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 inha