A Sermon on Genesis 1
June 9, 1993:
The first date. My first date with the new girl on the swim team, who would eventually become my wife.
6/9/93: The opening date of Steven Spielberg’s first Jurassic Park film.
The first movie in which Ali and I held hands.
At the point in the movie when the guy who played Newman on Seinfeld gets his face eaten by a whatever-raptor- at that point in the movie on June 9, 1993 I leaned over and whispered into Ali’s ear: ‘Of course, it’s all a hoax. Dinosaurs never actually existed.’
Of course, Ali had only just met me. She didn’t know I was being sarcastic, and I could tell by the look in her eyes that what I’d just said might disqualify me as a future boyfriend.
When it comes to the Book of Genesis, when it comes to creation, it seems like dates are always at the heart of the matter.
Dates like November 24, 1859:
The date Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species and threw the bible-believing world for a Copernican loop.
Dates like July 21, 1925:
The date a jury in Dayton, Tennessee found high school teacher, John Scopes, guilty of violating the Butler Act, the state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools.
When it comes to how and when it all began and how that beginning squares with the beginning of scripture, it seems like the debate’s always about dates.
Dates like 4.5 Billion:
The number of years ago, according to scientific consensus, the earth was born with a bang.
Dates like 2.5 Billion:
The best scientific guesstimate for when life first opened its eyes in the primordial ooze.
It’s always about dates.
Dates like 6,000:
The date that creationists say God first flicked on the lights and started it all according to the step-by-step sequence in scripture.
Dates like May 28, 2007:
The date that the $27 million Creation Museum opened in Petersburg, Kentucky, a museum where visitors can find a life-sized T-Rex, who apparently forgot he was a carnivore, cavorting in the Garden with Adam and Eve.
It’s all about dates.
Dates like September 24, 2012:
As in, tomorrow. The date I’ll likely get a handful of emails angry at me for lacing my comments about that museum with sarcasm.
Dates are everything.
Dates like April 1992:
The date I portrayed William Jennings Bryan in the Governor’s School production of Inherit the Wind, the stage version of the Scopes Monkey Trial.
April 1992- that was almost exactly 3 years before I became a Christian. Playing William Jennings Bryan, the famed biblical literalist, I had to learn to say:
Yes, I believed Joshua literally commanded the sun to stop.
Yes, I believed there literally was morning and evening before God created the sun on the 4th Day,
Yes, I believed the Earth was literally only thousands of years old not millions or billions.
April 1992, 3 years before I became a Christian, that was the date I became convinced that in order to invite Jesus into your heart you literally had to check your brain at the door.
That believing in God required you also to believe that centuries of science were all a deliberate hoax.
Or, worse, God deliberately deceives us.
And in April 1992 I decided that such a God literally wouldn’t be worth believing in.
When it comes to the Book of Genesis, when it comes to how and when it all began and who or what was behind it, it seems like dates are always at the heart of the matter.
Which is funny.
Because there’s one date that seldom gets mentioned: 1849- 10 years before Charles Darwin spoiled everyone’s fun.
That’s the date Austen Henry Layard excavated the ruined Library of Ashurbanipal in Mosul, Iraq. In the ruins of that library, Austen Henry Layard discovered the original creation story.
Maybe you know it.
It goes like this:
In the beginning, when the earth was without form and chaos and dark waters covered the face of the deep, god brought forth life.
On the first day, there was light. Light that emanated from god and god separated the light from the darkness.
On the second day, god created the firmament; god created a dome to push back the waters and god called it sky.
On the third day, god gathered the waters in one place so that dry land could appear.
On the fourth day, god created the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky and named them.
And day six god created humankind to do god’s work and on day seven god rested and exalted in celebration for what he done.
And this work of creation- it all begins, when Marduk, a young warrior god, slays his mother, Tiamat, the goddess of chaos, with weapons of wind, lightening and thunder.
And with one half of Tiamat’s carcass, Marduk creates land. With the other half of her body, Marduk fashions the heavens.
And then Marduk declares:
“Blood I will mass and cause bones to be.”
And then from the blood of a slain god, Markduk creates man and woman.
To be his slaves.
As he reigns in Babylon.
When it comes to how and when it all began, it’s all about dates.
Dates like 2,000 BC:
The date this creation story, this Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elish, was first written down, and probably it was spoken long before that.
2,000 BC: which is, roughly, 1500 years before our creation story in Genesis.
Take a guess where we got our story.
When it comes to the Book of Genesis it’s all about dates.
Dates are everything. But can be easy to forget.
So pay attention, here’s another date for you: 587 BC.
The date that’s the 9/11 of the Bible.
That’s the year Babylon invaded Israel, destroyed the Temple, and left the Promised Land in smoldering ruins and carried God’s People back to Babylon in chains.
The first year of the Babylonian Captivity. The first year Babylon tried to do what any captors do to their captives:
Convince them that there’s no plan or purpose or point to life.
And thus there’s no hope for yours.
Convince them that this world is a dark, violent, eye-for-a-tooth place.
And thus it’s naive to expect anything but suffering to come your way.
Convince them that its written into the fabric of creation:
That we’re made from the blood of victims.
Thus, don’t be surprised if someone makes you their victim.
The world is the way it is because the gods are who they are.
It’s all about dates.
Dates like 586 BC and 585 BC and 584 BC and every year for the next 50 years.
Those are all the years of their captivity that Israel didn’t give up faith.
Those are the dates that Israel, despite their suffering, refused to worship Babylon’s gods.
Because Israel already knew who God was: the one, true God.
That God had heard their cries when they were slaves in Egypt.
Israel already knew the capital G God.
And so in 586 and 585 and 584 and for years after that, they didn’t bow down to Babylon’s story.
They co-opted it.
They took it and they changed it.
To stick it in the eye of their captors.
Because they knew:
There’s only one God.
There was nothing before creation but God.
God created from nothing.
And because God created out of nothing, this world: it’s gift.
You and I: gift.
Everything around us, every living thing, your neighbor, even your enemy.
Gift. All of it. It’s all good.
It’s all given just so God can share his life with us.
Israel Babylon’s story and made it their own.
Because they already knew:
You and I- we’re not made from the blood of victims.
We’re not made to fight and struggle with each other.
We’re made to reflect this God. We’re made in God’s image.
We’re made to give and to love and to listen and to forgive.
And to share our life with God.
And if we’re made to share God’s life
Then you can’t say life is pointless.
Because it couldn’t have a bigger POINT.
God’s people took Babylon’s story and they made it their own.
It’s not an explanation of how it all began.
It’s good news to captives.
It’s not a step-by-step description of how it all happened.
It’s a prophetic profession of faith. It’s a slave song.
It’s a defiant declaration that no matter how things seem now our God is good and what he’s made is very good. So don’t give up hope that one day soon he will reconcile whatever is broken in this world.
Dates are always key.
Dates like September 2003.
That’s the date of the first local clergy meeting I ever attended.
There’s lot things seminary doesn’t teach you. ‘Don’t ever go to local clergy meetings’ tops that list. At this meeting, it was all middle-aged fundamentalists and me.
We met for lunch at a BBQ joint. At the beginning of the meeting, the chair, a Brethren pastor ironically named Christian, passed around a petition to the local school board to teach creation science (whatever that is) in the schools.
It wasn’t even a matter of discussion. Christian just assumed we’d all sign it.
And all of them did.
When the petition got to me, I said: ‘Uh…yeah, I’m not signing that.’
‘Why not?’ Christian asked.
‘Because it’s…umm…stupid.’ I said.
‘You don’t believe in evolution do you?’ he asked.
And I replied, in love: ‘Well, I used to believe in evolution but you seem to have successfully remained in the stone age so who knows.’
He frowned and told me I’d never make it in ministry by being sarcastic.
‘We’ll see about that’ I said.
I handed Christian the petition, sans my John Hancock.
And he said: ‘You know, Jason, if a literal reading of Genesis falls away so does the entire faith.’
And the thing is- I knew he was wrong.
And I could prove it because I knew the date.
I love dates. I’ve always been good with dates.
So I gave him the date: 1313 BC, maybe the most important date.
1,313 BC (approximately):
That’s the date of the Exodus. The date God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. The date Israel started reciting their Credo: ‘The Lord heard our voice and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…’
That’s the date, about 700 years before Israel found themselves slaves in Babylon co-opting a creation story.
1313 vs. 587:
In other words, Israel’s faith in God the Deliverer preceded their faith in God the Creator.
Just because it’s first in your bibles doesn’t mean it was first in Israel’s life with God.
Their Exodus experience is older than the Genesis story.
Their exodus was their genesis.
You can’t say a literal reading of Genesis 1 is necessary for faith because the Jews believed in and had a relationship with and worshipped this God before they ever had this story.
Israel didn’t need a literal creation story to prove that God existed. How silly is that?
They already knew God existed.
Because they knew God.
Because God had delivered them.
Here’s one last date: September 6, 2012.
A couple Thursdays ago. That’s the date I sat in my office and spoke to a woman here in the congregation. A woman who could barely get the words out.
A woman who described her life as pointless, trapped.
A woman who told me she couldn’t swallow that God loved her because she couldn’t like herself.
Here’s the dirty little secret every pastor knows: she’s not alone.
I can name more people like her than not like her.
So hear the good news:
It’s not about dates, not at all. It’s about deliverance.
So if you think your life has no purpose
If you think you have no value
If you feel trapped in a relationship that will never change
If you’re convinced you’re a captive to your past
If you don’t like the person that stares back at you in the mirror
If you’ve had your hopes exiled and are on the downward side of happiness
If you get out of bed every day thinking today won’t be as good as yesterday
And tomorrow will be worse
I want you to know:
No matter how things seem.
Our God is good and what he’s made, everything, is gift.
And that means you’re given to this world as a gift too.
And that means:
The way things are isn’t the way things have to be.
Isn’t the way things always will be.
Because from the very genesis of our faith-
Our God is in the habit of rescuing our present
And redeeming our past
And delivering us into a new future.
Because our God is good
And he won’t rest until things are ‘very good’ again.