09 Sep Walking Wet: The Birthing Waters of Creation
Walking Wet: The Birthing Waters of Creation
September 8, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Click below to hear Sunday’s Sermon!
This morning we embark on a new sermon series called, Walking Wet. As you can probably guess, these sermons are all about water. Perhaps you haven’t really stopped to think about it, but water plays a major role in the stories of scripture. There are more than 800 references to water in the Bible, and we’re going to explore some of these because just as water nourishes our physical bodies, so the water in scripture nourishes our souls.
Water is a universal theme because every living thing needs water to survive. Plants, animals, and humans cannot live without water. Our bodies are 60% water, our brains 75% water. Before our birth, we live in water, and once we are born, water remains essential to our daily lives. Water also appeals to our senses, whether we gaze at a lake or river, listen to the roar of ocean tides or the trickling of a stream, smell rain just before a shower, taste a cold drink of water on a sultry summer day, or feel the buoyancy of swimming in the sea.
It’s easy to take for granted the many ways we use water. From sports and recreation to agriculture and industry, water is a mainstay of our daily activities. We have even made an industry of water itself by selling it in bottles. Just check out the dizzying number of water options in your favorite grocery store. Water is the subject of paintings and poetry, of art and literature, songs and hymns. And then there’s the politics of water, as controversies over water rights escalate. Water even becomes our mission when we work for people around the world to have daily access to clean drinking water.
In the Bible water teaches us about the nature of God and how God has dealt with creation and water throughout history. The people whose stories are told in the Old Testament knew what it was to thirst for days with no water and then to have their thirst quenched with water provided by God. They experienced God’s protection from raging waters. The Red Sea and the Jordan River played key roles in the stories of deliverance of the Hebrew people. Water wells were central to Hebrew communities; pivotal meetings occurred, and marriages were arranged there. Water was used in ritual cleansings, and the Psalms fed the people with rich images of flowing water. The destructive force of water is also on display in the account of the flood.
In the New Testament, we hear about Living Water and the waters of baptism. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine. Jesus talked with his disciples while they were in boats and at the water’s edge in Galilee. Jesus and the Samaritan woman engaged in a fascinating conversation at a well, and like her, we discover that the Living Water and the living Word go hand in hand for those of us who strive to be faithful followers of Christ.
But first things first. We need to start at the beginning and in the beginning, there was water, lots and lots of water. Genesis tells us that along with the water there was God, God’s breath or spirit, and darkness. It’s tempting to go straight to verse 3, to delve into the specifics of God’s creation before we fully appreciate the context of the creation story. But when we do pay attention, we notice that love is present even in the chaotic waters.
We do not often connect God with chaos. We tend to believe that God is a God of order, and so when we see chaos, we assume that God is absent. When we experience chaos in our lives, times when things feel disorganized and the pieces do not fit together, when confusion surrounds and confounds us, we can feel cut off from God or from help of any kind. But Genesis reminds us that the waters of chaos are the disorder that precedes God’s ordering of the whole creation, and God is right in the middle of it all.
Chaos reigns until God organizes the waters into rain and seas and separates them with the sky. These chaotic waters are full to the brim with possibilities, just as they are full of the presence of God. These are birthing waters. The NIV translates this passage, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” which tells us that God is not intimidated by the chaos. God knows exactly what God is doing, and it is God who initiates the whole, loving activity of creation from this watery, chaotic deep.
And God does an exceptionally good job, delighting in each part of his creative handiwork. Each day’s work, each addition to the creative process, God declares to be “good”, to be full of life. A beautiful world emerges as God births land and sky, seas and rivers, plant and animal life. Water is mentioned eight times in the first 25 verses of Genesis 1. All creation needs water.
While God blesses the fish and the birds, humans are created imago dei—in the image of God. God speaks to humans and gives them the ability to speak, so that they can be in relationship with one another and God. This tells us something fundamental about both God and human beings. From the very beginning we see that living in community is important to God. God is relational. God wants humans to be in relationship with God, other humans and with the other parts of creation. These relationships are to be full of love and respect, reflecting the Creator that birthed them. We are to follow God’s lead to do good and to be good.
The word “good” appears five times in the first chapter of Genesis, with a sixth time that reads “very good.” Again, this tells us something foundational about both God and creation, including humanity. God lovingly and creatively gave us a Mother Earth that is packed full of majestic mountains and shorelines, sunrises and starry nights, seasons, and a vast array of trees and flowers, crops and ecosystems. God is good, creation is good, and we are good because we come from the goodness of God. So, how do you imagine God wants us to respond to this goodness? Is it a stretch to think that if all of us, as part of one human family, tended, restored, and protected our planet, that God might also see that as good?
God’s instructions to humans are to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over” all of creation (Genesis 1:28). In his commentary on Genesis, theologian Walter Brueggemann says that, “The image of God in the human person is a mandate to power and responsibility. But it is a power exercised as God exercises power…[power that] invites, evokes, and permits.” Brueggemann also points out that the ‘dominion’ mandated here is with regards to animals, not other human beings. It is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends, and feeds the animals in his charge. In short, God wants humans to take care of the garden and everything in it. God loves this created world and wants the caretakers to love it, too—to respect it and to be compassionate and careful in their custodial responsibility for it.
So how are we caretakers doing in our responsibilities? There are some bright spots. In many countries, including the U.S., we have set aside some of the most beautiful parts of our lands and designated them as national and state parks. We have set aside land for wildlife refuges. Some communities have banned certain types of single-use plastics that litter the landscape and the oceans and have enacted laws for water conservation. More and more recycling containers are appearing in public spaces.
But in other ways, we have shown blatant disregard for God’s instructions. Too often, we have taken “subdue and have dominion over” to mean “control and use up.” Rivers and lakes have been polluted and poisoned; wetlands and rain forests decimated. Entire species of animals, birds and fish have become extinct. Nuclear disasters, oil spills, strip-mining, fracking, and clear-cutting have caused widespread damage. Climate change is a serious threat. The list goes on and on. And all the while we humans act as though there is a limitless supply of whatever we want—clean air and water, fossil fuels, and raw materials.
In his book Faith Seeking Understanding, author Daniel Migliore writes that, in light of what he (and many others) considers an ecological crisis, what is needed is a total reconsideration of our doctrine of creation. He speaks about how we have distorted the instruction to “have dominion over” to mean exercising the power to dominate, when God intended us to serve as guardians and protectors. He points out that a weak theology of creation leads us to misunderstand the interrelatedness of all creation. It is not just about humanity and our wants and needs. Finally, he notes that unchecked consumerism is contributing to the ecological crisis. He concludes, “The integrity of God’s good creation is under assault, and the church must help meet this challenge theologically and spiritually as well as in concrete practice.”
What comes to mind when you think of our responsibility for creation? Recycling, community gardens, neighborhood clean-ups, compost heaps, ride-shares, public transportation—there are numerous ways to contribute to the care of our planet. And there’s one more, perhaps the hardest one of all. Notice Genesis 2:2: “And on the seventh day…” We need to remember that the seventh day, the day of completion and of rest, is a vital part of the creation story.
Sabbath-keeping is about more than Sunday worship, though that is a key component. Sabbath-keeping invites us to rest, to give ourselves to that which refreshes, renews, restores and refills us. Keeping the Sabbath is also an invitation to participate in koinonia, in which we enjoy food and fellowship with friends in community together. Dorothy Bass, in her book, Practicing the Faith, says that there are three primary biblical events that are at the core of Sabbath rest: creation, liberation, and resurrection. Our Sunday practices express our gratitude to God for creating the world, for liberating the Israelites from slavery, and for raising Jesus from the dead, with all the implications these formative events have for us.
God knows we need to take care of ourselves, our relationships, our spiritual lives, and our opportunities to grow in faith and community which is why Sabbath-keeping is not a message of guilt but rather an invitation to examine what we are committed to and why. It is easy to become a slave to busyness. Especially in our culture, we’ve made busyness a virtue and too often we connect our sense of self-worth to how crammed our schedules are. If we are not careful, busyness becomes a way of life, and we’ve given little thought to how we got here or why or what it is costing us. It is no accident that the creation narrative begins with chaotic water and ends with rest. God is present in both, bringing order from disorder, light from darkness, rest from work, all of it inundated with the goodness of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.