NRSV TRANSLATION: GENESIS 1:1 – 2:4 MATTHEW 28:16-20
Good morning. It is truly an honor to be asked to speak today. I’d like to thank Pastor Jennifer and Reverend Dr. Ed Martin for inviting me to be a part of the LEAP group. It’s a wonderful experience.
Part of the challenge and the fun of preparing a sermon is doing the research on the scriptures by finding commentaries and other articles on the internet. While looking at our first reading from Genesis, I came across this from Lindsey Murtagh and I quote:
“It is in the nature of humans to wonder about the unknown and search for answers. At the foundation of nearly every culture is a creation myth that explains how the wonders of the earth came to be. These myths have an immense influence on people’s frame of reference. They influence the way people think about the world and their place in relation to their surroundings. Despite being separated by numerous geographic barriers many cultures have developed creation myths with the same basic elements.” End quote.
It’s interesting to read and compare the creation stories (I don’t like the word “myths”. It sounds too much like “alternate facts”.) the stories of such diverse groups of people as the Iroquois Indians of North America, the Aborigines of Australia, African Bushmen, the Greeks, and, of course, our own Judeo/Christian stories. While there are many differences (the Greek is particularly complicated) all have one thing in common —that is one superior being or spirit, that which we call GOD.
Our God created everything that we are aware of: the sky and the birds of the air, the seas and all life in them, the land and all the vegetation on it, the sun and moon and stars, and, yes, Humankind. And God saw that it was good.
Marcus Borg, in his book “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” offers the suggestion that everything is interconnected. That is, God our Creator is in everything. And if you think about it, everyone who designs, builds, or writes or paints something puts a part of themselves in it.
In our reading, God said: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”. The great artist Michelangelo and others painted God as an old, gray-haired guy. My friends, I’ve gotta tell you, if this old gray-haired guy is an image or likeness of God, then God’s in a lot of trouble. A lot of trouble. But rather than a physical likeness, being made in the image of God means all human beings are worthy of honor and respect. They are not to be murdered or cursed or otherwise abused. “Image” includes such characteristics as righteousness and holiness and knowledge.
God said humans should have dominion over the earth and all creation. A better word here for dominion is Stewardship. As God’s representatives, we are not to exploit, waste or despoil it, but to care for it and use it in the service of God and humankind.
The Maori people of New Zealand put it this way: We humans are part of the great Family of God’s Creation. We are related to every fish, animal or plant or tree we eat or use for clothing or shelter or artistic purpose. That’s a beautiful thought, but I can’t get too excited about being second cousin to a slug, or a turkey vulture or a duck-billed platypus. What they mean is that all things are gifts from God, and we are to be thankful for and show respect to them.
Unfortunately, there are many people today that don’t share the ideals of stewardship or respect for each other. Selfishness and greed have taken over as the main purpose of life. So, what can we do to change their minds and hearts? Besides speaking out in protest marches, writing letters to members of congress and newspapers and attending hearings on important issues, I believe there is another answer also, and it’s found in our reading from Matthew and Jesus’ great commission.
Jesus knew all about our connection to creation and God and the Holy Spirit. He never asked anyone to do anything that they were not capable of. When he gathered his closest disciples and told them to “Go and make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you”, he was speaking to us also. But how are we to make disciples? It ’s not our style to stand on street corners holding signs that say “Repent—The End Is Near” or putting up billboards with an 800 number to call in order to be saved.
Maybe this story will help: Several years ago, when my first marriage failed, I began to look at people I knew who seemed to be happy and had contented lives. The one thing they all had in common was that they were all “church people”. Having been raised in the church but being away from it for many years, I thought maybe that’s where I needed to go back to in order to find the answer to my troubles.
I began attending different churches with friends from work, but none of them were going to be a good fit, so I decided to go to a large downtown church where I figured I could be sort of lost in the crowd and just take it all in. Boy, was I wrong! I was greeted as a friend and accepted into the congregation right away. I joined the choir, and as my faith grew, I eventually signed up for a bible study class where I met, fell in love with and married Sandy, and we started our journey to discipleship together.
Because of employment we moved away for a few years, and when we came back, we settled right back in with our church family. After about ten years, since nothing lasts forever and the church had made some significant changes and not made others, we became stagnant and we needed to move on in order to keep growing in our faith.
So we began visiting other churches, until one summer Sunday we walked into First Congregational UCC. The way we were warmly greeted and made to feel comfortable led us to do some research on the UCC and have a visit with Pastor Brooks. It didn’t take long for us to agree where we were going for our new church home, and here we are.
The point of my telling you this story is that the people in both churches, without labeling themselves, or even being aware of it, were, and still are, disciples, practicing Jesus’ teachings, and helping others to become disciples also.
And there is our challenge: To remember our connectedness to God and all creation and care for it and especially each other by sharing our faith and the teachings and love of Jesus Christ. Not just at church, but everywhere we go and with everyone we meet.
Otis Moss III in his book “Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World” introduces us to the word “KULIBAH”. The word comes from West Africa and literally translated means “GOD IS IN YOU”. KULIBAH. KULIBAH. GOD IS IN YOU. What a beautiful thing to remember.
I’ll close with this prayer:
All that we are and all that we ever shall be, all that we have and all that we shall ever have, all that we do and all that we shall ever do is because God is gracious to us. God makes us who we are, blesses us with countless gifts and empowers us to do marvelous things. Thanks be to God. Amen.