RCL Year A, Trinity Sunday
Our family just returned from a week in Monterey, staring at the ocean. It’s such a privilege getting to park myself right on the edge of that vast wilderness of water and wind. When you’re at the ocean, you never forget it’s there. The weather of the morning fog and the breezes, and the way the light looks, not to mention the sound of the waves constantly playing – you never don’t notice the ocean. And everyone orients toward it – the houses are built to face it, sports are played in it and around it, and people at all times of day or night are simply standing there, staring at it. It’s the one place in civilization where it’s acceptable to stand and stare off into the distance with a vacant look on your face, because everyone knows what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And they’re glad you’re doing it, because they are too.
Being at the ocean is an amazing chance to witness creation, the creatures and the patterns of air and water just happening, despite us. The occasional whale spout, the sea lions barking and the sea otters swimming by, the dolphins surfing, the little crabs in the tide pools and the seagulls scrounging for food. Even every wave is different, if you watch carefully. Creation is always new. I think that’s why every time I’ve ever watched the sun go down on a beach, someone on the beach always cheers, Yay! Every time it happens, it’s new.
I had all of that playing in front of me as I thought about the creation story we heard today. A story that we don’t always take the time to really hear, except to see it through some pretty thick interpretive lenses. It’s not just the story that you saw on the felt board of Sunday School when you were little, or the story of the pretty picture books. It’s not just a primitive myth. And it’s not just a staging ground for the debate of evolution vs. creationism. On that, let me be very clear: the Bible is not meant as a science textbook. It was written for entirely different reasons by people in an entirely different culture and worldview than we have now. There is nothing in it meant to contradict science. The Bible is about ‘why’ things are the way they are, not ‘how’ they got to be that way. But the Bible does tell us plenty about God, which is what it’s for.
A writer named Debie Thomas wrote a piece about what the Genesis creation story tells us about God. She lists all kinds of truths that come from that story: first, God is a God who sees. At the end of every day in the story, God stops to reflect on what he made that day, and God sees that it is good. God sees, God notices, God pays attention. And God makes everything good, good in the very beginning and full of blessing. As the theologian Marcus Borg puts it, ‘All that is, is good.’
Thomas also points out that God is a God who makes new things. God creates something new each day for six days, calling forth beautiful things that didn’t exist until he called them. And it’s not just at the beginning that this happens. As Frederick Buechner writes, “Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new out of them. If you think you’re seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again.” (Wishful Thinking)
And lastly, God is a God who rests. God does six days of work creating, and then God takes a break. God doesn’t just keep on keeping on, endlessly laboring at the work and the tasks that lie in front of him, like we might keep tending to. God stops to rest and reflect and commands us to do the same, whether the work is done or not. Rest and Sabbath is an essential piece of creation, not an optional piece for when we might find the time.
What a set of ideas to begin our summer with, a time when many of us have a little more opportunity to slow down and notice the world around us, whether because we’re on vacation or we’re out in our own gardens. All around us there is an endless and amazing creative work underway, even in the cracks of the sidewalk and the creatures that make their way into our backyards without our wanting them there. In the morning cool and the afternoon heat and the sound of coyotes and mockingbirds, it is creation at work, alongside and despite us. In the summer, we’re outside a little bit more, our time is a little less filled perhaps, and we might just have a chance to see things differently.
So two challenges for us as this summer begins. One, that we dare to be like God this summer. You were made in God’s image. So act like it. Stop and notice, stop and really see what is there to be seen. Don’t just go through the motions and routines, but live. And as you do that, don’t just notice what is wrong, what is going badly. Notice what is good and holy and a blessing. Be aware of what is new, all that is always new. And be part of creating what is new, not simply rehearsing what has been done before. And rest, rest your body and your mind and your spirit. Start the day with something besides your emails. Be unavailable to your work and your to-do list. Whether it is done or not. Do like God does and take Sabbath.
And two, dare to be a creature this summer as well. You aren’t in charge of creation; you are a part of everything instead. We are part of it, though yes, we are meant to be stewards of it, which means hired servants to take care of it. But it is bigger and more awesome than us all the same. Even when we fail to take care of it well, it goes on. Life is greater than us. Which is a comforting thought and one that puts us well in our place, too. We are nourished and fed and take our breaths all thanks to something besides ourselves. We don’t make it; we are not sufficient unto ourselves; we have much to be grateful for. Remember that you are dust, part of the earth, and be thankful.
There is so much that creation can teach us, even trapped in our manufactured world. So much that we can learn and hear and see. This summer that is my prayer for us all: that we may open our eyes to the life around us and know the Life within us. Amen.