Notes from the sermon by Toby Parsons 1st September 2019
Creation Season (Earth)
Can I invite you to close your eyes, and to start forming a picture in your mind of somewhere on this earth that you find beautiful?
It might be the rugged coast of Northumberland, with long windswept beaches and an endless sea.
It might be a gentle piece of nature much nearer to home – a corner of your garden, or an open park, where you can sit and just be.
Or it might be right within the bustle of Leeds itself – or a panorama of skyscrapers in a megacity; beauty in busy-ness.
You may or may not have been there; perhaps you’ve only seen pictures.
And as you hold that image in your mind, try to see some of the detail – maybe the birds and insects that move along that windswept coast, or the ornate decoration on one of the buildings in the background. [brief pause]
If you can just hold that image in the back of your mind, we’ll return to it in a few minutes.
So, this is the start of Creation Season at All Hallows. Over the next month we’ll particularly celebrate God as Creator – the fountain of life, to use the words from the start of our Creation Season liturgy. Over four weeks, we’ll focus in turn on earth, air, water and fire as the themes for our sermons.
So today, we’re thinking about the earth – although apologies in advance for straying a little from that theme! But the earth… the incredible place God has created for us, and to which we are so fundamentally connected. One of the Hebrew words for ground or earth which is used in the book of Gensis is Adamah. The link to Adam as one of the first humans in the creation story reinforces that connection between humankind, Adam, and the earth, Adamah. We originated from the earth, and in a physical sense we’ll return to it – “dust to dust, ashes to ashes”, as we hear at funeral services.
We heard a version of the first chapter of Genesis at the start of our service today, and many will know the biblical creation story very well. Whilst most Christians today are comfortable with not taking it literally, there are many points we could draw out. We could look at the fact that God created humans last, not first. Or we could focus on the example of resting and reviewing work well done, as God did multiple times. But for now, I just wonder why it took seven days?
God didn’t rest at the end of each day because of tiredness. There wasn’t that Friday-feeling of “thank goodness it’s all over for another week”, or an exhausted flomp on the sofa. God wasn’t tired.
And it’s not that God couldn’t have summoned everything into being in one go. Creation could indeed have been described in the bible as a big bang: an explosion of God’s creative power.
But instead we have a six stage journey – seven, if you include the day of rest. And perhaps we should take from that a suggestion, a reminder, that creation isn’t a single event that happens and finishes.
Later on in our service today, we’ll be invited to join in saying the affirmation of faith(1) together. The opening line of the version we use during Creation Season is “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”. At other times of the year, our liturgy uses the phrase “We believe in God, who has created and is creating”. It’s an on-going process, not a one-off event.
As individuals, we‘ve been created – individually and specially, not accidentally. Just as the earth is the sum of so many different parts, we are each a unique combination of our skills, our personalities, our experiences. If we call to mind again that image of somewhere in the world we find beautiful, it will surely have many parts to it. Even if it’s a mighty river, it’s perhaps got a
backdrop of clear blue sky, or lush vegetation on the banks. And that’s before we get to the subtle detail – the swirling eddies, the shadows, the reflection of the sun. Whatever our image, it will be made complete by many different things, and removing one of them – even the supposed least; even the most painful, if we think now of the experiences that form us – will diminish the whole.
And so, we are individually made; our completeness being in our complexity. And to hear again the opening words of the affirmation of faith, “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”.
If creation is a journey, a process that doesn’t stop; if we believe that God does indeed renew all things; then we haven’t just been created, but we – and the whole of humankind – are continually being re-created, renewed.
Let’s go back again to the image in our minds – the place that you find beautiful. Maybe close your eyes again, if that’s helpful. And now try to picture it if we gradually turned back time: a day; a year; a decade; a century; or right back to Jesus’s time. Depending on your image, it might be very obviously different when you get to the Victorian era, the middle ages, the time of Christ. Certainly any stamp of human activity will have changed. But it may initially feel much the same – hills or coastline would still be there. They would change, however – beaches vary with both the daily tide and the effect of the currents over the years; even rivers change their course… if my vague memories of secondary school geography are correct, a river’s course meanders in curves, which can then separate to form distinct ox-bow lakes. This leads to a part of the river that had been a swirling churning current becoming a still, calm lake. And then later in time, it perhaps rejoins the main river.
Some of the changes we see in our world are accelerated at the moment by human actions, through climate change and the abuse of our environment. Some changes will naturally happen anyhow. Whatever the cause, creation is an on-going process.
So what does that mean for each of us?
I wonder if, for most people, life is a mixture of regular, routine, repeated experiences, and the specific events that stand out much more. We might have that combination of nerves, excitement and refreshed interest when we start a new school, begin a different job, or commit to a new relationship. We don’t know at that point exactly how those steps will shape our lives in the future, although we may have a plan as to how we see things developing. But we can’t be sure what will happen, even if we do know that these are moments of creation, of new opportunity.
Some of these events won’t be positive. There are times when our individual world will be turned upside down; when an unwanted intrusion of grief, anger or hurt punctures our routine of life. Sometimes that will be in ways everyone else can see; at other times it may be much more hidden. Sometimes we’ll wonder why this should have happened to us; at other times we might devalue the pain we feel because of all the headlines of suffering we see in the world.
These events, and the potentially long and slow journey of healing that follows the most painful ones, are important moments in our very own creation story; our journey of renewal.
So where does that journey lead? If we turn back to the bible – and resist the temptation for our fingers to flick to Genesis at the mention of creation! – we can see in the gospels how Jesus himself embodied those concepts of creation and renewal.
We can read the practical accounts (which, unusually, are found in all four gospels) of Jesus creating meals for thousands from a few loaves and fishes. We can see in many emotionally charged verses that he created excitement and fervour in the crowds. Conversely we read of Jesus calming the storm in Luke 8 – creating physical stillness and removing the disciples’ fear. And Jesus created peace around many who were troubled – think of John 8, verse 9, when Jesus is left alone with the woman caught in adultery, after her accusers have withdrawn one by one following
Jesus’s challenge to throw the first stone. John may not have said it, but you can imagine the stillness, the relief, but also the remaining pain, with Jesus waiting quietly for the woman to digest what’s just happened.
Jesus creates, in so many different ways. But even he is also renewed by God throughout his earthly life. He comes to his active ministry over time; he gradually teaches his disciples; he struggles in the garden of Gethsemane with the knowledge of his coming death (Mark 14, from verse 32). And then comes the cross, the moment when it might all have stopped; the ultimate test of destruction versus the on-going power of creation.
There are many fantastic Easter hymns, resurrection hymns, that abound with joy and promise, and I love that rejoicing on Easter Sunday. But some of the words can feel so triumphalist, so certain of victory, that they don’t always match our life experiences throughout the year.
But the middle lines of Thine Be The Glory say “Lo! Jesus meets us, Risen from the tomb; Lovingly He greets us, Scatters fear and gloom”. Again, we have the present tense – meets us, greets us, scatters fear… not once, I’d suggest, but many times throughout our lives, as part of that process of creation, re-creation, renewal. And the meeting doesn’t have to be at those massive moments, but in the routine times too – Jesus rises to greet us each and every day. And whilst the now scattered gloom probably does reform at another point in our life, Jesus will again offer to meet us there, creating and renewing.
Our affirmation of faith today starts “We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love”. It concludes “We believe that with Jesus Christ we too will rise and take our place in a new creation, reconciled, restored, and renewed”. There may be a long and often painful journey before we reach that final statement, but each step – whether big or small; whether forwards, backwards or sideways; however painful – is part of our own creation story, which God writes with us, in love.
1 Affirmation of faith in Creation Season
We believe that God creates all things, renews all things, and holds all things in love. We believe Earth is a sacred place filled with God’s presence, a home for all its creatures to share. We believe that God became a man of Earth, Jesus Christ, who lived and breathed among us, suffered and died on a cross, for all human beings and for all creation, and rose again to fill all things. We believe the Spirit renews life in the world, groans together with every suffering creature, and waits with us for the whole universe to be reborn. We believe that with Jesus Christ we too will rise and take our place in a new creation, reconciled, restored, and renewed.