July 6, 2014
Church of Peace, United Church of Christ
Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield
Genesis 1:1-5, John 1:1-14
Sometimes we think it happens like this: In the beginning there was nobody and nothing at all. Not even a blank canvas for painting the sky. Not even a clean slate for writing the Word. Just the hollow of plain old nothing, not even a tumbleweed in the dust. First there is nothing… Sometimes this is how we imagine the condition of the beginning.
The technical term for this theory is creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. This belief became popular among Christian leaders in the second century. And you can see why. If something exists before the beginning, well where does that something come from? If there were elements swirling around and heating up to make the big bang, where did this matter come from? Go ahead and say God, if you want to. Then we’ll walk right into the question every second grade Sunday School teacher has ever been asked. Who made God? Where does God come from? Exactly.
Friends, today is the beginning of our summer sermon series. Each Sunday we will consider one of the days of creation as described in Genesis one. It is common to think of this as the creation story in the Bible. Actually, the first chapter of Genesis is one of several creation stories in our Bible. You’ll find another account of how the world came to be in the second chapter of Genesis beginning with the fourth verse, and there’s another account in the story of the Great Flood just a few chapters later (Genesis 7-9).
If we look to other religions and cultures, we’ll find even more stories of how the world gets made. The Mohawk nation of the Iroquois remembers the pregnant woman who fell to the earth from the sky and was caught by the birds and set on the back of a turtle; there she planted the tree of life. For the ancient Babylonians, the beginning comes with chaos and the merger of two sea monsters Apsu and Tiamat; they are murdered in the making of the earth. Of course, the prevailing theory among scientists traces the beginning of life to an explosion that turned into stars. We human people care deeply about the question, Where do we come from? What exactly happened in the beginning?
And maybe it was nothing that happened. But maybe the beginning is not nothing. What if it’s possible that nothing is nothing, that even in the places that ring with the hollow of plain old nothing, that don’t even have a tumbleweed in the dust, what if there is something holy here?
See, when it comes to what really happened in the beginning, who can say for sure? But I do know this. We human people run the risk of thinking there is nothing when there is really something, of thinking there is nothing when there is really something holy. This has happened to me.
If you attend the adult forum, you may have heard me share this story. In the first week of my internship as a hospital chaplain, I was sent to the Children’s Hospital, and I received a list of patients to visit. One afternoon, a staff chaplain came to see how I was doing with the list. She asked me, “How was your visit with Leah?” Now as I recall, Leah was around eight months old. I explained that I stopped in to see her, but her parents weren’t there, so I’m planning to go back later to meet them. This made the chaplain tilt her head to the side and give me a funny look. “No, her parents aren’t here. That’s why Leah is on our list to visit.”
Oh of course! I felt dumb, and humbled, and helped all at the same time. Of course, I can go in and pray with an eight month old. In fact if you ever hold one, you’ll find that it’s pretty hard not to.
I was thinking that pastoral care meant having conversation, so in a room with no one to talk to me, I thought there was nothing. But there was not nothing in that baby’s hospital room. There was Leah and there was God. Babies and dying people harbor a particular intimacy with the Divine. Just being in their presence puts you in the presence of God. Sometimes we think there is nothing when there is really something, there is really something holy.
Now as we prepare our hearts and minds to hear two stories of creation from the Bible, I invite you to see if you catch what is in the beginning. May God bless our reading and our hearing of this word…
When Love Spoke Up from the Dark
In the beginning is the darkness. The world is made out of chaos and darkness covers the face of the deep. Then the Holy Spirit blew her breath across the waters. With a pssssst! and a (whispered) “Hey!” love spoke up from the dark. God says, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. God separates the light from the dark, naming the lightness Day and the darkness Night. There was evening, and there was morning, the first day (Genesis 1:1-5).
In the beginning is the Word. The Word is with God, and the Word is God. Just like the night gives birth to the day, all things come into being through the Word. In this poem that begins the Fourth Gospel, Jesus comes into the world as the Word put on flesh. The idea and expression of God made human like us. But the problem is the world doesn’t recognize the light of Christ. John came to testify to the light, so the people might believe. He spoke up from the dark to announce the presence of God already here, a light unextinguished, full of grace and truth.
With our Savior named the light of the world, with our own conviction that this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, it’s no wonder that we don’t talk as much about the dark. We might even think it should be conquered by the light, obliterated, eradicated, let there be light! But only light? God help us. The dark is the harbor for creative possibility, the place where love comes to voice. Maybe the darkness isn’t nothing; maybe the darkness is something. Maybe the darkness is really something holy.
There is good news here. We human people know what it is to live in the dark of every day. I’m not talking about the darkness that rushes in like a flood right after the crisis. Many of us know this too. The floor falls out from beneath you. Once you crash to the bottom, it happens again, so you can’t even trust the ground to walk on. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We know the dark that swoops in on the worst day of our lives.
But there is also the dark that comes every day. You know how it is. Sure you can still function. You can show up at work and go through the motions, but a thick numbness has set into your soul so you can’t tell whether you want to die or you want to live. Here you’re not really doing either.
In this kind of dark, you can eat, but food doesn’t taste like it should. And when you look in the mirror, you don’t look like yourself. How long, O LORD? What is the point…
When all we can see is the dark, it might be wise for us to take off our shoes. We are standing on holy ground. This is the breath before love begins to speak.
Indeed, much of the poetry in the Bible comes from this hollow middle of the night. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” These are the beginning words of Psalm 22, but really, this could be anybody’s prayer.
Hear these words from Psalm 42. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” You know the singer of these songs is not trying to think up a good prayer while having an ice cream on the beach. You can’t say to God, “My tears have been my food day and night,” unless you know what it is to be hungry, and weeping, and all poured out. The one who calls out to God with this prayer knows what it is to speak love in the dark.
And so do we.
This keeps happening in our world. Words “I love you” get spoken not just at weddings but in hospital rooms when death is coming too fast. “I love you” whispered by parents tucking in children at night and by the teachers at Sandy Hook who hid with their students in closets in order to save their lives.“I love you” gets spoken by men about to be executed in the death chamber. “I love you” texted to a teenager who gets bullied every day and still goes back to school. “I love you” offered at a Twelve Step meeting amidst the folding chairs and styrofoam cups of gritty coffee. I love you spoken up by us, and the darkness does not overcome it. This is not nothing; this is holy. Every word of love an act of creation, how the world is made, and how the world is made new.
So I say to us all. When the weight of the dark comes every day, we do not have to give in to its endless, terrible dread. Somebody’s about to say something. Maybe it’s God who watches over every sparrow and who calls for the lights. Or maybe it’s you, or me, or somebody here.
Every day darkness gives birth to life. All the world is made new. There is evening, and there is morning, the first day.
 not her real name