Rev. Nick Reed
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
Did you know that the first people to hear today’s Genesis text were trying to figure out how to rebuild a fractured and broken nation? God’s people passed down creation narratives long before this text was compiled, but the compilation of the Book of Genesis happened in a significant time in the life of the Israelites. Most scholars place the final compilation of Genesis at the very end of the Babylonian exile.
The Israelites for generations had been exiled, isolated, and fractured from one another and these original listeners of Genesis 1 were looking to rebuild a nation that had been torn a part and experienced great trauma. This historical fact amplifies the opening words of Genesis 1. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the 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. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good…"
This text claims God creates order from a formless void, or chaos. The Israelites land and status was rendered formless and void by others power and destruction. Yet this text is claiming that God is right there at the beginning of the nations rebuilding as the wind or breath of God sweeps over the chaos and transforms the chaos. “Let there be light!”.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and this text might not proclaim a clear absolute Trinitarian doctrine, but it gives us a glimpse the great mystery and comfort we find in our Triune God. If we close our eyes while we read this text we might picture God creating, and the wind and breath of God transforming a formless void of chaos to order, and when we hear the word light we might imagine Jesus and those opening words from John 1 that Jesus is the life and light to all people. Our Triune God’s created order is being proclaimed, it is an order that creates, loves, transforms, and sustains.
Sadly soon after the beginning of God’s created order, humans begin veering from God’s created order and start trying to create their own human order or schemes defined by power, status, and privilege. As we continue to read the pages of scripture and of history, these human schemes lead to chaos and destruction and lead to so many of God’s people being marginalized and silenced.
The good news of today’s text is that even as human schemes try to leave their own mark in the world, God’s created order never ends and keeps loving and sustaining God’s people. This was an important claim that the Israelites remembered as they gathered together to rebuild after the Babylonian exile and its is a significant claim for us to cling to as we seek to rebuild our own broken, isolated, and fractured world in 2020.
Our community of faith is a confessing church. “To (be a confessing church) means to openly affirm, declare, acknowledge, or take a stand for what one believes to be true…When Christians make a confession, they say, “This is way we most assuredly believe, regardless of what others may believe and regardless of opposition, rejection, or persecution that may come to us for taking this stand.”
As a confessing church we profess our trust and belief in our Triune God who creates, loves, sustains and transforms. We have done church differently these last few months and have not had the usual time in worship where we stand together and affirm what we believe as a community about our amazing Triune God. An example of one of these declarations is the words from our denominations Brief Statement of faith that declares “we trust in God…in sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image to love as one community.”
Almost always the words of the affirmation of faith come from those confessions or moments when the church took a stand in what it believed, contrary to the the human schemes being shaped by demagogues and systems of injustice. Significant moments in human history when the church needed to claim God’s presence in the chaos. These confessions are declarations of faith that our Triune God is who we lean on and trust to rebuild our broken community.
As Hitler was taking control of Germany, he not only took control of the government but used his power to shape the church of Germany to his beliefs. Soon the church and its Holy scripture became a prop that he used for his own political gain and a tool to silence voices who did not belong in his realm.
In response to the national German church being influenced by Hitler’s human scheme, a small number of members of the church in Germany stood against this action and wrote the Declaration of Barmen. This declaration professed that we are not to put our trust in demagogues, we put our trust in Christ alone. As a confessing church we believe:
“Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.”
“We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords”
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined and knit together.”
Powerful words that remind us that our purpose as Christians is to trust and obey Christ alone and follow Christ’s calling to love God and neighbor and reject those things of this world that do not point to love.
In our nation in the 1960’s when our nation began to finally see the injustice of segregation and move towards integration, the church confessed its trust in the Spirit to guide them towards God’s created order of love. Through the words of the Confession of 1967 we believe as professing church we that:
“God the Holy Spirit fulfills the work of reconciliation in human life. The Holy Spirit creates and renews the church as the community in which people are reconciled to God and to one another…New life takes shape in a community in which people know that God loves and accepts them in spite of what they are. They therefore accept themselves and love others, knowing that no one has any ground on which to stand, except God’s grace…The members of the church are emissaries of peace and seek the good of all in cooperation with powers and authorities in politics, culture, and economics. But they have to fight against pretensions and injustices when these same powers endanger human welfare. Their strength is in their confidence that God’s purpose rather than human schemes will finally prevail.”
The opening words of Genesis and these confessions of the church are powerful reminders for us in 2020 that God is present in the chaos, the injustice, and the trauma and present in the rebuilding and reconciliation of our greater community. In the last few months the tragic and senseless deaths of Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd along with countless other victims of racial violence has once again pulled back the reality of systemic racism in our nation; and the pain, fear, and injustice it causes to those who are not white. Some have seen this systemic sin clear as day their whole life, others might have found themselves blind or in denial or uncertain how to handle its existence. Systemic racism is a human scheme of brokenness that was present in the roots of our nation’s founding. For generations faithful prophets have spoken out against it. Sometimes their voices were heard and we inched along addressing this toxic human scheme, but so many times the faithful voices speaking out against the injustice of racism were silenced or ignored.
We all have our own perspective in this human scheme that stands in contrary to God’s created order. What is sad about systemic racism, is it is so deeply engrained in our nation that on the day of our birth we are put in categories and this human scheme gives social entitlements or denies social entitlements. God’s created order created humankind in God’s image, and made all of us special and unique. Yet instead of celebrating our difference this human order of racism uses differences as a source of power.
God created me a straight white male, that was a part of God’s created order, just like God’s created order created everyone in our church, our community, and our world in unique and beautiful ways. As a straight white male my privilege of social entitlements based on my race is not God’s created order, but a human order that I was born into. This human scheme has been trying to take over the God’s creation narrative for generations.
As a way to check my own white privilege, these last few weeks I have been even more intentional in trying to listen to voices and perspectives that are different than mine, and let those voice lead me towards my own actions of justice, inclusion, peace, and love. One of the voices that spoke to me as a straight white male was the voice of NAACP President—Derrick Johnson. Mr. Johnson was speaking with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show and the two of them were having an open conversation about racism.
Jimmy Fallon recently apologized for wearing black face in a skit in 2000 on Saturday Night Live when he portrayed his friend Chris Rock. Jimmy Fallon mentioned he was grateful to talk to Derrick Johnson because he wanted to be a better ally for people of color. Derrick Johnson was open with Jimmy Fallon and shared these thoughts…
“We are all flawed, but we have an opportunity for dialogue, we have an opportunity to learn from one another.” “We need to keep dialogue open and appreciate the uniqueness we all bring to the table. And celebrate that uniqueness and not allowing demagogues to create otherness from people who may be different…Racism is a learned behavior, for us to unlearn a behavior we have to honest about it and create spaces where we can talk about”…Then he shared that peer to peer conversation within races and outside races is key in moving forward.
I am grateful for Derrick Johnson’s voice and perspective and lifting up that an important step for our nation is listening and having conversations with one another, especially engaging voices who have felt the painful injustice of being silenced, discriminated against and oppressed. I found comfort in these words because as a Christians we trust that God’s spirit is guiding us to listen to God and to one another, we believe God is present in all relationships. It is in those moments of listening and conversation that our Triune God not just sustains but transforms and guides us to live out our created purpose and calling to love God and all of God’s creation.
In the coming days, weeks, and months I hope you will find your own opportunities to engage in dialogue with that speaks God’s truth, justice, and love. Knowing that is difficult to do in the days of Covid 19 we as a church we are trying to create some virtual space for people to do this while remaining socially distant. One of the activities is a continuation of the Becoming the Beloved Community Project on June 17th. This project is being led by Auburn University’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity and our church hosted a gathering of different races and faiths for table conversations last fall. The hope is to continue those conversations and spend time listening and engaging with different voices than our own.
As we listen to one another and stay engaged in dialogue with all those whom God created, especially those voices who have been longed silenced, may we lean on our Triune God who through Christ points us towards love and truth. As a confessing church may we lean on God’s Spirit to give us “courage to pray (for those silenced voices) without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” May we claim together that our Triune God is present as we seek to rebuild our broken community. Alleluia Amen!