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A reflection on Genesis 1.

The first chapter of the first book of the Bible was written for/by the people of Israel while they were in exile in Babylon. It was written as a protest against all those voices which were telling them that they were ‘nobodies’, ‘losers’ in life. To the Babylonians, they were just one more conquered nation. They felt humiliated, broken, and rejected. They were victims: pawns of Babylonian power, of forces that were beyond their control.

The first chapter of Genesis says, “You are confused about your identity. You have forgotten who you are and what defines you. What is decisive is not what the Babylonians think about your. What is decisive is not even what you think about yourself. What is decisive is what God thinks about you.” The story of creation proclaims that God’s primary relationship toward God’s creation is one of delight and graciousness.

Throughout the story, God looks at what God has made and pronounces it “good” — lovely, pleasing, beautiful. God gives God’s blessing three times: over living creatures, over human beings, and over the sabbath, the day of rest. The Creators delights in the creation. It brings God joy.

G. K. Chesterton imagined God’s childlike delight in what God had made. He said, “If you take a five year old child, throw her into the air, catch her, bounce her off your knee and then set her down on the floor, she will exclaim, ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ Every time you do it, she will shout with more enthusiasm, ‘Do it again!’ Even if you repeat the process a dozen time, the child will not tire of it. You will have to stop before she want you to.”

Chesterton believed that God maybe that way about creating daisies. He imagined God creating the first daisy and enjoying it so much that something deep inside God exclaimed, “Do it again!” When God made the second daisy, God was even more excited and shouted, “Do it again!” As God creates daisy after daisy, and after making the one hundred billionth daisy, God is filled with even more excitement than when God first began.

It is a wonderful image — but not just for daisies. It is a wonderful image for human beings as well. Can you imagine the joy and delight God had when God created you? Can you imagine the joy and delight God still has in you?

Most of us are far more aware of how often we have messed up. We live far more deeply out of the third chapter of Genesis that we do out of the first. You know the story: God places Adam and Even in a beautiful garden with everything they could want of need. The only rule was not to eat the fruit from one of the trees in the garden. Of course, the first thing they did was to betray the trust God had placed in them, eat the fruit and get expelled from the garden . . . and the rest of us have been paying the price ever since.

That is the story that many of us live our lives by. The truth is, we do betray the trust God places in us. We do reject the love that God lavishes upon us and treat it carelessly.

But, that is not the most important thing about us. The deeper truth is that God loves us and delights in us and will do whatever it takes to reconcile us to God, short of coercing us to love God.

There is a significant difference when God creates human beings from when God creates the rest of creation. With all the rest of creation, God speaks a word. The creation responds and becomes what God calls it to be. Then, God moves on to the next thing: day and night; sky and land; sun, moon and stars.

The pattern changes when it comes to making human beings. They are the only part of the creation to whom God speaks directly. God creates them and then starts talking to them. In entering into conversation with them, God invites them to enter into a personal relationship that is different from God’s relationship with the rest of creation.

“Speaking” signifies two things: God is intensely committed to human beings; human beings have the marvellous freedom to respond. God creates because God wants to share love. At the pinnacle of the process of creation, God creates a creature who can choose to love in return.

Each of us has the choice to respond to God’s love in our lives or not. We can listen to the voices that tell us that we are nobodies who will never measure up. Or, we can choose instead to listen to the voice of God who delights in us much more than we can imagine. We can listen to God who believes in us much more than we believe in ourselves. We can listen to God who entrusts us with the great and holy work of shining the light of Christ in our world.

That voice is so committed to us that the Word comes to us in Jesus of Nazareth. That voice will challenge our fears, our lies, the shallowness of our lives. That voice will bring us to that place where we experience the joy and the delight God has in us. Thanks be to God.

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A sermon by Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which was first preached is available at Reformed Worship, week 7.

Scriptures: Proverbs 30: 18-19, 24 -28; John 3: 1-17

Did you know that the turkey used to be a sleek and beautiful bird? It had a rather odd head, but its body was so streamlined that it could fly up to sixty-five miles per hour. Today’s turkeys can barely stand, much less fly. Sixty percent of a turkey’s flesh is in its breast and wings. North Americans, apparently, prefer white meat, so turkeys have been genetically engineered to meet consumer wishes. (Douglas John Hall, The Steward, p. 104)

Most of the tomatoes that you can buy in a Canadian grocery store in January have been picked while they are still green. That way, they will not bruise while they are being transported. When they get to were they are going, they are blasted with ethylene to turn their exteriors red. Tomatoes, too, have been genetically engineered so that they have thicker skins. This, too, helps with transporting them over long distances. They also have approximately thirty percent less vitamin C than tomatoes that were cultivated in the 1960’s did. They have fourteen times more sodium. One third of them come from Florida, where there are regulations about their size and shape and quality. An arsenal of over one hundred chemicals is used to combat insects, bacteria and diseases.

Technology has changed our lives in many amazing and wonderful ways. Tomatoes in January are not among them.

Not that long ago, most people in the modern world had great faith in technology’s power to save us. If we had a problem, we believed that someone could and would develop a technology to fix it. If the technology we used to fix the problem caused other problems, surely we could develop more technology to fix those problems as well.

We are not so sure any more. There is chaos in the Middle East and famine in Africa; there are dead zones in our oceans, and deserts where there were once fertile plains; two hundred species disappear every day; superbugs that are resistant to our best antibiotics are emerging in our hospitals; terrorists elude our most sensitive security devices; our young people drown their increasing sense of despair in binge drinking and hard drugs. All of these events have been resistant to our best, most advanced technological solutions.

Over thirty-five years ago, Douglas John Hall observed, “We are a nation of full shopping carts and empty faces.” Asks Wendell Berry, “How does it happen that we can know so much and do so much and live so badly?” We know a great deal. We can do many things. What we lack is wisdom. we lack the wisdom to use our knowledge well so that humanity flourishes and so that creation is preserved not only for ourselves but also for generations to come. The good garden God gave to us to tend and to keep groans, waiting for us to develop such wisdom.

The book of Proverbs is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible. Proverbs 30 says that wisdom is knowing that there are things we do not know:

There are three things too wonderful for me;

four I do not understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas,

the way of a man with a woman.

Proverbs is not trying to examine, explain or measure such things. it is drawing us in to wonder, awe and reverence before the mysteries of creation. The eagle, the snake, the ship, the couple in love are in motion with an energy from beyond themselves. There is more going on here than we can account for.

In each instance, we come up against the limits of our knowing. Our relationship with them is not so much a matter of comprehending them as realizing that the only way to know them is to delight in the wonder of them. It is a way of knowing that comes from the heart. It is a way of knowing that comes from living in reverence toward that which we cannot use and manipulate and control. Instead, we learn to love and cherish and protect them as part of God’s precious creation. It is a way of knowing that the weary creation desperately needs.

Leonard Sweet says that what we need more of in the church is ‘kangaroo theology’. There is an urban myth that ‘kangaroo’ is an Australian aboriginal word for ‘I don’t know’. When the Europeans first came to Australia, they asked the people who were already there, “What are those things hopping around the countryside?” The people would shrug and say, “Kangaroo.”

That is what we need in the church — kangaroo theology: the capacity to say, “I don’t know”.

We deal with deep mysteries: the mysteries of a marvellously complex creation; the mysteries of being human in relationship with each other; the mysteries of being invited into relationship with the Triune God.

Nicodemus was a religious leader and yet, when he encountered Jesus, he knew he was faced with someone who defied the usual categories. Jesus spoke truth that mystified and surprised. In his presence, people felt the very presence of God. One night, he approached Jesus, saying, “We know you a teacher from God. But there is more. I am trying to get my mind around who you are and what you are doing. Explain it to me.”
Jesus said to him, “You don’t know. God is making a new creation before your very eyes. The only way to get in on it is to let go of what you know and what you think you know and what you think you have grasped. The only way to get in on the new life God is bringing to birth is to take a risk beyond what you know. You have to enter into it . . . not with all your adult know-how but like a new-born baby. God is at work in your life and mine, but it is the invisible moving the visible. The new creation that is taking shape is being formed by something we cannot see and touch — by the Spirit. You know how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it is coming from or where it is going next. That is the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit of God. You don’t know.”

We do not know. We do not know how the Spirit is at work among us, moving this weary, aching creation toward new possibilities. We get in on it only as we learn to live in this complex and beautiful creation with humility and reverence. When we lose wonder and awe, it gets easy to act out of greed or carelessness or self-concern. Then, all creation suffers. More than that, when we act out of greed or carelessness, or self-concern, the very survival of human life is threatened.

To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord is to say that we are not. We are not Lords but servants of the one who is Lord. We are answerable to another. We are creatures of a good, gracious, creative God who loves us and who calls us into a life of loving: loving God; loving others; loving the beloved creation. The wisdom to love as Christ commands begins with the humility that stands in reverence before that which we do not know.

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A sermon by Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which was first preached is available at Reformed Worship week 5.

Scriptures: Genesis 2: 15 -25

In 1986, a woman named Alberta Billie stood up to address a meeting of the General Council of the United Church of Canada. She was the First Nations community of Cape Mudge in British Columbia. She began her address by saying, “We are the salmon people. . . . We recognize the way the salmon run inland from the sea and their return to the sea. We respect that cycle and we celebrate it in our lives, our ritual, our art, our festive occasions. . . We are the salmon people. (James A. Taylor in Currents)

What kind of people are you? What is the dominant story in your culture that tells you who you are?

Over one hundred and seventy-five years ago, the French philosopher Alex de Tocqueville visited the United States. Upon his return, he wrote Democracy in America. He noted, ‘Each citizen is engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely himself.” The story that dominates much of our culture is the story of the Self. Its main characters are My Wants, My Needs, My Feelings, My Desires, My Appetites, What I Deserve. They are placed at the centre of our lives and are not only celebrated, they are coaxed and coached and cultivated. They are coaxed and and coached and cultivated because our society depends upon us being pre-occupied with ourselves in order to keep going.

In order for our economic system to function, we need constantly to be dissatisfied. We need to define ourselves as not having enough, not being good enough, not being loved the way we are. There is always something more we need to get, to buy, to do, to achieve if we are going to be happy and satisfied an fulfilled.

The Self as defined by its needs, appetites and desires is a story that lives deep within us. It shapes our lives and our relationships in powerful ways that undermine human dignity. That story, dominated by the ‘not enough’ Self, makes human community impossible. Said Wendell Berry, “‘Every man for himself’ is a doctrine for a feeding frenzy or for a panic in a burning nightclub; appropriate for sharks or hogs or perhaps a cascade of lemmings . . . A society wishing to endure must speak the language of caretaking, faith-keeping, kindness, neighbourliness, and peace. That language is [a] precious resource and cannot be privatized.”

The story is told of a director of a charitable organization in a small town who noticed that the town’s wealthiest man had never once made a donation. The director decided he would visit the man. He said, “our research shows that your income is at least $500,000 a year, and yet, you never give to charity. Wouldn’t you like to give back to the community in some way?”

The man replied, “Did your research also show that my mother is dying after a long illness and has medical bills that are several times her annual income?”

The director was embarrassed. He mumbled, ‘No, I didn’t know that.”

The wealthy man continued, “Did your research tell you that my sister’s husband died in an accident, leaving her penniless with three children?”

Humiliated, the director said, “I am sorry. I did not realize.”

The wealthy man finished by saying, “So, if I don’t give any money to them, why should I give any to you?”

We may not have an annual income of over $500,000, but we do know what it is to be anxious that there will not be enough. That’s the story that inundates us from many different directions: not enough money, not enough health care, not enough social services, not enough to fill the empty places in our own hearts and souls.

Genesis 2 defines the Self in a radically different way. The main character in the story is not the Self. The main character is God. God has been doing all the talking. God has done all the acting. God has made the human, has breathed life into the human, has placed the human in the garden. So far, the human has not said or done anything. The main actor in our lives is God, not our Selves: God who creates and provides and gives life and pronounces blessing. We are the beloved children of this God. The first thing that defines our lives is that we are a people created by a good and holy Creator. We are formed by our relationship with God.

Whenever we try to live without that relationship, whenever we try to make the story all about us, our lives get small. They become less than God intends them to be. God wills something far greater than that for us.

This God places the human in the garden and gives us work to do there. We are to care for the earth: respect its particularities and its needs so it can remain fruitful for all people.

In the middle of the garden was the tree of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said to the human, “You may eat from any tree in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The tree from which we are not to consume is placed in the middle of the garden. It is not tucked away in some corner where we might forget that it is there. It is in the middle of our garden, in the middle of our lives as a daily reminder that everything we want or desire is not going to get satisfied. There will always be a deep yearning in us that will not be filled no matter how much attention we lavish upon ourselves. No matter how much we think of our own needs, not matter how hard we work to make something of our lives, there will always be an empty space that we cannot fill. We were never meant to “have it all”. (Thanks to Craig Barnes for this insight in his book, Yearning)

That emptiness, that yearning, that ache in the deepest part of you is not something you are supposed to try to fix or fill up. It is not a problem that you need to solve. It is the place in your soul where the living God comes to meet you. The act and the yearning that cannot be stilled is trying to direct you toward leaving space in your life for God to show up. Said St. Augustine, ‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

We are a people created for community. We are created for relationship with God first of all. We are also created for relationship with the world that God makes and values. We are not to exploit it, grabbing whatever we want. We are to tend it and to care for it. We are also made for relationship with each other. We cannot be who we are on our own. We are dependent on God. We are dependent on each other to become what God intends us to be.

Every time we baptize someone, we baptize them into the Body of Christ. We receive them into the community of people who have apprenticed themselves to Jesus Christ. We are those who have promised over and over again to live as a community that is learning to live beyond our pre-occupations with our Selves. We have promised to live, instead, trusting God who has met us in Jesus Christ and who sustains us with steadfast love and faithfulness. We are a people who are learning to receive life as a gift from a gracious God who has a good and holy purpose for all creation. We are a people who are learning to live our lives on God’s terms: not grasping to get all we can for ourselves; not anxiously trying to make our lives count; living, with wonder and awe because we live in the midst of mystery and miracle.

Being that kind of community is not easy. It requires commitment of time and energy. We cannot be a community in the abstract. It happens only as we sacrifice for the sake of a common purpose. It requires courage and risk. Being part of the community that follow Jesus Christ will challenge us beyond our comfort zones as our Lord takes us deeper and deeper into the mystery of God’s love.

Through such a community, God gives us and the world an alternative to the anxious grasping that is killing creation. Through such a community, God gives us a way to live in hope in a dark time. Such a community receives its life from God who is making all things new.

It takes our whole life to learn to live that way. It takes the whole community together. Who are we? We are the people of God who comes to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are the people of the Garden: gifted with a wonderful, diverse creation. We are not to exploit or abuse it. We are to live within it on God’s terms. We live honouring, respecting and cherishing this fragile treasure. So shall we live to the the glory of God.

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Where We Live

 A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett.  The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 4.

Scripture: Genesis 2:4b -15

“Where shall I look for enlightenment?” the disciple asked the elder.
“Here,” the elder replied.
“When will it happen?” the disciple wanted to know.

“It is happening right now,” the elder said.
“Then why do I not experience it?”

“Because you do not look.”

“But what should I look for?”
The elder smiled and answered, “Nothing. Just look.”

“But at what?” the disciple insisted.

“Anything your eyes alight upon.”

“Well, then, must I look in a special kind of way?”
“No.”

“Why ever not?”

The elder said quietly, “Because to look, you must be here. The problem is that you are mostly somewhere else.”

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “The hardest thing in the world is to be where we are.” It is hard to be where we are because life is hard and we want it to be easier than it is. It is hard to be where we are because the three thousand advertisements we see per day tell us that life — our life— can be better than it is. We deserve more. We deserve the best. All we have to do is to buy the products they are selling: beer, soap, drugs, shampoo, lottery tickets. We can drive a better car. We can impress better people. We can travel to a better place.

“The hardest thing is to be where we are.” Where we are, says Genesis, is the garden in Eden. “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east. And there he put the human he had made.” Genesis 2 tells us that twice in seven verses. “The Lord God took the human and put the human in the garden of Eden.” Perhaps the storyteller was afraid that our minds might be elsewhere. We might be distracted and not know where we live our lives.

When many of us think of the Garden of Eden, we think of a perfect place, of paradise. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, we miss what the storyteller is saying about our lives. The place where humans “are” is Eden. Eden is bounded by four rivers — Pishon, Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. We know where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers are. Use a search engine and they show up on a map. However, nobody knows where Pishon River is. Nobody knows where the Gihon runs. You cannot find them on any maps. Not on the internet. Not in an atlas.

God places us in Eden. Our lives are bounded by the known and the unknown. We live in the midst of visible realities like rivers and maps and trees and buildings and different kinds of soap and beer and shampoo. We also live in the midst of invisible realities like love and forgiveness, truth and humility, hope and mystery. You cannot touch them but they influence our lives in powerful ways.

Generally, we are more comfortable with the visible, concrete, material realities of our lives. They are easier to control and manage. I do not know if it is peculiar to Western culture, or whether it is just human nature, but we tend to like things we can control. At least, we like things that feed our illusion that we are in control. One phone call, one appointment with the doctor, and that illusion dissipates in a flash, but still we cling to the illusion that we can control our lives.

The largest part of our lives — the love, mystery, hope, truth — they are not things we control as much as we experience them. We enter into them. Generally, we do not attend to them as much; however, they influence our lives in deep, profound ways. If we are to live well, we need to drink deeply from the rivers of Pishon and Gihon.

The names of the rivers are plays on words. “Pishon” means “that which spreads out far in the distance”. It is a river that overflows. It floods its banks and destroys home and farms and roads. It is a wild, destructive river.

“Gihon” is also a river that grows. However, it grows in a positive sense. The harmony is large and growing larger. It leads to life and fruitfulness and vitality.

Tigris and Euphrates hold a similar tension. hideqel means sharp, violent, hard, piercing.

pherat means being fruitful, productive. This garden in which God places us includes both positive and negative possibilities.

We live in a wonderful world. We are especially conscious of this as we live in Canada. It is a land of enormous beauty. It has bountiful, productive land. It abounds in amazing diversity. However, this is also a world where one out of three children in Sub-Saharan Africa is dying of hunger. This is a world where earthquakes and tsunamis wipe out whole villages; where refugees crowd into boats that capsize before reaching freedom; where greed and exploitation put whole ecosystems at risk so that the coral reefs around the world are all dying. Eden is a good place but it is not perfect. Bad things can and do happen here. Good and evil are part of the realities of our lives. So are birth and death, harmonious growth and violent destruction.

Any faith worth having is a faith that helps us deal with both realities truthfully and with hope. Said Craig Barnes, “Christians always live carrying in one hand God’s promises of how it will be and, in the other hand, the hard reality of how it is”.  We carry God’s good and holy purposes for us in one hand. We carry the hurts and losses and pain and grief that contradict the goodness and joy and peace that God intends in the other. That’s where we are. “Life isn’t logical or sensible or orderly Life is a mess most of the time. Faith must be lived in the midst of that mess.” (Charles Colson)

That is where we wrestle for faith: which is why it is crucial that the garden is in Eden. Eden, says Genesis, is in the east. The east is where the Messiah, the Saviour, comes from. The word Eden is qedem, which also means “the glory of God”. We live in “the glory of God”. Most of the time we miss it, but that is where we are.

Eden can also mean, “where new beginnings come from”. It can mean “the place where grace comes from”. We live our lives in the midst of God’s glory, in the midst of the new beginnings God is making possible, in the midst of God’s amazing grace. Said C. S. Lewis, “God walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

Genesis 2 spends a lot of time telling us the lay of the land where we live. It is getting us oriented in the presence of good and evil, of life and death, of fruitfulness and destruction. Much of life consists of negotiating our way among those realities with courage and hope and faith when courage and hope and faith are not easy to come by.

Genesis 2’s most decisive orientation is the one that keeps us awake and alert to God’s gracious presence: we live in Eden, a holy place filled with the glory of God.

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A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 3. The prayer of confession referred to in the sermon was from The Book of Uncommon Prayer by Steven L. Case. Its congregational response was “We’re on your schedule, not ours.” It was on page 10 of Responsive Prayers.

Scriptures: Genesis 1

What are the calendars that shape your life? For instance, when you say, “Today is August 4th, 2015”, you are using the Gregorian calendar to name the time that you are in. In the Gregorian calendar, the year begins on January 1st and ends on December 31st. It is the way most people in the Western world identify what day it is. It is also a fairly recent way of marking time. The Gregorian calendar is only about 400 years old.

If your family has young children in it, the Gregorian calendar does not really tell you very much about the way you live your life. The year doesn’t really begin on January 1st. It begins on the first Tuesday after Labour Day. “Time” is shaped by the school year and its related events and holidays. It winds up at the end of June. Then, there are two months of freedom, boredom, and family vacations.

Talk with people who work in financial services. They will tell you that the ‘end of the year’ does not happen in December. It happens in March or April or whenever a company’s financial year ends. Farmers live by time that is shaped by seed-time and harvest.

Although we don’t often think about it, the way we mark time matters. It structures our lives. It shapes what we celebrate. It shapes when we are busy and when we rest. It gives meaning to our lives.

The Church marks time by the events in Jesus’ life. The Church’s “New Year” begins in Advent and then moves through the events of Jesus’ life to Good Friday and Easter. Pentecost opens into the longest season: “Ordinary Time”. Year after year, the Church marks those events through which God has called us to be a community that lives in the world the way Jesus lived. Living out of that rhythm is not easy or natural. It takes practice and training for us to get the patterns of Jesus’ living deep into our bodies and minds and spirits.

In this morning’s Prayer of Confession we acknowledged that our culture shapes us into people who are often very busy and who often feel rushed. We live with a 24/7 calendar, always ‘on’, and yet, often feeling that there is not enough time to get everything done that needs to be done. “Time” is a scarce commodity. You have to cram as much into it as you possibly can. Being busy has become a status symbol for ‘successful’ people.

I heard many years ago the story of a man who was always busy, always rushing to appointments and meetings. Someone (his minister?) asked him, “Why are you always in a hurry? Whenever I see you, you are on the run. Where are you running to?” The man replied, “You have to hustle if you want to get somewhere in life. I am running towards the good life, towards success, towards a life that matters.” The minister asked, “What if those things are not up ahead of you? What if they are in the present, waiting for you to recognize them and receive them? What if all your hurrying is simply taking you further away from them?”

The Bible begins with a story of creation The first story in our sacred scriptures is a story about the creation of time. It talks about God creating the heavens and the earth, but mostly it is about God creating the gift of time. “There was evening; there was morning — the first day. There was evening; there was morning — the second day . . .” For six days, God creates in a steady rhythm. Time is not rushed. Hosting that story, we get pulled into a world that is shaped by an orderly pattern. Our life in this world is not just a series of random happenings Everything is connected together. It all holds together by the steady beat of God’s words:

“Let there be light and there is light and God says, ‘There is the good.’”

“Let there be sky and there is sky and God says, ‘There is the good.’”

The rhythm, the repetitive pattern draws us in and makes us participants in God’s creative work.

Every summer in a church that I served, the gymnasium in the church building was filled every morning with children who were participating in drama and dance programme. Over the summer, they would be learning dance routines and singing songs to go with those dances. By the end of the summer, they put on a show, sharing with their parents and friends and the public the routines that they had been practising for several weeks.

Some of the children and young people have been part of the programme for a number of years. They do not know the dances and songs that they will be learning but they know the basic moves and the patterns. There are some children, however, for whom this is all brand new. At this stage, you can tell who they are just by watching.

On Monday, some of the older teens are up on the stage, demonstrating the steps of one of the routines. They were showing the rest of the group what they should be doing with arms and legs and heads and the rest of their bodies. The rest of the children were lined up on the gymnasium floor, imitating them. At first, many of them were making only small steps — hesitant, tentative. As the days go by, you can watch them gradually gain confidence. They begin stepping more firmly. They move their arms with more confidence. Smiles begin to show on their faces. There is more freedom in their movements. The energy in the room picks up. You see them getting in on the dance, becoming part of something that is larger than any one of them could do individually. It will become something that is not only fun but also probably even spectacular by the end of the summer.

That is what is happening in Genesis 1. This is not a story that answers the question, “How did the universe begin? How did the world get started?” The Bible is really not very interested in those kinds of questions. The story is interested in inviting us to live in a time that is full of God’s creativity. It is trying to get us to join in the dance of creation that God is dancing now — in our time, in this place, in our lives. It is showing us the steps: God said . . . and there was. God saw . . . and it was good.  God named . . . God gave, God blessed.

We are like those new children at the drama and dance programme. Living into God’s rhythms can feel new and strange. We are not very sure of ourselves when we are just learning the steps that get us in on God’s creative work.

Being God’s people in this time is different in so many ways from what came before. Genesis 1 begins by saying that the earth was “formless and void” (KJV). It was a “soup of nothingness, bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness” (The Message).  Genesis 1 is a poem for people who live in a troubled times. It is a poem for when things are bad and getting worse. When terrorists blow up innocent people. When the economy hovers in uncertainty. When the environment is under extreme stress and fragile ecosystems are deeply at risk and, whatever we do, it does not seem to be enough. Whatever we try does not make any fundamental difference. It is difficult to discern any hope for the future. That is the “formless void”, the “soup of nothingness”, the “bottomless emptiness” over which the Spirit of God broods like a bird above a watery abyss.

In such a time, it would be easy to give in to the pervasive despair that permeates our culture and our churches. It would be easy to close ranks and just take care of ourselves and just hold on as we try to survive. We could just be part of the despair.

Genesis 1 offers an alternative. God’s Spirit is hovering over the chaos. God is speaking a Word that is bringing a new creation out of a damaged world in a damaged time. God’s people get to participate in that creative, live-giving work. We begin on the seventh day of creation. The seventh day is a day of stopping all our busyness, all our attempts to save the world. We stop and enter into worship which, at its best, is wonder and adoration and awe. We take the focus off ourselves and become aware again of God. We attend to what God is doing and saying. We learn again the steps of God’s surprising, unexpected future-making work.

It is not easy. Worship does not come naturally to us. It does not seem as if we are accomplishing much. These days, especially, we feel unsure of ourselves — inadequate — because God is working in new ways in the world and in the church. Worship, adoration, praise point us towards the future. Worship shows us where hope is found.

Genesis 1 is not an answer to our question, “How did the world begin?” Genesis 1 is God’s question to us: Will you join the dance? Will you be part of the new creation? Will you join in the new beginning, the resurrection, that is happening all around you?

“Let there be” . . . let there be beauty that witnesses to the creativity of our God in this place.

Let every child who enters this building experience their time here as a time when imagination is nurtured and creative potential encouraged and artistic gifts are celebrated. Let the walls of this building be filled with beautiful art; let the pages of Wheels (the newsletter) be filled with profound poetry and thought-provoking writing. Let this congregation be a place where there is music and where musicians of all sorts find their gifts celebrated and their souls nurtured and their spirits stretched toward new horizons.

Let this congregation be known as a place where new ideas are not only welcomed but also freely considered and discussed. Let us be a people who are convinced that God is doing a new thing in our time. Let this community be a place of life-giving possibilities, a witness to God’s amazing alternative to despair. Let our joy be filled to overflowing as we discern what that is and get in on it.

Let all that we do and all that we say and all that we encourage and hope for be a sign and a witness and a foretaste of the glory of God. May we be an invitation to all creation to rest in the the season of God’s grace and love.

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Pay Attention

“Pay Attention”

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 2.

Scriptures: Psalm 19

Chaim Potok was a Jewish rabbi and novelist. Even as a young boy, he knew he wanted to be a writer. His mother would tell him, “Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying; you’ll make a lot of money.” Chaim would always reply, “No, mama, I want to be a writer.” He went away to college but, whenever he came home, his mother would try to persuade him again. “I know you want to be a writer, but listen to me. Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying. You’ll make a lot of money.”  He would reply, “No, mama. I want to be a writer.”

This conversation went on this way over and over again. Then, one day Chaim’s mother exploded, “You’re wasting your time. If you were a brain surgeon, you could keep a lot of people from dying.” Chaim replied, “Mama, I don’t want to keep a lot of people from dying; I want to show them how to live!” (Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, 47.)

St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is seen in men and women who are fully alive”, and yet, said St. Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the divine splendour.” (Romans 3:23) Part of the moral and spiritual poverty of our day stems from too many people who are settling for “not dying”, when we are created to be “full alive”. People settle for comfort and ease when what God intends for us is glory.

Someone wrote a book about running in which he began by saying that he reached the peak of his vitality, creativity and accomplishment when he was five years old. Do you remember what you felt like when you were five? He said that, when he was five he was a runner and an adventurer. He was an actor and a dancer and a singer of songs. At five, he could give and receive love freely. He laughed easily and took delight in many things. Then, the hurt and heartache of life began to drain all that away.

That’s what happens, isn’t it? Broken dreams, the loss of innocence, love betrayed or lost. Sometime just selfishness or complacency. They all chip away at that zest for living that we have in childhood. Sometimes those experiences lead us to doubt ourselves. Or, they consume all our energy so that we do not have space in our minds or spirits for something creative or adventurous. We live on auto-pilot, by default, doing what we are simply used to doing.

The Bible often contrasts things that are coming alive with things that are crumbling into dust. It distinguishes between ‘really living’ and ‘not really living’, between true life and life-gone-wrong. The difference between the two, it claims, is whether or not God is present. When God enters the scene, things that are crumbling into dust are given new life. God breathes and people come alive. God acts and new possibilities open up.

When the Bible speaks of God as Creator, it is never merely saying that a divine being made the world. God is Creator because the God revealed in the Bible is creative now, not just back at the origins of the cosmos. God is actively working in our lives and in our world, bringing new life.

Bill Brown, professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, points out that there are seven creation stories in the Old Testament (The Seven Pillars of Creation). Those creation stories are not trying to explain how the world got started. They were told and put together by the people of Israel when they were facing a dead end. Their society was full of troubles. It look as if there was no way to move into a livable future. Everything important to them was disappearing. It was being destroyed or it was crumbling into dust. They could not see any way to stop what was happening. It was in that context that they told the creation stories. They told stories about new beginnings and starting over. They told stories about God who offers new possibilities that they were not able to imagine on their own.

The Bible’s creation stories direct us to places were hope and courage and the capacity to persevere are found. They remind us that we are not alone in a world that is descending into chaos. We worship a God who speaks into chaos and makes a new creation. We live in covenant relationship with a God who put the stars in the heavens and who guides the blazing sun across the sky day after day.

It is as if the sun arises each day, joyfully anticipating new life, making a fresh beginning, eagerly running towards God’s glorious creation and God’s restoration of all things. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; the earth proclaims God’s handiwork,” shouts Psalm 19.

Wake up! Pay attention! Lift your eyes higher than the troubles that are wearing you down. Your life is set in the large, expansive context of God’s ongoing creativity. There is more going on here than just you and me trying to make all things work out right. There is God and God is at work in our world. God is at work in Christ, reconciling the world to Godself. God is at work, calling people to live well, to be human, to live up to our creation and into our salvation.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) He invites us on an adventure that requires of us courage and sacrifice as we join in his work of renewing human society. That adventure includes conflict and struggle as we resist those forces that would diminish human dignity and freedom. That adventure takes us both to the heights and to the depths of loving and being loved.

There will be times when you cannot see a way forward. There will be times when you will be so weary that you cannot see how you can possibly keep going. There will be times when you will be tripped up by your own selfishness or foolishness or fear. There will be times when you will be blind-sided by someone else. You will stumble and fall and lose your way. That, too, is part of the journey.

Then, the great grace and mercy and forgiveness of God will pick you up and set you on your feet again and enable you to begin again. Your life is significant and important because you are part of God’s great and holy work to renew the earth. You have a part to play, a part you need to play or you will miss out on the glory.

How do you get in on it? How do you join the adventure? How do you know how to play your part? God has given God’s Word to guide us, says the Psalmist. God’s Word reveals to us what God is up to in the world and pulls our lives toward where the action is. God’s Word acts as a signpost, pointing out the right road. God’s Word is a life-map, showing the way to joy. God’s Word leads to wonder and awe and reverence at the persistent, mysterious ways that God is overcoming the power of death that makes things crumble into dust. God’s Word leads to wonder and awe and reverence at the surprising, unexpected ways God is opening up new possibilities. God’s Word steers us away from death valleys and directs us to the paths that lead to life.

God’s Word is a great treasure, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. When we set ourselves under the Word of God— when we wrestle with it and let it form our lives — we come alive to all that God is doing in our life and in the world.

It is said that the rabbis would place a drop of honey on the Torah scroll. Then, they would invite their very young students to lick the scroll. They wanted them to experience, even before they could read, that the Way of Life revealed in the scroll was sweet.

Today, we are invited to be reminded of that as well. As Psalm 19 is read again, you are invited to come forward and share the fruit that is on the communion table. Enjoy its sweetness. “Taste and see that the Lord is God” (Psalm 34). Then, take a few minutes to reflect on words of scripture that have been precious in your life. And pray, “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord my Redeemer.”

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“In the Spotlight of God’s Love”

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship

Scriptures: Psalm 8John 1: 1-5

The climate of this planet is changing. The top three warmest years in recorded history have happened since 1998. The top ten warmest years have happened since 1990. Some of the world’s top scientists have warned that the world’s oceans are suffering severe troubles partially because of climate change. Overfishing and pollution have put the ocean’s populations under unprecedented stress. Increasingly, weather is in the news, reporting the damage caused by severe weather patterns.

We face a great challenge: How do we live in creation without destroying it? At its heart, that is a spiritual question. It has to do with what we believe about God and about human beings and about our relationship with this world that God has entrusted to our care. We set ourselves under the stories and prayers in the scriptures that tell us about God’s creation, our place within it, and our role in its care, and we discover that the answer coes with wonder and awe.

We live in a culture that, in many ways, does not encourage wonder. It comes naturally, spontaneously, in childhood. If you watch little children, you see them discovering this amazing world for the first time. You see their delight in the smallest of things. However, over time and in many little ways, that sense of wonder can get squeezed out. You can get pre-occupied with mastering and controlling the world. You can get busy becoming competent in manipulating its elements. You can become pre-occupied with ‘getting ahead’.

Wonder takes time. It is about mystery. It requires that you loosen your tight grip on life so you can be surprised, allowing the unknown and the unexpected come to you. You can get so busy that you lose the wonder that feeds your soul. You can lose the wonder that is at the root of living well and reverently in creation.

The awe of God is the beginning point of cultivating the capacity for wonder within our lives. It is the beginning point for living lives that are adequate to the great gift of this marvellous and precious creation. That is where Psalm 8 begins: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” The Psalm begins and ends praising God.

That is what frames our lives, it claims: the majesty, the glory of the Lord, the Sovereign of all the earth. In Hebrew, the word is actually YHWH. YHWH is the personal name God gave to Moses when God showed up in a bush that burned but did not burn up. YHWH is the name of the God who enters into covenant with a group of newly liberated slaves and leads them through the wilderness.

It is an amazing claim. What frames our lives is not just a generic deity, a vague energy force. Our lives take place within a creation ruled by a named God who keeps showing up in our lives and in our world. We are not orphans, lost in an indifferent cosmos. We are met. We are claimed by a God who sets God’s glory above the heavens. This God puts moons and stars in their places, lifting nothing more than the fingers of God’s hands. This powerful, cosmic God is, nevertheless, mindful of us human beings. This God attends to us mere mortals.

“Why do you bother with us?” asks the psalmist. “Why take a second look our way?” And yet, YHWH does bother. YHWH does take a second look. This God does even more than that. John’s gospel begins by quoting an early Christian hymn. It sings the wonder of the God who created the cosmos by the power of God’s Word: “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 being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life” (John 1: 1-3)    Then, This God became flesh and blood, “moved into the neighbourhood” (The Message) as Jesus of Nazareth.

By the end of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we know that this God cares for us and for this world so much that God is willing to go to hell and back to rescue us and to restore our broken relationships with God and with each other.

Julian of Norwich, one of the great mystical saints of the Church, said, “Human beings are clothed in divine love.” God’s love wraps around us. God’s love enfold us every moment of our lives. We are not always loveable. We are certainly not always aware of that love, but that love is the bedrock of our lives. The sovereign ruler of the cosmos loves us and cares for us with an infinite, attentive, creative love.

So many people whom we encounter day by day do not know that. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being loved that deeply and not knowing it? Our culture mostly gives us two messages. We are told either, “You are the centre of everything and you deserve to get everything you want or desire”, or “You are nothing more than a bundle of appetites. You are nothing more than the chance product of the survival of the fittest.” We live in the tension between these two messages.

Both of them lead us away from wonder. Both of them destroy community and compassion and care. They lead us, in the first case, to reach too high for our own good, trampling over others in careless arrogance. In the second case, we settle for too little, figuring that there is nothing we can to do make a difference so we might just pursue our own private happiness and comfort.

Then, we come to worship and we pray Psalm 8. We remember that we are not gods and goddesses. We cannot arrogantly use and abuse this planet. We are accountable to a sovereign Creator who bestows upon us great dignity and a holy purpose: to love and care for this fragile creation.

We come to worship and we pray Psalm 8 as a protest against every force that tries to demean us, to make us think less of ourselves than we should.

We hold these two truth together: You have made us a little less than gods; yet, You have given us charge over Your handcrafted world.”

It is said that a rabbi said that every person should carry two stones in her pockets. During the day, she should touch the one stone and remember, “I am but dust and ashes.” She should touch the other stone and remember, “For my sake, the whole universe was created.” The rabbi said that each person should use each stone as she needs it.

We face large problems for which there are no easy, large-scale solutions. The way forward will consist of many small actions. The way forward begins with framing our lives in the loving care of a sovereign God who bestows upon each of you great dignity and responsibility. This morning, you are invited to take two stones from the basket at the front. Take them remembering, “I am but dust and ashes” and “For my sake, the whole universe was created. Take two stones for yourself and two stones for someone else. Invite that person to live this week, each day, with wonder. “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

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