Sunday, June 9, 2019
Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31 & Ephesians 2:8-10
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Pentecost Sunday is one of my favorites. I like it because of the splashes of red that show up all over the church. I like it because we think about the Holy Spirit in much more practical and concrete ways. I like it because we take risks in worship. But on a deeper level, I think the reason I always look forward to Pentecost is because it is a Sunday where we experience the fulfillment of God’s promises. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, we did intentional work to prepare our lives for the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but then we spend fifty more days waiting for more. Yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead, but what now? Jesus instructed his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, and so they did until the Spirit showed up, empowering these ordinary disciples to turn the world on its head.
This week I read a letter that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison. Like the disciples on Pentecost, he was waiting for what came next. The Nazis despised Bonhoeffer because his work confronted their evil and the complicity of the German Church in that wickedness, so they arrested him. While he was waiting, he thought about Pentecost and wrote these words: “The strange story of the ‘miracle of the languages’ (Acts 2:1-13) has also again kept me very occupied. That the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel – which kept people from understanding each other because they each spoke their own language – should come to an end and be overcome by the language of God, which everyone understands and which is the only language through which people can understand each other, and that the church should be the place where this happens: these are all very great and important ideas.”
All of history found a turning point in that moment. The disconnect from person to person was something God was creatively dealing with in Jesus and now through the church. “The church should be the place where this happens,” Bonhoeffer writes. On this Pentecost, it is vital for our existence to remember that we have a mission to bridge differences and to welcome people from all places, languages, and cultures to share in this amazing thing that God has done and continues to do in the church.
This is the last Sunday where I will focus on our Core Values in my sermons, and that means we’ve reached our fourth and final one: We are created to create. I’ve really enjoyed this process of naming our Core Values, of exploring them, and of seeing how they both claim our identity and challenge us to be more engaged in our God-given calling as a church. Before I explore our fourth Core Value, I want to point out that there is a directionality to these. These go upward, inward, outward, and onward. We are Christ-centered, which gives an upward direction to our identity. In our life together we point to Christ. We are better together has an inward direction. In that value, we are naming what it means to be a part of this community. We are at the heart of the community has an outward direction to it. This group of Christ-centered people who find their unity in following Jesus has a significant role to play when it comes to blessing others. But our final one – we are created to create – has an onward direction to it. Of all our values, it pushes us towards the unknown, towards frontiers that we are only beginning to recognize. On Pentecost Sunday, when we see the church alive with power and energy, I think it’s only fitting for us to claim fully how God has created each of us to produce things that fulfill the creation mandate we encounter in Genesis 1.
So, I just threw out the term “creation mandate” to you, but you may be wondering what that means, so let’s unpack it together. Right in the very first chapter of the Bible, we read the story of God creating humans on the sixth day. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image” (1:26). So what do we know about God one chapter in? God is a creator, making order where there was chaos. God is also pleased with the work of creativity, declaring the work “good” at the end of every day. Since we’re created in God’s image, we are creators too. We are to take the stuff of this world and do something with it.
We run into the creation mandate in verse 28. What does God tell humans to do? Be fruitful. Multiply. Fill the earth. Subdue it. Have dominion over everything. Sadly, Christians have interpreted this mandate to mean, “I’m in charge and can do whatever I want!” That’s terrible misinterpretation of these words. Since we’re created in God’s image, we are to care for the stuff of the creation the way God does. I think Eugene Peterson’s translation captures this better:
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created us to be responsible for the care of the creation and to cultivate the earth in a manner that is harmonious with God’s creative intention for the universe. Cultivate. It’s the same word we get the word culture from. We are to take the raw material of the earth and create things from it that bring honor to God and bless others. This pattern is evident in the narrative arc of the Bible. Things begin in a garden, and where do they end? A city. A holy city. The end is not a return to Eden but rather a place where the stuff we have made with this universe adds up to a place where God dwells with us.
We are created to create, which means we are to be about creativity. That means writing songs and poetry. It means painting and taking pictures. But it’s about far more than art. Creativity led to double-entry accounting and structural engineering and crop rotation. Creativity led to educational systems and triathlons and craft breweries and open-heart surgery. All are called to cultivate the stuff of the earth, not just those who feel artistic or creative.
So, how do we live this Core Value out at First Pres? Most obviously, we are a church that places a high value on the arts. This is the first church I’ve served that has a position called the Director of Music and the Arts. Usually, that position just focuses on music. We invest heavily in having worship that not only honors God but that does so in ways that are aesthetically pleasing. Our Geneva Choir sings beautifully. Our organist makes this instrument sing. Our Gathering Band makes beautiful music together. Artists in the congregation have made banners that enhance this space. We have stained glass that not only shares the gospel but that is frankly beautiful. We’ve even had an upside-down airplane sculpture hanging from our ceiling since I’ve been here! Need I go on? I’ve certainly only scratched this surface on this area, but I will say that it is a joy to serve a church that desires that beauty live alongside truth.
Perhaps less obviously, I see this in how this church is in a constant process of renewing itself. We’ve been around for 183 years, but we feel fresh. Not trendy, but fresh, right? We have been willing to change over time, which is such a beautiful way to live out creativity. We are grateful for our past, but we’re always asking ourselves, What is God calling us to be now? In our wonderful Presbyterian heritage, we have taken seriously that we are the church Reformed, always reforming. And, may I add as we have new members on this Pentecost Sunday, we receive life and creativity every time our membership adds new people to our midst. Each of these people brings new ideas and energy and resources to what God is doing here. We are better because God has added these people to this church.
There is a third way we live out the creation mandate in our ministry and that is in trusting how God is leading us onward. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know that God holds the future, so we take risks in trying to be the kind of church God needs for Grand Haven today. We aren’t satisfied that “this is the way we’ve always done it” or that we don’t have the capacity to address a need in our community. Rather, we take our gifts and talents and use them in ways – new and old – that can speak God’s love to the world. We should never feel stuck. God has given us everything we need to do what God needs us to do. Sometimes that just means that we have to try innovative approaches to old problems.
God has created us with immense freedom and responsibility. We are created in God’s image, and we in turn take the stuff of creation and do things with it that glorify God for the gifts God has given us. Ephesians 2 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (2:8). We aren’t perfect. We never will be. But God’s grace in Christ is sufficient for all who trust in it. In our creative work, we will surely have missteps, but at least we’ve strived to live into our calling. The worst thing we could do is nothing, right? But verse 10 really nails things down for me. “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.” God created each of us in Christ for good works. Before any of us was born, God prepared a way for each of us to glorify God with what we do with our lives.
We are most fully human when we live into this creation mandate. So, create boldly. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to risk. As we create together, let us do so for the glory of God, for the uplift of our neighbors, and to bring wholeness to our community. In our creative work, we will see the fulfillment of what we’re waiting for, just like the disciples on that glorious Pentecost.