May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Remember how last week I talked about how a shorter sermon is sometimes called a homily? Well, I don’t know the a name for a longer Scripture reading, but whatever it is, our reading for today would probably qualify, right?
We just heard the whole of the first chapter of Genesis, one of the stories of Creation found in the Bible. It’s probably one you know well. On the first day God created this, and on the second day this, and on the third day this, and so on and so on all the way until the seventh day, when God rested. And at the end of each day Scripture tells us this: “and it was good.”
Chalk drawings of the Creation story by the Middle School Youth of The Congregational Church in Exeter.
If you’ve ever tried to read the Bible cover to cover, maybe with a few starts and stops, you’ve probably read this passage so many times that it’s almost second nature. Six days of work. One day of rest. And God making everything from the stars to the fish, from the seas to the sun, from animals to us.
It’s why we divide our week into seven days, one of which is, in theory anyway, a day of rest. It’s why we look at our world and see God’s hand in everything we see. And it’s why we, and the other faiths which share this story with us, believe that taking care of God’s creation matters. This story informs so much of what we believe, and what we do.
Which is also why it’s so challenging to those of us who want to take the Bible seriously, but also sometimes have trouble taking it literally.
A few years ago a friend of mine sent a box of books to a family member who had just had a new baby. She was surprised when she received a call from her relative stating that she just could not give her children one of the books because it was inappropriate, and that she hoped my friend would never send her children anything like that again.
My friend is a very conscientious person and couldn’t figure out what was possibly objectionable about these books for small children until her relative said, “You know we are Christians…and you sent a book about dinosaurs. The world was created in six days. There is no such thing as evolution, and there was never such a thing as dinosaurs.”
It’s tempting to dismiss this or laugh it off, but these were well-educated people who sincerely believed that their Christian faith told them the earth was only about 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs never existed, and that the world was formed in six, 24 hour, days. And they believed that if they believed any differently, they were not Christians. And, they are not alone. There are many others who feel the same way.
The only problem with that is this: We know it’s not true. Scientists estimate the earth is about 4.65 billion years old. We know that dinosaurs once roamed it. We know that over the billions of years that came before now there has been profound change, even among human beings.
And so for those of us who are people of faith, but who also take science seriously, where are we left? One of my favorite places growing up was the local science museum, and you can’t tell me that my faith tells me to disavow everything I learned there.
And yet there are many who believe that Christianity requires that. And the scariest part is that it’s not just people in the church, but people outside of it as well. That’s what some people think you and I believe.
Because of that I’m sometimes asked by my atheist and agnostic friends, “how can you believe that stuff”?
I ask them, “What stuff?”
And they tell me, “Stuff like the world being created in six, 24-hour days.”
When I tell them I don’t believe that either, they seem surprised. And then think I’m hiding that from my church and then they get worried that if you find out I might get fired. And that’s when I tell them, “you know a lot of Christians don’t believe the world was created that way either. You just never hear about us on the news.”
And that’s because we who are people of faith, can also be people of science. And, more importantly, we can be people of nuance.
A friend of mine is a geologist. She studied rocks and rock formations all through college and then went out and worked in the field. And taking a walk outside with her is like walking through a living museum. Every rock she picks up suddenly tells a story about what happened hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of years ago. It’s fascinating.
And it was while I was walking with her recently that something hit me. I’ve always known that the Biblical account of creation was to be taken seriously, but not literally. That wasn’t new. But for the first time I really comprehended how important it was to acknowledge just how long creation has been unfolding, and not just for scientific reasons, but for faith reasons. Billions of years. And each of those billions of years does not detract from the idea of God as Creator. Instead, each of those years tells us even more about God’s work, and just how long God has been doing this whole Creation thing.
To deny just how long God has been at work is to deny the glory of God, and is to fail to understand the whole of God’s story.
I believe that in the beginning God created the earth, as well as so much more. And so I think the story in Genesis is true in the big T sense of the word “truth”. But I don’t think the Bible is a science textbook. I think it’s a story that speaks in the language of faith. And I think that faith and science can speak to one another, and only strengthen the other.
And here’s the other piece. I don’t believe that God is done creating. To say God finished the work long ago is to deny that God is still active in our world. There have been some over the centuries who have believed in God, but who also believed God was like a divine watchmaker who put us together, wound us up, and walked away, leaving us to our own devices. You may have heard them called Deists in history class.
But I don’t believe God ever walked away. I believe God is still active in creation, and God is transforming creation, including us, all the time. That’s one reason we take our Eco-Covenant seriously in this church. We believe God made this world, and we believe God still has more to do, and so we need to be good stewards of all we have been given. We need to work with the Creator.
And that’s why, despite the fact they can go home and read science books, we still tell this story to our children and youth.
We are starting something new this year where every time the children and middle school youth start a new unit, about every six weeks or so, the story is going to be told in worship, and I’m also going to preach on it. The idea is that all generations will be able to reflect on the same passage. Today is the first day we are trying this. And so, the kids just came up front and heard the story told by Lisa. And right now they are downstairs learning more. And the middle school kids are out front with chalk, drawing their understandings of Creation too.
And when they leave here today, I hope they go home and play with dinosaurs. I hope they pick up science books. I hope they go to museums. I hope they use the minds that God created in them and learn all they can about this world.
And then, I hope they remember what they were taught here. And I hope that they have adults in their lives that help them to integrate the two. And that they see what they learn outside of church not as a barrier to faith, but as an affirmation of it, and as a sign of God’s work in the world. And I hope they learn to love this world because it is a gift from God, and that they want to care for it.
If those things happen, we will have done a good job sharing this story with the next generation. But this is a story for all ages. And this is your story too. And so, how does it change your faith? Does it challenge it? Or does it make it stronger? I hope it’s the latter. I believe it can be the latter. But I believe it requires those of us who are adults to do the same things that we are asking of our youth. It requires us to bring all of us to our faith. Not just our hearts and our hands, but also our heads. And it means that when we come into the church, we refuse to check our brains at the door.
At the end of each day in the creation story, Scripture tells us “and it was good.” God created us good. God created us, in the words of the Psalms, “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, and who, generation after generation, creates us still. Amen.