Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, June 12, 2017

"In the Beginning"

6-11-17, Trinity Sunday

Grace to you and peace from God our creator and our lord and savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

True love’s kiss broke the curse…the queen of the magical kingdom brought peace to the land… and they all lived happily ever after… the End!

No, I’m not accidentally starting with the last page of my sermon. It’s just that most of our readings for today are either beginnings or endings – the beginning of Genesis, and the end of Matthew. We tend to remember good beginnings and endings of things, don’t we? books, movies, classic fairy tales. And at the end of the very best stories, the ones that stay with us, we love how the messy bits are all woven together to a satisfying resolution. And they all lived happily ever after.

How things begin is almost as important as how things end… we tend to remember those, too. And it’s not just the famous fairy tales we keep telling our kids and grand kids. Our stories begin in those familiar ways too, with, “On the night that you were born…” or “This is how Grandma and Grandpa met…” or even the story that started ALL our stories, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth.”

This creation story from Genesis we just heard is probably a familiar one to many of you, with seven days of creation each in order, and the repeated refrain which we said together “and God say that it was good.” I got to hear a creation story from Namibia, which you’ll hear has some striking similarities to the one we just heard from Genesis.  

(The following story has a lot of .... and [ ] because I shorted it a bit and edited it for clarity)

“On [the] first day, Njambi Karunga, [which means] “Giving God” called the first ancestors from the trunk of the omumborombonga tree. One by one, they stepped from the sacred tree.”

“Mukuru and Kaman-garunga, the first tate (pronounced "tah-tay" and means daddy) and mama, stepped from the tree. Then…. the first tate and mama of every tribe on earth [stepped from the tree]. On [the] first day, Njambi Karunga also called out the first tate and mama of cattle. The first tate and mama of kudu. Of lions and leopards. Of wildebeest and baboons. On first day, the first tate and mama of every living thing stepped from the omumborombonga tree.”

“[The] First day was darker than a night with no stars or moon. All the ancestors hugged the omumborombonga tree and each other so they wouldn’t get lost in the darkness. The first tate of Berg-Damara made a fire. That made the first tate and mama of lions, kudus, giraffes, and other wild animals run away. But it was hard to see, even with the fire, so [Giving God] sent light. For the first time, the ancestors saw each other and the animals that stayed.”

“When the first ancestors saw the animals, they chose which ones they wanted. Mukuru and Kaman-garunga chose wisely… They chose cattle!” …

 “That’s why we give the ancestors milk – to thank them for giving us life, and for choosing cattle. And to thank them for talking to [Giving God] for us. When we give the ancestors milk at the holy fire, they know we remember them and we remember [our Giving God]. They know if we forget them, we will forget [our Giving God called] Njambi Karunga. And we will lose who we are.”

We all can experience God through the stories we tell. And we also experience God through the things that God has created.

After all, who has NOT at one time or another felt inspired or awestruck by something out in God’s creation – whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, walking around the lake at the park in the spring, visiting the mountains or the ocean, seeing a swath of stars in the sky on a dark night…. I spent plenty of nights at the Lutheran Bible Camp that I worked at during my college summers in evening worship at the lake shore, singing praises to God as amazing colors filled the sky. Church is a place where we worship God, and it does not have to be limited to a building. After all, Martin Luther once wrote, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

There is a car in my apartment parking lot with a bumper sticker on the back of it that says, “Nature is my church.” Every time I see this bumper sticker, I wonder. If this is true of whoever owns this car, why is this sticker on a VW Bug and not on a hybrid or electric car? But then again, I am not doing so hot at treating his or her “church” very well either. We may not always think about nature as our “church,” but I think we would never treat THIS building in the same way as we have tended to treat our environment, God’s creation.

The bumper sticker, the creation story from Namibia, and our familiar one in Genesis tell us something about the GOD we worship. These stories reveal that our God is a creative God who makes space for and cares for creation. We are welcome, and we are loved by the one who created us, whether we were created out of dirt, or created from a tree.

These stories also tell us something about ourselves, too. We were made in God’s image, male AND female, both together. Not just one or the other. But everyone, men, women, people of all races and ethnicities and cultures, WE ALL are God’s image, and we are all part of the creation story, not separate from it. We are to care for creation, not use it up and throw it away.

On the label of the package of some carved wooden animals I bought in Namibia, on one side it said “Animals of Africa.” On the other, it said “Please take special care of our animals, or soon there won’t be any real ones left.” This was written in English, and it was meant for people like me, a tourist and foreigner, overly dependent on fossil fuels, and far away from the consequences of how much I use up and throw away every day. People like me who have lost my way and are trying to find it again by doing little things like recycling and reducing my car trips.

Even when we do lose our way – and we will - God refuses to be a far-off God, and Jesus is proof of that. The beginning of the Gospel of John says THIS about JESUS: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….  All things came into being through him…What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Jesus came to us as God in a way that we can see and talk to and experience and touch. Jesus healed people when they suffered physically, he fed them real bread when they were hungry, he ate and drank with people who were on the margins, experiencing all the things that humans do. Even death.

So when Jesus tells us, after he is raised, at the end the Gospel of Matthew, “I will be with you always.” – we know that this means that in all things we experience, God will be with us. In our beginnings and in our endings, and all the unpredictable plot twists in between, Jesus will be with us.

We may not always live “happily ever after” like in the fairy tales. But in fact, we have something better than a fairy tale ending – the assurance that no matter where our stories take us, Jesus promises to be with us through all the chapters, good and bad, to the end of the age.

If you flip all the way to the very end of the Bible, at the end of the book of Revelation, we only have another beginning: “Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.” 

Jesus is WITH YOU. Jesus comes to us, in the form of the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.  From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is with us, here in church, and out there in the world. Jesus does not tell his disciples to bunker down somewhere. We’re supposed to get out there and change the world. And so, what we have taken for an ending in the Gospel of Matthew is actually a beginning, a “once upon a time” in disguise. Surprise! Talk about an ending with a twist!

Well, this is the end of the sermon. But it’s NOT the end of the story. It is, after all, yet another new beginning. Where the worship service ends, your story picks up.

So, what’s that going to mean for YOUR story?  What is your next chapter going to be like?

Get ready, because it begins RIGHT NOW! Amen!

No comments:

Post a Comment