency to keep parts of the world as the reserve of God, separate from the material world. He is a God of the gaps, used to explain what we do not understand. The problem is that, as understanding increases, it puts the church on the back foot. And Christians feel that it is God that is being threatened, rather than our theories.

 

[6] So, the Church believed God was responsible for creating the world basically in the form it is now. The Irish Bishop James Usher worked out from the Bible that creation occurred ‘at the entrance to the night’ on the 22nd October 4004 BC (in the Julian Calendar). When geology pointed to the world being vastly older than this, the church felt threatened. [7] The church, with the world following it, maintained that God had created all the species of living things, and man as the pinnacle of creation. Then came Darwin with his theory that live had evolved from the primitive to the complex, and that man was the (current) end result. The church fought this, but eventually it, and the world, moved on. [8]

 

We still have a tendency to use God to fill gaps. [9] Pope Pius XII celebrated the Big Bang theory as the moment of God’s creation. God must have been the cause of the Big Bang at the start of the universe, because we cannot see back beyond it. ([10] Interestingly, Stephen Hawkings in a Brief History of Time argued that there might be a never-ending cycle of Big Bangs followed by Big Crunches as the universe again collapses to a point under gravity. He ends the chapter on this saying “What place, then, for a creator?” But that is now thought to be wrong as the expansion of the universe is known to be accelerating under the influence of dark energy, so there will not be a Big Crunch. It is not only Christians who get things wrong.)

 

[11] I think the issues coming at us are about consciousness, free will, soul and spirit. Are these things natural, or are some of them supernatural, something given by God that resides alongside our brain, independent of it? The Ghost in the Machine. Is what we are explained by our brains’ chemistry and electrical synapses? My personal view is that we should not look to something supernatural to explain us. If God made the universe and the laws of physics that govern it, why would he need to fiddle with it directly to make it work as he wants. I think we should accept that science reaches into all parts of us.

 

[12] Science is based on a method. You develop a theory, and then you test it with an experiment. If the results of the experiment line up with your predictions, you accept the theory. Quite often results just about line up with the theory, and it gets refined later on. But while the scientific method is objective, scientists are often not. Scientists often find it very difficult to accept new theories, whether it is plate tectonics or solar wind or the expansion of the universe. There is an idea that science develops only as older scientists die off, because they never change their minds. (May that not be said of us.) Scientists are people too, and they tend to pontificate on things not really covered or proven by science, and you see their prejudices just like you see other people’s. Richard Dawkins is quite a good example of this, someone who, to my mind, has a clear emotional antagonism towards faith that he tries to portray as science.

 

Science really cannot tell you ‘why’. It tells you how, cause and effect. Meaning comes from elsewhere. Just as a scientific description of what is going on in your head when you are listening to a moving piece of music or poetry really can never describe it at all. When scientist claim to ‘prove’ there is no God, that the universe is mindless and random, they are guessing as much as anyone else.

 

We do not need to be frightened of science, just as we do not need to be frightened of truth. God is a God of truth. If science discovers something that disagrees with what we think is true, we need to know about it. We believe in God, the creator of all, an objective fact; he is who he is. Our faith should not be so flimsy that it is shaken by an apparent contradiction. Ultimately, if something is true, we have to cope to with, fit it into our understanding. If God is God, nothing anyone discovers will change that. If we are wrong, as Paul says, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15v19). Let us have confidence in God.

 

[13] I think Genesis is a story, poetry, teaching us about God with great wisdom, but in an age that had no conception of science or natural cause and effect. Genesis points to a universe was not just created as a one-off event and left to run, but as something that is continuously created and upheld by God.

 

Which leads, in conclusion, and very briefly, to our gospel reading, Matthew 6vv25-34. God is the creator and sustainer of all. He can look after all of this universe, so he can look after you. Do not worry.

 

Jeremy Thake,

St. John & St. Stephen

 

 

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

6 And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9 And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind[c] 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,[d] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

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

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29 God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Matthew 6:25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.