As you all know, I’ve spent the last week on vacation. I was down on Cape Cod and the weather was refusing to cooperate. It was cold and rainy. But one day I decided I was going to go out on the beach anyway, and I headed out to Truro. I went to Head of the Meadow Beach near low tide. The water was out and I walked out onto the sandbar.
The waves were crashing hard and the wind was picking up and the rain was setting in.
I started to turn over rocks. I found one that had three different colors on it. You could see the different eras, the years, on that rock, each stacked one on top of the other. I thought of the millions of years it must have taken to get like that. I thought about it coming loose from the bottom of the ocean and making its way onto the shore, and about how incredible our world is and how long it has taken to form it.
And then I returned home and began the sermon for this Sunday. And I was reminded of the account of creation in Genesis. Of a six day creation in which God created everything. Of a story that is familiar to us all. And about a story that sometimes brings with it controversy and confusion.
This morning’s Scripture passage is one of two Biblical accounts of creation. Biblical scholars generally believe that the creation story in the following verses of Genesis was separate, though not contradictory, and the two were combined later to form the narrative we know. Even in the earliest chapters of the Bible, there are multiple ideas about how the earliest days of creation played out.
But we should be used to that. Because we live in a world that tells us that the creation story is a little different depending on where it is being told.
I knew people growing up who believed that the earth was created in six, 24 hour days. They believed that this happened a few thousand years ago. And they believed that anyone who believed otherwise was not a real Christian.
It always troubled me to hear that. I wanted to be a good believer, but I couldn’t reconcile what I heard those loudest voices of Christianity in my town say with what I learned when I went to the science museum and saw the exhibit on the dinosaurs. They had lived long before a few thousand years ago, and things just didn’t add up. On a few occasions I even heard Christians say that God had put the dinosaur bones on the earth to test our faith. If we were real believers, we wouldn’t be distracted by them and we wouldn’t stray from the story: God created us in six, 24 hour days.
I could never accept that. And I could never accept that that meant I was not a real Christian. I’m grateful that I’ve never been a member of a church that has asked me to check my brain at the door. I’m thankful for a faith that tells me to glorify God not just with my soul, but with my mind.
But not every church is like that. When my college roommate’s sister in law had her first child, my friend sent them a box filled with things for the baby. One of the things in the box was a picture book about dinosaurs. They called her and angrily demanded that she never send anything of the sort again because “real Christians didn’t believe in things like that.” My friend, who considered herself a good Christian, was baffled.
I feel baffled sometimes too. I love the Bible. I take the Bible very seriously. I think it contains an inherent truth about who God is and how God loves us. But I also think that taking the Bible seriously is different than reading it mindlessly. Faith is too precious, and God’s creation too extraordinary, to approach God’s word with anything less than our full selves; minds included.
I had a Biology teacher in ninth grade who was also a Christian. One day in class a more fundamentalist classmate was asking her how she could believe the things she believed about how old the world was and still be a Christian. She responded simply that even if she didn’t believe that the world was created in six, 24 hour days, she still believed that God created the world. Genesis, while not a literal timeline of beginning of the world, was true to her none-the-less. God’s hand was no-less a part of creation in her scientific view than it was in their literal view.
That always rang true with me. That taking something literally and taking something faithfully are two different things. That God’s involvement in the world is not something that can be quantified and understood by our human measurements. That God’s work of creation can stand on its own and does not need to be supported by living in a scientific world and believing literally a story told by pre-scientific people.
God could have created the world in a second. God did not need six days. And God could have created the world over the course of millenia, always active in creation, always working, always transforming. God is creating the world, and us all even still today.
I thought about that as I stood out on that sand bar on Cape Cod. I thought about the power of the waves crashing in. I thought about the beauty of water and all the species of life that lived in it. I thought about my ancestors who sailed on those waters almost four hundred years ago and how, in the big scheme of things, in the vastness of God’s time, we are not so far removed from one another. And I believed in God not any less. In fact, looking down at that rock, faced with the grand scale of God’s creation and the majesty of God’s work in it, I believed all the more.
I heard a story once of a native American woman who told her grandson a story from her tradition. When she was done her grandson looked up at her, amazed and asked, “Did that really happen?” She replied, “I don’t know if it really happened, but I know that it’s true.”
The same is true of Genesis. “I don’t know if it really happened, but I know that it’s true.”
I know it’s true that God created the heaven and the earth. I know it’s true that God created us. I know it’s true that God is involved in creation still. And I know that that little ocean stone that washed up on a sand bar in Truro is more than just a rock: it’s evidence of God’s steadfast love throughout the continuing process of creation.
The creation story of Genesis taught me how to read the Bible. It taught me how to take something seriously, but not literally. It taught me how to grasp the truth of God’s involvement and God’s love, without being a slave to fundamentalist interpretations. It taught me that was it true is different from what is exact.
And I read other passages that way too. I look to see what God is saying to us today. I look to find God’s love, which is always where the truth lies. I try to make sure that the full reality of God’s grace and God’s love is not obscured by the finite constraints of human understanding.
And so when I read, “slaves be obedient to your masters,” I know that, even though it was used this way, it was not meant to condone the continuing captivity of slaves in the American South.
I know that when I read, “women should be silent in church” that it is not meant to stop women from preaching 2,000 years after Christ’s resurrection.
I know that when I read in Deuterononomy that a rebellious or disobedient child should be stoned to death, that God does not actually want parents to kill their children.
And I know that when a pastor uses a Bible to tell an abused spouse not to get away from her abuser, that is not the truth either.
God created us good. God created us, in the words of Psalm 8, just a little lower than God and crowned with glory and honor. God created every part of us, including our minds, and to not use everything God gives us is not an act of faith. It is an act of disrespect for our awesome creator.
Your minds are always welcome in this church. Your questions are always honored. Your struggles to find God’s truth are always honored. And your quest to read the Bible, this document not of scientific facts or historical timelines, but of God’s love, with your heart and soul and mind, will always be respected. To do anything less, would be to disrespect the God who created us good all those years ago. Amen.