In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
There are a lot of words in the Christian vernacular that I wish we could reclaim. Evangelical, for instance, has always been a big one for me. After all, to evangelize just means to share the good news, which at the end of the day really just means to share God’s love. Which means that really, we should all be super excited about being evangelicals. But we shy away from the word because of certain negative connotations it has developed— being associated with one particular kind of Christianity. Salvation is another big one. Personally I’d like to be able to talk about salvation without having to assume that if there is salvation for some, there must be eternal damnation for others. It seems to me that salvation should be a undeniably positive word-- not a loaded one. But perhaps by far the worst offender in the world of theological jargon is the much maligned and dreaded word: fundamentalism. Most of us in the mainline church are not terribly fond of the fundamentalists. Perhaps we feel as if they’ve given all the rest of us so-called “rational” religious people a bad rap. Fundamentalists, after all, are the ones who believe that our beautiful and poetic creation drama—the one you just heard read—is a literal, factual account of how the world was literally created in six days. And so fundamentalism, as many a cynic has pointed out, leaves no room for science, evolution, astro-physicists and not to mention dinosaurs. So it seems pretty clear to most people that there is no room for fundamentalism in our modern, progressive United Church of Christ.
Well, maybe it’s the contrarian in me, but I would like to respectfully disagree, and say that there may just be room for a different kind of fundamentalism in our modern spiritual vernacular. Because really, the word itself is pretty inoffensive when you think about it. If you look up fundamentalism in the dictionary, you find definitions such as this: of or relating to essential structure; or belonging to one's innate or ingrained characteristics. And so to look at something from a fundamentalist point of view is really nothing more than to examine something for it’s most essential value and to determine it’s most basic, innate truth. I would argue that’s a pretty good thing to do.
And so this morning I’d like to attempt to reclaim the word fundamentalism—specifically in relation to our text from Genesis—because I happen to think that the fundamental truth of this story has nothing to do with how long it took for God to create the world, or in what order things happened to appear, or whether or not there were dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. Rather, I would propose that the fundamental nature of this text—it’s most innate, essential truth—is in fact one of the fundamental and universal truths about who we are as children of God and our place on this earth.
In order to get to the bottom of this fundamental truth, let’s first focus our attention on verse 26, which reads: “Then God said: let us make humankind in our own image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing upon the earth. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.” We are created in the image and likeness of God—which is a pretty incredible and astounding claim to make when you stop to think about it. And of course we can’t read this story without calling to mind one of the most important and fundamental images we have for God-- which is that of Creator. So if God is The Creator, and if all of us are made in the image of that God, then that means that we all have a little bit of God’s creative and life-giving power as part of our own essential nature. We are, as I’ve said once or twice before from this pulpit, co-creators with God. So that’s the first part of the equation, and it’s certainly no small thing to be co-creators with God Almighty--source of life for the entire universe-- but that’s not even all. There’s another fundamental piece of information in this story, and it’s found in verses 28-30, when God gives instructions to his newly created humans that they are to be the caretakers of this new earth. God created it, and it was good. And then in an astounding turn of events, God handed it over to us, with the hope, one can only assume, that it would remain that way.
So, the question is, where are we now? If God were to appear in our midst, and take a look around at the state of the world today, what would God have to say about it? Would God look around at the decimated rain forests, the melting polar ice caps, the huge floating islands of trash in the ocean and still proclaim things to be “very good?” Would God look at our current rate of consumption of the natural resources of our planet and say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant?” What would God think about the fact that we spend more time arguing about science vs religion than we do working together on our common call to be co-creators and caretakers of the planet—which, by the way-- whether it’s thousands of years old or billions of years old, is still the only one we have?
Or might God tell us we have some changes to make?
I’ll let you answer those questions for yourselves. But in the meantime, here’s my suggestion for this morning: what if we were to adopt a “new fundamentalism?” A fundamentalism that recognizes that our most essential role as beings made in the image of a Creator God is not consumption but rather creation. If fundamentalism is about getting to the heart of things, and finding out the essential, innate truth about things, then perhaps a new fundamentalism would recognize that what is most innate and essential to our humanity is that we are all called to help sustain, nurture, and preserve life. In the words of poet Wendell Berry: “the care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
And so what if, instead of the dividing the world into two camps-- science vs religion--we realized we are all in the same camp-- one that respects creation and delights in the wonders of it— regardless of how young or old we believe it to be? What if we turned our focus away from who is right and who is wrong and decided that the best way to love God and neighbor is simply by loving the world that God made? Again, in the words of Wendell Berry: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
I encourage you, over the next couple weeks, as we all start to spend more time outdoors, enjoying the beauty of the world around us, to channel that innate part of you that bears the image of a creator God and reconnect with one of the most fundamental and universal truths of all—that creation is a gift and that it has been entrusted to us as co-creators and caretakers for every generation yet to come. We can all find different ways to do this— maybe for you it will be tending your garden at home or spending an evening helping to tend a community garden. Maybe you’ll want to get together with some friends or family to help clean up a park or help clean up a neighborhood. Maybe you’ll ride your bike or walk to work this week. Maybe you’ll even write a letter to someone in congress, letting them know you think it’s time we starting taking better care of our earth— because it’s the only one we have.
Whatever it is you choose to do, I strongly believe that it’s time for us Christians to get it together on this matter-- to stop letting “fundamentalism” get in the way of the our fundamental identity as children of God and caretakers of creation. Because God made the earth and all things in it. God called it good. It’s up to us to keep it that way.