The Story of Good-ness

Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 6/11/2017


When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night.

There was evening and there was morning: the first day.

God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters to separate the waters from each other.” God made the dome and separated the waters under the dome from the waters above the dome. And it happened in that way. God named the dome Sky.

There was evening and there was morning: the second day.

God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. God named the dry land Earth, and he named the gathered waters Seas. God saw how good it was. God said, “Let the earth grow plant life: plants yielding seeds and fruit trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind throughout the earth.” And that’s what happened. The earth produced plant life: plants yielding seeds, each according to its kind, and trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was.

There was evening and there was morning: the third day.

God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years. They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened. God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night. God put them in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.

There was evening and there was morning: the fourth day.

God said, “Let the waters swarm with living things, and let birds fly above the earth up in the dome of the sky.” God created the great sea animals and all the tiny living things that swarm in the waters, each according to its kind, and all the winged birds, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was. Then God blessed them: “Be fertile and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”

There was evening and there was morning: the fifth day.

God said, “Let the earth produce every kind of living thing: livestock, crawling things, and wildlife.” And that’s what happened. God made every kind of wildlife, every kind of livestock, and every kind of creature that crawls on the ground. God saw how good it was. Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”

God created humanity in God’s own image,
        in the divine image God created them,
            male and female God created them.

 

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.

There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.

The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed. On the sixth day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 1:1-2:4a, CEB)


 

I’ve felt called to pastoral ministry since the summer of 2010, but I took my first official step toward that call in 2014. And I discovered that to become a pastor in the UMC, you have to first travel through what we call the candidacy process. At the beginning of the process, you have to take a big long psychological exam. You sit in a classroom with everybody else taking the exam for 3 or 4 hours, answering question after question on a scantron. I felt like I was back in high school or middle school taking one of the standardized tests. You take the exam and the results are sent to a psychologist who you meet with later and review it.

Now the term ‘psychological exam’ has some baggage behind it. But it’s not meant to find and kick out the crazies or anything like that. Pastoral ministry has mental and emotional demands, so the exam and review with the psychologist are meant to give a picture of your mental health, just like a physical exam gives a picture of your bodily health. It makes you aware of what you’re entering ministry with.

Now, I wasn’t expecting anything to show up in my results. But when I met with the psychologist, we discovered that the exam results showed that I have some problems with low self-esteem, lower than the average person enough to show up clearly in the results. When we discovered that, it made sense, even though I’d never thought of myself as someone with low self-esteem. It’s sometimes difficult for me to think of myself as good or talented or capable of something without someone else’s affirmation. And even then, it’s difficult.

For example, I have a degree in music from ONU with trumpet. When I would perform on trumpet in college, people might say that I sounded really good, my teacher might tell me how much I’d improved and I would hear them. But in my own mind, I would be stuck on those two places in the piece where I messed up. Someone would say “Hey, that was a really good performance” and I would thank them, but I would be thinking “What performance were you listening to? I really messed up the beginning, I kacked that note, I was too slow, I wasn’t with the pianist” etcetera, etcetera. You feel me?

Now, this low self-esteem is still an issue for me today. And I think it’s a problem for a lot of people. I notice how hard it is for so many people to simply receive a compliment. Someone tells you that you did a good job and you say “Oh, it was nothing,” or “Well I don’t know about that, I messed up there,” instead of just saying “Thank you.”

Maybe you struggle with low self-esteem yourself. Maybe you have a hard time believing that you are talented, that you do your job well; you have a hard time believing that you’re a good parent or a good spouse.

Maybe it goes deeper than that; maybe you struggle with depression. A lot of people do, but we as a society don’t really talk about it. So if that’s an issue for us, we probably shove it away into the dark corners of our heart and try to ignore those dark thoughts.

I think we all have some kind of issue in this area. We all have some kind of difficulty in believing in our goodness. I wonder if you’ve noticed this: you’re sitting in a job interview or some kind of similar setting and whoever’s interviewing you asks “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” We have no problem listing our weaknesses but isn’t it usually pretty hard to think of a couple strengths, a couple areas you know you are talented in?

We all have some kind of issue here. And that’s why I love that passage at the very beginning of our Bibles. As God created the sun, moon, earth, seas, stars, animals, humans – Scriptures says “God saw how good it was.” God created the whole world and everything and everyone in it. And God pronounced it all ‘good,’ supremely good. That includes you and me.

 

God’s first action, at least the first action we know about, was creating this world and calling it good. We read that passage describing the Creation of our world, and I love how vivid it is. When we were reading it, could you picture it? What does the first light look like? What does it smell like when all the flowers and trees burst up? What does it feel like when the brand-spanking-new sun rises for the first time, throwing warmth onto the world?

Did you see the stars popping out in the sky? Did you hear the sounds of the livestock and wildlife as they explored the new world? In this passage, I imagine God as this little kid playing with Legos or drawing or painting a picture or playing in a sandbox, to see what they can create, and then running to their parents, saying “Look how cool this is!”

This was God’s intention for the world. After God created each element, “God saw how good it was.” God created everything good – everything is in right relationship with each other and with God, and everything is working together.

This is the story of original goodness. Our God of all goodness and truth is at the center here and all of creation emanates out from that center of goodness and truth and beauty. This is the story of original goodness, and this is the story God’s been telling since the beginning. And God’s people are called to partner with God in this story and continue proclaiming it in our world, in our neighborhoods.

But we humans keep telling a different story.

In God’s story of original goodness, we read that God created humans to protect and serve creation, to partner with God in the world. But we’ve been telling a different story. We tell a story in which humans have God’s blessing to do with each other and with the world whatever our human hearts desire. This different story we tell ourselves goes like this: “We humans are made in God’s image, so the world is ours! We can do whatever makes us happy and wealthy.”

I see examples of this everywhere. But here are two specific examples:

A brief look through our history books shows a tendency to exalt one group of humans over everyone else. We have a historic tendency to say that this one group is good, and everyone else is bad, or at least not as good.

That story of ours, “We’re made in God’s image, so the world is ours,” sometimes we really mean “I was made in God’s image. Everyone who looks and thinks and behaves like me was made in God’s image, so the world is ours. Everyone who looks, thinks, and behaves differently was therefore not made in God’s image.”

So we put ourselves over and above other people groups by claiming a monopoly on God’s image.

That’s what happened when the first European settlers ‘discovered’ North America. They said “We Europeans are God’s people, you Native Americans are not” and that led to the genocide we can read about in our history books.

During the centuries when the slave trade was a reality in this country, there were a lot of people who found a rationalization for slavery in the Bible – “We white people are made in God’s image, Africans are not, so enslaving them is ok.”

I see this in the current US political climate. No one is explicitly saying “I was made in God’s image and you’re not, so my cause, my opinions, my course of action is all blessed, so follow me.” No one, or almost no one, says those words, but that’s the way the thinking goes. So we can’t talk to each other.

We tell that different story of ours – “My tribe is made in God’s image so the world is ours! We can do whatever makes us happy and wealthy,” we tell that story so loudly that we don’t realize we’re mistreating other people as we live into what we think is God’s image

There’s another example of that ‘different story’ we keep telling ourselves. Now, I know there’s going to be disagreement about this and I’m sure I’ll get pushback here. But that’s ok, I would love to have more conversation and discussion with you about this.

We’ve been talking about that different story of ours, the one that puts humans at the center of God’s creation which we think allows us to do whatever we want. As humans, we’ve been telling that different story so much and proclaiming it so loudly that we’re hurting this world that God created and proclaimed as good.

We can see this in the climate change that has been such a contested topic. Global temperatures are rising, sea levels are rising, the oceans are getting warmer, ice sheets are melting, and more. Environmental scientists around the world, the EPA, and other agencies and bodies in the US government and around the world agree that this is happening and they say it’s happening because of human actions.

We keep telling that different story – “We’re made in God’s image, so the world is ours! We can do whatever makes us happy and wealthy” – we proclaim that story of ours so loudly that we’re harming this world created by God, the world for which we humans were created to partner with God to protect and serve.

So we read in this Biblical text that God created each element and “God saw how good it was.” But for those reasons and so many more, it’s hard for us to hear God’s pronouncement of the goodness of creation and have any understanding of it. We hear the original story of goodness in this passage and throughout the Bible. But we keep hearing that different story we’ve been telling – “We’re created in God’s image, so the world is ours! We can do whatever makes us happy and wealthy” – we keep hearing that different story and now we’re seeing that it’s leading to a very broken world now. So, many of us think “How is there hope? How could God have created this world in goodness, then let it get this bad?”

But the good news is that our God who created all of this is a God of endless, ridiculous, unimaginable hope. No matter how loud we proclaim that different story of ours, the one which has led to the destruction of people and this world, God relentlessly continues to proclaim that original story of a good creation. And what’s more, God calls God’s people, us, to continue proclaiming it with God.

In fact, the original story of goodness continues today in God’s people. No matter how far away we’ve gone from that original story, when we return to God in repentance of our sin and with faith in God’s original story of goodness, God starts writing us back into that story, starts writing that story in us.

We here who claim the historic Christian faith as our own are included in God’s people, the church. And God is right now working us into that story of goodness which God proclaimed in the beginning; that original story that God is still proclaiming; and that original story of goodness which God calls us to proclaim in the world.

So what does all of this mean for us? It tells me personally that God is currently, at this moment, right now drawing all of us to repentance.

God ceaselessly calls us to stop proclaiming that other story, the one where humans are at the center, the story where we end up destroying each other and destroying the world.

God calls us to repent and stop proclaiming that story where we’re at the center SO THAT we can start again proclaiming god’s original story of goodness in which our God of all goodness and truth is at the center and everyone and everything reflects that goodness.

So we are called to turn from apathy. God created this world in goodness. We humans, from the very beginning, were all created in the image of God. And if we claim the Christian faith as our own and seek to follow Jesus, God’s Son, throughout our lives, then we cannot be apathetic about God’s original story of goodness. We cannot shrug our shoulders and turn aside, assuming someone else will take care of this.

Like I said, it’s hard to hear God’s story of original goodness today. We turn on the news and hear story after story of humans destroying each other and destroying our world.

But God relentlessly and unceasingly continues the original story of goodness today within us, God’s people called ‘the church.’ So we cannot be apathetic about the story of goodness and how it’s not reflected in our world created by God in goodness.

So this story calls us to turn from apathy, to turn toward caring deeply for the world and everyone around us. God created everything we see and declared it good, saw how good it was. God created humans to partner with God in serving the world in that original story of goodness. So let us care for the world and for each person around us. Let us work ceaselessly and tirelessly with the strength and hope of God for the salvation of all creation.

But this is nothing new. God has been about this work from the very beginning of time itself – we just read about it. This is nothing new to which we’re called. We as God’s people are simply called to step into God’s story of original goodness and bring it about with each other and with God.

You see, God could’ve existed without the universe. If we believe in a God who is all-powerful and all-sufficient, then we believe in a God who didn’t have to create anything. But the fact is that God did create this world and each and every one of us in all goodness. And God continues that story of goodness out of God’s deep compassion and care and love for all of creation and for each one of us.

God loved the world enough to create it. God loved humanity enough to create us. And God still loves it all enough to continue proclaiming that story of original goodness and invites us to partner with God in proclaiming it. So let us be about that work.

 

 

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One thought on “The Story of Good-ness

  1. We as people are dependent upon our environment. If there is a drastic upheaval in the environment such that there are no more green plants or algae, despite our vaunted intelligence and being made in the image of God, we will not physically survive. I don’t think we understand how fragile we are. We need to accept our dependence.

    Liked by 1 person

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