Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth and
made us in your own image: teach us to discern your hand in all
your works and your likeness in all your children; through Jesus
Christ your Son our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns
supreme over all things, now and for ever. Amen.
EACH passage this week asks to be read out loud rather than
silently, because hearing it helps to articulate its repeated
Genesis has 32 action words and phrases here. We can domesticate
this story, reducing it to an inventory of God's actions, or, if we
let the internal rhythm drive the story forward through the
repetition of "God . . .", it can lead us to marvel, as creation
takes shape, moving in just nine verses from the cosmic to
something we can get our feet on, before narrowing our gaze to
birds and creepy-crawlies.
Repeated short sentences, "And it was so," "And God saw that it
was good," hammer home that God brings only good things into being.
Years ago, I was struck by the novelist Stephen Donaldson's
portrayal, in The Wounded Land (1987), of the terror of a
malicious force in creation. In his book, people never know whether
sunrise will be safe or life-threatening.
In contrast, we can trust the goodness of God's creation, and
the way that it exhibits the steadfast love of God, as we rely on
it for security and sustenance. Within that context, the recent
floods remind us about how fragile is the balance in the
relationship humans have with nature; they can make it temporarily
challenging to sense the presence of God in creation.
"Subdue it and have dominion" is best understood in the context
in which Genesis 1 was written down. In the sixth-century world of
exile in Babylon, this was a mandate of hope. God promised the
exiles not perpetual landless existence, but their own land to
subdue and care for. This was no licence to exploit the land, but a
promise of a healthy and godly relationship with land which they
did not then have.
God saw, time and again, that creation was good. Humans made it
very good. So something had gone drastically wrong by the time Paul
wrote to the Romans, because five times he referred to creation now
groaning and yearning for freedom from bondage to decay. The
Genesis creation story underlies his thinking, along with its story
of human sin, which resulted in the earth's being cursed and its
relationship with its human stewards distorted (Genesis 3.17-19,
Yet Paul is not without hope. As so often with lectionary
snippets, we must read the earlier verses. They speak of suffering
with Christ, so that we might be glorified with him, and, from
there, Paul moves seamlessly into the sufferings of the present
Creation is groaning, yes, but groaning in labour pains,
because, like a woman in labour, unstoppable new life is coming to
birth. Creation's healing is bound up with human salvation. Thanks
to the work of Christ, creation waits with eager longing for the
revealing of the children of God in their glory.
In Romans, the thrice-repeated words are "groan" (the third,
variously translated, is in verse 26) and "wait": creation waits
with eager longing; we wait with patience. Hope, waiting, and
longing go together; it is possible to groan with hope and without
Jesus, however, was dealing with inveterate worriers. Six times
he told them not to worry, which suggests that, even living around
Jesus, the disciples hovered on the edge of fear, and were prone to
fret about securing the basic necessities of life.
Jesus, whose words must be read in the context of vv.19-24
(which, in turn, alludes to Ecclesiasticus 29.8-11, where laying up
treasure in heaven involves almsgiving), sent them back to look at
creation - behold the birds, consider the lilies - the very
creation that God pronounced good. The foundation for not worrying
is the goodness of God. God could rest. So can we.
The collect's reference to our being made in God's image reminds
us of a truth that human sin has not negated: the likeness of God
in us may be tarnished, but not the image. We are capable of
discerning God's hand in all God's works.
Since we pray for God to teach us to do that, we should give God
the opportunity. If you have never taken ten minutes with a flower
or bird, pondering it and letting ittell you of the goodness of
God, make time this week. Snowdrops are appearing from barren soil,
migrant birds will return from far continents: consider what they
reveal of God. Grasping the goodness of God seen in creation will
help us to wait with hope, and to strive for God's Kingdom, not to