Our Foundational Stories
In our Lenten Journey class we reflected on how Racism is entwined inseparably with Poverty, Militarism, and Ecological Devastation. We were using materials prepared by Rev Willian Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies.
My particular assignment was to guide the class when the topic was the relationship of ecological devastation to racism and to find the path to Christian Hope.
It’s a depressing picture: Global warming, sea level rise; habitat loss. The seeming inability of people and nations to take the steps required to prevent looming catastrophe.
Our question: Has human carelessness and greed led to irreparable damage to our planet: heat, drought, flooding, poisoned rivers and oceans, ruined habitats, deforestation, warmed oceans; gluts of garbage on land, in the waters, and now in space; displacements of people and wildlife, with whole populations with no place to go.
Why are things so unfair? Why do those least responsible suffer the most? Black and brown people living in poverty. Who’s most likely to die from dirty water, Covid 19 (or from TB or in childbirth for that matter) Whose children are hungry or snatched from their parents and stored in cages? Whose fathers are murdered and incarcerated?
Where is God in all this?
I’ve been helped by going back - to the foundational stories of our Judeo-Christian faith as told us in the Bible; and then forward to understandings being forged in our own present-day community of faith.
I’m about to read to you the Biblical creation story in Genesis 1. And then remind you of the name we have claimed for this community: The 8th Day Faith Community. We make a very bold and perhaps reckless claim that we are Co-Creators with God on this, the 8th Day that we are living through.. My goal in this teaching today is to urge us to read and take in our Bible stories, and at the same time learn from and be amazed by our individual, personal stories. I’m glad we have the custom as a community of hearing one another’s stories: last month it was Cruz’ miraculous journey from Guatemala; and after church today we have the privilege of hearing from Eliana who with her sister and brother made the unlikely journey from Brazil.. These wonderful stories help shape our community.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness [a]was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. [b]So the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 Then God said, “Let there be a [c]firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 … 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass,…, and the fruit tree that yields fruit”;… and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the … heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great [d]lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living [e]creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the … heavens.” 21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over [g]all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that [h]moves on the earth.”
29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is [i]life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. 31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.
Genesis 2: 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.
The gorgeous psalm that is Genesis 1 is our introduction to the great biblical themes: goodness, wonder and delight in the world; the gift of relationship between creature and Creator; human agency and responsibility; and the difficulty that humans have in trusting God as wise and good, and living accordingly. I see it as extolling the beauty and good order of the universe, the extraordinary gift of ongoing relationship between creatures and Creator; the crucial ways in which humans differ from, and yet are immersed in, the created order and the responsibility of human stewardship of God’s creation.
(With most of you, I imagine, I believe that we can maintain the importance and sacredness of the biblical text without interpreting it literally.)
Our story tells us that God is THE SOURCE OF ALL GOOD and that God has a special place in his creation for Humankind. Male and Female, each and every one of us created in God’s image. God gave and Humans took freedom, partnerships in love, choice, responsibility, dominion,; the ability to make and break promises, hope and despair, joy and terror. All those characteristics which have proved to be so troublesome and so wonderful.
In later chapters of Genesis we are told that God looks upon his creation with affection, patience, and kindness as well as judgement. He requires humans to be good and punishes when we’re not. Godis merciful. God is long-suffering. God is patient as humans stumble and sin.
God gives us signs of his favor:
Manna in the dessert.
Waters part, and walls fall down, he delivers the young men from hungry lions
He gives us unexpected children born out of time. We read about Abraham and Sarah’s Isaac; Hannah’s Samuel; then Elizabeth’s John, and finally Jesus. Children whose birth brings hope and newness.
We read in our story about the comforts brought by companions and community and loyalty. Naomi has Ruth, David has Jonathan, Esther has Mordechai; Jesus has his disciples.
We read about forgiveness for failure, suffering ending, and chances to begin again –.
And finally our Bible describes the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for humankind: God’s willingness to sacrifice His beloved Son to save us, and Jesus’ willingness to become the Human Incarnation of Love and Sacrifice.
We can’t begin to fully understand these stories and we’ve understood them differently and fought fiercely for one interpretation or another from age to age. But we need these stories. Even Jesus did. When the Devil tried to tempt Jesus by offering Him power over all the world, Jesus got rid of the Devil by turning to the Scriptures
BUT SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD HUMANS HAVE WRESTLED WITH COMPETING STORIES AND WE’VE OFTEN BELIEVED THEM, STARTING, IN FACT, WITH ADAM AND EVE who believed a snake..
Here are some competing story titles and if you consult your Bible and your Newsfeed you can name a dozen more
Buy a gun. Buy two vs.
Be not afraid
Look out for Number 1 vs
We are the body of Christ
Build walls. Fear strangers. Dirty foreigners, Sly Asians, Hook-nosed Jews; Thuggish blacks, Welfare queens.
We, the folks who belong must Red-line; Keep ‘em out. Keep ‘em down. If we let you in, I take a pay cut or lose my job. There goes the neighborhood. vs
Open wide your gates
Welcome the stranger
We all are made in the Image of God.
Greed is good. So shouts the Wall Street movie hero: “Greed works. Greed captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed….– has marked the upward surge of man.”
Winner take all. It’s a zero sum game . If you win, I lose. Imperialism and militarism make the world safe for the strong. It’s not racism; it’s realism.
Each year, Easter invites us to celebrate the return of the Risen Christ. In this time of pandemic and political chaos, celebrating Easter calls us to look deeper, around us and within ourselves, to glimpse the depth of God’s eternal goodness emerging in unexpected ways.
If we accept the wisdom that God is love (1 John 4:8,) then love is the heart of the universe, and resurrection is the emergence of love in new ways.
To see the universe through the eyes of love helps us make sense of evolution, not as a process of blind chance or randomness, but one of passion, yearning, openness, wonder, union, gift, suffering, death, and new life. Love is the heart of the cosmos, the constancy of all life; at the same time love is the energy of change and hope. (Sister Ilia Delio in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, March 19, 2021)
God is Love and Love endures. Each year’s Easter celebration can be a reminder to practice resurrection – through Spring and birdsong, with family and community, through welcoming the stranger and realizing with joy that they are us; all of us consenting to the mystery that we bear the Image of God. This is the Good News that Christ is risen and lives in us, around us, and among us, We can join hands as we celebrate the Creation that God loves and affirms as good.
Not so easy. We are scared of the principalities and powers, of the dealers in death. They are stronger and smarter than we are.
We desperately need to have one another’s backs and tell ourselves the stories that give us courage. We need to join with others in our advocacy, our protests, our marches, our celebrations.
I’ll end this teaching with a pep talk from the book of Ephesians, Chapter 6. It uses a military metaphor turned upside down.
Ephesians 6: 11-18
Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[a] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of Truth around your waist, and put on the Breastplate of Righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of Peace. 16 With all of these,[b] take the shield of Faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of Salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.