john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Genesis 1 - Creation

    Good Shepherd 17/7/2005 (Communion Service)

    Genesis 1.1-2.4a, John 3.16-21

    Creation is a mystery, isn't it? You know how much of a mystery it is when you try to answer the questions of a child:

    "Where did God come from?"

    "Well, God didn't come from anywhere, God has always been here," you say, and read the first words of Genesis: 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 face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.

    To which a child might ask, "When God said, 'Let there be light', who was he talking to?"

    "Erm... perhaps he had angels working for him who made the light for him, or ... (ah, this is clever) perhaps he was talking to himself - God, you see, is three people rolled into one: The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit, so when God said, 'Let there be light', perhaps it was The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit talking to each other about what to create next.

    You suspect that if you gave a child that answer they, very rightly and very intelligently, would want to know a lot more before they were really satisfied. There's enough mystery in that one tiny bit of Genesis to keep anyone thinking for a long, long time. And there are thirty-five verses in the reading we heard today.

    We'll never get to the heart of the mystery of creation. That's where faith comes in. And the great thing about many children is that they can accept the very unsatisfactory explanations adults give them because they also have a very pure, simple faith which is unspoiled by complicated and unconvincing grown-up ideas.

    I like this little poem by Spike Milligan, based on a conversation he once had with his young son and daughter:

    One day a little boy called Sean
    (Age four) became profound.
    He asked his dad
    If it were true
    The world was going round.

    'Oh yes, that's true,' his daddy said.
    'It goes round night and day.'
    'Then doesn't it get tired dad?'
    Young Sean was heard to say.
    His sister in the bath called out
    'What did dad say - what did he?'
    He said, 'The world is going round.'
    Said she, 'Well it's making me giddy.'

    I know as a child the one thing I was sure about, about God, was that God had made the world. I loved this Genesis story. I loved the pattern of it, a bit like a poem in the way it repeats itself:

    God said, let it be;
    God made it;
    God gave it a name;
    God saw that it was good.

    I loved all the things in this story: the bright lights of the sky, the great waters of the sea and the vast skies, all those plants and trees, the swimming, swarming creatures of the deep, the varieties of birds and wild animals, and finally the people: male and female, made in God's likeness, made in God's image - whatever that meant, it sounded very good indeed. We're like God, somehow. Which is special. And God likes us. Which is very special indeed.

    It felt true to me, then. That God made me.

    God said, let me be;
    God made me;
    God gave me a name;
    God saw that it was good.

    And it felt true to believe the same about all the other creatures of the earth, even the little, silly, mundane ones. Like the subject of this poem by Stewart Henderson:

    What is the point of a goldfish?
    What is it exactly they do?
    They're not very fast
    And don't often last
    you can't even put them in stew.

    What is the use of a goldfish?
    Their open mouths make them look dim.
    It's a tedious fact
    that their sole daily act
    consists of a half-hearted swim.

    What is the crux of a goldfish?
    Would they like to discover new seas?
    Or get up at dawn
    and race round the lawn
    and feel what it's like to have knees?

    Would they like to shout 'boo' at the postman?
    And bark at the starlings outside?
    Or swallow the cat
    thus becoming quite fat
    and know what it's like to be wide?

    What is the mark of a goldfish?
    It's not like they do as they're told.
    It lacks any goal
    but this fortunate soul
    just woke up one day and was gold.

    All God's creatures are special; you, me, the goldfish. All creation is precious. That's a simple faith. And it is all the faith we need to find our place in the world and enjoy it.

    God said, let it be;
    God made it;
    God gave it a name;
    God saw that it was good.
    And when his work was done, then God rested.

    Just outside Chester, at the point where the M56 meets the M53, stands the Mitchell Group car showrooms. The big notice outside gives the opening times as Monday to Saturday. This is followed by the line: 'Sunday: at home with the family.'

    The Mitchell Group has an annual turnover of 25 million. This year it will sell 1700 cars. Yet, unlike any of its rivals, it closes on Sundays. This is because the managing director, Mark Mitchell, is a practising Christian who has refused to compromise his belief in the sabbath as a day of rest. He says that staff are attracted to his company because of this policy - people who want to have a healthy balance between work and life. [3]

    Now, some of us have to work Sundays - so have to take our sabbaths on a Friday or another day. But the point is that God put rest into creation. Without it creation would not function properly. Just as God put sleep into our human framework, and as God put the need for seeds to die and lie hidden in the ground before being wonderfully reborn, in their time.

    So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

    It is good to rest from our work, because when we do then we share in God's blessing. It is good to take sleep, because when we do we accept God's restoration of our bodies and souls. It is good to die in God's safe keeping, because when we do we know that we will share in his resurrection.

    In John's gospel Jesus prepares his disciples for his death by using some words from nature:

    In very truth I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains that and nothing more; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest. (John 12.24)

    Jesus saw his death as a seed being planted. One day it would re-emerge, in a wonderful harvest.

    This thought connects us to our gospel reading, one we know so well:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

    You know, if we look we can see eternal life all around us. We can see resurrection everywhere in creation. In people whose health is restored, yes; in relationships healed, new jobs created, yes; in family celebrations, in all those good things of human life, yes. And also in nature.

    I love watching the changes in the trees which line Utting Avenue. Bare in winter; wonderfully rich with leaves just now, a fantastic sight. You might have favourite places where you see clearly the cycles of nature, a garden, a favourite park or place you like to sit or walk. I wonder if you agree that these are places where God's resurrection life is clear and vivid.

    Even the most unpromising places can display God's resurrection life. The old industrial sites of northern England, for instance, which used to belch thick black smoke, were described by William Blake as 'dark satanic mills', and by W.G. Hoskins as 'the landscapes of Hell'.

    When George Orwell visited Wigan and saw all the wasteland close to the town centre created by mines which had collapsed, he described this urban wilderness as a 'lunar landscape'. But that was seventy years ago. Since then nature has reclaimed it. Today it's beautiful. If you visit Wigan Flashes now you see swallows diving overhead, great varieties of wildfowl on the wide expanses of water, and yachts sailing, and friendly happy people in narrowboats exchanging greetings with people cycling or walking their dogs on the canal towpath. [4] We might call it resurrection. Or in the words of the song Morning has Broken, 'God's re-creation of a new day'....

    In our Sunday services the next few weeks we are going to think about creation, looking at it in all sorts of different ways. There are serious issues to be faced about how we treat God's earth, and we will touch on them as we go. But today, let us just celebrate creation. And the signs of God's resurrection, the signs of eternal life, which we see in it.


    [1] Spike Milligan, Silly Verse for Kids
    [2] Stewart Henderson, Who left Grandad at the Chip Shop?
    [3] From feature in the Church Times, 15 July 2005
    [4] See my blogs of 14 and 15 July 2005