by David Baer, September 10, 2017
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Today is the beginning. We’re at the beginning of a new school year, new routines, new activities. Even if you don’t have school-aged children living in your home, you pick up on the energy that changes as people come back from summer vacations, local swimming holes close, and local traffic adjusts to the patterns of the school day. It’s almost like New Year’s—a time when a lot of people look to make a fresh start with exercise and dieting habits, when folks adjust their schedules and commitments to see if they can make things a bit better than they were.
New beginnings are exciting. The ending hasn’t been written yet. All the possibilities you might look for—in a new relationship, a new job, a new home, a new school year—are still live, still available to be pursued and grasped. Like a blank canvas, like an uncarved block of marble, a new beginning promises things hoped for but still unseen.
What hopes for a new beginning do you bring to this new year? To this new day?
“In the beginning…” Today’s scripture lesson brings us to the beginning of all beginnings. And in that beginning, it says, “God created the heavens and the earth.” Now, one thing you may not realize is that the original Hebrew text uses a special word here. It’s the word “bara’.” “God created [bara’] the heavens and the earth.” And through the whole of the scriptures, there’s no other person or thing that appears as the subject of this word. “Bara’”—it’s something only God can do. Others may shape or fashion things, but only God creates. The other thing that’s important about this word is that when God creates, “bara’”, God never uses existing materials. To create is not to transform one thing into another, in the way that you would build a house out of wood and stone, or the way you grow from seed by absorbing energy and water and nutrients. When God creates, “bara’”, something new, something completely unknown, something never before seen comes into the world. As we hear again and again in the scriptures, God has the power to do a new thing—to make the world and its creatures out of nothing, to make a covenant nation out of slaves, to make a way through the sea, to make sinners into a holy and forgiven people through the cross. In the beginning, the creative power of a good and holy God surged into the world and created something new: light, land, and life.
But to say that only God can create, only God can do a new thing, is not to say that God creates alone. From the very beginning, the Creator dances with the creation. God says, “Let the waters be gathered together,” and the waters, contrary to their natural inclination to spread, pile up in one place and become the seas. God directs the earth to sprout with vegetation, and to bring forth animal life, and it does. God directs the seas to teem with swimming creatures, and they do. And then God says, in turn, to the creatures, “Be fruitful and multiply.” The natural processes of reproduction are life’s answer to God’s directive to continue the creation. Only God can do a new thing, but God imbues the earth and all of us creatures who live in it with a creative energy of our own. We don’t bring about a truly new thing, but we do propagate the good work that God has begun.
The conclusion of the passage we read today, the end of the beginning, is rest. On the seventh day, it says, God finished the work of creation. And how did God finish? By resting. It doesn’t say God finished on the sixth day, and then rested. It says that God finished on the seventh day, with rest. In the Jewish and Christian tradition, this time set apart for holy rest is called “Sabbath.” And creation isn’t complete without Sabbath. Sabbath is what finishes creation, what makes it perfect. God withdraws from activity, from actively directing what the world ought to be and become. God withdraws and leaves space for creation to be what it is, what God’s goodness and creative power have made it, and to carry forward on its own the creative impulse God gave it. The Sabbath rest God takes helps us to see that although creation exists through and with God, it is something different from God.
God has the power to make something completely new. This means that we always stand in need of a relationship with our Creator. Even at the beginning, when everything is good, before sin enters the picture, creation needs newness. It needs the unimagined possibilities that only God can conceive. Our relationships, our routines, our lives are threatened with staleness, stiffness, and stuck-ness, unless we are connected to the source of all new things. Are you feeling stuck? Are there places in your life that are calling out for renewal? God has the power to make all things new.
God gives us the power to be fruitful co-creators. We are called to live lives that multiply the goodness God has created. As we begin this new church program year, I invite you to consider some new ways your life might bear fruit—is there an opportunity to serve others either here or out in the community you’ve been thinking about for a while? Maybe now is a good time to jump in. You were created for fruitfulness!
And God rests. Today, Sunday, is the Christian Sabbath. It’s a day renewal, for recharging our bodies and spirits, for reconnecting in our relationships, for stepping back from the activity that defines the other six days and letting ourselves be, giving thanks for God’s world and the One who made it. Amid all the activities that are sure to come, set aside time for Sabbath, for rest, because that is what finishes and perfects the fruitfulness of creative work.
Will you pray with me?
Creator God, we give you thanks for the goodness of everything you have made. We thank you for creating us to lead fruitful lives, and for the power of your creative energy which your Spirit has breathed into us. Help us seek out and discover where we can be part of your creative work, and give us the grace of Sabbath rest. Make us and all your creation new again, so that your goodness and grace shine forth in us. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom your fullness dwells with us and in us. Amen.