Thursday, January 4, 2018

Let There Be Light!

Genesis 1:1-5

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. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

The Road Not Taken 
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

When Robert Frost wrote that poem, he wrote something that communicated deep truth.  It had pattern and meter, rhythm and rhyme.  It connects with people deeply, powerfully… even spiritually.  What he DIDN’T write were literal directions to be followed when walking in a wood… yellow, or otherwise.  He wasn’t being literal.  He wasn’t trying to be Google Maps!  SO, using this poem literally… to find your way home after church, for example… well, that’ll probably just get you LOST!  But that doesn’t mean it has no value.  That doesn’t make this poem un-true.  When read as intended… it’s DEEPLY true.  

In a similar way, when we open up and read the first Chapter in Genesis, like we did today, we too should ask what were the authors intending to do when they wrote this?  Were they trying to record natural history?  Were they communicating scientific observation?  Or, maybe something else?  That requires a little educated sleuthing.  This part of Genesis was written by priests when the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon.  Read in Hebrew, it has pattern and meter, rhythm and rhyme that suggests this was liturgical… it was worship material.  These were words said over and over and over again every time they gathered for worship.  Just like we say, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…” they said, “And God said, let there be light.”    

Were they attempting to out-science Neil deGrasse Tyson in astrophysics?  Probably not. The people of Israel were in a bad spot when this was written.  They had been beaten and marched out of Israel and now were stuck, living in exile, in Babylon.  In those days, if your army beat my army, most people believed that meant that your god was stronger, bigger, and more powerful than my god.  These word come from a time when the Babylonians were likely telling the people of Israel day after day that, not only were they were losers, but their god was a loser too and they should just give up their worthless faith!  

This liturgy was written to be the Jewish community’s reply to that Babylonian taunting and trolling… This was the way the people of Israel stood up and countered that Babylonian message.  Using the timeless, powerful technique all people use when taunted by a bully… The people of Israel stood up and liturgically proclaimed… “NUH UH!”  Your Babylonian gods are NOT as powerful as our God!  NUH UH!  Our God has NOT abandoned us!  NUH UH!  We will not abandon our faith!

Now, the reason it had to be written as liturgy and the reason it had to be repeated week after week, Sabbath after Sabbath is that frankly, if the people of Israel were honest, the actual situation out the window looked bleak.  They WERE in captivity.  They HAD BEEN beat.  There didn’t look like there was any hope.  Their kids WERE abandoning the faith!  So to push back against ALL THAT darkness… they had to speak their deeper truth over and over and over again, to help them faithfully wait for the day when the words they spoke finally became reality!   Every week they repeated them like a mantra, “Let there be!  And there was!  And it was Good!  Let there be!  And there was!  And it was Good!  Let there be!  And there was!  And it was Good!”  They said it over and over and over.  It had happened before when God first said, “Let there be light” THEREFORE we believe God will say the Word again and light will shine in our lives once again!

This wasn’t written to be astro physics.  This was written as a statement of faith.  A liturgy proclaiming God’s faithfulness and light, even in the face of overwhelming darkness.  That’s why insisting Genesis is science isn’t just bad science.  It also abandons this liturgy as a powerful witness of faithfulness in the face of overwhelming darkness.  For those who insist this is a literal, scientific account, that means it can’t be anything else.  BUT, if we allow this text to live as it was intended… as a poem, as liturgy, as a powerful, transformational truth spoken in faith into the depths of despair… if you can recognize THAT’S what this was for the people back then… THEN this liturgy is FREE to function in that VERY SAME way for us, in our darkness today!  

Now, we don’t live in exile in Babylon, but we do live in the shadow of two world leaders fighting about the size of their nuclear buttons over twitter!  We’re not captive in Babylon, but we’re certainly captive to an unpredictable news cycle with roller coaster like highs and lows.  But HERE, in the liturgy of Genesis we have been given a gift.  Like the people then, we too gather as a faith community.  Like them we repeat the words of our liturgy like a mantra spoken into our dark times.  And just like the people of Israel, we too proclaim:  NUH UH!  We will NOT accept this as normal!  NUH UH!  This darkness is NOT forever!  We too believe that God, with just a WORD, created LIGHT!  And with God’s WORD made flesh, God brings light into EVERY darkness… EVERY… SINGLE… WACKADOODLE DARKNESS… including ours right now!  

With the words we repeat in our liturgy, we hold faithfully to God’s love for all of creation.  We NEVER have to go a single day without hope!  SO, even when we look out the window and are forced to admit that it's pretty dark out there, we still can hold tight to a DEEPER truth and proclaim confidently into the craziness and shout into the darkness… NUH UH! … God is faithful and God WILL… ABSOLUTELY WILL, ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, NO DOUBT WILL say once again, "Let there be light!"  And there WILL again be light!  Amen.  

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