+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
In the beginning, God got to work. The first two chapters of the Bible tell the story of that beginning, and that story makes abundantly clear that creation exists because of the activity of God – the one who hovered over the waters, who spoke the heavens and earth and all life into existence. It also reminds of something that we too often forget when we look around at the world today: that this creation – the incredible diversity of life, the rock and soil and water and sky and space – all of it is good. In fact, when we regard the whole creation in its fullness, it’s not just good; it’s very good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31, NRSV)
So that’s where we start: with God’s work. God looks upon nothingness and makes a world of stunning beauty and unfathomable vitality and awesome power, and calls it very good. We also start with the recognition that there’s something particularly important about us, about humanity. In the first chapter of Genesis, we hear God speaking about the creation of humankind in a way that we’re still trying to wrap our heads around: 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.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV) Then, in today’s passage, we read more about the special care with which God regards us as those created in God’s image: then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being… (Genesis 2:7, NRSV) These two passages are remarkable! How incredible a privilege it is to bear the image and likeness of the Creator! How wonderful it is to contemplate this amazing image of God kneeling down in the dust and dirt to mold humanity, and then to stoop even lower to fill that lifeless lump with God’s own breath, the same Spirit that rushed over the formless void before God spoke light into existence!
The witness of Holy Scripture about humankind is amazing, but it should also be humbling. After all, we not only bear God’s image, we also bear responsibility for the rest of this creation. We’ve already read from chapter one the language of “dominion” – lordship or rule – over the birds and fish and animals and other life, and we have certainly exercised that dominion throughout our history, both in ways that are profoundly beautiful and in ways that are profoundly destructive. Chapter two provides with a corrective that should resonate with us: The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15, NRSV) Another translation of this passage reads that humankind was placed in the garden “to watch it and work it.” (Gen 2:15, Alter) God did not create this world of beauty and life and wonder so that humanity could suck it dry and leave it desolate, but so that the whole community of life might be preserved. This is nothing less than the work of God, and it is work that we are called to do with our own lives, using our own heads and hearts and hands each and every day. Before anything else, before any talk of creating societies or building kingdoms or establishing laws or even determining what constitutes proper worship, this is the work that we are given to do: God’s work, the work of stewarding this creation so that it might continue to reflect the goodness of the one who brought it into being.
That’s an incredible responsibility, brothers and sisters, and it only grows. As life continues to break out all over this planet – we are called to nourish it, to create the conditions that allow it to flourish. We know, of course, that this is easier said than done. It’s not long after God calls everything very good that brokenness enters our world, that our thirst to take the place of God leads us to substitute our own wants and desires for the will of our Creator. In recognizing our calling to do God’s work, we are also all too aware of our shortcomings, of the effects of sin and death that wrack this weary world and prevent us from being fully devoted to this calling. As Christians, we draw strength from the knowledge that God stooped low again in the person of Jesus, that God made not only the image of the Divine, but the fullness of divinity, present in Christ. Though our own sinful work led us to nail God’s hands to rough wood and stretch them out toward the heavens, God’s life and power were too great to be overcome by humanity’s sinful pride, and by his rising, we were redeemed to once again devote our hands to God’s work. It’s still not easy work. It is work that requires us to lay aside our own convenience, our own wants and desires, our attitude of superiority, so that we might serve others and the world that God has made. In the end, this is our great calling: to watch and work in this broken and beautiful garden, to see in our brothers and sisters around the globe the image and likeness of God that we all bear, to seek always to do God’s work rather than our own, so that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in the heavens.
As our journey through the Scriptures continues, we’ll learn more about how that will unfolded in the lives of our fathers and mothers in the faith, and we’ll read about how they opened themselves to doing God’s work with their own hands – or, more often than not, how God’s work happened in spite of them. For now, let us give thanks for God’s care and concern for us, for the wondrous creation that we call home, and for the joy and challenge of being partners with our Creator as we seek to use our hands in service of God’s unfolding work. Amen.