When you open the big book to the very first real page, it starts out with the profundity: "In the beginning...," which, I guess, is not a half bad way to start. "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the waters. Then God spoke, 'Let there be light, and there was light.'" (Gen. 1:1-3) I know I don't have to tell you that much controversy surrounds the first two chapters of Genesis. You don't have to go very far to hear the rumblings that affect the teaching of good science, and the teaching of good theology. The fight for who gets to be right happens all the time!
The controversy seems to take shape around the question as to whether our genesis as a planetary ecosystem was governed by the laws of God or by the laws of science. My answer to that question is to say that it’s, “Both/and, not either/or.” These stories from scripture are not, nor were they ever meant to be, scientific truth. However, they are to be for us glimpses of holy truth, metaphors that take us deeper into who we are and who God is for us. The story invites us in to tell us that creation began with a word, a promise, a spark of the divine imagination. Out of nothing came something with God's breath, God's spirit moving over the waters.
And if it weren't enough that we have questions about the origins of the earth, the questions about our own species' arrival make us wonder about who we are, where we came from, and how long we might last. The second chapter of Genesis, once again, informs us, not about the accuracy of
Darwin, but about who we are in relationship to God. These humans, for some reason unknown to us, seem to be especially loved by this whimsical God who grows ever more pleased as creation's energy takes on new and more complex forms of life. But in this more earthy of the creation accounts, we see God's artistic side as God gets downright messy in the process of creating what would become the first human being. We read that the mineral earth had been formed, the rocks, the clays, the geological masses, and yet, this account tells us there were yet no plants or fields of any kind on the earth because there had not been any rain. Therefore, God causes a stream to rise up from the ground that begins to water this fertile pool of life's chemical beginnings. God then comes to the earth and begins to play like a child in the mud. From this pool of carbon and water, the initial primordial ooze, God molds and shapes. God designs and redesigns. God fashions hands and arms, legs and feet, pinkie toes, ears swirled like seashells, a heart to beat to the rhythm of life, and eyes to see, and a nose to smell, and all the things that make us uniquely who we are among the other species of our planet. When God is satisfied with this playful work or working play, God calls the mud-being "good," and bends over this inanimate form of dirt and dust, and kisses it with the breath of life.
Although famous for its attention to detail and its beauty, I have a problem with Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In it God reaches out to Adam, the man, the first human being and does a little E.T. zap finger to finger to set creation in motion. I'm sure you've seen it portrayed somewhere before. To me, that's simply not how the story goes. Genesis tells us of a much more intimate and personal encounter than that. In my imagination God has muddy hands, a dirt streaked forehead, and knees caked with the signature childlike blackness of stooping in the dirt. God is sweaty from the intensive labor of getting everything in precisely the right place. God has to breathe life into this, this "thing." How hard must that have been? I picture God's divinely
inspired CPR as the first mouth-to-mouth, not finger-to-finger, contact. Now, I know that I'm also not technically correct in that the story says that God breathes mouth to nostrils - but that's just a little bit gross! And if Michelangelo can take artistic liberty, so can I! So God breathes, God holds,
God kisses, and God loves us into creation. The breath, the sweat, the tears, and the labor mold us into being, and new life is born.
The Psalmist, however, is the one who asks the really bold question. "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?" Who are we indeed, that God is mindful of us? And "Who are we at all?" is really one of the most fundamental questions of our lives. Could it be that God really does love us as much as this story tells us about our beginnings as a species?
Perhaps this creation story is about the truth of our lives - an intuited truth more so than a scientific one. We are pretty special. This story tells us how special. We were, from the very beginning, infused with God's very own image and enlivened with God's very own breath. From the very beginning, in an act of intimate knowing, God creates human beings with love and from love.
Who are we? We are the ones God loves. Jesus taught the way of love with every fiber of his being.
"Jesus loves us, this we know." It's as simple as a children's song. However, expressing that love to others as God would have us do can be mighty difficult. But because I believe God made us in love,
I also believe we are most certainly called to love one another. That one particular commandment sticks around and can be found in every religion that values human life at all! Love one another.
The apostle Paul was also a great believer in love. He knew absolutely that one of the gifts that these newly called Christians could bring to the world was the renewed sense of love that they had found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the greatest lover the world had ever known. He demonstrated love in his teaching, by his healing of others, and by forgiving even those who had condemned him to death - so Paul, as his follower, commanded that anyone speaking and acting in his name do the same. In his letters' every greeting there was acknowledgment of great compassion for these fledgling communities of faith, and in every closing a promise of God's great love, grace, and peace.
So in this particular closing, he advises the pilgrim believers at Corinth to "greet one another with a kiss."
Today, this sounds foreign to us. The practice of liturgical "kissing" has gone by the wayside. We
Presbyterians are sometimes even leery of a handshake. Any movement or touching in church is borderline taboo. But Paul says, "Greet one another with a holy kiss." You might be relieved to know that an early prototype of the modern church-goer, Clement of Alexandria, rejected the notion of too much kissing in the early church when he said there were "those" kind of Christians "who do nothing but make the church resound with a kiss." 1 Can you even imagine such a thing?
Paul could. But remember, Paul is also credited with the phrase, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." This holy kiss he proposed tumbled to the ground walls that had been building up for centuries. Touching across the boundaries - why that was even worse than touching in the first place, especially for someone coming from such strict purity taboos as Paul.
Today we have our own categories of "untouchables" but our own scripture reminds us that there are to be no "untouchables" and that's messy business. Remember "we" are loved by God and that
"we" is not limited to only the people we like, or the people we associate with, or the people that
smell like us, or the ones who call themselves Christian. The "we" that are loved by God is
EVERYBODY, everybody in this crazy little species that God chooses to love as God's own.
It is much to my delight that we have this and a couple other ancient writings that play up God's role as an artist who played in the mud and dirt to make us. We are also blessed to have a story of our origin that reminds us that it was God who kissed us with the breath of life. We reclaim the story when we understand that it was God again who kissed us from the cross. And now God continues to hold us, and love us, and let us break God's very own heart. If only we could do more kissing, more loving, more hugging of this world. We, who are made over in God's image, who follow in the way of Christ, are the ones who need to teach our world how to love and touch again.
We need to set an example of good love, God's love, the kind of love that carries the whole weight, the whole energy of creation behind it, the love that has the power makes all things new.
Love is the greatest thing we can do for one another, for God is love, and the more we love one another, the more we show God to the world. So take the time and risk the vulnerability of touch, for touch shows love in ways we cannot express in words. You know that this is true. You learned it by the time you were two. Babies that don't learn to touch and hug are at risk of serious disease or at worst, death. Love that is fruitful, love that multiplies, comes from (you guessed it) touching.
Apparently that was God's plan from the start - regardless of that unfortunate incident with some forbidden fruit.
Awhile ago I read a powerful story in one of Leonard Sweet's books about how touch can say everything. "The official release of the last words from the Space Shuttle Challenger to Houston
Control had someone exclaiming, 'uh-oh.' An 'unofficial' transcript of the final communication with the Challenger crew reveals that all aboard knew what was happening, and the panic in their voices
was palpable. In this 'unofficial' communication to the spacecraft, the last words spoken on the
Challenger are from one of the astronauts: 'Give me your hand.'" 2
Give me your hand. Greet one another with a kiss. Same/same. Whether it's in the innocence of a child's room saying 'goodnight,' or in a spacecraft stricken with terror - we all need the very same thing, to know that we are loved, by each other, and by the loving kiss of the living God. Amen.
1 Sweet, Leonard. Post-modern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21
Holman Publishers: Nashville, TN, 2000. Page 9.
Century World. Broadman &
2 Sweet, Leonard. Post-modern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21
Holman Publishers: Nashville, TN, 2000. Page 21.
Century World. Broadman &