Rev. Danielle K Bartz July 2, 2023
Genesis 1:1-5 “On Being Co-Creators”
Ancient Jewish scholars doing Midrash – or scriptural interpretation – have suggested the following: they imagine that the act of creation that led to the formation of everything we know, including our very selves, was not God’s first attempt at creation. Ancient Jewish scholars believe that in fact God tried 974 times to get creation right before this creation as we know it. Further, these scholars believe that our creation, our existence, was formed using the debris of previous attempts at creation. That we are the recycled products of those previous 974 attempts that didn’t quite meet up with God’s expectations.
I came across this ancient theological idea in my own studies of the scripture for this morning. And it led me to ask what I think is an understandable question: what was wrong with those previous 974 attempts? In other words, what makes this creation that we are a part of so pleasing to God that God called it good? And here is what those ancient scholars suggested: the reason this creation pleased God was because of our human defiance. Let me explain: these ancient scholars suggest that all of those attempts at creation started out the same – with the earth being formed, leading to plants, leading to animals, and eventually leading to the first humans living within the Garden of Eden. God told those humans not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. And in those previous attempts, the people listened. They obeyed God, remained in the garden, childlike. But God was unsatisfied, discontent. Something just wasn’t right, so God wiped the slate clean and started over. Then comes God’s 975th try. And this time, instead of listening to God’s directive not to eat the fruit, the people didn’t listen. They defied God’s directive – leading God to expel them from the Garden. And the people, no longer childlike, became the very thing that God was looking for – partners. Partners in creation. People who don’t just idly exist, but rather create alongside God. People whose devotion comes not because life is perfect and simple, but because life is a struggle – one in which God’s presence is both a comfort and a conviction.
The act of defiance in the Garden in fact led to God’s contentment with creation. Therefore, rather than the act being the basis for the sinful nature that all humanity is born into – in other words Original Sin, which St. Augustine came up with nearly a millennia later – that act is what saved all of creation, resulting in no need for a 976th attempt. Ancient Jewish belief says that God desired creative partners, not idleness. God’s divine desire was one that led to creative possibilities, towards a world in which you and I are called to be co-creators with God, which is the true consequence of the expulsion from the Garden.
This flips the entire narrative of creation of its head, especially traditional Christian interpretation. Rather than the consequence of the expulsion from the Garden leading to humanities life-long efforts of trying to regain God’s favor, it instead opens up a world of creative possibilities, believing that God so values creative partners that it is the very reason why this creation exists today. Now, I could spend days standing here talking about how this can lead us to rethink the idea of what sin truly is. But, instead, in the spirit of the hymn ‘Morning Has Broken’ – I want to explore the possibilities of what it means to be the longed-for co-creators with God.
Because, when I sing ‘Morning Has Broken’ I think of creation. Not the stuff of creation, the stuff of the earth – which we will celebrate next week with ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’. Instead I think of the act of creation – of what new things are possible with the gift of each new morning, so fresh with possibility. Of what we can create together with the help of God.
This type of creation is both communal and individual. For individuals it takes as many diverse forms as there are people. Creativity for some is artistic, for others it is academic. For some it comes in the form of parenting, or maybe building. All efforts that lead to justice for all are acts of creativity within or around systems of oppression. We are each creative in our own ways. And when those individual acts of creativity join with others, then the communal possibilities are endless. And while I normally revel in those endless possibilities, we all know that sometimes it can be overwhelming. But even then, extraordinary things are possible.
I remember, sometime in mid to late 2020, I was sitting – outdoors – with my clergy colleagues. I don’t remember what exactly we were talking about, but in general we were brainstorming ideas about how to do something in a pandemic world. In the midst of the conversation I remember saying, with no small amount of exasperation, “I wish I didn’t have to be so darn creative about every single thing.” Until March of 2020, the very idea of church was centered on in-person gatherings. Then of course everything changed, requiring that we get creative about all of it. Unlike the stereotypical younger clergy, I just wanted to do things the way they had always been done. I worried my creative resources were tapped dry, or would soon be. But those worries in the midst of a moment of, what I think to be completely understandable, exasperation and exhaustion proved not to come true. As you know, this congregation embraced the creative possibilities of that time. Our ministry together not only continued in new ways, but it grew and even flourished. And, perhaps most importantly, during that time of required creativity, we all realized that, with God’s help, church was so much more than what we had previously thought. We were, in a sense, vaulted out of the garden of idleness the church universal had fallen into, leading to staleness and decline. And, rather than it being a punishment, we were led to embrace our true calling as part of God’s creation – our identity as co-creators along with God. Church today is in the midst of a renewed time of creation. And while creation is always messy, and sometimes we need to start over 974 times before we get it right, the divine possibilities of creation are our gift and our calling.
All of this comes to mind when I sing ‘Morning Has Broken’. The hymn is a reminder that each new day is a gift from God, one that we are called to embrace and share. Each new day is ripe with possibilities. Each new morning is a resurrection, a reminder that death cannot overcome God’s great desire for life. Each blackbird sings a hymn of praise for God’s creative spirit. The dew on the ground is a baptism, a fresh welcoming into God’s Beloved Community that we can experience over and over again. The breaking of each new morning is our daily reminder that God so loves this creation and desires our creative spirits. The breaking of each new morning is our daily call to be God’s partners. Whether that means we are creating something entirely new, or trying for the 975th time to get it right, God looks at our efforts and calls it good. Amen.
Creating God, you looked out over your creation and called it all, called us, good. Within our very essence you have infused your spirit that draws us to new possibilities, fresh ideas, and a divine desire that leads to a dance in partnership with you in which all things can be new. For this gift of our lives, we give you great thanks, and it is in that spirit of gratitude that we come before you now in prayer.
As we greet each new morning, may we do so with a spirit of possibility and not drudgery. Help us to always see the possibilities you have for us and our lives together. Help us to celebrate when we succeed and give us the fortitude when we need to try again. And through it all, help us to see that you call all of it good.
God, on this day as we approach the July 4th holiday, help us to remember that possibilities that this country holds. Help us to approach them all with openness, honesty, and a true desire for justice. And now we open our hearts to you, turning over whatever prayers we carry, trusting that you hear and respond…
Good and loving God, you have given us all that we need and so much more. Allow us to use that gift for the good of all. We pray all of this and so much more in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who showed us what it means to truly be partners with you. And now we pray in the way he taught…Our Father…