Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Creative Rest

Genesis 1:1-2:2a
June 15, 2014
First Presbyterian Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

The scripture we are about to read has become one of the standards for those who take the Bible literally and insist on what is now called “creationism” Since we do not read the Bible literally, we may sometimes feel at a loss as to how to answer someone who seems so knowledgeable and vehement about the meaning of this story at the very beginning of the Bible.

As we listen to this scripture, it may be helpful to think about it in terms of God’s overall intention for humankind – in other words, since this is obviously NOT a science textbook, what are we as believing people to believe about his story? Hebrew professor Jeffrey Tigay gives a thoughtful explanation of this scripture, some of which I will quote for you.

“…it is clear from the Bible as a whole that its compilers were not overly concerned with the details of the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. They incorporated several accounts of creation in the Bible even though no two accounts agree in detail with Genesis 1 or with each other. ….

Genesis 1 says that man was the last living creature created; Genesis 2 says that he was the first. Genesis 1 speaks of the prehistoric waters in purely naturalistic terms and says that God merely commanded them to gather in a single spot so that dry land could appear. But in poetic passages [Psalms, Proverbs, and Job] the ancient waters are personified as rebellious sea monsters which threatened to swamp the dry land, until God subdued them and created the seashore as a boundary which they were prohibited from crossing.

The most notable difference between Genesis and all the other accounts is that none of the others mentions the idea that the world was created in six days. This idea--which is the centerpiece of the whole creationist movement--was apparently not considered important enough in the Bible to be repeated in other accounts of creation.

... What the Bible as a whole insists on is not these details, but only what the stories have in common. In other words, these stories are regarded as poetic statements of certain basic truths, not as literally scientific accounts of how the universe developed.”[1]

Let’s listen for the poetry of God’s creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a

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. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." And it was so. God made the two great lights--the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night--and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

There is a lot happening in these verses. There is a lot to notice – the ordering from chaos, the separating of elements, and the repetition of phrases, like the refrain of a song:

there was evening and there was morning…
and God saw that it was good…
evening and morning, and it was good –

five times, there is evening and morning, and God saw that it was good.

Until the sixth day, when God created humankind, saying
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
There’s another thing to notice – US – OUR IMAGE – the name for God in Genesis is plural – elohim. And then, when God has made humankind, there is evening and there is morning, the sixth day. and God saw everything that “THEY” had made, and it was VERY good.

But it isn’t over yet – we have to read the first verses of chapter two to come to the end of the creation story:
“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done,
and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it,
because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

How many of you remember the fourth commandment, right offhand?
Right – remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
And how many of us obey that commandment? If we were like our observant Jewish brothers and sisters, we would set aside Saturdays, starting on Friday night, and we’d spend most of Saturday morning in worship and the rest of the day just relaxing. In Jewish teaching there is a long list of activities forbidden on the Sabbath- threshing, weaving, sewing, kindling a fire, trapping, curing hide – anything that exerts control over your environment.

Christians, up until the second half of the twentieth century, observed similar kinds of restrictions on Sundays. When Bob and I moved to Lubbock, Texas in the late seventies, “blue laws” were still in effect. You could buy groceries, but not a t-shirt, prescriptions but not appliances. You had to wait until noon to buy beer, and had to drive to the next county!

I have known older people who remember Sunday restrictions in childhood that meant they couldn’t play baseball, or a game of cards, and the only farm work that was done was that which was absolutely necessary – like milking the cows. While I’m certainly not advocating a return to those days, there was something rather nice about them. Sundays were slower paced, restful, pleasant. Pretty much everybody got the day off. No one would have dreamed of scheduling any children’s sporting events or any school related activities on a Sunday – that was church day.

Those days are gone. Now, we work. All the time.
The term “workaholic” has been around now for fifty years.[2] Sometimes it is a diagnosis, but usually it is a boast. Productivity is the measure of a person’s value in the workplace. Our calendars are packed. People often say – half-bragging, half complaining, “I’m crazy-busy” According to research firm Ipsos, only 57% of Americans use all the paid vacation they’re offered from their employer. [3]

It isn’t news to most of us – author Juliet Schor told us twenty years ago: “Americans are literally working themselves to death – as jobs contribute to heart disease, hypertension, gastric problems, depression, exhaustion, and a variety of other ailments… Sleep has become another casualty of modern life… Half the population now says they have too little time for their families.”[4]
We need a break – we need to rest more and work less.

I don’t claim to have a solution for this – I’m writing this on a Saturday night after two hectic weeks in which I was beginning to think that an insane woman had taken over my calendar. There was something written on EVERY day – for two solid weeks. I know you’ve had times like this too – times of too much to do, too much work, not enough time, too much activity, not enough sleep, not enough hours in the day, and when you did get home, there was more to do, or when you finished you were too tired to go to sleep.
I don’t have any easy answers. I don’t think we can restore the good old days.
I don’t think we can call it back, get a do-over – bring back blue laws.
I am certain that those who organize children’s sports and recreation are not going to give Sundays back. 

The fourth commandment says to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
But in this world, in the rush and busy-ness that life is now, we can’t always do that.
We can’t sit at home all afternoon today, with a fresh baked cake on the table, welcoming visitors into the parlor where we all gather around the piano to sing. So maybe we can’t take Sundays back, but we can observe Sabbath – even if it is for an afternoon, an hour, a moment. We can stop, whenever the opportunity presents itself, and rest in the presence of God. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.

Spiritual director and author Wayne Muller says it’s all about remembering.
"The heart of most spiritual practice is simply this:
Remember who you are.
Remember what you love.
Remember what is sacred.
Remember what is true.
Remember that you will die, and that this day is a gift.
Remember how you wish to live."[5]

Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking time in worship to experience a moment of Sabbath – a time to “be still and know that God is God” a time for remembering, for renewal and refreshment. For the rest of the week – get it – the REST of the week?! Muller offers a list of PRACTICES FOR A SIMPLE SABBATH which I’ve printed and placed at the back of the sanctuary. You might use one or two of them today, or maybe you will find a time each day to practice Sabbath. Whatever you do, make time to rest in God. If even God needed a day of rest, surely we do, too.

So remember what is sacred and true, that this day is a gift.
It helps us remember that God’s desire for us is to work, and to rest.
Do you recall that poem, Desiderata? It was really popular back in the ‘70s.
It ends with these words: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Take a moment, an hour, a day, to let the universe unfold without trying to control it or manage it or understand it. Take a time of creative rest. On the sixth day, God created us, in God’s own image, and God called all of creation “very good.” On the seventh day, God rested, a creative rest. God rested – so can we.


Light a candle.
Set aside sacred time for a family meal, for prayer or meditation or simply quiet reading. Set a candle before you, offer a simple blessing and let the world fall away.
Practice thanksgiving.
Give thanks before meals, upon rising, when going to sleep. During Sabbath, we are less concerned with what is missing and more grateful for what has already been given.
Bless your children.
Place your hand gently on their heads and offer your blessing. What do you most wish for them? Self-knowledge, courage, safety, joy? Let them hear your prayers for their happiness.
Invite a Sabbath pause.
Choose one common act -- touching a doorknob, turning on a faucet or hearing the phone ring. Throughout the day when this occurs, stop and take three silent, mindful breaths. Then go on.
Take a walk.
Stroll slowly to nowhere in particular for 30 minutes. Let your senses guide you. Stop and observe deeply whatever attracts you -- a tree, a stone, a flower. Breathe.
Pamper your body.
Take a guilt-free nap. Take a leisurely bath with music, special scents, candles. Make love with your spouse. Walk barefoot in the grass. The Sabbath is a day of delight.
Create a Sabbath box.
Put your to-do list, your keys, your wallet -- anything you don't need in Sabbath time -- into the box. Or write down a particular worry or concern and drop it in. Just for now, let it go.
Turn off the telephone.
Or the computer, the TV, the washer and dryer. Create a period of time when you will not be disturbed or seduced by what our technologies demand of us.
Prepare a Sabbath meal -- or a Sabbath cup of tea.
Even if you are alone, you can choose foods you love, put flowers on the table, take time to enjoy every dish, give thanks for the bounty of the earth.
Seek companionship.
One of the most precious gifts we can offer is to be a place of refuge, a Sabbath for one another. Ask for companionship when you lose your way. Give quiet time and attention to others.
Reset your inner compass.
Make a list of the values and principles that guide your life -- both those you follow and those you would like to follow. Speak them aloud, alone or with loved ones.
Surrender a problem.
The Sabbath reminds us that forces larger than ourselves are at work healing the world. Imagine that these forces already know how to solve your problem. Turn it over to their care.[6]

[1] Tigay, Jeffrey “Genesis as Allegory: Recognizing the Deeper Meaning of the Text” http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Issues/Science/Creationism_and_Evolution/Bible_as_Allegory.shtml?p=0
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workaholic
[3] David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, “Why Americans Don’t Like Vacations…or Work.” 6/10/2014 Forbes magazine online http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2014/06/10/why-americans-dont-like-vacations-or-work/ accessed June 14, 2014.
[4] Schor, Juliet. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline Of Leisure. Basic Books, Mar 24, 1993 (page 11)
[5] Whatever Happened to Sunday? Wayne Muller http://www.waynemuller.com/cool_stuff/articles_and_excerpts/whatever_happened_to_sunday accessed 06/14/14
[6] Adapted from Sabbath: Remembering the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight, by Wayne Muller. Copyright ©1999 by Wayne Muller. Bantam Books, a division of Random House Inc. http://www.waynemuller.com/cool_stuff/articles_and_excerpts/whatever_happened_to_sunday

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