Tag Archives: Genesis

Garden of Eden – September 13, 2015 (NL Week 1)

Sunday’s Reading:
Genesis 2:4b-25

+ 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.

Joseph in Prison – Sunday, September 21 (NL Week 3)

Sunday’s Readings:
Complementary Text: Matthew 5:11-12
Preaching Text: Genesis 39:1-23

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

 Twenty years ago, actor Tom Hanks gave voice to a character named Forrest Gump in the 1994 movie that bore his name. The film was critically acclaimed from the beginning, and is memorable for many reasons, but what has stuck with many of those who have seen it more than anything else is one quote that seems to sums up Forrest’s life: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get…” That quote has stuck with so many because it seem to ring true. Life has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns – sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.

Today we hear a portion of the story of Joseph, a figure who perhaps more than any other might have found himself nodding along in agreement if he’d ever had occasion to hear these words. Joseph’s story is one of dramatic swings of emotion. He begins the story as the favorite son of his father Jacob in the land of Canaan, and ends the story with a poignant burial alongside his father in their homeland. In between is a tale of jealousy and deceit, of power and powerlessness, of alienation and reconciliation. Joseph experiences all the highs and lows that life has to offer him, and through those abrupt changes in circumstance, we see a reflection of human life in all its messiness. Perhaps you identify with Joseph because you are familiar with being part of a family in strife. Perhaps you have found yourself bearing the consequences of false accusations. Perhaps you have risen from meager circumstances to make a name for yourself. Perhaps at one time you enjoyed some measure of status and had it taken away from you. Most all of us can find our story in Joseph’s story, and all of us can learn something about what life lived in relationship with God looks like in a world filled with promise and scarred by sin.

Before today’s reading picks up, we meet Joseph and his family in Canaan. Joseph, as I’ve mentioned before, was admittedly his father’s favorite son, and he had the clothes to prove it: a richly woven and intricate robe that was the envy of all his brothers. If his brothers thought taking a backseat to Joseph was bad enough in general, Joseph tended to make matters worse through his unfortunate habit of rubbing it in their faces, including when he shared a pair of dreams that predicted Joseph would rule over his entire family. From his brothers’ perspective, Joseph had to go, and an encounter with him in a pasture with no witnesses gave them the chance to act. Reuben, the oldest of Jacob’s sons, was able to persuade his brothers not to kill Joseph outright, but not to keep him around. Joseph was sold off to the first slave traders who came across the brothers, and he ended up in Egypt. He soon became the favored servant of his new master, Potiphar, and held that post until Potiphar’s wife failed to get what she wanted out of him and had him thrown into prison on trumped up charges. Joseph was freed from prison again – only after being forgotten for years, I should add – when he proved himself an able interpreter of dreams that had tormented the Pharoah, Egypt’s most powerful leader. As a reward for his prowess, Joseph became the second-in-command in Egypt, responsible for navigating the people through a seven-year-long famine. Eventually, the famine reaches Canaan, where Joseph’s family still lives, and the tables are turned on the brothers who schemed to have Joseph killed. He keeps them at his mercy until he can no longer hide his true identity, then forgives them for their cruelty to him.

Joseph’s story is both remarkable and familiar. It is remarkable because it is so raw and real, so fraught with human emotion. It is familiar because we can identify with Joseph – not so much because of the details of this story, but because of its shape, its recognition of life’s unpredictability. One can’t help but come away from this story with the overwhelming conviction that – if nothing else – life is complicated, and that the life of faith has its own ups and downs. From the very beginning, Joseph enjoys favor: his father’s, Potiphar’s, the Pharaoh’s, and (most importantly) God’s. Despite that favored status, Joseph also experiences incredible hardship: slavery, false accusation, imprisonment, and the awful responsibility of stewarding an entire region of the world through famine. At every turn, Joseph is met with the consequences of human sin, whether it is his own, his brother’s, Potiphar’s wife’s, the butler who forgets about him and leaves him to rot in jail for years, even – at the story’s seemingly triumphant conclusion – the greed of the Pharaoh and his administration that leads to widespread slavery in Egypt. At the same time, the conviction that undergirds this entire story is not that life is nothing more than a crap shoot, but that God is able to work in the midst of challenge and hardship and struggle to bring good. Let me make that point perfectly clear. I am not suggesting that God orchestrates hardship and struggle in order to bring about God. I am suggesting that when we are faced with hardship and struggle, God is still capable of bringing about good; that, as Joseph puts it to his brothers when he reveals his identity to them in Egypt, “…you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day.” (Genesis 50:20, New English Translation)

If anything, that’s the main point of Joseph’s story, and perhaps the most important thing we can take away from it as we reflect on our own lives. We who have been called and claimed by God in Christ are given no guarantees about life being easy or free from challenges. God isn’t in the business of making guarantees, after all. But as we’ve seen the last two weeks, we worship a God who makes promise after promise, and who has been shown to be faithful to those promises time and time again. God took a second chance on creation and continues to sustain this creation moment by moment, upholding that amazing promise never to bring destruction to the whole world again, even if we haven’t done such a great job of tilling and keeping this planet and its creatures. God chose an old man named Abraham, promised him descendants and a land to call his own, and billions of people around the world now claim Abraham as their father in the faith. God worked in the life of a young man named Joseph to bring him through trial and tribulation and put him in a position to save entire nations from famine.

Brothers and sisters, in the end, maybe Forrest Gump wasn’t exactly right after all. We might not always know what’s coming our way, but we do know the one who holds us, loves us, and keeps us always in God’s care. We worship a God of promise whose word is trustworthy and true. God’s desire for our lives, our communities, our world, is that hope, healing, and wholeness might be extended to all creation. As God’s people in Christ Jesus, let us pray that we might be inspired by the story of Joseph to keep our eyes open to those people and places and times in which goodness has taken root and sprouted, even in the soil of despair. Let us pray that God’s Spirit might move to bring reconciliation where relationships have been broken. Let us pray that God would use us to be messengers of life and love and hope in a world that so desperately needs them. Above all, may we continue to place our trust in God, who has claimed us and promised to be present with us always, come what may. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Call of Abraham – Sunday, September 14, 2014 (NL Week 2)

Sunday’s Readings:
Matthew 28:19-20
Genesis 12:1-9

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Last Sunday, our exploration of God’s story began with the great flood and the promise of God made visible by the sign of the rainbow. After the raging floodwaters subsided and the travelers aboard the ark were released from the confines of their floating sanctuary, God blessed Noah and his family and all the animals they had saved and gave them this command: be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth. It was God’s desire that the entire world be filled once again with the newness and energy of life – that those who had been blessed would go forth across the globe and partner with God once again in the work of stewarding creation. God sent humanity out with a remarkable promise: that God would sustain the world, that even if humanity failed to live up to their vocation at times, God would ensure that season would follow season and create the conditions for continued growth and flourishing. Unfortunately, just as Adam and Eve had fallen prey to the serpent’s deception and grasped for knowledge that would make them like God, the newly-released travelers chose not to heed God’s call to spread themselves across the globe.. Genesis 11 tells the tale of how they chose to gather in one spot and begin the world’s most ambitious building project: the great tower at a place that would come to be called Babel, a tower that the people hoped would stretch to heaven itself and cause those who built it to be remembered forever! Suddenly, the new creation was starting to look an awful lot like the old one, and God needed to act again to get humanity moving in the right direction, this time with a little bit of mischief. God scattered the people by baffling their language, short-circuiting their grand plans and forcing them to strike out and find new ways to build community in new places across the globe.

This morning we pick up centuries later with the story of Abram – whose more familiar name, Abraham, would be given to him by God later in life. Abram was a distant descendant of Noah whose father, Terah, had moved his whole family from Ur, a city in what is now south-eastern Iraq, to Harran, located in what is now south-eastern Turkey near the Syrian border. It was there that Abram first heard the voice of God and received this startling command: Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you! I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

Just as the story of flood and promise we heard last week represented the renewal of God’s creation, the story of Abram is the renewal of God’s call to humanity to be vehicles of God’s blessing in the world. Where those who gathered at Babel to make a name for themselves did so in defiance of God’s gracious invitation, Abram left behind everything he had ever known at Harran (a city whose name means crossroads), and struck out in a new direction in obedience to God, spurred on by the promise that God would be the one to make his name great through the gifts of descendants and land.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about this story is the fact that, unlike Noah, who was described in Scripture as righteous and whole-hearted, Abram doesn’t appear to be particularly noteworthy. Scripture doesn’t describe him as in individual at all – at least not yet. It gives no indication that Abram was special in any way. Yet the entire story of Scripture turns on his response to God’s command, and the unfolding of God’s plan to bring blessing to the world begins anew when the seventy-five-year-old packs up his entire life and sets out in search of the land that God had promised to show him.

That remarkable fact is really important for us to remember, because it says something about the God who calls Abram (and us, his descendants in the faith). Alongside all the stories in Scripture that tell of extraordinary people and their extraordinary obedience is this foundational story of God calling someone who is utterly ordinary – who by all accounts is “past his prime” – and promising blessing, guidance, and enduring presence without any previous track record of faithfulness. What’s more, the stories of Abram and his descendants are honest and realistic about what life lived in obedience to God looks like. Faithfulness does not insulate us from struggle or hardship. In the chapters and verses that follow today’s reading, Abram rescues his captured nephew from a rival tribe, questions, debates, and argues with God, and even persuades God to change God’s mind (at least temporarily). All that happens before God fulfills the promise that led Abram to strike out in the first place and results in his receiving the name we’re more familiar with: Abraham. Next week’s text – part of the story of Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph – illustrates the hardship that God’s people can experience as a result of human pride, fear, and brokenness. All that is part of what makes Abraham’s story worth reading. Our ancestor in the faith strikes out from the crossroads, not knowing where he is going or whether the God who speaks to him is worthy of trust. Through all the hardship and struggle that he and his descendants would experience – and, perhaps even more surprisingly, despite his and others incredibly bad judgment – God does not abandon Abraham or his offspring.

Brothers and sisters, the story of the call of Abraham is the story of a God who calls us to radical trust and a man who stepped out of his comfort zone to face an uncertain future. Today, we are called to see our own stories in his story, to listen for God’s voice, to ponder how God might be calling us to leave behind what is familiar and safe for what is unknown and mysterious. Let us pray that God’s Spirit would inspire us to do just that, trusting not in our own strength or the power of our faith, but in the faithfulness of God in Christ, whose boundless love and grace has freed us from the power of sin and the fear of death and granted us the promise of God’s presence today and always, and may our lives resound with the words of this prayer:

Lord God, you have called us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.* Thanks be to God. Amen.

*Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Augsburg Fortress (Minneapolis, MN: 2006), p. 304.

Flood and Promise – Sunday, September 7, 2014 (NL Week 1; “God’s Work. Our Hands” Sunday)

Sunday’s Readings:
Accompanying Text: Matthew 8:24-27
Preaching Text: Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15

+ 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 created the heavens and the earth, and everything was very good. That’s how the story of our faith gets started: human beings living in harmony with one another, with God, and with the rest of creation, and gifted with a calling to till the ground and steward everything God has made. It doesn’t take long for things to change. Adam and Eve succumb to temptation, trading intimacy with God for the knowledge of good and evil. Their son, Cain, allows jealousy to take hold, and he murders his brother Abel in cold blood. Things only go downhill from there. By the time Noah appears on the scene and receives his instructions, the situation is dire:

“YHWH* saw that great was humankind’s evildoing on earth and every form of their heart’s planning was only evil all the day. Then YHWH was sorry that he had made humankind on earth, and it pained his heart. YHWH said, “I will blot out humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the soil, from man to beast, to crawling thing and to the fowl of the heavens, for I am sorry that I made them.”**

Contrary to the picture that is often painted of God in the Old Testament, the tone here is not one of anger and wrath, but of disappointment, regret, longing for the kind of world that had existed in the beginning. God wishes that the grand experiment in creating human beings with free will had never been started. And yet, despite that regret, and despite God’s ability to make a complete break with creation and start things all over again with something completely new, that’s not what happens here. Though God is sorely grieved by the weight of human sinfulness and the brokenness of the creation that had been so good, God takes a chance on creation once again through Noah, his family, and the ragtag group of animals that they wrangled together,

There’s no sugar coating the devastation conveyed by the story of the flood. God intends that nothing left outside the ark survives. The judgment of the world is a serious matter, and the results of that judgment are difficult to comprehend. But in the face of that judgment, what shines through most clearly – what we are intended to find in this story – is God’s desire that life should continue, that despite the persistence of human sinfulness the world is worth preserving! That God would follow an event of such raw sadness with words of promise and a renewal of humanity’s calling speaks volumes not only about the character of our God, but of the important role that we humans continue to play in the unfolding of creation’s story.

It’s that last point that looms large for us as we gather this weekend in observance of “God’s Work. Our Hands. Sunday”. In the story of Noah, the ark, the flood, and the promise that follows, God declares God’s intention to stay involved with this world, to identify with all creation, and to say once and for all that what God has made will never be destroyed by God’s hand. In fact, God’s decision never to destroy the earth again led to Jesus bearing the weight of our world’s brokenness on the cross for you and me and the whole creation! In Jesus Christ, the same God who spoke to Noah speaks anew to this and every generation, extending that gracious promise to us and to those who will follow. By the same token, this story of flood and promise reminds us that God’s will for creation is that it be fruitful and multiply and flourish, and that the primary responsibility for that flourishing is laid squarely at the feet of those creatures who bear the image of the creator: us. A quick survey of the news suggests that humanity continues to shirk that responsibility with alarming frequency and almost unfathomable consequences. People within and outside the church, even when we have the best of intentions, fall short of fulfilling that calling in ways too many to number. As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we acknowledge that fact, even as our church’s slogan – “God’s Work. Our Hands.” – signals that we endeavor to take our responsibility seriously. We who have been called by Christ in the waters of baptism, freed by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, and fed at the Lord’s table with the bread of life and cup of salvation are sent out to partner with God in caring for the community of creation – not only our brothers and sisters and neighbors near and far, but also our fellow creatures and the home that we all share. We won’t always (or ever) do that perfectly, but we go out to do so with the confidence that the one who has called us to this work has also promised never to turn his back on us.

This weekend we will put our hands to work in service to God and our neighbors and enjoy the goodness of creation when we break bread together. As our congregation prepares for this time of service and fellowship, may the story of Noah and the symbol of the rainbow remind us of the grace God showers upon us and the whole creation, and may we be moved to respond to that grace with our whole lives. Thank you for your willingness to serve in all the ways you do each day, and thanks be to God for this calling to be church for the sake of the world. Amen.

YHWH is how many scholars reproduce the Hebrew text of God’s personal name. The pronunciation of this name is deemed too holy for many Hebrew speakers, and, in any case, we are unsure how it is truly pronounced. Most modern English translations render this name by substituting “the LORD”; older ones rendered it “Jehovah”.

** Genesis 6:5-7, Everett Fox, trans., The Five Books of Moses, Schocken Books (New York: 1995).