The Lord be with you,
I’m Todd Townshend, Bishop of Huron.
For the next nine weeks we’re going to read our way through the book of Genesis, the first book of the bible. For those of you following the Revised Common Lectionary, my focus won’t always perfectly match with the reading you may hear proclaimed on a Sunday—but that’s ok—because my view of the book is going to be more of an overview. My hope is that this will help you to interpret the various readings from Genesis that you may or may not be hearing this summer.
A few churches are going to use these videos of mine as part of their Sunday morning worship, so I’ll start each week in worship mode, and I’ll end each video with a quick comment or two about life in our churches and our world. I may also be able to take the show on the road a bit and you can guess where I am. I’ll end the video with a little look around.
Ok, so Genesis.
Let’s look at these readings for a few things. It always helps to have a strategy, and to know your own strategy for reading the bible. For reading anything for that matter. Am I reading this for information?—I want to be informed. Am I reading this for pleasure?—I just want to take my mind off of other things and escape into this book. Am I reading while looking for ammunition in some war?—I want to find an authoritative word to bolster my views, my position. Am I reading to find rules for life?—I want the bible to guide me. Am I reading this hoping to enter into prayer? And so on.
I’m going to read through parts of Genesis this summer looking for God. What is God up to here? What kind of God is revealed in these stories? How does this shape our understanding of Go? Or challenge our understanding of God? Or to simply inform us about God in the first place? Do these stories lead us to love God, and neighbour, and “the world”?
So let’s focus on what God is up to in these narratives and images. And that’s the other thing I’m going to choose to do while we read these together. I’m going to focus on the narratives, the stories, and the people in them. There’s lots of other stuff in there to see but I want to look for what images the texts provide to us. Because narratives and images help us to make meaning of this world. Of course, I’m going to do my homework, I pray, and look at all that the scholars teachers have provided regrading the history, learning form their use of critical methods – we will drink in everything they can offer. And then we will focus on God, the narrative, and any images that seem powerful to us.
Ok, so that’s an introduction to the whole summer—let’s launch in with one observation about Genesis as a whole and one observation about Genesis chapter 1 and 2.
Through the book of Genesis, God summons two things into existence: (1) God summons the whole creation into existence, and (2) God summons particular people to become God’s community.
God has formed the world to be God’s world, God’s cosmos. And God has called a special community, in this world, to be God’s people. There is a mutual faithfulness embedded in this summons and response. And the story is about how this mutual faithfulness plays out—or doesn’t play out. It’s full of ups and downs, as you know, but one thing is always central: when God summons something into being, it comes with a promise—a promise from that same God. It’s s story of how God keeps God’s promises.
As Walter Brueggemann has taught for so long, “the substance of the call in Genesis IS the promise”. Promise is the theological focus of it all. And the book itself is a genesis, a beginning. A new beginning for the world, and for the creatures of God—and I am eager to hear again, especially in the middle of a global pandemic, about new beginnings!
So, that’s a word about Genesis as a whole. And this, about the first two chapters.
The first: “in the beginning . . . when God created . . . when God began to create . . . the heavens and the earth, it was a formless void . . . darkness . . . deep nothingness . . . while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
Nothing was there . . except God, the wind of God, and the face of the waters.
Now there’s an image for you.
And then, into this nothingness, God spoke. God didn’t wave hands over anything, God didn’t do a backflip and then “shazam!” blast everything into being, no, God spoke. And God’s voice reverberated and resonated and came into a harmony with God’s own deepest desires, and . . . light. There was light. And God saw that it was good.
It was good.
And so what God spoke into being the next creature: day and night, until on the seventh day, God rested. Sabbath. It all culminates in sabbath. You and I, everything that exists, culminates in God’s sabbath.
So, there is this seven-day creation story, which we will come back to from time to time, and there is another Creation story, beginning a bit into chapter 2. It might the older version of the two, and it certainly offers more images of God and what God is doing in creation.
This second account begins, “in the day of the LORD” . . . the beginning is the LORD’s day . . . we’ll hear that again, “God made the earth and the heavens . . .before there were any plants in the field, no herbs or anything else had sprung up—for the LORD had not yet caused it to rain . . . and there was no one to till the ground.
A different image of what God saw as lacking . . . indicating what God want to create . . . there was just dryness. Dry earth, whatever that would be before soil, maybe “dust”, maybe just carbon-dust, star-dust, nothing-dust? So God made a stream to rise up from the earth.
There’s that water. Except it didn’t come from somewhere else, it rises up from within the earth, and the water covered the whole face of the ground. Another image.
Dust, with water coming up from within, to mix on the ground, so that God can reach down into the moistened dust, God can reach down into the mud and clay to scoop is up and breath life into the human so that it could become a living being. And then God, the gardener, planted a garden in Eden, and hosted the human there, and it was full of trees and plants and everything that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, and it was good. And a river flows out of Eden to water the garden. And the LORD God said to the human, “eat freely!” . . . while you tend and till my garden.
What is God doing? What kind of God does this beautiful act of creation? What do the two narrative provide for us, what images remain with you?
These will resonate like God’s own voice with other parts of the story, with other parts of scripture, will our worship—and, most importantly for us, with our lives right now.
Looking forward to continuing into Genesis with you next week. Peace be with you.
If you stayed with the video till the end, I’m going to turn this view around, so you see where I am.
No big surprise for most of you, I’m sure. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Where will I end up next week? Who knows?