Text: Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Before I venture into the wisdom of Genesis 1 for these, our times, I want to say a word about the anti-Muslim rallies that were held yesterday in 29 cities across 21 states, including here in Raleigh at our state Capitol, sponsored by a group called ACT for America. If you go to ACT for America’s website you will read under the heading “Who We Are” this statement:
ACT for America is the NRA of national security. We are the nation’s largest nonprofit, non-partisan, grassroots national security organization with 525,000 members and 1,000 volunteer groups focused on educating, engaging, and mobilizing citizens and elected officials to impact legislative outcomes to protect America.
But here is the more accurate description of Act for America: Act for America is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. It was founded by Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian immigrant from Lebanon. She has said that “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim” and that Muslims are a “natural threat to civilized people of the world, particularly Western society.”
Yesterday, under the headline, “March Against Sharia” and billing the weekend’s events as some kind of noble stand against “atrocities” it attributes—wrongly—to sharia law, this group took their anti-Muslim hateful rhetoric to the streets in 29 cities across our nation. Here in Raleigh, clad in bulletproof vest, wearing helmets, draped in the America flag, and totting their oversized KJV of the Bible, while paradoxically proclaiming their religious freedom, they stood on the grounds of our state Capitol and reduced an entire community to inaccurate and hateful stereotypes. And they did it during Islam’s highest holy month.
Now I am not a student of Sharia Law. What little I do know about it gives me concern. But then again so does some of the laws in the Hebrew scritpures and for that matter in the New Testament scriptures. Just several weeks ago I was sickened as I read about two Muslim men in Indonesia being publically caned with 80 lashes on their backs under Sharia Law for having gay sex. I have heard stories of women in other predominately Muslim countries being stoned for adultery under Sharia Law. There is no justification under any law—civil or religious—in any country for such inhumane punishment. And let us not forget the kind of punishment we sanction here in our own country: years of solitary confinement and the barbaric death penalty.
The organizers for yesterday’s march claimed they were protesting accounts of Muslims practicing genital mutilation of young girls in this country. If that is happening, yes, we should protest such acts. But as I see it, if we want to protest American violence toward our young girls, let us protest the blatant misogynistic attitudes pervasive in our culture encouraged and sanctioned by nonetheless our current president. Let us protest a pervasive culture on our college campuses that turns its head to frat boys raping young girls as initiation rites. Let us protest a culture that says to our young girls that they have to look a certain way and be a certain size to be pretty. Let us protest a religious culture that says to our young girls that they are not worthy to stand in our pulpits and lead our congregations. Let us protest a legal system that often fails these young girls when they are caught in abusive relationships as women. Yes, there is much to protest in America when it comes to the kind of culture we have shaped for young girls to grow up in. But as I see it, Sharia Law is the least of our problems here in America.
To gather on this Sabbath day and not call out the hypocrisy of Christians spewing hate and violence on other people of faith is akin to the pot calling the kettle black. From our pulpits, Christian pastors must proclaim that hate directed at our Muslim brothers and sisters is counter to Jesus’ teaching that we are to love our neighbor as our self. We must, in our Christian sanctuaries, denounce hate toward any group of people as counter to the teachings of our faith. We must, in our Baptist tradition, protect religious freedom for what it is: every person’s right to worship a Supreme Being or not worship a Supreme Being by the dictates of their conscience. We must, as citizens of these United States, while affirming the rights of free speech for all and religious freedom for all fight against the hate and violence that groups like Act for America bring into our communities and cities.
For those who profess to be red-letter Christians, that means those who are serious about following Jesus, now is the time to act: to act for true religious freedom; to act for justice for our Muslim sisters and brothers; to act to call out Islamophobia, whatever form it takes; to act to counter the narrative in our country that Islam is a religion that sanctions radical extremism and holy violence lest us Christians miss the log in our own eye.
On Friday, I went to the local mosque for mid-day prayers. I was met in the parking lot by greeters who warmly welcomed me. As I entered the foyer of the mosque I was kindly received by the Imam. From the time I stepped out of my car until I got back in my car an hour and a half later, in gentle and modest ways, I was greeted and welcomed with kind smiles, respectful nods acknowledging my presence, and hearty hugs from friends. My Muslim friends are some of the most generous, kind, compassionate, and accepting people I know. They are not out to destroy America. They are people like you and me who are raising their families, working hard, giving of themselves every day to make their communities a better place for all. They are people of faith who are doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with their God, just as we aspire to do. And so, from this pulpit, let the call be clear, we must act against any efforts from any group that reduces an entire community to inaccurate and hateful stereotypes be it Muslims, trans people, Jews, Christians, gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, conservatives, liberals, evangelicals, you fill in the blank.
And so it is, within this national and international context of rising and intensifying hateful speech and violence and chaos that I want to turn our attention to the first chapter of our sacred text and ask the question: Does Genesis 1 have any wisdom for our times?
Whether we read it literally or metaphorically, we often read the creation story as solely a story about creation. On the first day, God created…and it was good. On the second day, God created…and it was very good. And so on until the sixth day when God created humankind in God’s own image…and it was very good. And then the seventh day, God rested for all this creating.
In the midst of all this very specific creating, I propose to you that something else is going on. A framework is being set for future moments and times of creation. And it is my thesis this morning that out of this framework comes some wisdom that if we can identify it and then listen to it, it can guide us in these days that seem formless and dark, and give us hope.
The first wisdom lesson comes from the very first verse of our sacred scripture. “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.” Creation comes out of a formless void. Some translations use the word abyss. Theologians have called it ex nihilo, meaning “out of nothingness.” Creation wisdom tells us that in the formless chaos, out of the void, out of what seems like nothingness something is happening. Something is forming. Creation is trending. And at any moment that something that God is working on will form and the void, the chaos will take shape and something beautiful and very good will emerge. If we take literally that creation happened in six days we can become easily discouraged. But we trust in the wisdom of the ever unfolding creation story—the wisdom that God is always about forming and creating life and goodness out of the void—then there is hope for us today.
A second wisdom from Genesis 1 is that from darkness comes light. The human experience teaches us that darkness is necessary for us to see the light. Without the darkness, we would not recognize the light. Indeed, it is often out of our darkest moments that we come most fully into the presence of light. We sing about it. “Light dawns on a weary world, when eyes begin to see all people’s dignity. Light dawns on a weary world, the promised day of justice comes.” We pray through the darkness with the Psalmist: “How long, O God? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” And then the light breaks through and we keep praying, “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to God. Because God has dealt bountifully with me.”
Out of darkness comes light—it is wisdom from the very beginning of creation and we would do well in these days to live by this wisdom. For we need such hope.
Another wisdom we learn from Genesis 1 is that the physical world works in harmony with itself even when humankind resists. This wisdom is not as obvious. It is not package in a single verse within the creation story. But it is there. From darkness comes light. The waters gather in one place and separate from the dry land. From the earth comes forth vegetation—plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind bearing fruit. Seasons turn, days come and go, and years pass. The waters bring forth swarms of living creatures and the birds fill the air. We humans are but one small part of this created order. With or without us the world turns and acts in harmony with itself, adjusting its ebb and flow to keep on creating life in every form. If we could but accept our rightful place in creation, this harmony wisdom would free us and offer us new hope. To live in such wisdom would be to proclaim with Genesis 1 that, “everything, every living thing, belongs to God.”
After creating humankind in God’s own image, God blessed humankind and said, and I paraphrase, “Now go and enjoy yourselves and don’t forget to take care of this beautiful creation for you are in it with me.” Creation wisdom calls us to be co-creators with the Creator—creating justice-love, compassion, and mercy. I wonder what hope we could bring to our world today if we could convince everyone that we are co-creators with the Creator. Would we be more respectful in what we are creating if we truly saw ourselves as co-creators with God?
The last wisdom thread that runs from the beginning to the end of the creation story is that change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Even God changes. To hold on to the wisdom that our faith is grounded in a relationship in which the Creator and the created are always changing is to have hope in this ever-changing world. Hope in a relationship that is fluid, cutting new paths, taking us closer, if we will but go, to the very Source of the all that is. Today, we need such hope and wisdom—the kind that comes from a living, moving, changing, ever-deepening relationship with the One whom we call Creator.
Does Genesis 1 have any wisdom for our times? I would say, “yes.” The question before us, however, is not does Genesis 1 have any wisdom of our times. The real question is will we have the courage to allow such wisdom to guide us in these chaotic and seemingly formless, dark days. Something is happening in the void. God is creating. God has invited us to create with God. So let us have hope—the hope that something beautiful, bountiful, and very good will break forth, is breaking forth in time.
Until such time, we must hold vigil and act with courage and keep singing our hymn of hope:
The trees shall clap their hands, the dry lands gush with springs,
The hills and mountains shall break forth with singing.
We shall go out in joy, and be lead forth in peace,
As all the world in wonder echoes shalom.