4/21 Sermon: Co-Creators

April 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

I apologize for my neglect of this blog! I have been busy with sermon prep this week, and unfortunately got a bit too busy to keep up with posts here. If you’re interested, here is the manuscript from my sermon, delivered at Emmaus Road Church the evening of Saturday, April 21. I hope that it blesses you.

  1. Intro – Good evening, Emmaus Road! This evening we’ll be launching another section of our “Directions” series. Tonight I’ll begin a two-parter on “Christ Above Us. In this direction, we recognize what John calls “the Word made flesh;” we recognize Jesus Christ coming to earth, becoming human, and living in Creation as we do. We recognize the fact that God created the world and that he called it “good.” And we recognize that we, as created beings and ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, also take part in the re-creation of the world.
  2. Body –
    1. Creation: When we speak of re-creation, we need to start with Creation itself, so let’s look at Genesis. We’re actually going to look at Genesis 2, which tells the story of creation in a slightly different way than we’ve heard it before. When you hear this, I’d encourage you to keep your ears open for ways that God interacts with and validates his creation; and keep on the lookout for mentions of things being beautiful as well, because God’s creation is not just one of utility.
      1. Scripture: Genesis 2.4-25: “This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, neither wild plants nor grains were growing on the earth. For the Lord God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil. Instead, springs[b] came up from the ground and watered all the land. Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. 11 The first branch, called the Pishon, flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. 12 The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. 13 The second branch, called the Gihon, flowed around the entire land of Cush. 14 The third branch, called the Tigris, flowed east of the land of Asshur. The fourth branch is called the Euphrates. 15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man[c] to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. 20 He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs[d] and closed up the opening. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.23 “At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,‘ because she was taken from ‘man.’” 24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” What stands out to you? … There’s a couple of things that I’d like to draw to your attention.
        1. First, note the interaction with God and his creation – he doesn’t set it in motion and walk away. Rather, he remains intimately involved through the entire creation process.
        2. Also, note the fact God’s creation is also involved in the creation process. The man is given the task of taking care of the garden. The man names the animals. God creates a woman from part of man. Then, if we back up a bit to Genesis 1.28, we see God speaking to the man and the woman: “Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” Right away, God’s creation is given the task of taking care of God’s creation.
        3. So, not only is there a level of involvement, there’s a high level of interaction between God and his creation. God affirms his creation. God enjoys his creation. God also entrusts a part of his creation with creation itself, and the ability to create from what God gives.
    2. Platonic Dualism – So, with that in mind, let’s think about something else. There’s a philosophical idea that has been around since before Christianity that has actually influenced much of how we see the world in which we live. (You didn’t think you were coming tonight to learn about philosophy, did you?) A long long time ago (but not in a galaxy far, far away) lived a philosopher named Plato. Like we all do at some point, he spent a lot of time grappling with the nature of the world in which we live. Questions like, “Is this all there is, or is there anything greater?” and “Can I experience all the world for how it is?” led him to some interesting ideas.
      1. He concluded that there is a deeper world, a higher world than ours. A world of light, beauty, life, and power. He also said that our world was somewhat like this richer world, and that we can learn a little bit about the richer world through our own. However, the world that we live in is broken. There’s death, and ugliness, and pain. Our world is nothing but a shadow, a cheap copy. And, to make matters worse, our world is destined to remain a broken, marred replica of a beautiful, true existence that we have no hope of enjoying. Pretty depressing, huh. Definitely not a Christian idea.
      2. This led to an idea called “dualism.” This idea holds that there is a natural reality and a supernatural reality. The two are divided in such a way that we cannot cross the gap. We learn more and more about our natural world with natural law, and science can tell us a lot about the nuts and bolts of our world. Yet, we often yearn for a supernatural world, one not bound by the machinery of natural law. Are things beginning to sound familiar?
      3. Many Christians have latched onto this idea of dualism with a slight twist. We live on Earth, the natural world. God lives in Heaven, the supernatural world. And we’d have been lost forever were it not for Jesus, the one who built a bridge between the two so that we can go to Heaven when we die and look forward to experiencing the true world. The beautiful world that we always knew was real but that we could never get to. It’s a pretty story. I would venture to say that most of us have heard it at some time or another. There’s only one problem. It’s not the Christian story.
    3. The Interlocking Option – If we go back to the story of Creation, we see that God not only is intimately involved with affirming the goodness of creation, but he is also involved with creation itself. He walks in the Garden of Eden, so often that Adam and Eve know not only the sound of his voice but the distinctive sound of his footsteps. Even after Adam and Even sinned and lost their privilege of taking care of the garden, God did not remove from them their ability to create as he did, using what he gave them. Their sin just made it much harder. Yet, Heaven and Earth continue to overlap. NT Wright sees this as something he calls “the interlocking option.” Heaven and earth occupy fold together, overlap, and occupy the same space. Let’s see how this plays out in the story of scripture.
      1. Genesis tells us that people, in their quest to fill and take care of the world, began to craft tools and to make music: in God’s creation, utility and beauty are both affirmed.
      2. God sees the wickedness of the people, as they become more and more violent and depraved. He floods the earth, but directs and protects Noah and his family. Heaven and Earth have met.
      3. God makes a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, that all the people of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. Heaven and Earth have met.
      4. God delivers Israel from slavery in Egypt through a stunning display of cosmic power, plagues and the parting of a sea, thumbing his nose at the weakness of Egypt’s deities and proving himself faithful to Abraham’s descendants. Heaven and Earth have met.
      5. God sustains his people through decades of wandering by daily miracles providing food and guidance. Heaven and Earth have met.
      6. God provides Moses with strict instructions for the building of his house, so that he can dwell with his chosen people on Earth. Half of the book of Exodus is devoted to the specific instructions regarding artisans and the beauty of God’s dwelling. Heaven and Earth have met.
      7. God establishes his chosen people in the Promised Land through miracles and power, always redeeming them when they turn their face to him. Heaven and Earth have met.
      8. King Solomon builds a permanent dwelling place for God in Jerusalem, one dazzling with splendor and beauty, a house fitting for the divine Creator. The work took twenty years, and then God moves in. Though the work of the creation cannot contain the Creator, God’s heart and eyes dwelt in the temple that Solomon built. Heaven and Earth have met.
      9. The nation of Israel begins to decline, and other powers move in and conquer them. Yet, even when God’s people are deported and living in exile, the Bible still tells stories of Heaven meeting Earth: Daniel and others faithful to God being saved from the fiery furnace, being saved from the mouths of the lions, even though they are far from the land God set aside for them. Heaven and Earth have met.
      10. God moves the hearts of the rules, and the citizens of Israel are allowed to come back from exile. The Temple is rebuilt, the wall of Jerusalem is reestablished. Heaven and Earth have met.
      11. Even throughout the next hundreds of years, the so called “silent years,” in which we do not read about in the Bible, the Israelites remain expectant of Heaven. Greece comes through, and then Rome, as the Israelites try to defend and reclaim their homeland and faith from outside forces. This leaves the story just before the time of Christ. Israel keeps its eyes open for God to be moving in their world, not because they are yearning and craving for something that they can never have; but rather because in their history, this is always how it has been. In Israel’s world, heaven and earth have always interlocked!
    4. Christ
      1. Birth – So then, in the middle of the Roman occupation, things begin to start hopping again. A priest named Zachariah gets struck dumb in the temple and can only speak again after the birth of his son, the son that is John the Baptist. An angel appears to Mary and says that the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, and that she will be with child – and that child will be the Savior of the world. These kids grow up; John the Baptist begins to preach about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, and then Jesus starts telling his disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven has come. Once again, Heaven and Earth have met.
      2. Affirmation of Creation – For our understanding of the way that Heaven and Earth interact, Christ is vital. Christ is God becoming a human and living a human life. He experienced the beauty and the ugliness, the joy and the pain, even life and death. In Christ, Heaven met Earth once again, but in a way unlike anything that had happened since God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve – God sharing space with his creation.
      3. Re-Creation – Then, Christ begins to do something weird – he starts going around, making Earth more like Heaven. Early in Christ’s ministry, in Luke 4, Christ goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath. He gets to read Scripture in the worship gathering that day, and so he reads from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Everyone in the building watches him as he hands the scroll back to the attendant and sat down. In their day, sitting was a common teaching position; the teacher would sit, and the students would stand and crowd around. Jesus has something to say, and everyone’s watching him. Then he says, “This Scripture is being fulfilled right here, right now!” He goes around, healing diseases, forgiving sins, and proclaiming the realities and the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven. The power of creation has come once again to earth. And in case you were still on the fence or had any questions about whether or not this Jesus character was legit, he died and then came back to life. Heaven has indeed met earth.
    5. Us
      1. Our Commission – But before Christ left, he told his disciples something: If you believe in me, you’ll do greater things than me. (John 14.12) Also in this chapter, Jesus promises the presence of the Holy Spirit and tells us that he’s going, but that he will still be with us. Heaven meeting Earth! But our commission, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, is to be imitators of Christ. We are to be re-creators, just as Christ was. And God sent his Holy Spirit to guide and empower us to do just that.
      2. The World – So what does that mean for the world in which we live? Well, there’s still a lot wrong with it, for one. However, when we think of the Garden of Eden, we remember that it was not always so. And when we read Revelation, we see that it will not always be that way. Christ has begun the process of setting the wrongs right in the world, and then he passed the baton on to us and gave us the promise to always be with us.
      3. Co-Creators – I want to take just a second and pause here to re-imagine something. When we think of being ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, we think of being representatives; people who embody the realities of Heaven on Earth. I would like us to add another understanding to what it means to be an ambassador. Let’s think of ourselves as God’s artists. What do artists do? They take raw materials, building blocks, and shape and utilize these materials to be able to convey their idea. The idea to be communicated comes from a source of inspiration. The idea leads to creative action, in which the artist works with the materials best suited to convey the message most faithfully. What kind of creators are we? And how does our creation come from God’s? Well, I’d like to tell a story that may shed some light on these questions.
    6. Iluvatar and the Ainur – Most of us are familiar with the fantasy story, The Lord of the Rings; a lot of us know about the Hobbit, which is the prequel to that tale. However, Tolkien created a vast, vast universe and mythology; the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are only small  parts of a much larger story. Since we’re talking about creation, I wanted to share with you a paraphrase of how Middle Earth came to be – Tolkien’s “creation story.” I’ll only be mentioning the highlights, but you can read the tale in full in his work, The Silmarillion.
      1. First, there was Iluvatar, the one who is the source of all things. He created several beings called the Ainur. He gave themes of music to the Ainur, and they would come and sing before him one by one, and both were glad. After a while, the day came when Iluvatar called all of the Ainur before him and said, “I have given you each a theme of music, and you each have sang for me; now join together and sing for me as I have inspired you. Each may adorn their theme if they want, but I will sit and listen.” And so the Ainur began to sing; some of them had voices like soft strings, others like strong trumpets; still others had voices like drums, and the sounds of them singing together in harmony became a wonderful symphony as they each sang in harmony the themes given to them by Iluvatar. However, one of the Ainur wanted to sing something that was not given to him by Iluvatar; his name was Melkor, and he was the strongest and the wisest of all the Ainur created. He began to sing something totally different than the rest of the Ainur, raising his voice above the others. The singers around him faltered; some joined in his song, while others, confused, stopped singing altogether. Eventually it came to be that two songs were playing at once; one was the theme of Iluvatar, soft and compelling in wonderful harmony, while the theme of Melkor rang brash tones in unison, discordant with Iluvatar’s music. Iluvatar stopped the music of both groups in a single chord and spoke. “The Ainur are mighty, and Melkor mightiest of them, but I am Iluvatar, the mightiest of all. I will show you what you have sung, so that all of you, even Melkor, will see that nothing can be sung that does not have its source in me; and if anyone tries, he will only make himself my instrument in divising things more wonderful.” Then Iluvatar showed them a vision, and the story says: “Iluvatar gave them sight where before there had been only hearing.” And the Ainur saw a great vision of a new World unfold before them, and all of them were taken in by what they saw. Then the vision passed away from them, and Iluvatar spoke again: “I know that the desire of your heart is that these things should exist, not only in thought and in vision but in actuality. Therefore I say, Let these things be! If any Ainur desire to enter this world, they may do so.” And many of the Ainur left Iluvatar and entered the world, but when they arrived, they found that it remained unshaped and empty. Then the Ainur understood that they stood at the beginning of time, and that their vision showed the world after much work had been accomplished. And so the Ainur began to labor and to make the world like they saw it in their vision, like they sang it. However, Melkor desired to make this his world and rule over it all; and when he saw that the rest of the Ainur remained faithful to Iluvatar, he began to oppose their work. He made great fires to burn forests and scorch fields. The Ainur would carve valleys and Melkor would fill them; mountains they would raise and Melkor threw them down. Seas were hollowed, and Melkor spilled them, and nothing had peace enough to grow. And yet, slowly but surely, the world came into existence through tireless battle and hard labor. Even though it wasn’t what the Ainur had in mind in the beginning, Melkor could not destroy everything forever, and Middle-Earth was fashioned and made firm.
  3. Conclusion – When we choose to follow Christ, we choose to step into a new story – the story of God constantly engaging his creation, trusting his creation, and even allowing his creation to have the ability to create. We respond to his love, he enables us with his power, and we receive his re-creation in our lives so that we share it with the world in which we live. We have been created in his image, and we have received the creative part of his nature. Yet, like Melkor, we often try to put our own designs in place using the abilities that God has given us. And, also like Melkor, we oppose the work of the Kingdom of Heaven when we create something that runs contrary to it. It’s difficult for someone to hear God’s message of forgiveness from someone who openly and willingly carries a grudge. It’s tough for someone to hear a message of liberation and freedom  from someone who openly has no interest applying that message to their own addictions. It’s hard for someone to hear the message of “love your neighbor as yourself” from someone who lives a life of looking out for number one. How many ways do we proclaim Heaven with our lips, and deny it with our actions? However, when we submit ourselves to God, he gives us music to sing. Then we get together with others and find out what God has been giving to them. We can sing together and find that God’s desire is to bring Heaven fully to Earth, and we get glimpses and visions of what that looks like. He then dispatches us and sets us to work as Christ did – renewing, restoring, healing, forgiving – so that the vision can become reality. Just like in the story, there is an enemy at work. If he cannot recruit you, he will oppose you. That means rolling up your sleeves and getting messy. It means that somedays you’ll feel like you’re taking one step forward to take three steps back. But as followers of Christ, we believe that the creation, and re-creation of his world will not end until it is complete, and we do believe that we are a part of that process. As NT Wright says, “We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs, and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world.” May it be so in our lives. Let’s pray.
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