“The Apostles’ Creed, a Lover’s Quarrel: Maker of Heaven and Earth”
Sermon by Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt
Immanuel Presbyterian Church, McLean VA
June 16th, 2013
Genesis 1:1-5, 26-27; John 1:1-5
Today I continue my summer sermon series I’m calling The Apostles’ Creed, a Lover’s Quarrel by looking at the phrase ‘Maker of Heaven and Earth.’ What significance might that phrase have for how we live? What does it mean for us to make that affirmation about God?
The affirmation that God is the maker of heaven and earth—that the world in which we live didn’t just appear, but came to be from some Divine purpose and agency—goes back, of course, to the very beginning of the very first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. The first few chapters of Genesis represent the effort of the ancient Hebrew people to make sense of how the world came to be and how humanity came to be. Listen now for the description of the first day of creation and then for a bit of the sixth day of creation, the formation of human beings. Note how God speaks light into being; how God’s wind sweeps over the waters; how the earth was at the beginning just a formless void.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And skipping ahead to the 26th verse:
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Our second passage comes from the first five verses of the Gospel of John. Listen now for a New Testament restatement of how the world came to be through God’s word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Last Saturday’s Washington Post had a review of Mario Livio’s new book, Brilliant Blunders.[i] Livio is an astrophysicist with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. His book looks at the enormous contributions and what he calls the colossal mistakes of five remarkable scientists: Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, the physicist Lord Kelvin, the chemist Linus Pauling, and the cosmologist Fred Hoyle.
Livio’s purpose in writing, he says, is “to correct the impression that scientific breakthroughs are purely success stories. The road to triumph (in science) he writes, “is paved with blunders, but the blunders of genius are often the portals to discovery.”[ii]
The blunders of genius are often the portals to discovery. I like that a lot. The willingness to take a risk, to make a mistake, to blunder, is behind so much of what gets discovered—and more than that, what gets accomplished—in the world. Whether it is in the fields of science or art, in business dealings or personal relationships, success also often comes down to being willing to take a chance, to take a risk, to stick with it even after a blunder.
You may know that between 1878 and 1880, Thomas Edison and his associates worked on at least three thousand different theories in order to develop an incandescent light bulb.[iii] Three thousand different theories. That’s a lot of blunders. What if he’d just given up?
To be creative—to fashion or to make something—whether it is a scientific theory or a piece of pottery, an architectural structure or a poem, a cantata or a company, a sermon or a relationship—involves risk. It involves risk.
If a person’s highest value is to avoid criticism at all costs, to produce something entirely without flaw—to never, ever make a mistake, to never ever fail—then it will be very difficult to ever create anything.
That’s not to say that quality control isn’t important. It is. I don’t want to throw out some kind of crummy sermon week to week. I want it to be worth listening to. But if I am waiting for the perfect sermon, I will never preach.
If you want to avoid criticism, never do anything. But, here’s the rub, then you get criticized for inaction!
The first few verses of the book of Genesis and the first few verses of the gospel of John paint a picture for us—not of a God of inaction, but of a God who creates: a making God, a God who does something. A God who fashions light out of darkness, who makes the world come into being with a word.
The people who first penned those verses did not have the benefit of modern science to shape their thinking. They did not have Hoyle’s “Big Bang” theory or Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the origin and evolution of species, nor did they have Einstein’s theory of relativity, all of which came to be in, through, and despite the brilliant blunders of their originators.
The people who recorded Genesis and John for posterity were not making scientific claims about how the world came to be. Did you get that? They weren’t engaging in science.
They were telling a story about the meaning behind it all, which is a question that science, for all of its contributions, cannot and does not try to answer.
The people who put Genesis and John down on paper pointed to a creative force that fashioned all that is, and the power of a word to bring worlds into being—and then they did something remarkable. They let that story shape their lives. You don’t have to reject science to be shaped by the story. You just have to have enough sense to let science and story operate on different levels, because they answer different questions.
When we affirm in the creed that God is “Maker of Heaven and Earth,” we are not signing up to be Young Earth Creationists, who hold that the universe is only six or seven thousand years old.
We’re not signing up to be creationists, period.
However, we are saying something important about the planet on which we live and the universe in which it is placed. We are affirming that there is some reason behind it all: that life is not just, as Shakespeare put it in Macbeth and as Faulkner later repeated, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”[iv] We are saying, rather, with the Psalmist that “the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein.”[v] We are saying with the Psalmist that “it is God who made us and not we ourselves.”[vi] We are saying that this world in which we live is a gift. It is not something we built with our own hands, but something that was and is entrusted to our care. So we had better take care of it.
More than that, to say that God is Maker of Heaven and Earth is to say something not just about the origins of the planet on which we live and the universe in which it is placed. It is to say something about the very character of God.
Last Sunday we talked about God through the lens of the Father image, a metaphor which has its limitations, to be sure, particularly for those of us who might not have had wonderful fathers. But it also has great resonance, especially for those of us who had present, caring fathers. The image of the father emphasizes relationship and relationality. There is value in the Father metaphor.
But to say that God is not just a Parent but a Maker is to move from the realm of being (a father is something you either are or are not—fathers do things, but I am a father whether I do anything or not) to the realm of doing. What a maker does is make. Makers create.
It occurred to me this week that when I affirm that God is maker of heaven and earth (the hereafter and the here and now), I am saying that God is an imaginative, collaborative risk-taker.
Whenever you make something, you take a risk, right? Whether it’s writing a book, starting a relationship or crafting a world. And if you follow the story of scripture beyond the first few verses of Genesis, you could make the case that by the 6th chapter of Genesis, God has decided that creating the world was just some sort of brilliant blunder. So God wipes it all out in a flood except for a remnant (Noah and a few of his people) and, of course, a representative pair of each of the animals.
And then there’s the whole relationship with Abraham, which seems dicey. God calls Abraham when he’s 75 and promises him a child with Sarah. And the child doesn’t come until Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90. Is that not a risk?
A little further on, there are the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness after being delivered from bondage to Pharaoh. You’d think they’d be happy about having their freedom, but they want to go back to Egypt where at least they had three square meals and a cot.
Then there are the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and how unfaithful they were, despite the pleas of prophets. But God just keeps taking a risk with them. God is a risk-taker.
God is also a collaborator. The risk God takes is in counting on us.
A few weeks ago at the Immanuel in the Evening service, I mentioned having attended a service in Chicago after my aunt died ten years ago or so. The preacher was not remarkable. I remember nothing about his sermon except for this: he said that the story of the Bible is not so much about our faith in God—it is centered, rather, on God’s faith in us.
God is a collaborator. God depends on us. The history of Israel through the Old Testament shows God depending on them again and again to come alongside and do their part. To understand that they have been blessed in order to be a blessing; to care for the widows, the orphans, the poor, and those who are on the margins of society (by the way, to think of ourselves as blessed—and to see the gifts we possess as blessings—doesn’t mean that we are better than others, or that God loves us more—it simply means that we have a responsibility to bless others).
When the fullness of time had come, scripture says, God came in flesh in Jesus to show us what it means to really and truly fully collaborate with God; to live in love, to not let fear, and death, and evil get the last word.
And God is imaginative. If you doubt that—if you doubt that God is imaginative—consider the penguin and the platypus. I mean, seriously. Take a good look at those animals, however they came to be. Whether God fashioned them carefully at the dawn of time and then made sure they had passage on Noah’s Ark, (unlike, say, the unicorn and the T-Rex) or whether you accept that natural selection played a role in developing these very different animals. Consider them. It takes imagination.
Consider the beauty of the natural world. Go to the Natural History Museum on the Mall in the next few months and catch the exhibit of award-winning nature photography from around the world. It’s on the first floor. The images are stunning.
So what does it mean for us to serve and be created in the image of an imaginative, collaborative risk-taker? What does it mean that we are created in the image of a God like that?
In seminary I learned that in Christian tradition there are two primary ways to understand what it means to be created in God’s image. The first is that we are created for relationship. To be created in God’s image means that we are made to love and serve God and others—we are created to be in relationship.
The second is that we are created to be creative. In other words, to be imaginative, collaborative risk-takers.
Later in this service, we’ll be ordaining two new elders: Pat Velander and Laura Kodres. As part of the ordination, they’ll be answering a series of questions.
My favorite ordination question we ask elders and pastors is this one: “Will you serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?”[vii] I think all of those qualities are important, and probably the love piece is most important. But I do like that question, “Will you serve the people with imagination?” Will you serve the people with your creativity? Will you be willing to think outside the box? Will you be willing to employ your imagination in the work that God has called you to do?
Robert F. Kennedy used to end his stump speeches on the campaign trail by saying something like this: “Some people see things as they are, and ask why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”[viii]
I looked that up. He was actually quoting George Bernard Shaw.[ix] I also read that it became such a common part of his stump speech (and it was always near the end) that the reporters would all leave to get on the bus when he got to that point. So one time, the story goes, he joked, “Some people see the things that are and ask why, I dream things that never were and say—go ahead and get on the bus.
To be created in the image of God is not to say, “pack it in, head home, we’re all done here, get on the bus, the party’s over.’ It is to dream things that never were and ask, “Why not?” and then to take the risk to try to make them happen by collaborating with God’s spirit and with each other.
What does that mean for you and me? It may mean taking the risk of beginning a relationship. It may mean taking the risk of asking for forgiveness, or of extending it. It may mean taking the risk of starting a new program. It could mean taking the risk to begin a new venture. It might mean taking the risk to write a poem, or to make your life a poem, in praise of God.
We are created in the image of the Maker. Let’s go be makers. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
[i] The review, by Marcia Bartusiak, was in the Washington Post on June 6th, 2013. You can find it online here: http://js.washingtonpost.com/opinions/book-review-brilliant-blunders-by-mario-livio-on-scientists-breakthrough-mistakes/2013/06/06/76093d5e-ac27-11e2-b6fd-ba6f5f26d70e_story.html
[ii] Mario Livio, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein-Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013).
[iv] William Shakespeare, MacBeth, (Act V, scene 5). See also William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (New York: Jonathon Cape and Harrison Smith, 1929).
[v] Psalm 24:1.
[vi] Psalm 100:3.
[vii] P.C.U.S.A. Book of Order: 2011-2013, (W-4.4003). You can find the Book of Order online at this address: http://www.synod.org/pcusa/pdf/book-of-order2011-2013.pdf
[ix] George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, act I, Selected Plays with Prefaces, vol. 2, p. 7 (1949). The serpent says these words to Eve.