12th September 2021, Second Sunday of Creation, Canon Marion Russell Genesis 2:4

12 September 2021, Second Sunday of Creation 

Canon Marion Russell

Genesis 2:4–7, 15–24; John 2:1–11  

 

God’s Transforming Breath of Life

This is the second Sunday of the Season of Creation. My sermon this morning is about God’s Transforming Breath of Life, and I’ll be exploring the Genesis reading for that, as well as reminding us of the wonderful sermon Bob led us in back in January about the gospel reading. 

However, I am going to start with a quote from yesterday’s Thought for the Day on Radio 4. I recommend it in full to any of you who might be able to listen via BBC Sounds.

Tim Stanley, an historian and writer for the Daily Telegraph was reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 on what we’ve all come to know as 9/11. In the context in the first recorded death, that of Father Michael, a Franciscan monk, he voiced thoughts I find helpful in considering the terrorists’ religious motivation. He says: 

Al Qaeda acted in the name of their own perverse form of religion, terrorists killed in the name of their own idea of God. Fr Michael, the emergency services and anyone who tried to help gave their life for other people. This distinguishes fanaticism from a philosophy of love, the latter found among people of good faith, including Islam, and those without. Fanaticism is sterile; it destroys, not builds. It places pursuit of purity above the love of imperfect humanity. What it cannot control it kills.

And after another illustration of Fr Michael’s self-giving love, he speaks of the contrast of love to that fanaticism. He says,

Love is boundless. Love gives itself away till there is nothing left but peace. 

I hope that may help give some perspective in the remembrance of that event. In our Eucharist, we bring ourselves to the Love that in redemption has taken on the cost of that hatred. 

That story of God’s love begins in the book of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, where we hear the narrative of how the world was created, how human beings came into being, and God’s purpose for human beings. There’s a beauty and poetry in these verses that leads us to explore truth that’s way beyond historical fact:

What is God’s purpose in creating us – our calling and vocation?

What does God allow us freedom and exploration to do – permission?

And what boundaries and instructions does God set for us to live within – prohibition? 

There's a wonderful earthiness in the picture drawn here of the creation of the first human beings. God creates from the earth. Can you smell the clay? Can you feel the groundedness of it between your fingers, the cold, the damp, the texture, the shape as you run your fingers over this moulded being that God is creating. Is it a rough careless job? Or is this a work of tenderness, taking time, looking at the unfinished, as a sculptor looks as the work proceeds? Do you see the smile on God’s face as he works?  

Now for those of you who love words, here’s a little bit of word play in the original text. The Hebrew word for earth is adamah – does that sound familiar? Out of dust of the adamah, God created Adam! That’s the actual Hebrew word. Adam. It’s best translated Earthling. 

From the Earth God created the Earthling, and breathed into the Earthling the breath of life to become a living being! 

Despite the creating work being that of the hand of God, it’s when the breath of God is breathed in that Life is released! When the breath of God is breathed in, Life is released.

Now Earth and Earthling are in wonderful partnership as the earthling is given the work to tend the Earth, within the whole of creation. Let’s note that vocation for us too! 

Adam is allowed great playfulness, naming the animals, no boundaries apparently placed on him by God in this respect. This is God’s permission! 

However, God’s work doesn’t end there, because none is suitable as the very companion he needs. The earthling now becomes known as man, the Hebrew work ish. God creates out of him a being who will be to him a fully equal and complementary partner and companion. There’s more word play here in the Hebrew too. Ish, man, exclaims in awe and wonder – and excitement – at ishshah, the woman, created from his breathed-into dust.  

There a joyful creativity in the work of the solo earthling, and of ish and ishshah together, freedom to look after the paradise of God’s creation, to enjoy the fruit and the food and keep all things well. We’re not given any sense of how they did this in tending the earth or relating to the animals. God’s permission to explore being made in the image of God continues. 

They are however given a boundary. Not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There’s another sermon to explore there for another time. For now, let’s note that God’s calling and purpose has boundaries and prohibitions as well as permission, and things go wrong when the boundaries are crossed. 

Where do we see the boundaries and prohibitions that God draws - to enable us to live fruitfully and harmoniously as part of creation? This is a question for us to ponder more deeply as we continue our worship at home in discussions, in prayer, in engaging with nature, on our own and together to hear God’s voice speaking to us individually and collectively. 

As we consider the boundaries in human relationships, in our relationship with the Earth and all that has gone wrong in that, let’s not stray from the joy for which God has created us, to honour each other joyfully with the proclamation, like Adam the earthling who woke to find ishshah, woman, drawn out of ish, man. This experience of delight in other human beings is one of the joys God gives us, despite it being marred by what in us goes wrong, and it still is a delight to look at each with the joyful cry, “God created you! We are here for each other, created by God for this!” Isn’t that a wonderful way to greet each other, whether the joy of one’s life-partner, family, intimate friendship, fellowship in work and in faith,  and the breadth of all others we know! 

So too, let’s continue to delight in the earth and learn again to see everything with the joy of creation, beyond what’s marred, knowing that still God chooses to breathe the breath of life into everything. The work is still ongoing. 

Jesus breathed life into the disaster at the wedding in Cana. Unobtrusively he acted, with love, power and laughter. Back in January Bob said in his sermon on this passage:  

What I must ask you to notice is that Christ likened the Kingdom of God to the merriment of a wedding. Where Christ is, there must be life, light and laughter. And if there isn’t, he will make it so. That’s how he began at Cana of Galilee. It was his first sign. It was the first indication he gave of his glory, and of what God’s presence means.

Where God’s love breathes, there is life, there is transformation. I have a final quote from Richard Rohr about transformation, a deep work that turns our thinking and our experience around. 

After transformation, God is not out there and we don’t look at reality. We look from reality. We’re in the middle of it now; we’re a part of it. This whole thing is a mystery of participation…

For Paul, love is not something we do. It is something that is done to us, and that we participate in.

Let us pray

Lord of creation,
whose glory is around and within us:
open our eyes to your wonders,

breathe into us the breath of God
that we may live within your transforming love
and know your peace at our lives’ end,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen