Monday, January 27, 2014
God the Creator? A sermon text.
I have been asked to publish the text of last night's sermon on God as creator. Here it is but if you listen online you will find some slight differences. I also preached on the same subject in the morning at Trendlewood but missed out the bit about Dagon and added one or two pieces of local interest.
It should appear here later in the week. The Trendlewood one has already been uploaded here.
Holy Trinity, Nailsea
God 3 - Creator
The idea of this year is that we do Son, Father and Spirit. Having covered Encounters with Jesus in the autumn of 2103, spring 2014 is to be Father. Summer 2014 will be Holy Spirit.
Spring is in two parts. In part one we look at some of God's eternal qualities. These will give us the bedrock from which we can move into the less comfortable ground. In Lent we we look at some of the struggles and balances we have in understanding God from our human perspective.
Part 1 (Epiphany - Lent)
God's eternal qualities. We establish who he IS. We have looked at:
1. Exists (Genesis 1:1 - first four words, Psalm 14:1)
2. Separate and yet personal (Colossians 1:15, Job 38ff)
In the environment of the 4th-7th century BC, when the four main editors of the biblical accounts were putting together their work, the world view was not that there was one god but that there were gods. And it had been revealed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and the prophets who followed that Yahweh, the Lord, was their God and they shall have no other gods but Yahweh.
This gradually became the great monotheistic religion (mono = 1 theos = god) of Judaism. But it was monotheistic in the face of other nations other gods.
In 1 Samuel 5 there is a great story. Philistines capture the ark. What shall we do with it?
They put it in the only place they can think of. In the temple of their God - Dagon. The Philistines think they have God in a box; subject to their god so they put it next to their God.
These Philistines knew of the reputation of the Hebrew God. 1 Samuel 4:5-9. Yet they won and captured the ark. The story goes on to explain, in amazing style, that the Philistines may have captured the ark but they don't, as they appear to think, have God in a box. We are created; God is not crated.
Their god Dagon keeps falling over. The ark is taken elsewhere but wherever it goes the people suffer tumours. Eventually they return the ark with gold rats and tumours (lovely) as an offering.
The OT is very anti-idol. Why?
Compare and contrast Genesis 1 and 2. So the creation stories in Genesis, of which there are two in parallel, (more in a bit) are written as what we call polemic. They are in opposition to other creation stories.
The other nations had gods of the sea, gods of the mountains, gods of the harvest, gods of fertility, gods of their country, gods of the town. A god for all seasons and a god for all reasons. Gods who did their best with the raw materials of human offering and, if appeased properly, made them prosper.
Theologians looked at the Genesis accounts which I am sure you know well. The first account is Genesis 1:1-2:3. The six day account ending with God creating human beings in his own image, male and female and then resting. The whole story is complete with god resting on the Sabbath. It gives us a clue that it is a lovely story to answer a child's question. 'Daddy why don't we work on the Sabbath?'
The second account has a change of style; the order of the first account is altered. There are streams before rain. Male and female are described as created separately. Plants are created for humans to give them food to eat. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil sits, majestic and separate, in the middle of all.
(If we look at the end the children's questions it answers are, amongst others, why is childbirth painful and why do snakes slither.)
Theologians looked at this account and said. Do you know what the God of the Israelites does that the other gods don't do?
And they called it, in Latin, creatio ex nihilo - creation out of nothing.
What sort of creative are we? Probably not ex nihilo. Most of our creativity is doing our best with pre-exisiting parts. Building with raw materials. Painting with oils, water-colours or mixed media. Writing with words. Even music, which comes close, is about arranging noises that already exist in a new order. But we often get reminded of one piece of music by another.
Films are described in language that explains a new movie in terms of the old. The most famous film pitch of all time was a screen-writer trying to get a producer to grasp the first film in the Alien franchise. The explanation he came up with: It's Jaws - in space.
We are not creative in the same way as God but we are made in the image of God. We are the idol.
As we talk about God as creator we find ourselves accused of being creationists - a word that has become an insult.
We believe in a creator God who made human beings as the pinnacle of his creation and who wants us to be his envoys. Jesus is (Colossians 1) the likeness of the invisible God; we are the image of the invisible God. Jesus clearly represents; we point.
My understanding of God as creator does not belong in science classes. The Bible is not, and has never been intended to be, a science text book. It is the developing story of God's relationship with his people, and theirs with him, and how they understood God.
For me there is nothing historical about Genesis 1-11. Not all truth is historical truth.
The blood-lusting, confused picture of God (in the OT) is the one anti-creationists such as Richard Dawkins and Alice Roberts say is wrong. I believe they are right.
A creator God, who creates humankind ex nihilo is bigger than any god the contemporary atheists have knocked down.
For me evolution, the belief that by millions of very minor step changes over huge swathes of time the pinnacle of creation arrives in the same way that all creatures adapt or die points to a much bigger god than one who literally makes people out of dust in an instant. To have a plan so grand that it encompasses evolution and the wait for that to work itself out. Now that's a big God.
So any idea that we can pin this God down in order to knock him down is laughable. It is he who knocks down, as Dagon followers discovered.
Our response to being created by a creator who wants us to represent him is to be a difference in our community.
I went to see the comedian Mark Thomas last night. He is a man who has devoted the whole of his comedy life to making the life of the poor and oppressed better. This foul-mouthed comedian has made a difference. Made in the image of God his 100 minor acts of dissent this year will have improved lives for those who are underpaid, those who are forced to see display pornography in newsagents, (those large firms who pay their tax offshore), those women in Saudi Arabia who wish to drive and homosexuals in Russia. Puts us to shame.
The God who began, will end and in the middle sustains wants us to make a difference. Or he wasted the breath he breathed into us.
Silence to end.
I am not a scientist. I believe the way to act wisely is to follow and believe the current accepted norms of the majority of scientists. Thus my views.
I had a number of comments. I expected quite a lot because this is a church where the young earth creationism of Noah's Ark Zoo farm has a lot of supporters. I was surprised. One man told me it had been an articulation of exactly what he had been trying to say for years. Another felt it should be published in the Guardian. Still another said my left-wing credentials were fully on view.
A person who told me she agreed with everything I said then explained how she believed in evolution apart from of human beings. Man was created but everything else evolved, she said, in effect. Her evolutionary understanding is the species-only one - yes, the one Noah's Ark espouse. She is a teacher. I explained that evolution is not something you can pick and choose a bit of. It is either true or it isn't. Someone joined her and between them they mentioned the usual, well-rehearsed arguments:
Evolution is only a theory
Darwin didn't want to publish
There's no evidence that humans evolved from apes
To be honest I am bored of knocking down these points so discredited are they.
A man who is one of my best listeners - always has something to say - told me he had not followed my argument very well and wanted to listen again. I agreed I had been trying to cram a lot in. He suggested I might have been better to have been even briefer.