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The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GLORY TO THE FATHER
AND TO THE SON
AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT,
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING,
IS NOW AND WILL BE FOREVER, AMEN.
I remember very well the first day of Hebrew class at seminary. I don’t know if they still require biblical Hebrew but when I attended Luther Seminary they did. We started with the Hebrew alphabet— ALEPH, BETH, GIMMEL, DALETH, HAY —and then we went on to the Hebrew Bible. Where did we begin? We began at the very beginning. The very first word in the Bible means “Beginning, ” Bereshith. The Bible begins with a faith commitment that Jews and Christians have made ever since: At the first beginning was God. This God so wanted relationship that God created the heavens and the earth: Berishith barah elohim eth ha’shamayim w-eth ha’aretz. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning, God created…what a majestic statement that makes of God’s love and care, God’s control and power. Not everyone agrees with our faith in God’s creation. Do you remember Carl Sagan, the astronomer? He popularized astronomy and its “billions and billions” of stars. Sagan saw no meaning in the universe, just a random collection of natural forces. Even the term “nature” which is now so much more common than “creation” seems to suggest that there is nothing behind the natural world, that everything around us arose by chance or some inexorable force inherent in life itself—no director, no intelligence, no creator. It takes faith to confess “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” It takes faith to believe there was a beginning and that at the beginning, God created.
Psalm 33 says, “By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of His mouth.” John’s Gospel opens, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into beginning through him and without him no one thing came into begin. What came into being in him was life.”
God created out of nothing by the power of God’s Word. Nothing happened by chance but by God’s creating Word, God’s command to cause light to shine in darkness, to separate the waters from the dry land, to bring forth plants and animals, creatures of sea and sky and creeping things. God also pronounced a blessing on all that God made, saying, “And it was good.” Each day, evening and morning, God’s Word sounded forth and created. Each day God saw what had been made and called it “good.”
Not every scientist looks at the world and sees random chance. The great Robert Milliken, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, once wrote, “When I view the universe, at its microcosm and macrocosm, its incredible order, and ponder its vast unknown and unknowable, I join the Psalmist of old and say, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth forth His handiwork.” Many of us treasure our opportunities to get out and view the wonders of creation—the mountains, the forests, the desert, the sea. This week the Oregon pastors met in Newport and from the hotel we could watch the winter waves crashing on the beach, the Yaquina Head lighthouse in the distance, and on my way back to Eugene, I could see the white volcanoes— Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters shining above the Cascades. It was so beautiful. As I was driving songs and hymns came to mind especially, “This is My Father’s World…I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.” We confess that all which is made had a Maker.
But even more wonderful than the billions of stars and sands on the shore, God’s creation of heaven and earth, is God’s special creation of each one of us. God was at our beginning too. Martin Luther wrote in the Catechism: “I believe that God has created me and all that exists. He has given me and still preserves my body and soul with all their powers…”
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Genesis in the second chapter gives an alternative account of creation—the first chapter is the majestic sweep of universal creation, God creating by God’s Word and ending with the Sabbath rest of God, God’s creation of a time for rest and peace. But in the second chapter, God reaches down and forms a man of the mud and blows into the man God’s breath, God’s Spirit. The man is lonely so God makes a variety of animals to be helpers but none is satisfactory. God then causes the man to sleep and takes a rib and makes the perfect helper, a woman for the man. Man and woman made for each other—people from the earth, the ground, yet people infused with a divine Spirit, God’s own particular creation. God cares about human beings. God wants each person to be happy and fulfilled.
In the 1960s, there was a popular poster which showed a little black child from one of the nation’s urban ghettoes. Beneath the picture ran the words, “God don’t make no junk.” The poster would seem pretty dated today, but the message if not grammatical is not out of date. We need to be reminded that we are God’s good creation and God does not make junk. As Dr. James Nestingen of Luther Seminary put it, “God loves to create. It is one of the things God is good at. So there are kangaroos and rhinos, hissing ostriches and lowing cattle; there is rhubarb and there are oranges, mangoes and popcorn, there are chocolates, dark and luscious, just waiting to be made into candy or frosting. And there are people, tall and short, fast and slow, light and dark, fat and skinny, beautiful and not quite so nice. There are toenails, there is earwax; there is hair that hangs to a woman’s waist and a man’ head that has become smooth as chrome. And there is you.” You are God’s good creation.
It is a wonderful message, this message from the beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1—that God created the heavens and the earth and each one of us. God was at the beginning and our beginning. We are important to God. And God does not stop even there, but God gives us new beginnings too.
Today we remember the baptism of Jesus. He went down to the River Jordan and was baptized by John. We also remember our own baptism and the promise that being baptized makes us children of God and heirs to God’s eternal kingdom. It also reminds us that God makes us new people in baptism, rescues us from sin and death and the power of the devil.
In the Catechism, Luther reminds us that baptism is also for daily living: We drown our sinful self as we confess our sins and are promised the “day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.” God promises us a new start. We can confess our sins and be forgiven our past; we see Jesus and know there the forgiveness of God, the love of God, the power of God. John’s Gospel confesses Jesus as God’s creating Word and in his life and death and resurrection we see God’s love for us. We can look at ourselves not only with our shortcomings and failings and sins but also as we appear to God through Jesus Christ as people forgiven, accepted, valued, cherished and loved.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, God made everything and called it good. In our beginning, God created us and God calls us good too. The beginning comes to us anew each day as we return to our baptism, repent and confess our sins and for Jesus’ sake, we are proclaimed good. And we look forward in hope to the God who said, “Behold I make all things new.” “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.
Copyright 2006, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.