In the Beginning

The better you know the chapters and verses of the Old Testament – and the more you take to heart the stories held tenderly and eternally in those ancient words long preserved, the wiser you’ll become for salvation in Jesus Christ.

So says the apostle Paul.

Of course, finding Jesus crouched down behind every desert rock of the Old Testament makes no sense, because Jesus is never mentioned anywhere in all those first 39 books of the Bible. But Paul says Jesus is there, and you best tee up your soul for the salvation uniquely offered in Christ if you know well and truly take to heart those Old Testament words.

That’s the gist of the Scripture lesson we heard last Sunday from Paul in his letter first written to his youthful ward Timothy and now handed down to us for our walk in this world. Because God breathed out holy words, we now understand that God loves us a different way through Christ the Lord.

“Breathe easy, my dear, you can find sunshine in the rain,” go the lyrics to a pop culture song. “I will come running when you call my name. Even a broken heart can beat again. Forget about the one who caused you pain. I swear I’ll love you in a different way.”

God’s Holy Spirit definitely calls us to live and love in a different way. She begs and implores our living and loving on earth as it is in heaven in the ways of peace and grace, justice and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, hope and assurance, unity and community. Those themes appear and re-appear in the Bible regularly and often from cover to cover, and Paul deeply and passionately understands that.

Paul clearly sees what we too often miss today: the Bible is finally a single story, with a single plot, from beginning to end. The whole of Scripture leads you right to the bloody foot of Jesus’s cross and right to the gaping entrance of his empty tomb.

That’s precisely what the whole heavenly enterprise has been about from the get-go. Once you realize what God has been up to since the dawn of time – and even before that, everything falls into place and makes singular, final sense in Christ alone.

That’s the vision I’m hoping we all catch as we move through my new sermon series, “Becoming Disciples: The Story of God and Us.”

As we make our way through the Bible from start to finish, what I pray we discover is that it’s all one story and finally one message.

Let this video refresh your understanding of the sacred plot that unfolds in the pages of Scripture, in that one story, as it delivers its one message.

And so, we begin at the beginning, with the first morning, the first evening, and the first day of Genesis 1.

May the Holy Spirit open your body, soul, and spirit to the Word of the Lord, and let these ancient words impart faith, life, and hope:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said,

“Let there be light.”

And there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said,

“Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

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. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 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. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 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. 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. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 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, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.”

And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 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.”

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. God blessed them, saying,

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 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. 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. Then God said,

“Let us make humankind 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, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in the divine image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them,

“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and steward it; and have faithful rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. 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. 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. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 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. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

In the beginning, there was God. And a mess. A really big mess.

You can’t see anything. Things bump into you, and you bump into them – pretty much all the time.

There are icky, gooey things; and soft, squishy things; and rough, hard things; and sharp, prickly things – ouch! And all the time, everything is bumping into everything else, because you can’t see a blessed thing, because there is no light. There is only a mess.

And there is God, and there is Jesus, and there is the Spirit.

So, the Three of Them decide to do something about the mess. The Spirit breezes over the mess to breathe out the living Word of God: “Turn on, light!” And light turns on.

And when light turns on, you can tell light from dark, and you start making out shapes and colors, so you can see the mess for what it is: Everything, all jumbled up, certainly not decent, definitely not in order. Water, and rocks, and clouds, and sand, and fire, and ice – all jumbled up.

You see the mess. And so does Father, Son and Spirit.

Thus, they keep breathing and speaking. And the more they breathe and speak, the more unjumbled things become. Clouds rise; water falls and pools into streams and lakes; sand, pebbles, and small rocks dot their banks and shores. Bigger rocks become rolling land of hill and dale, high bluff and soaring mountain. And a molten inferno burbles and gurgles under the rocks.

The Big Three keep breathing and speaking, and the unjumbled jumble begins to prance and frolic, teaming and pulsing with all kinds of life.

Life in the waters; life on the land, and hills, and bluffs, and mountains. Life in the ground, and life above it in the skies. Everything is popping and bopping with all kinds of life.

Life green and growing, life fuzzy and furry, covers the land; life finned, shelled, and tentacled swims in the waters. Life of every stripe bobs, hops, stands, wiggles, flies, walks, runs, ambles, and grazes. Life teams in every crack and groove of the good earth. Life watching other life, everywhere is life.

And the Godhead Three in One keeps breathing and speaking to create yet one more form of life, and women and men start singing and dancing. And when we come – when our kind comes wearing coats of many colors, we no sooner arrive than we start breathing and talking, too – rather like God is breathing and talking through our noses and mouths, laboring through our hands and feet, clearing still more flotsam and jetsam from the jumble of the mess and making space for still more life to join the dance.

How cool is that!

And when they see us breathing and talking, rather like they exist breathing and talking, the Trinity say as One, “This is good. Very good. Very, very good.” These days of light, pure light. These days without shadows, nothing to haunt, taunt, cloud, or occlude; nothing to eclipse or extinguish the light of day; nothing creeping and lurking in the dark of the night.

Days of light, pure light!

Shadowless days without darkness, no scary things that go bump in the night hiding under the beds of children; no boogeymen holed up in closets of sisters, brothers, parents, and grandparents; nothing to prevent heavenly and earthly light from shining on friend, neighbor, and stranger.

That’s where we wish we could live and move every day, setting up shop and abiding in those first six days, capturing its essence, bottling it up, keeping it, preserving it, reveling in it forever and always.

But we cannot.

As in the Creation story, so also in our lives.

The first days are ephemeral, fleeting, transient. Evening comes, and soon a new day dawns, then another, and then another, and before you know it, a story takes shape, and a history starts forming, with days and nights upon which you eventually look back and spy glimpses of messes never really cleaned, signs and portents of rekindled chaos sneak back in and up,  dimming the light.

Thus shadows re-form.

And the disordered malice and viciousness that the Lord God once shoved aside to create a splendid cosmos, well, sadly yes, rears its ugly head once again, whenever it can, confusing us, terrifying us, paralyzing us, and forever getting in heaven’s always good way.

As the days accumulate, and you accrue memories both good and bad, you feel a little desperate sometimes, a little wistful, a little full of what C.S. Lewis called Sehnsucht, that longing or hankering for … something.

For a better day, a better life, a better country, a better world.

You maybe hanker for what things were like at the end of those first six days, punctuated with refreshing sabbath rest on day seven.

You toss and turn like a dervish, wondering if you can ever get back, ever get to the point of living with hope, and with good possibilities ahead, instead of a future made anxious by bad memories, by past disappointments. And by a tomorrow that appears equally as dismal as today.

You pray to return to a daily existence without pandemics, insurrections, and big lies, a day when “liberty and justice for all” really means something, a time when glazed eyes are pried open to gaze “o’er the land of the [truly] free.”

And in the story of Creation, if you look and listen carefully, you find your hope, your hope and assurance, that fresh days fragrant with new possibilities will soon peek and poke above dawn’s distant horizon.

For on the tense, fractured scene of our broken days is but one character playing three parts in the larger drama that’s unfolding: the Lord God himself – Father, Son, and Spirit, which makes the first four words of the Bible really all you ever need to know: “In the beginning, God.”

In the beginning, God!

God was there in our beginning. Which means God remains here in our midst. Which ensures God will be there at our ending, too.

And because that is true, we also rest easy in this knowledge: For us saints and sinners whom God has claimed in Christ by the Spirit, there’ll never be an ending.

Grace has cleaned the mess and paid the debt. For elsewhere in Scripture reappears “in the beginning.” In the beginning, on the first day of the week, women go to a tomb, and what they find on that first day of the week is a new beginning that changes everything.

That hinge-point in the story of God and us so changed everything to the point that we Christians still gather on Easters big and little:

Those first days of weeks that recall a resurrection that changed everything, a resurrection that provided a new beginning, a new start, a new first day every day where sins and regrets of the past really and truly are forgiven and blotted out, a first day every day where hope glimmers and shimmers with all the possibility God once had in mind when they began, in the beginning of the whole story, which cries out a clarion call: “Let there be light.”

And with a big bang, there was light!

There was morning. There was evening. The first day.  

God was in that first day, and they are in all the days that follow, as much or more as Father, Son, and Spirit will be so, until the end of the age and beyond. For that is Gospel promise of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Ancient words, ever true, changing me and changing you:

Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew; that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.

Amen, and amen!

Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message on Sunday, January 16, 2022. The second sermon in his series “Becoming Disciples: The Story of God and Us,” it is adapted from scholarship, commentary, and reflection by Doug Bratt, Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church, Terence E. Fretheim, Scott Hoezee, C.S. Lewis, and Stan Mast.

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