Sunday, September 17, 2023
God is…I am
Genesis 1:20-31 & Ephesians 2:8-10
Rev. Dr. Troy Hauser Brydon

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Genesis 1:1-5, 20-31; Ephesians 2:8-10

My zoo-going days seem to be at an end. At least for now. One of my favorite parts of being a parent has been taking the kids to the zoo. I loved showing the kids the fascinating animals. I loved seeing them myself, often making a game of seeing who could find the animal first. Even when we could barely rub two pennies together, we’d find a way to get a zoo membership. It started with the nation’s oldest zoo in Philadelphia. We seminarians could sure get our money’s worth out of the $100 annual membership cost. We’ve been members of the Jacksonville Zoo and the Detroit Zoo. On trips, the family has been to the Erie Zoo, the Naples Zoo (formerly Jungle Larry’s for those who have been to southwest Florida back in the 1980s.), and the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. I love zoos.

Animals are amazing. God’s creativity is on full display when we pay attention to the life around us. Just look at some of these fascinating animals. We have the shoebill stork, which has a bill shaped like, well, a shoe, lives in eastern Africa, and stands over four feet tall. We have various types of stick insects. The one on the left is a native of Australia, and the one on the right is from Borneo and measures 21 inches long. We do have versions of this bug right here in Michigan, but not nearly so big.

Of course, there’s the mantis shrimp. This marks the third time I’ve talked about mantis shrimp here, so I won’t add any more. Amazing creatures. There’s the red-lipped batfish. Native to the Galapagos, this creature swims, looks like a bat, and apparently wears red lipstick. Straight out of the imagination of Pokemón we have the Venezuelan poodle moth. This was only added to the list of species in 2009. Or, how about the Australian peacock spider? The males of this species have this vibrant coloring to attract females. They’re also part of the jumping spiders family, which sounds utterly frightening, so I’m glad you have to go to Australia to find them.

While the numbers are pretty wide ranging, it is estimated that there are 10- to 20,000 species of birds, over one million species of insects, 34,000 species of fish, 382,000 species of plants, and somewhere between 10 million to 1 billion species of bacteria. We are not alone on this planet, that’s for sure. In Genesis, God tasked Adam with naming the animals. I wonder how far he got. Over the past 200 years, taxonomists have identified and named around 1.7 million species so far, adding around 13,000 new ones each year. This list does not include the bacteria! I can’t name every plant or animal species that live in
my yard, so imagining the biodiversity of God’s creation must be beyond comprehension.

We’re in our second week of our series titled, “God is…I am.” It’s a series that has this premise: Since God created humans in God’s image, then God has made us with similar attributes. Today’s Genesis text is the origin of that very idea. It’s the text that says we are created in God’s image. For today, we’re going to
think about creating. So: God is…the playful creator. I am…designed to play and create.

Today we read parts of the first chapter of the Bible. That chapter is a rhythmic poem capturing the orderly creativity of God. Out of nothing, God created everything. The earth was formless and void, and into that, using words, God spoke light into existence, separating day and night. We read the portions of that poem that describe God’s creative activity on the fifth and sixth days of creation. On the fifth day, God created swarms of living creatures — great sea monsters (including the red-lipped batfish), every living creature that moves (which I assume includes even sloths and Australian peacock spiders here), and winged birds (so, let’s throw in penguins for good measure). This creation is productive. God commands it to “be fruitful and multiply,” so that they will fill the land, the water, and the air. Creation is not static. It develops, changes, and grows.

The next day God continues the work on the land, starting with cattle and other land animals. But then God’s creative attention shifts to something related but altogether new. God creates humans. This is the only creature created in God’s image and likeness. The beautiful words of Psalm 8 expand on this idea, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea.”

What does it mean to be created in the image and likeness of God? It means that humans have dominion over the creation. But, before you get too excited as though that means that anything goes, that you rule and nothing else matters as much as you, we have to understand the term “dominion.” It does not mean to dominate. Rather, God establishes a “power-sharing relationship” with humans. This power comes with great responsibility.

Humans are “to mirror God to the world, to be God as God would be to the non-human, to be an extension of God’s own dominion.” Genesis came from a people living in the ancient Near East. There the king was a representative of the divine, ruling on behalf of the gods. “Genesis 1 democratizes this royal image so that all humanity belongs to this sphere.”

So, God is the creator who has dominion over all of creation, and we bear God’s image and have the responsibility to have loving domain over creation. Dominion in the manner of God is a form a care- giving and nurture, not exploitation. Genesis continues that we humans are to “be fruitful and multiply,” — just like the animals on the previous day — which means we are to be productive. We are to take the stuff of the world and not only lovingly oversee it, but also we are to take it and make more of it. The wording in Genesis comes across as subdue the earth — cabash in Hebrew.

Unfortunately, this makes it sounds like we are to beat the earth into submission. This couldn’t be further from the truth. No, this command, “focuses on the earth, particularly cultivation, a difficult task in those days….More generally, ‘subduing’ involves development in the created order. This process offers to the human being the task of intra-creational development, of bringing the world along to its fullest possible creational potential.”

Have you ever had a flowerbed that fell into disrepair? There are weeds everywhere. The mulch needs refreshed. The bushes need a healthy trim. It’s hard work taking an unruly patch of ground and making something beautiful of it. This is cultivation. This is “subduing.” We don’t do this because we hate the flowerbed or because we’re the boss of it. We do it because we are bringing it along to its fullest potential. We are taking what is good in creation and making something more of it. That’s what it means to subdue. It’s cultivation, a word that shares the same root as our word culture.”

Like God, we are also creators. We humans are cultivators of the earth. God is the playful creator, who out of nothing made granite and wombats and volcanos. Created in the image and likeness of God, we humans are to play and create, using the good materials of creation to make more of it. At our best, that’s what we do. From the mountains, we make buildings and statues and hiking trails. From nature we find not only food but learn how to prepare food that is nutritious and delectable. From the songs of birds, we hear new sounds that we turn into instruments, writing symphonies and folk songs and hymns. At our best, this is what we do.

But, of course, we’re not always at our best, are we? God knows this is true, loves us still, and made a way in Jesus to redeem us and all of creation. Our second reading is one of my favorites. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Just like our existence was a gift — not our own doing! — so our salvation is entirely a gift from God, but it’s a gift that comes with a responsibility. The passage continues, “For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

N. T. Wright offers good insight on this verse. “Verse 10 is one of Paul’s central statements of how Christians are at the center of God’s new creation. We are…God’s workmanship. This word sometimes has an artistic ring to it. It may be hinting that what God has done to us in King Jesus is a work of art, like
a poem or sculpture. Or perhaps, granted what he goes on to say, we are like a musical score; and the music, which we now have to play, is the genuine way of being human, laid out before us in God’s gracious design, so that we can follow it.”

In Jesus, God has redeemed our creativity. Because of Jesus, we can live how God has designed us: to play and create. The God whose imagination is so broad to have created everything — seen and unseen — in the entire cosmos, now has made a way for you to take the canvas of your life and do something playful and creative with it. The problem is, if you’re anything like me, you look at that blank canvas or at the blank page, and your freeze up. You feel inadequate. You feel like you can’t add anything to the world.

God created you to create, so let go of your fear! Did you know that’s one of our four core values as a congregation? We are created to create. It’s painted in our mural in the Gathering Area. All that we do from with our lives from gardening to painting to drawing up a new play for the junior football team
you got roped into coaching — all of it — is a part of living into who we are. What is more, God prepared each of us in advance to do these good works, to do good with our lives, to be builders of God’s reign right here. We are created to create, so go for it.