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You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

It's Not Just Me

Genesis 1:1-5, 1:26-2:2
Pastor Leslee Fritz
UUMC

I’ve known that this Sunday was coming for a while now. It’s actually one of the positive attributes of the United Methodist itinerary system – you know about transition well in advance and can prepare for it.

So, I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to say today – my final time in this pulpit.

And it seems I have fallen into a common trap – at least according to several of my clergy colleagues.

I’ve spent considerable time over these last couple of weeks trying to figure out how to cram everything I want to say to you – as individuals and as a church – and everything I might want to say to you … someday … into a single, 15-20 minute sermon.

It can’t be done.

And it doesn’t need to be done.

In fact, this morning, I don’t really want to tell you anything. I want to use this opportunity – this gift – that I’ve been given to be in this place and this moment to simply remind you of something that I know you already know.

God has called us and claimed us – each one of us – as his own.

From the very beginning.

We heard it in the passage (the parts) from Genesis 1 that Margie just read for us.

“In the beginning …” probably sounds familiar. In fact, if you’ve been involved in church for any time at all, it’s probably so familiar that you simply glance right past it in your reading or tune out in your listening.

If we do that, we miss the power of these beautiful words.  We miss their grandeur. We miss all that these few verses tell us about who God is and who we are created to be.

This passage is not written as science or history as we understand those disciplines today. This passage (in fact all of Genesis 1) is poetry, hymn, doxology and myth.

In our modern world, we are no longer conditioned and trained to see the beauty in these art forms. But that fault is ours and not the scriptures.

To call this creation story true is not to quibble with science – science and theology are not separate truths, but instead are different ways of describing the same truth – but to call this creation story true is to probe deeper than any scientific endeavor can take us. It is to affirm, by faith, who we truly are and where we really come from.

This is what I heard when Margie read those beautiful words …

Our God is a God who sees.

7 times in this narrative, God pauses to reflect on his creation. God doesn’t wait for his work to be finished. Instead, God lingers over his handiwork — every leaf, every wing, every stream, every child. God's is the gaze of the artist, keen, perceptive, and patient. He observes. He notices. I come from a God who pays, in the words of essayist Debie Thomas, delighted attention. He sees.

 Our world is a world that is good.

Before there was evil, there was good.  Before there was original sin, there was original blessing. As New Testament scholar Marcus Borg writes, the creation story is “strikingly world-affirming.” “Against all world-denying theologies and philosophies, Genesis affirms the world as the good creation of a good God. All that is, is good.”

We were created in the likeness of God.

Hear, again the words of 1:26-27.

Three times we’re told that we were created in the image and likeness of God. Biblical scholars don't know for sure what the “image of God” truly means. Am I like God in my spiritual traits? In my physical form? In my consciousness or creativity? I don't know either, but the possibilities are breathtaking. It’s the wonder that is faith.

But one thing we know for sure, God's mark is imprinted on our very beings. We might ignore or distort it, but the mark is there. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we reflect something of God's joy, God's intentions, God's love, and God's beauty just by virtue of existing. Human beings are the pinnacle of the creation event.

We were created for morning and evening.

As humans, we are drawn to dualism – we like the clear and easy to understand comparisons – the spirit is good, but the body is bad. Light comes from God but darkness comes from the devil.  But this story reminds us that that is not God’s view. The God who is spirit blesses the body. The God who creates light calls evening "good." The God who brings order also hovers over the chaotic deep.

In her recent book on spirituality and darkness, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, "The way most people talk about darkness, you would think that it came from a whole different deity, but no. To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up. To want a life with only half of these things in it is to want half a life, shutting the other half away where it will not interfere with one's bright fantasies of the way things ought to be."

We were created for morning and for evening.

Our God is still creating.

From the very beginning God was an innovator, able to create beautiful things that didn’t exist simply by calling them forth.

And we know that innovative creation continues today.  We see it all around us. Frederick Buechner writes, "Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new out of them. If you think you're seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you're crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again, either."

We were created by an imaginative, innovative, powerful, majestic God who is still at work in our midst. A God who loves us so much that he entrusted us with the care of his entire creation. A God who loves us so much that he created us in his own image and in doin

God has called us and claimed us – each one of us – as his own.

And our lives should reflect that truth.

This is where it gets hard.

Claiming the wonder and majesty of a God who creates order from chaos by simply proclaiming it so, that’s easy. Marveling at our creation in the likeness of God, that’s powerful.

But answering the question - do we live lives that reflect that wonder and that power?

That’s not so easy.

I fear that for too many of us … and for too many of our churches, that answer is no.

We live by society’s standards, not God’s call. Too often, we define ourselves and others by the physical package, not the its contents.

How much time do we devote to our hair and our clothes, our make-up and our jewelry – to the latest weight-loss plan or the hottest fashion trend … and yet we can’t make time for a prayer life or a small group.

How much energy do we invest in our homes, our cars, our titles and our investments … and yet we don’t have enough to combat hunger and poverty and homelessness and hate.

Imagine if you awoke every morning in the wonder that is God’s new creation, committed to serving God’s call on your life. How different would your life be if love of God and love of neighbor truly came first?

And how different would this church be, if we devoted as much of our time, energy and emotion to serving the physical and spiritual needs of each other and our community as we devote to worrying about where the furniture is placed and what the alter looks like and where the coffee is located.

Imagine what could be accomplished.

I know, many of you are tired of hearing sermons about the Vital Church Initiative process, but in the coming weeks you – all of you together – will be making a lot of critically important decisions about what this church will be in the years ahead.

I will not be a part of that journey.

My prayer for you – is that every decision you make – big and small – will strengthen and enliven God’s presence in this place.

Every day, people walk through these doors seeking God here.  They may have been coming through those doors every week for years, or it may be their first trip. But they come hoping, needing to find God at work in this place.

They come to be strengthen and encouraged.  They come seeking a fix for what is broken and comfort what is hurting.

Will you be prepared to provide what they need or will you still be debating where to hang the pictures?

God has created us and called us to care for his creation.  It is an awesome responsibility.

It’s not just mine or Bill’s because we’ve chosen the vocation of ministry. The responsibility belongs to all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus.

Will you accept it?

I pray that you will.

And I pray that those who come needing will find God among you – at work in you.  That they will feel God’s presence in your worship and his encouragement in your service. And that together, you will deepen your relationship with one another and with the God who created and sustains you.


Postscript-

Before I finish, I just want to take a moment of personal privilege to say thank you for the amazing opportunity that you have given me. I know that you all really had no business giving me a job – let alone this job. Nothing in my resume or background should have inspired enough confidence in you to entrust me with such important work and yet you welcomed me with open arms. 

You encouraged, supported and inspired me as I learned. Please know that I know what an incredibly rare gift that is for a new pastor.  And wherever my ministry may take me, I will always be grateful for this place and for all of you for getting me started. And my prayer is that others who pass through here will see God reflecting through you as I have seen.