Sunday, January 12, 2014

Us

Not All Myths Are Created Equal
Part 2: Us
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
January 12, 2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Genesis 1: 1-27
Matthew 22: 34-40
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.
Amen.

Last week we started this crazy journey, looking at Genesis 1. We started our focus by  looking at God as the creator of the world, looking at what God does when he creates, looking at how within the tradition nothing else can do what God does, no other being as the same ability to create as God. We looked at how God holds back the waters, he brings order where there was chaos, he fills the void with life, and most importantly he brings darkness to light. He does so on the first day, and does every day since, in all of our lives just when we need it most. But to review let's take a look at the text again. . .

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. 17 And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after 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 earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [1]

After creating space, the area where the creation was going to take place, God took great care in setting it up for humans to live in it. Step by step God fills the world with each detail, leading toward his creation of us, human beings. The story seems to center around the creation of human beings, and if that were not enough it centers around the creation of a special unique and important status for us, it also says that we are created in the image and likeness of God, one of the strangest, most talked about, aspects of the Bible. So many people have an opinion about what it means to be made in the image of God, but most find that, no matter their specific vision of it, find that it is an important and special status, one that sets up the rest of the story, why God is upset when Adam and Eve hide from him, why he makes covenant after covenant, and finally why he sends his only son in order to redeem us as Children of God, yes made in his image. It's central to what Christians believe about the world, but it's so common to us that we take it for granted, and we take for granted that the rest of the world sees humans in the same way, but outside of the three Abrahamic religions, which share this creation story, there is a very different view.
I had said last week that this sermon was originally just the second half of what I talked about last week, and it is. I finished last week comparing the actions of God in this story, to the other creation myths and the role of God they saw. It's what gave credence to the title of my sermon, that not all myths are created equal. And while the concept, person, and characteristics of God are certainly unique in the Genesis account of creation, the point I really wanted to make was this one, that other myths see the value and importance of humans very differently, and that distinguishes for me greatly why I find the Genesis account of Creation, the view it depicts, so important, so striking, so valuable, and of course representing truth as I see it. Humans are important, we are special, each of us, each of us individually a reflection of God, a special glimpse of the love that made this world. It is central to our faith, it is central to our vision of how the world operates, our role in the world, and maybe most importantly it is central to our hope.
But we take for granted that the rest of the world thinks this way, sees  humanity this way, sees the individual this way, sees each manifestation of human life as a loved, important, purposed, unique, blessed reflection of God. Last week we looked at how some of the other major religions and philosophies of the world see the role of God in creation, now I want to take a look at how some of them see the role and import of each human life, you may be surprised at just how unique the Genesis view of humankind is.
We can start with the Greeks, they seem to be such humanists, but their view of the place of humans in the world is really interesting. Their Creation myth has one of the Titans, Prometheus making people, just to spite, Zeus, so Zeus, the king of all the gods, is hostile towards humans on most days. The end result is that human beings are merely a tool for the gods, a pawn in their game. Humans then are left to try to find their own way through a world of conflict. This negative view of humanity lends itself to philosophies of hopelessness and manipulation. You'll find that Greek and other Pagan religions are very much about people trying to manipulate the forces of the world to benefit themselves. There is no benevolent and loving god, rather just a bunch of hostile, conflicting, callous forces that can be manipulated and controlled. The place of humans in the world is actually very similar to the atheist view that we are simply a cosmic accident, a mistake, a fluke occurrence, with no real unified purpose, no sense of identity, no responsibility towards life or each other, just here existing, scratching, clawing, fighting, to simply exist and live. . . how often is the role of science in today's world not to study the natural world and the way it works, but to change it, to control it, to make it work the way that we want. . . not a perfect haven created especially for each and every human to thrive, but a world that the strong shape to their own control, leaving the weak to serve at best, wither and starve at worst. . . it really is a bleak view when you think of it, isn't it, false freedom, self made chains.
In the East it's similar. In the Taoist myth about creation, Pangu and the creation of the world, humans have no elevated status, but are simply, like everything else a piece of the unity of the connected universe. Actually in some versions of the story humans are the parasites living on the giant who dies to make up the world. Also bleak.
Hindus and Buddhists do value the individual to some extent, but with reincarnation, it's not each unique manifestation of life that is important but the infinite cycle. Each individual life is regarded just as clothes to be tossed aside, each life is not important, but rather the path itself, individuality is something to be thrown aside, rather than to be celebrated.
So there is a uniqueness to the worldview that does say that each human being is made in the image of God. That's what the story says. . . but what does life tell you? If we had to look at how society, our society answers this question, what do we believe? How do we show it? What does it mean real time? What does it mean for how we treat each other? What does it mean for how we see each other? Can statistics really ever serve us? Can demographics ever paint a worthy picture? Can systems that protect a majority while allowing some to fall through the cracks be considered good? What does it mean for policy decisions? What should be our central focus as children of God made in His image? How are we doing with that focus? They are all good questions to ask. If we were writing the myth today based on how we see the world. . . where would we put human kind? All humans? Each human? Every human? It would probably be easier to lower the status, lower the pressure, ease up on ourselves a bit, pretend that each one doesn't really matter. It would be easier, maybe more efficient, maybe more conducive to business. It would be easier on ourselves if we didn't have to rise to the level of image of God. It would be easier in our relationships if we didn't have to value each other as brothers and sisters made in the image of God. It would make life simpler if we were just cosmic mistakes, or parasites, or if we were just made out of spite in some cosmic game we don't know how to play.
But instead we are made in the image of God. It means something different to all of us. There are probably different levels of understanding, but it is hard to deny that it is an elevated status, it's hard to deny that it is a status of love, its hard to deny that it doesn't mean anything. It's hard to deny that the world, the 6 days leading up to our creation, doesn't seem to just fall in place, each detail, leading to, and taking care of our needs. All of it together is pretty awesome, pretty amazing, full of love, and then you add Jesus to it.
It is hard to see the world that way and not be grateful. Is it possible that seeing the world another way, one of those other ways misses that gratitude part, and perhaps there is the simple place where the world view starts to get skewed. Gratitude, it is the beginning isn't it. In the beginning God created, the heavens and the earth, the light, the sky, the stars, the land, the rivers and the trees, the birds, the bees, the wonders that surround us and then even us, even you and even me, special, unique, each and every one of us. May we see the world that way, may we see ourselves that way, may we see each other that way, and may we be grateful, for in that gratitude is the start, the beginning of faith, and as we will see as the story unfolds the beginning of love beyond our imagination.



[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Ge 1:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.