St. Luke’s UMC
August 18, 2019
Genesis 1-2 selected verses
What Is My Bible Story ?
This is my first Bible I received it when I was fourteen years old, but I’ll get back to this in a minute. My Bible story actually begins about six years earlier. Though I was baptized as an infant in a Methodist Church, my family became inactive. Somewhere in my elementary years my parents decided it was time to return to church. So one Sunday we got up early, dressed and went to church, first to Sunday School, then worship. My parents took me to my class. I, of course, didn’t know anyone. The teacher began with a Bible drill. How many of you ever did Bible drills as a child in Sunday School? How many of you still have emotional scars from the experience?
If you never did this, a Bible Drill is a game where the teacher says the name of a book of the Bible with chapter and verse number and the first person to look it up and read gets a star. Now there’s a chart on the wall with everyone’s name, and every time you got a star you put it by your name.
It was clear by this game that I was very new to church. After about 20 minutes it looked like Jeopardy where the other contestants have $20,000 and I had a fat zero under my name. The chart had long lines of stars by everyone else’s name and “Robbie,” which is what I went by at that age, Robbie: zero! The teacher made it worse because she tried to help me. I was the only one she needed to help. She would say something like Philippians 4:13 and then whispered to me, “That’s in the New Testament.” I’m thinking, “New Testament? I thought we were supposed to be looking in the Bible! No wonder I stink at this game.” I didn’t know anything!
So skip ahead a few years and my parents give me a Bible for Christmas…this Bible. Finally I had my own Bible and I was motivated to learn it. I was never going to lose another Bible drill game. So I started reading. Genesis and its pretty interesting until I got to this chapter with begets. “So and so beget so and so, and that one begat that one.” I thought, “Who cares?” So I skipped ahead to Exodus and read about Moses. I thought, “Finally, someone I recognize.” But before long it got into all these laws and what happens if your ox falls into a ditch.” So jumped ahead to the Gospels and read about Jesus which was infinitely more interesting. Acts was exciting, but then I got to Romans. I gave it up after that. I figured I’d never win a Bible drill, but I can probably stave off embarrassment.
What is your Bible story? In fact, personalize that in your outline, “What is My Bible Story?” If you are in a sermon discussion group, that will be a good opener as you meet, to share where your story with the Bible started. What do you remember first thinking about the Bible? Helpful? Confusing? Powerful? Have you ever avoided being in a Bible study because it will feel like Bible drill all over again, and you’re the only one who doesn’t know anything?
We are offering this series not just to help us learn and make sense of the Bible, but numerous studies in recent years have shown the one common dominator in spiritual growth for people is the Bible.
Notes About the Bible
The word Bible comes from the Greek Ta Biblia which means The Books. The Bible is a collection of books. Over many years there was a process of determining which sacred writings would be approved as holy books. This process was called canonization. Canon means rule. Councils met to determine what books met certain standards to be considered scripture. First in Judaism some books were narrowly voted out of this collection. By 90AD the official books considered the Hebrew Bible called the Tanakh, were approved.
By 190AD Christians started calling these 39 books the Old Testament to distinguish them from other writings about Jesus. It took until the 4th century for Christians to agree on 27 books that would be the New Testament.
This completed the Christian Bible, 66 books in all. Some of the books that did not make it into the first canon of the Tanakh came to be considered acceptable by the Catholic church and other branches of Christianity but not Protestants, who call these Apocryphal books. That is why if you go into a Catholic church and pick up a Bible you will see books like: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Baruch, and additions to Esther and Daniel.
Now in the Bible you have lots of different literature. There is history, narrative, poetry, law, Gospel, letters, and Apocryphal literature. This might explain why the Bible gets confusing because it jumps around in its style. As well, the Bible is not completely in chronological order. Some books in the Bible jump back to previous periods in history.
In this series we are going to break the units of history down into 10 episodes. We are going to make this like watching a Netflix show. Last summer Susan and I started watching our first Netflix show on vacation. We had to use our kids account. Now we were paying for it, of course, but we had to call them for the password. We discovered how wonderful this is. You watch an entire episode without commercials. And when it ends, it goes straight into the next episode. And really good shows make you want to keep watching one after another. So the term binge-watching developed. And a show is measured by how bingeworthy it is.
Well, I believe when you really get pulled into the story of the Bible you find it Bingeworthy. And the first episode of the Bible is Genesis 1-11. These are called the pre-patriarchal stories. Next week, we will get into the stories of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the first stories predate recorded history. These stories include Creation, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, and the Tower of Babel. Their purpose is not to tell us how things came to be but why they came to be. That’s an important distinction, because sometimes we get hung up on whether for not every detail in the Bible is true. And the Bible is not trying to show how things came to be, but why.
Bill Barnes, former senior pastor of St. Luke’s UMC Orlando, illustrates how stories differentiate truth from fact. He uses stories about George Washington. You tell me if you think these are true:
1—George Washington cutting down the cherry tree…
2—George Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River. It was over 300 feet wide where this happened, about a football field.
3—George Washington crossing the Delaware River standing in boat with ice bergs around.
How many believe all of these are true?
They’re all true. They are told to illustrate truths about the first president. He’s an honest person. You can depend on what he says. He is strong. He’s not a weak person. And he’s courageous. He’s not going to flinch from difficulty. These are truths. The stories weren’t told as facts, but to point to truths.
So with that let’s focus on the truths in the first part of the Bible, particularly in the story of creation…(scripture is read)
So the Bible begins in a garden. That’s why we have our garden theme going today. The Bible begins and ends in a garden. How many of you noticed when ____ said, “Now another story of creation?” Did you realize there are two stories? Genesis 1-2:4a is Creation Story 1. Genesis 2: 4b-25 is Creation Story 2. This is because there are different strands of authors who wrote the Old Testament. You can tell by the different names used for God. In Hebrew some say Jehovah, others Elohim, others Yahweh. In English that is why we read Lord, Lord God, God. It is believed the first two chapters of Genesis reflect two different accounts of creation. They point to different truths.
A Bible teacher named Dick Murray had three questions he used for studying a passage of scripture:
1—What does this passage say about God?
2—What does it say about people?
3—What does it say about the relationship between God and people?
Let’s use these questions to consider the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. I want to go through several important beliefs under each of these questions, and with each one I want us to reflect on What does it matter if I believe this? In fact, I want youto be ready to say that last part. When I say, “What does it matter if, you say “I believe this?” Let’s try one time…
First, What Does Story of Creation Say About God?
God Provides order. Notice in the first creation story, the order of things. There is an order to the days. There is an order to the rhythm. There is night and day and seasons. There is dependability in the universe.
Now there are two theories about how God created. One is called Ex nihilo, a Latin expression meaning “out of nothing.” This means God is the ultimate “maker from scratch.” God doesn’t even start with scratch. God first makes the scratch and creates from it. God can create out of nothing.
Another concept that developed is that God created out of primordial material that was chaos. Things in existence but no order to it. God created by bringing order where there was none.
Either way, this is an important belief about God. God creates out of nothing, and/or God creates out of chaos. What does this mean to you? What does it mean to believe that God creates out of nothing or out of chaos? Have you ever had situations in your life where you saw no possibility. A future did not exist. You saw no possibilities in your life. Or your whole world was in chaos. What does it matter if believe this?
The creation story also says God Made Everything Good. Each day God looks over all God has made says “It is good.” There’s goodness in the world. And that includes you. Fundamentally you are good. How important is to believe that? What happens when a person forgets that or doesn’t believe it, that fundamentally, essentially he or she is good!
The first time we read the words “not good,” is when God said, “It is not good that man is alone.” In other words God cares about us. God cares about our condition and our needs. God’s not just worried that we are well fed and have shelter, but that we are emotionally complete.
So God caused Adam to fall asleep and took a rib from Adam’s side and made what the Bible calls “a helper.” This reference has led to so much misunderstanding through history. Woman is seen as man’s help-mate. But the Hebrew word is Ézer. Ezer doesn’t mean helper in the sense of an assistant, but rather “one who rescues.” This is how God is describes. God is our helper, our rescues, one who saves.
Remember the end of the movie Pretty Woman? Richard Geere climbs the fire escape while Julia Roberts looks our the window. He gets to her and says, “In the fairy tale what happens once the prince rescues the girl?” Remember what she says? “She rescues him right back.”
That’s what’s implied in the Bible. Two people rescue each other. Emotional fulfillment is understood in mutual helping and rescuing one another, just as God does for us.
What does it matter IF I BELIEVE THIS?
What Does Story of Creation Say About People:
We are put in charge. God created human beings…blessed them, and said…“live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge…” Now there are tow ways to look at this. We are charge of creation so we can do with it, as we want. Or, God has put us in charge to take care of it as God would desire. Which do you think is the intended meaning? I believe the second. Creation doesn’t belong to us. It’s God’s. But God gives us a job. You could say it is our first occupation, to be caretakers of creation. How would you say we are doing? So what does it matter, IF I BELIEVE THIS?
We Are Created in God’s Image. We are made to resemble God. Most days would you say you resemble God? Not, do you think you’re God, but do you reflect the character of God. Obviously what we believe about God matters, so knowing God’s character is essential, and that’s why scripture is so important.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, created a personal coat of arms. He included a basic belief about God. Look at this…”God is love.” How important is it that I believe I am created in the image of God? What does that say about me?
What Does It Matter IF I BELIEVE THIS?
What Does Story of Creation Say About Our Relationship With God?
We Depend on God for Life. Chapter 2:7: “then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” In other words we are not just physical beings. God breathed into us. The Hebrew word for breath or wind is ruah. Say it after me…(if the person behind you has bad breath you might slide over…) That breath sound is God’s spirit that gives us life. And this leads to the next important statement in the creation story about our relationship with God.
Sabbath is our lifeline. God rested on the seventh day. There is woven into the order of life a need for rest. Notice each day of creation ends saying, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” We would typically say that the other way around wouldn’t we? The day starts when we get up and go to work. In other words we begin the day with what we do. But the Bible says the day begins in rest, when we aren’t doing anything. We remember that while we sleep God is at work. We depend on God.
And every seven days we need a reminder of this. It’s like the expression “catch our breath.” I need to stop and catch my breath. That is what the Sabbath is for. We stop to remember we need RUAhhhhh. We need God’s breath in us.
So again, what does it matter, IF I BELIEVE THIS?
That’s what you have to determine. And the Bible is fair. The Bible recognizes that it’s not easy to believe this. How do you believe that God brings order to life, and that the world is good and people are good when there are so many things wrong in the world? What about all the chaos of our world? Why does someone like the person in Philadelphia start shooting people out of a window the other day? How do we explain Dayton and El Paso. Are those people good?
The Creation story offers an explanation to that. And this is where I want us to close. Genesis 3. We are introduced to the serpent and are told that it is more crafty than any other of the creatures. And it talks, which is not presented as unusual, so clearly this is a different kind of place. The serpent tempts the woman to eat the fruit from The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was forbidden by God.
But the serpent says, “for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” So Eve eats the fruit and then offers it to her husband and he eats. Clearly the woman is responsible for messing things up, right? Feminist theologians point out a very important detail in this story, that when God gave Adam instructions about not eating from the tree, the woman was not yet made. She wasn’t even there. As if a man has ever had problems relaying a message to his wife.
Of course, when God comes looking for Adam and Eve and realizes they are hiding, God keeps calling “Where are you?” And the point of the story is to show us how temptation works and what happens to us when we give in. The devil tempts the woman with the idea that God is holding out on her, that there is something good God doesn’t want her to have and if she is obedient to God, she’s going to miss out something enjoyable in life. That’s the nature of temptation, to believe I can’t fully trust God with my happiness.
So even for Adam, that temptation comes through someone he trusts. Someone he believes wants the best for him. When they realize what they have done they feel something they’ve not felt yet. Shame. They feel the disappearance of their goodness.
Some ask, “Why is the tree in the garden? Why did God put it there, and why did God create a serpent that could lead them astray?” Because God didn’t want robots. God wanted creatures who would love God by their free choice. That is the essence of goodness. So the serpent and the tree represent realities. We live in a good world, but a world with choices no less. Choices to trust and love God, or choices to be independent get what we believe with lead to happiness on our own, because we think we know better.
Dr. Carlyle Marney was once asked, “Where is the Garden of Eden located?” Dr. Marney said, “215 Elm St, Knoxville, TN.” The person said, “I’m serious. Isn’t it supposed to be somewhere in the middle east?” Dr. Marney said, “You couldn’t prove it by me, for there on Elm street when I was a boy I stole a quarter out of my mother’s purse and went to the store and bought some candy and ate it. I felt so ashamed I went and his in my closet and later that day heard my mother’s voice, “Carlyle, where are you? Why are you hiding? Have you done something?”
Where is your Garden of Eden?...
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But this is not where the story ends. There would be consequences to face. We all realize there are consequences for our actions. But God covers Adam and Eve using the skin of an animal. And for the first time God sacrifices to cover the sin of people. There is grace. This is a message we will see throughout this story. It will happen over and over as God uses sacrifice to cover the sin of his children. And one day there would be a final sacrifice. A sacrifice to end all sacrifices when God sends his son, who offers his life on a cross, so that no more sacrifices have to be made. A sacrifice once for all. That is where this story will take us.