Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon: "One is the Loneliest Number"

Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
June 15, 2014 – Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2:4a

“One is the Loneliest Number”

If you were a child growing up in China, you would probably be familiar with the story of P'an Ku.  
P’an Ku is a fur wearing giant, and he’s the central character in an ancient Chinese creation story. 
P’an Ku is hatched from a giant cosmic egg.
Half the shell is above him as the sky, the other half below him as the earth. He grows taller each day for 18,000 years, gradually pushing the sky and the earth apart until they reach their appointed places.
After all this effort, P'an Ku crumbles into pieces. His limbs become the mountains, his blood the rivers, his breath the wind and his voice the thunder. His two eyes become the sun and the moon.  And fittingly, the fleas that crawl on his fur become humankind.

If you were a child of the Native American Cherokee tribe you would have heard the story of Dâyuni'sï.
Before the earth was formed, there was only sky and water, until Dâyuni'sï, a little water beetle, came from the sky realm to see what was below.
He scurried over the surface of the water, but found no solid place to rest, so he dove beneath the water and brought up some mud.
This mud expanded in every direction and became the earth.

The other animals in the sky realm were eager to come down to the new earth, so Buzzard was sent to see if the mud had dried.  When he flew down his wings brushed the earth, gouging mountains and valleys in the soft ground.
When the land was finally dry all of the animals came down.
But it was dark, so they took the sun and set it in the sky, at first setting it too low, scorching the shell of the crawfish and turning it red.
They elevated the sun seven times in order to reduce its heat.
As they did this, all of the plants and animals were told to stay awake for seven nights, but only the owl and panther succeeded and they were given the power to see and prey upon the others in the dark.  Only a few trees succeeded as well, cedar, pine, and spruce, so the rest were forced to shed their leaves in the winter.

The first humans who appeared on the earth were a brother and sister.
One day the brother hit his sister with a fish and told her to multiply.
She gave birth to a child every seven days and soon there were so many people on the earth, that all women were forced to have just one child every year.
(The message to woman here is beware of men throwing fish)

Nearly every human culture has a creation story of some kind -
a story that explains how our world, and how we, came to be.
Many of these mythological stories involve heavenly creatures, jealous Gods, or races of giants who battle to the death, and human beings are often the residual and flawed byproduct of their violent creative fits.

When the Hebrew decedents of Abraham spent 70 years in captivity in ancient Babylon they would have heard the creation story of Enuma Elish - a story that elevated the Mesopotamian God, Murduk, above all other Gods.
In this story, Murduk battles and defeats Tiamat, the chaos monster of the seas. Murduk becomes the supreme God over all, and humanity is created to serve him as slaves.
This story dates back to the 12th century B.C. and is believed to be 300 years older than the Hebrew creation story that we read here in worship this morning.

For the Hebrew people languishing in the despair and drudgery of captivity, there wasn’t much hope to be found in these stories of warring Gods who created a violent and evil world to serve their own needs.
So the Hebrew people began to tell their own story.

In their story there is only one God above all Gods, and this God created a world that is good.
This God created light and dark, the sun and the moon, the plants and the animals, and named it all as GOOD.
This God created humankind, male and female, in God’s own likeness, and named it as GOOD.
This God did not create a race of slaves, this God instead created a family of caretakers.
Beings formed from dust and given life through divine breath.
Beings whose purpose was to care for creation and celebrate the one true God who gave them life.

This is the story that the exiled Israelites told their children when they tucked them into bed at night - children who were facing a very hard and painful life, and had never seen the Temple that was built for the loving and powerful God that walked with them in their misery.

The Israelites told and retold this story in the hope that it would help them to tune out the prevailing story of the culture, which said they were destined for a life of sorrow in a chaotic world created by power hungry Gods. And it was hoped that they would instead embrace the story of the one, true God, who created a world of beauty and order, where life had meaning and purpose.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this story that that the children of Abraham told is that this God created a being that was meant to serve as the voice of creation itself.
A being that would not only care for creation but speak for it.
A being capable of communicating with and loving its Creator.
A being that was created to live in relationship.
With God, with the created world, and with other beings like itself.

As Christians this relational triangle – or trinity - is familiar to us.
We already think of God as having three parts –
God the Creator.
God the redeemer – through Christ.
And God the sustainer – through the Holy Spirit.
In human terms, this is a God who is our life-giving parent, our forgiving and loving brother, and our guiding and providing sister.

It’s natural that as a being created in God’s image that we too would long for this three-fold relationship – with God, with creation, and with each other.
Perhaps this is why we feel so alone or unsettled when any one of these relationships is missing, strained, or in need of healing in our lives.

If we think of God as having three aspects that live in relationship then it seems odd to suggest that perhaps God created us because God was lonely and was longing for someone to talk to.

But I believe there is some truth in that.

As much as God could sit back and enjoy the beauty of the created world – the wind in the trees, the roar of seas, the cycle of life as lived out through the birds of the air and everything that walks or crawls on the earth – there was something missing.

Perhaps God longed for a creature that would one day be aware of God’s existence – and reach out as a child reaches for a parent, as a friend reaches for a beloved companion.

If you think about it, the fact that we have such an awareness is quite extraordinary.
You don’t have to be a quantum physicist to marvel at the wonder of how particles smaller than the eye can see, come together to form creatures capable of doing all that we are capable of doing.
God’s creation is amazing indeed.

Here is a God who created the light sensitive cells that make up the eyes of most of the world’s creatures, and then creates a being who would one day use those cells to look through the lens of a microscope and contemplate the wonder of its own existence.

Here is a God who created a being out of dust - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur – the same stuff that stars are made of, in the hope that one day this clump of stardust might compose a hymn of praise.

As the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor so eloquently put it:
God may well love the sound of waves and spring peepers, but I have to believe there was joy in heaven when the first human being looked at the sky and said, “Thank you for this.”

Just as any parent delights in seeing their child explore, learn, and grow,
and is joyous when they receive expressions of their child’s gratitude for all they have been given, I believe God longs for the same with us.

In the same way, God longs for us to turn to our Creator, our redeemer, our sustainer, when the world is not as ordered as we expect it to be, when in our sorrow and in our suffering we are in need of comfort, courage, and strength.

God created our world and declared it to be good.
The ancient Israelites told this story of a loving God and the gift of creation to counteract the prevailing story of the Babylonians who held them captive.

When we tell the Hebrew creation story to our children, we’re hoping to counteract the prevailing stories of our culture that hold us captive as well.

The stories that tell our children, and us, that we were created not to live in relation with on another but in competition.
The stories that tell us that we were created not to care for our world, but to consume it.
The stories that tell us that God is not a loving, relational redeemer, but is instead an angry, distant punisher.

The stories we tell about ourselves say a lot about how we view the world and how we understand the purpose of our existence.

The fact that in 21st century New England we’re still telling the stories carried by an ancient desert people who longed to escape captivity, says a lot about the power of these stories to transcend time and space and culture.

Regardless of how technologically advanced we are, how affluent we are, or how privileged we are, we can’t escape the nature of our creation.
We are relational beings.
We long for, and thrive, when we live in relationship -
with God, with the created world, and with each other.

And as long as we continue to share our creation stories,
we will continue to see the value in nourishing and healing those relationships.

Because in God’s image we are created.
And in that image, we can create a whole lot of GOOD in this world.

Thanks be to God.

* Quote from Barbara Brown Taylor, The Luminous Web, Cowley Publications, pg. 31-32

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