It’s easy to think of this as perhaps the oldest story in the Bible. It feels ancient. It speaks of a time that is almost before time – back long before these days, back through the centuries, back long before modern times, back through the millennia, back long before even ancient times, all the way back, to the beginnings.
In the beginning, in God’s creating, God created the heavens and the earth.
But it’s not the oldest story that we have in the Bible – it’s not the earliest bit of the story that the people told of the lives they lived and of the God they knew. Scholars think that the oldest fragment of the story that we have in the Bible – voiced long before Genesis 1 – is a song. It’s come to be known as the song of Miriam – Moses’s sister: “I will sing to God for God has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider God has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1). The earliest story we have – the very first – is a song about how God saves Gods people when they need God most. When the powers of the world are about to take their lives and their families – God shows up – and the horse and the rider - the oppressor - God has thrown into the sea.
Who knows when they first sang that song of deliverance – in some time of dire need – millennia ago. They sang it, and they kept singing it – again and again. When times were hard: “Remember, God comes and saves us from everything that will do us harm” – again and again – they sang the song, and they wrote it down.
It came to be part of the Exodus story – and then part of the Passover story that they would tell their children. They sang it when armies descended – they sang it through famine and plague – when Empires rolled through – as they kept telling their story – even when the Babylonian empire came and turned Jerusalem into rubble and took them into captivity. Then, all those years later, as they sat in captivity in Babylon, as they wept singing their songs of home, they wrote down what we have as Genesis 1. They had no land, no Temple, none of the markers they had always relied on to make meaning of their world.
In their deep need – in their need to re-order, to re-imagine, re-understand their world – this is the story they told:
This is our God – from the very beginning – the God who created everything that is. From the very beginning God created the heavens and the earth. When all was in chaos, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw that it was good. God put a big protective tent over the Earth (what we call sky) to keep the waters of the heavens at bay (because that’s how they saw the world – as if the sky could crash in at any moment). This God made the stars, the sun, the moon. Dry land. Seas, teeming with fish. Birds soaring in the air. Plants. Trees. Animals. This God created all this. And said that it was good.
This God, this God created us. This God created us in God’s own image. And that’s where I want us to enter into this story this morning – at the heart of this story – and then work our way out: “And so God created humankind in God’s image; in the image of God, God created them.”
In their world of trouble, and chaos, and strife – and in ours – that one sentence affirms something remarkable: We are made in the image of God – in the Hebrew betselem ‘elohim. Each and every one of us. At its heart, this story affirms, what one scholar has described as “the universal worth of all humanity” – the dignity of each person. It is a Word for every one of us who has ever been told that we are somehow less than. It is an imperative for how we are to see every person with whom we inhabit the world. We are created in the image of God. I am created in the image of God. You are created in the image of God. Everyone we meet, every moment, of every day, everyone in the whole wide world – each of us is created in the image of God.
Standing there, at the heart of this story, we have to ask – well then, who is this God in whose image we are created? And what we see, in this story, cascading verse after verse, is a creating God – day in and day out – it was morning and it was evening – and God said, Let there be... – and there was – and it was good. We are created in the image of a creating God. God’s creative power has shaped our being, and God’s creative power is embedded deep in our bones.
This creating God isn’t a God who creates all on their own – what we see in this story is a God who creates in community. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image” – as if God and all the heavens are creating together all the earth. And then God invites the creation to join in the creating – Let the earth bring forth vegetation; let the plants bring forth fruit and seeds; let the waters bring forth living creatures; let the plants and the animals and the humans be fruitful and multiply. Made in the image of a creating God, we are invited to become a creating and re-creating community, together with each other and all creation.
And in all this – this God in whose image we are created – looks on all that God is creating – and affirms again and again – “Oh, this is good.” Everything that God creates and sees, God loves. Made in the image of that God, we are then invited to share in God’s love and in God’s creating power. The text says that we are given “dominion over plants and animals” – but that’s not “dominion” in the sense of “domination” – free license to plunder the earth – to do what we will. As Terence Fretheim points out, that command “must be understood in terms care-giving and nurturing, not exploitation. As the image of God, human beings must relate to non-human beings” (the rest of the whole world) as God relates to us. Made in the image of God, we are empowered to create – but very specifically to create in a world of mutuality – to create for the good of the world, for life.
For centuries, the people sang of a liberating God – a God more powerful than every power. As they sat in captivity, they could affirm in Genesis 1 truths that are timeless – a God who created all that is, and loves us still – so they could look up and see a sky holding back the waters of chaos. At the end of a weary day, they could look up into the night sky and see the lights that God had set there. “And there was evening and there was morning, the next day.” They could rest in the calm and dark of night, knowing that as surely as day follows night, God would bring the sun up again – this God would never stop creating, never stop saving, and never stop calling this troubled world somehow good.
In The Africana Bible, biblical scholar Rodney Sadler describes it like this: “Genesis introduces us to an awesome God who holds a good world in loving hands... Genesis provides a context to understand God’s control [and power] in spite of – in spite of all the horrors that we see.” In Genesis 1 and in the stories that follow, we see and come to know a God who creates and loves all that is; a God who liberates those “whose backs are up against the wall”; a God who seeks us out in every place of exile and brings us back home; a God who keeps on creating, and repairing, and re-creating a world whose goodness is planted more deeply than all that is wrong. Genesis 1 tells us that we are created in the image of this God, invited into this creating, saving, repairing work.
These folks who wrote this story down -- we live in a world no less troubled than theirs. We live in a world of pandemic, as the whole world suffers together the wounding of disease and death – and as pandemic exacerbates the inequalities that already exist in our world – the injustices of the world laid bare. We live in a world where systemic racism continues to be laid bare again and again by violence that takes black lives.
During Lent, we gathered around a theme of healing – “In the Desert, a Healing Spring” – we named the harms in the world, and how in Jesus Christ we find our way to healing. During Easter, we gathered around the theme of “Life Behind Closed Doors” – we have looked at ways we discover Resurrection life even in a world that tries to keep us apart from each other.
This summer – we’ll continue to hold all that – the continuing pain of the world, the continuing need for healing – Resurrection life always at the ready. And we’ll embrace our summer worship theme “Together We Create,” as we explore together the creating power, and possibility, and responsibility that comes with being made in the image of God.
Now this is not our first word about how we are created to create.
About a month ago we talked about the communitarian imagination to envision and create new and just ways of living life together – in that story from the first chapters of Acts – where the community gathered – shared what they have and gave to each person as they have need. We talked about the Yes/And of improvisation – about how we say Yes to the world as we find it – even if it is a world we did not choose – and then we say yes to a new and better future. As I reported in a churchwide email, the Session is creating a Moving Forward Together leadership team – to help this community envision how we move forward through pandemic and beyond – in worship, in serving the world God loves, in connection.
Think of all we’ve created already – this community that now reaches more broadly than we had ever imagined in January. How do we hold on to the things that matter most to our life of faith – and continue to create and expand the welcome of this community.
In her book on God, Improvisation, and the Art of Living, MaryAnn McKibben Dana tells the story of a church that had some graffiti painted on their walls. They could have done what they always did, and paint or whitewash over it – but instead someone had the idea to paint a mural – a mural that incorporated the graffiti artist’s work into the their own. They said yes to the world as they found it, and created something new and honoring and beautiful.
We talked about another tool of God’s creating power back in January when we talked about Walter Brueggemann's “prophetic imagination.” We looked at that text from the prophet Amos – “let justice roll down like the waters” – and we noted that this wasn’t a placid, sparkling stream -- those waters were rolling down to clear out and wash away every system of injustice. “Prophetic imagination” acknowledges that sometimes the work of creating first requires the dismantling of something that needs to go – something that needs to go so that all can live free.
As we continue through pandemic, we are also confronting the systemic racism that has plagued our nation from the beginning. Last week, I joined a protest organized by folks in Marin City and helped organize the car caravan with Marin SURJ (both socially distancing). And at those protests, I saw signs that said “Defund the Police.” Now that concept is entirely new to me, and so I’ve been doing my reading to understand what folks mean when they say that. And one thing I’ve found so far is that there is a range of meaning – but what lies at the heart of it all – is this sense that is settling in that nibbling at the edges of these systems isn’t enough – people are dying. What’s needed – to address racialized police brutality, and every entrenched system of racial injustice – is systemic reform – the dismantling of systems that are allowing this to happen – systems that were built to allow this to happen. Figuring that out – and rolling up our sleeves – to understand, to repent, and to do – that is our creating work, too.
This year has brought us pandemic – it has laid bare our systemic racism – it has set in motion economic changes that we can’t yet fathom – and it has also opened up – in all this mess – a season of creating. Think of all the things that communities here and around the world have created just this year – entirely new patterns for living that try our best to protect against pandemic, the sewing of masks – new ways of activism from behind closed doors and that spill out into the streets. Think of the protests around the world that are creating a new awareness of an old and too-long enduring injustice. Our “something-to-do” in these days is to re-create with God a world that pulses for the well-being of all people, of all creation – a world where everyone can live free.
This story that we find in Genesis 1. It’s not the oldest story in the Bible. But when they came to write their stories down – it is the one they put first. In a world where they had known slavery and violence and oppression and famine and plague. They said this: In the beginning of all things, God created all that is. God said that it is good. God has never left us. God never will. God is present with us still, creating and saving us from everything that does us harm – inviting us into this creating, loving work, made in the image of this creating, loving God. Together, we create.
© 2020 Scott Clark
 Richard Boyce, Commentary in Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 3 (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 2011), p.29.  Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., “Genesis” in The Africana Bible (Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2010), p.71.  Terence Fretheim, “Genesis” in The New Interpreters’ Bible, vol. 1 (Abingdon Press, Nashville: 1994), p.346.  Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., “Genesis” in The Africana Bible, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2010), p.71.  Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited.  See Margaret Aymer Oget, Commentary on Working Preacher, May 7, 2017, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3237  MaryAnn McKibben Dana, God, Improv, and the Art of Living (Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI, 2018).  “When Protesters Cry 'Defund the Police,' What Does It Mean?” Associated Press/NYTimes, June 8, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/06/08/us/politics/ap-us-america-protests-defund-police.html ; Mariame Kaba; “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” New York Times, June 12, 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/opinion/sunday/floyd-abolish-defund-police.html ; “Stacey Abrams calls defunding police movement a 'false choice idea,'” The Hill, 6/14/20, https://thehill.com/homenews/sunday-talk-shows/502643-stacey-abrams-calls-defunding-police-movement-a-false-choice-idea