June 15, 2014/Father’s Day
I saw an interesting compilation of two pictures the other day. Both pictures were of two girls. In the first, a girl, dark haired, dark eyed and wearing a traditional head covering, was standing in front of a blackboard writing out some sort of lesson. In the other picture, the young girl, fair skinned and red-haired, was looking into a microscope. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about either picture. But it was the captions that went along with both pictures that gave them their power. The young girl at the blackboard was Muslim. The caption for her picture read something like, “What Muslims are most afraid of.” The caption underneath the picture of the young girl looking into the microscope read, “What Christians are most afraid of.”
The implied message is that Muslims fear girls learning, and Christians fear girls learning science. I know that these pictures and their captions are based on broad stereotypes of people of faith. Yet stereotypes are conceived in reality. Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl, was shot in the face by members of the Taliban, not only because she wanted to be educated, but because she outspokenly believes all girls should be educated. The young Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their school by an extremist Islamic group who believes that the education of girls goes against God’s will. These are radical views, and it is unfair and wrong to paint all Muslims with that same brush. Again, though, we see how that stereotype has been lived out in the real world.
But the picture of the young Christian girl looking into a microscope has a basis in reality as well. However for many Christians it’s not just the fear of girls learning science, it’s any Christian, male or female, learning science. Again, it is unfair to paint all Christians with such a broad brush when it may be a minority of Christians who espouse a fear or mistrust of science. But that is how we are seen by the non-Christian world. That is how Christianity is often parodied and lampooned. With the battle between creationism and evolution being publicly and loudly fought in many school systems, it’s not hard to see why we’re seen as being opposed to science. Much of that fight is grounded in the passage from Genesis we have before us this morning. Is this story of creation fact, meaning that all theories of the Big Bang or evolution are false? What is the real answer? Who wins? Creationism or Evolution?
Actually, I don’t think that’s the question that we’re meant to consider. I know that I’m the one who brought it up, but now that I’ve got you thinking about creationism and the fear of science, I’m going to ask you to set all that aside. Because this sermon is NOT about whether creationism is true or false. It is not about evolution or whether God created the world in seven days as we understand seven days. What I really hope is that we can see a deeper truth in this story, and that maybe we can recognize that the power of this story lies in its beauty. Because that’s what I think it is, a beautiful story.
Already, I’m going to be in trouble with someone because I referred to the first account of creation in Genesis as story. Yet as the adage says, “in for a penny, in for a pound.” If I’m already in trouble for calling creation a story, then I might as well go all the way and call it a myth. Yep, I said it. Myth. But in saying that, in calling this creation story myth, I am asking us to consider the idea that myth, story, and metaphor is not about fact or fiction. To call this account of creation myth or mythical is not a claim of untruth. Some of the greatest truths I’ve learned in my lifetime have come through the power of story. The writer in me knows that I have been able to tell the truth about something through story or poetry in a far greater way than any term paper of fact I’ve ever written. Facts are important, but I’m not trying to make a case for facts. I’m trying to make a case for truth. I think that while they work with one another, they are really different concepts.
Having said that, though, here is a fact we know from scholarship: there are several creation stories from ancient peoples. In our tradition, in Genesis, we have two accounts of creation. These other creation stories or myths bear resemblance to our own; stories of the first peoples, great floods, the leaving of innocence and taking on the knowledge of good and evil. That means that our creation story is not the only one. But even without taking those other stories into account, Biblical scholarship has identified four unique and distinct sources of narrative that make up the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Those four sources are known as JEPD, or Jawhist, Eloihimist, Priestly and Deuteronomic. Our passage in Genesis is from the P or Priestly source.
While I am limited in my knowledge of the background of these terms, I do know that one priestly function is to offer blessing. Blessing is not only fundamental to this story of creation it is infused in in its every aspect. Each act of creation by God is a blessing. Essayist Debie Thomas writes that God not only creates, but after each act of creation, God pauses. God reflects on God’s creation. God sees creation and calls it good. Blessing.
So it seems to me that for seven days, whether they are our 24 hour versions or something different, God creates and blesses and creates and blesses. The rest that God takes on the seventh day is also a blessing; a blessing and a model that we don’t take seriously enough in our non-stop, busy lives.
The creation of the world is infused with God’s blessing. I believe that to see the story of creation in this light is to see creation, all of creation, as a blessing. So let’s not forget that part of that creation, part of that blessing, is us. We are created, male and female, in God’s image.
As far as I know, there is no scholarly agreement on what exactly made in God’s image, Imago Dei, means. Is it the literal understanding that I learned growing up? God has a human form, so we look like God; specifically men look like God and women are along for the ride? Or is there a truth that goes beyond a literal understanding?
Perhaps made in God’s image is not so much about how we look or the physical form we humans take. Maybe it’s more about who we are or who we are meant to be; who we are created to be. Maybe being made in God’s image is really a suggestion that, like all the rest of creation, we bear the mark of God’s handprint. Or to put it in more scientific terms, we carry God’s DNA within our very being.
I often hear people speak of feeling closest to God when they are in nature. When they witness some stunning landscape or an awe-inspiring sunrise or sunset, they see God in those moments. I know that when I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looked at its colors and depth and vastness, I could see the distinct and glorious handprint of God in its beauty. But if we too are a part of creation, born of those seven days of blessing, if we carry God’s DNA, then when we look at one another, shouldn’t we also see beauty? Shouldn’t we also feel close to God because we are close to one another? Not only are the heavens the work of God’s fingers, as the psalmist writes, but so are we.
Our shared story of creation tells us that for seven days God did the work of creation, pausing and reflecting and blessing as He did. So let us give thanks for the creation, the blessing of God that is not only all around but in us. Let us give thanks for those seven days, and may we remember that the DNA of God, the handprint of God is not only found in the earth and sky, the waters and the dry land, it is found in us. Let’s think long and hard about that when we think about how we should be caring for God’s creation. God created and blessed the world; God created and blessed us. It is good. Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia.” Amen.