Creation & COVID-19: Reading Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 in the context of struggle

March 14, 2020

Today’s scripture reading will be from Genesis 1:2 - 2:3. Take time to read it below before listening to the sermon.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 (New Revised Standard Version)

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

 

6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

 

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

 

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

 

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

 

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

 

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

 

27 So God created humankind in his image,

    in the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

 

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

 

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

[Click play button below to begin sermon, transcript of sermon is below]

March 15 SermonHenry Pablo III
00:00 / 12:27

[Sermon Transcript of "Creation & COVID-19" Below]

I would like to begin with a prayer written by Dr. Sharon Fennema, one of my professors. 

 

Prayer for Hand-washing in the Time of COVID-19

By Dr. Sharon Fennema 

[Let us pray...]

 

This water is sacred

These hands are sacred

All that these hands will touch

  Is sacred

This cleansing is sacred because

  The well-being of all creatures

  Is sacred

This moment of washing away

  All that does not serve is sacred

This resistance to fear is sacred

This way of tending to the most

  Vulnerable I encounter is sacred

This act of care for myself and

  Others is sacred because

  Touch is sacred and

  All that these hands will touch

  Is Sacred

These hands are sacred

This water is sacred 

 

Amen.

Things are a bit different this Sunday. In order to mitigate the spread of the Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19), Riverside United Methodist Church is shifting the in-person English Worship Service and Chinese Worship Service to online mediums. Instead of sitting together in our church sanctuary you may be sitting at home or doing tasks around the house. I’m not trying to be facetious, but you may also be listening to this message while driving to purchase any supplies left at your local grocery or department store. The reaction pictures I have seen online to COVID-19 are quite unsettling: empty food aisles at department stores; check-out lines at Costco stretching across the large store; and people hoarding copious amounts of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Listening to the current news, reading the local paper, and seeing all the posts on social media can bring anxiety. One may say that the pictures, the news, and the world’s current situation right now are a bit apocalyptic. 

 

Today, I want us to search the scriptures for hope, wisdom, and comfort. I want us to draw from the deep well of knowledge of how the ancient Israelites were reading the scriptures and applying it to their time. Then, I want us to take the narrative of the Scriptures and the wisdom of the ancient Israelites, and unpack how it informs our context. Specifically, I want us to unpack the first creation story in the scriptures. I read Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1 to Chapter 2, Verse 3, but I encourage you all to take time to read it again and pray with it. You may also write down any questions you may have, like “Can we find comfort and hope in the stories of our beginnings?”

 

Within the first creation narrative, I am drawn to Genesis Chapter 1, Verses 26 - 27, which says: 

 

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

 

27 So God created humankind in his image,

    in the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

 

A key take-away from these verses is that humankind is made in the image and likeness of God. A key characteristic of God found in the creation narrative, is God as creator, and that what God has created is good. Genesis Chapter 2 Verse 31 states, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Therefore, to be made in the image and likeness of God, means that each and everyone one of us has the ability to create and be creative. We have the ability to create and be creative in the midst of God’s creation. Because of God’s grace moving us to exercise our creativity, when we respond to God’s grace, we are co-creating with God. 

 

The feeling of powerlessness, anxiety, and struggle has pervaded human history. The ancient Israelites, the people whose stories are told within the Bible, are no stranger to the struggle. Part of their struggle involved their home, the kingdom of Judah, being destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. Then, part of their community was deported out of their home and into foreign lands. Imagine the powerlessness and anxiety they felt in the midst of the destruction of their home, friends and families separated, and not knowing what the future holds for them as a community and their identity as a chosen people of God.

 

As God’s people, they too searched the scriptures for answers, which at that time, Old Testament scriptures were still being orally transmitted and not yet written. Keep in mind that there was no Jesus yet, and there was no New Testament. However, many of the ancient Israelites were reading the creation stories, trying to find hope, trying to find comfort. Historian David M. Carr states, “Genesis 1:1-2:3 would have helped Judean exiles understand their situation in a new way. Though they might be relatively powerless vis-a-vis their Babylonian overlords, they shared with the rest of humanity a likeness to God that was seen in their bodies, a likeness that made them ‘kings’ of creation.” [1] Therefore, I would like to believe that in the midst of their struggle and anxiety, they remembered who they were as God’s people. As “kings and queens” of creation, they still had their ability to exercise their creativity in their own context, and no one, no struggle, no situation, could take that away from them. Remembering their creativity fostered their resilience. 

 

Let us remember our own creativity. In light of COVID-19 and in understanding how ancient Israelites read Genesis, the first creation narrative allows us to understand our situation in a new way. Though we may seem powerless, riddled with fear and anxiety, in the midst of this pandemic, we are called to remember our likeness to God, a likeness that made us creative beings. In applying Genesis this way, we can disrupt the negative connotations that the word “apocalypse” has, and go back to the Greek meaning of the word, which is closer to “uncovering.” In the midst of our fear and anxiety, we are all called to uncover hope and creativity in order to further the creation of an “Earth as it is in Heaven.” 

 

We must also keep in mind that our creativity is not without context or direction. As followers of Jesus we are to direct our creativity toward furthering the creation of the table fellowship embodied by the life of Jesus and found throughout the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “How does expanding the table look like in the midst of COVID-19?” For me, I believe we already have begun creating and expanding the table as we shift toward this online medium of a recorded sermon. Yes, this may be less formal and intimate, but as the table fellowship was centered on care and compassion this is what care and compassion looks like right now. It is a time to be creative, not just for ourselves, but also for those who are at high-risk for COVID-19, who are the older folk and the people with preexisting health conditions. It is a time to be creative for workers in hospitals treating persons who have or possibly have COVID-19, placing themselves at risk. It is a time to be creative for underserved communities. Schools have been cancelled, where kids rely on school for free lunch or a space to get away from the turmoil at home. Parents working various jobs to put food on the table are thinking, “Who can take care of my kid while I am at work?” Then, they find themselves rushing to the closest department store or grocery store, to find no more food or supplies on the shelves, because some people have decided to hoard and sadly resell toilet paper and hand sanitizer at a higher price. Our creativity must center those most affected. 

 

The future is before us with God empowering us, and immersing us in grace. Let us engage and hopefully transform our fear and anxiety to action, by remembering that we are made in the image and likeness of God, a creative God. Let us uncover the resilience of the ancient Israelites, and the resilience of our own traditions, cultures, and people who have come before us. Let us create in the context of community, reminded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that our creativity must center those who are suffering. Let us be reminded that this creativity is good, that this creativity is necessary, that this creativity is Holy. 

 

Finally, let us remember to rest. In Genesis Chapter 2, Verses 1 to 2 it states, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” In order to engage our fear and anxieties, let us take time to turn off the news and social media. Let us spend more time with our families. Let us reflect on ourselves. For this is also necessary to cultivate our creativity. And that rest, is also good. 

 

And now I turn the question back to you all: “How does expanding the table look like in the midst of COVID-19?” On our website is a text box that will allow you to enter your thoughts. I look forward to hearing all your ideas. And so to end:

 

May the Lord bless you and keep you, 

may the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you, 

may the Lord smile at you, and give you peace. 

 

Wash your hands, 

let us expand the table, 

be creative, 

and rest. Amen. 

[1] David M. Carr, An Introduction to The Old Testament: Sacred Texts and Imperial Contexts of the Hebrew Bible, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 202.

[2] Intro and Outro Audio Acoustic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqpOJMYJvhU

How does expanding the table look like in the midst of COVID-19?

RIVERSIDE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.

803 Vallejo Way, Sacramento, CA 95818. 916-443-4360. 

© 2020 Riverside United Methodist Church of Sacramento. All Rights Reserved.

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