Message – Sunday 4th September – JJ Hamilton
I picked today’s readings, slightly different from the lectionary, because I decided that I wanted to talk about creation on the first Sunday of spring, and I wanted to talk about joy and community on the week before our congregational meeting.
I had Narelle and Sumira read the whole of genesis one, despite the fact that I am sure you know genesis one, because it is a narrative, because there’s poetry in the repetition, and I wanted us to sink into that.
But really, all I have today today hinges on 1:27. We read the CEV for english translations in this community, but the version I grew up with was NIV: ‘So God created mankind in his own image’.
The first thing we are going to pull from that is, of course, that God is a creator.
For some people that seems to first and foremost mean that God’s in charge. A sort of CEO mentality – if you make it you own it. And there’s plenty biblical about a narrative of God’s power, but today I want to talk about God’s artistry. Psalm 19 – the heavens declare the glory of God.
Nature is the classic vessel for feeling that God is awe-some. Many people go big to see the majesty of creation – think of the solar system or the universe. Of stars with vast impenetrable distance between them. The expanse of creation.
I get the most majesty out of going small. I studied genetics, and for me the awe in creation is in how much bigger it is on the inside. Sometimes I sit, and do an activity I think of as “going smaller”. I’d love you to do it with me. For this, we close our eyes. Preferably we are sitting outside, but we can use our imaginations here and conjure up a blade of grass. We picture it – the grain of lines going up and down the blade. Think of the tiny hairs. And then I zoom in. What this looks like for you will depend on your biology background, but for me it means seeing the tiny pores that the blade breathes through. Then going smaller to see the cells that make up those stomata, seeing their green chloroplasts, their nucleus, seeing the moving parts. Going smaller means seeing the strands of DNA, and the enzymes that transcribe them, and those that translate their instructions. It means watching the molecules join. And I like to hold these ideas in my head as I zoom back out so see me sitting on the lawn, peacefully surrounded by the frantic activity of life.
Imagining a God who *click* pulls a rabbit out of a hat, *click* brings more than three hundred and sixty thousand species of beetles into existence, is certainly imagining a God with a kind of power. But I personally get a lot more majesty out of seeing DNA replication as the brushstrokes of creation.
And sometimes when people talk about God and creation, they tie the awesome-ness to mystery. Not knowing why zebras have stripes, or bees smell like lolly bananas when they’re angry, is a key part of being impressed by creation. The idea that creation is majestic because only God can understand it, and that it is impressive because only God can do it.
I personally think that it is perfectly likely that someday someone will understand all the parts of biology that are currently a mystery. And gain the power to make things that I certainly can’t. But I don’t think that that would take away from God. And I don’t think it would be laughing at God to say “look, I can do what you can do!” I think that that enthusiasm would be shared. That God is laughing with us when we discover something new.
Which leads to the second take-away from Genesis 1:27. That we are creators.
If a creator God made us in their image, how can we claim they don’t want us to make? I believe in a God who created us to be creative.
There is a tweet that I love that goes like this: “God blessed me by making me transexual for the same reason he made wheat but not bread, and fruit but not wine: because he wants humanity to share in the act of creation.” I don’t know whether you will also like that line, or if you are going to want to take some time to consider it and maybe decide that you don’t. But I love the narrative of a God who wants us to make, to bake bread and to build ourselves.
The author of that tweet wrote a book, in which this concept became a poem about a robot. The book is called “everyone on the moon is essential personnel” and they have it in the ACT library system because I requested it. And the poem version goes on to talk about how not only are we created by God and by ourselves, we are created by each other.
And I think that this is also a fundamental part of Genesis 1:27 – connection. A creator God did not create a painting. Did not stop on the 4th day. God created a world that talks back. And depending on how you frame your biblical narrative, sometimes the Good News is simply that God wants connection. company. Camaraderie. I know personally that that’s my favorite part of trinitarian theology. That God is fundamentally communal.
Some of us read Rachel Held Evans’ “Inspired” a couple of years ago, as a community within this church. Rachel has much to say about the bible and our individual and collective relationships to it, which I won’t spend time on today, except to say that she has a fantastic personal tone to her writing and nothing but reading or hearing it will do her justice.
But in this book she goes through the bible in some themes. And we would be interested here in the chapter on Origin Stories. So let me read you this section, where she says it is a misunderstanding to assume that the origin stories of the Bible have to be hard, literal, facts.
There’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.
In addition to once again prioritizing modern, Western concerns, this notion overlooks one of the most central themes of Scripture itself: God stoops. From walking with Adam and Eve through the garden of Eden, to traveling with the liberated Hebrew slaves in a pillar of cloud and fire, to slipping into flesh and eating, laughing, suffering, healing, weeping, and dying among us as part of humanity, the God of Scripture stoops and stoops and stoops and stoops.
At the heart of the gospel message is the story of a God who stoops to the point of death on a cross. Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved. It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does.
And so we have a creator god, and creating humanity, a communal god, and so lastly a communal humanity. Thinking of our role in creation in this way, as some kind of artists collective makes me want to make things. Not proper art. Not necessarily anything I’m good at. It makes me want to get out the chalk and make the driveway light up with colours. It makes me want to poke at clay. It makes me want to build, to cook, dye fabric. It makes me feel that maybe I shouldn’t be in this room, but with the kids in Oasis, where whatever is going on sometimes ends in pencils covered in glue. To create with children so that I can create in a space of joy and sharing. Earnestly, humiliatingly, joyful creation.
I am lucky to have seen enough good parenting to be excited by the idea of God the parent sticking our art on the fridge. Of the divinity in lying on my belly with children, drawing together, and talking about what we have drawn. But I am the three year old, amused by the absurdity that an adult would colour the sky green. And God is the adult, infused with so much love for these children. Awash in it.
I believe in a God who is excited to be introduced to my plants, to the things I have raised with my hands. To coo over my newly darned socks. To have a taste of my dinner and have opinions on spice balances.
I believe in a God who is excited to show me a sunset. A moorhen. A cotyledon. A God who giggles to tell me how much can be made from atoms. Who is proud of all the stupid biological processes of NAD+s and FADS and regulatory pathways that were the dryest part of my degree. The same way my nanna was when she built a 3D puzzle of the Whitehouse. “Look at how much detail there is! Look at how everything fits together!”
How neat, how beautiful, to be made in the image of one who made us. A communal God building company. And how neat it is to be built to want company back. To all keep each other company in this circling comforting symbiosis.
And to consider for a second if God is simply created by us, if we imagined God in Our image, then how beautiful to define a god by creating and commune. To class as our defining traits, as our divine traits: creativity and connection. How beautiful to believe that that is what makes humans valuable.
I first and foremost want to pin my religion on a God who wants to be a part of it all. A God who is right there, feeling things, giggling at humanity’s Jello Salad stage – not in judgment but in joy. Joy at the absurdity, at the creativity. The joyful act of creation.
If you remember my first sermon I asked you to stand and make silly noises with me, because I believe that our pride and fear of foolishness is a barrier to connecting with each other. Today I do not have a silly game for you. But the call is fundamentally the same – to joyfully create bad art with other people. That is the community I believe God created us for. Thank you.