Eco-Justice Ministries
   Eco-Justice: "the well-being of all humankind on a thriving Earth"
 

Preaching on Genesis 1
Sermon Options & Worship Suggestions

There are six pages related to the "Preaching on Genesis 1" resources:
Index &
Introduction
Two Different
Creation Stories
Exegesis of
the Text
NRSV Formatted
to Show Structure
Sermon Themes &
Worship Tips
Extended
Quotations

This set of resources has provided a lot of content about the meaning of the Priestly creation story -- too much to fit into a single sermon. Here is a suggestion on how to read that text in a worship setting, and six different suggestions on sermon approaches.

Reading the text
The 31 verses of the Priestly creation story makes for a very long reading -- but we hope that the importance of reading the whole thing is clear.

Consider using four readers to emphasize the structure of the text. Before the reading, give a brief explanation to the congregation that this is a carefully structured text, and that the different voices are being used to help indicate the way the story is put together.

  • Reader 1 could do Days 0 and 7 the prologue and the Sabbath
  • Reader 2 could do Days 1 & 4 light
  • Reader 3 could do Days 2 & 5 firmament, waters and sky
  • Reader 4 could do Days 3 & 6 the dry land
If you have someone skilled in liturgical dance, they might be able to dramatize the steps and themes of the story, accentuating "separation" on the first 3 days, and "population" on the other 3.

Sermon Options

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2 possible sermon themes that connect Genesis 1 and Trinity Sunday

1. The need to look at the whole story
Understanding the Trinity requires that we think of the three persons. We can't just do Christ or Spirit and call ourselves "Trinitarian."

So too with Genesis 1. We have to see this text, and its doctrine of creation, as a self-contained whole. We have to see all of the creation and look at how all of the pieces fit together, and follow the story all the way through Sabbath.

Sermon image - You can't just sing 2 verses of a Trinitarian hymn like Come Thou Almighty King and say that you have dealt fairly with the Trinity.

So too, can't take the language of "dominion" or "it is good" from the Priestly story without the larger context.

According to this story, what is God's intention for the creation? It is well-ordered, diverse, fecund, productive, peaceable. Creation finds its completeness in Sabbath -- in rest and sufficiency and a break from production and use. The completion of the creation in Sabbath points us to joy and praise of God.

Any faithful sense of "dominion" must respect and preserve the goodness and order of the whole

 

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2. Affirming the creative work of the Spirit
Trinity Sunday is the week after Pentecost

The Trinity emerges for the church in the experience of the risen Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, Peter refers to Joel's prophesy: "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh."

In biblical Hebrew, "all flesh" is a common term that refers to all animals, and even all of creation. Joel's prophecy calls us to a much broader perspective on the working of the Spirit. That broad perspective is also seen in the Genesis 1 story.

In Genesis, God's Spirit animates the Earth, and calls forth all of its diversity. The creative work of God leads toward a bursting forth of life, of plants and animals.

In Genesis, Joel, etc., God wills a thriving Earth. As people inspired by the Spirit, may we be touched by the revelation and inspiration that the Spirit brings to humans, and may we actively seek the thriving, healthy earth that the Spirit calls forth.

For additional information:

  • The urgency of seeking a thriving earth can be indicated by details from the next set of sermon notes.
  • See one the Eco-Justice Notes commentaries posted on this website (Pentecostal Pourings) for more details on the relation between Pentecost and Joel, and the broad notion of "all flesh"
  • See the Holmes Rolston quote included in these resources for a discussion of the Spirit and Genesis 1

 

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A sermon theme that takes a clear political action slant on Genesis

3. Preserving the goodness of God's creation
The Genesis 1 story isn't a rambling narrative. It is a carefully crafted description of a tightly structured, peaceable realm.

For the Priestly writer of the text, the clear purpose of the dominion granted to humans is to maintain the order of creation as agents of God. Humans are to see that the whole creation thrives, to maintain its diversity and fecundity. They (and especially the priests) are to preserve the separations that order the world (prevent pollution)

The earth, today, does not mirror the Genesis hopes for the peaceable, productive, ordered world.

  • The earth is not thriving. Many species of animals are in trouble because of rapid and dramatic loss of habitat (which includes the loss of food that Genesis promises for them); the loss of habitat is leading to a dangerous rate of extinctions (which clearly violates the Genesis command for the animals to be fruitful and multiply). Global climate change is one of many factors in habitat loss.
  • The techniques of genetic modification (GM) combine the things that God separated. Note that genetically modified food -- which combines DNA from different species, and even mixes animal and vegetable genes -- is of deep concern to orthodox Jews, because of problems with keeping kosher.
From the perspective of this story, extinctions and GM tinkering are horrible violations of the Priestly vision of order.

In the spirit of Genesis 1, we as Christians are called to:

  • seek the preservation of all species. That includes working for policies which implement the Endangered Species Act ("the modern Noah's Ark"), or seek other approaches to preserving "critical habitat."
  • raise serious questions about the ways in which genetic modifications tinker with the order that God intended for the world, and whether we are properly acting as God's agents with these technologies.

 

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3 themes dealing with the interpretation of scripture

4. Finding surprise and delight in (re-)discovering the story
There are many places where Bible doesn't actually say what we think it says, but because we've heard pieces of the story many times, from many sources, we think we know it. A fresh reading lets us see the structure and intention, the pieces we hadn't known.

Things that may be surprising to people:

  • Genesis 1 has a science and cosmology very different from our own
  • It looks to a vegetarian, peaceable realm (the lion and the lamb together)
  • All animals given plants for food, and are told to be fertile
  • This story is a prelude to the flood, which "un-does" this creation, and then re-establishes it with different rules.
New scholarship opens up exciting new ideas (Gen 1 structure, "image of God", etc.)

A pastoral slant -- The good advice of "don't let assumptions get in the way of seeing what is really there" is true beyond the Bible, too! It is good, at least on occasion, to check in and update our assumptions:

  • Who is you spouse, your kids, your neighbor? Have you really engaged them recently?
  • What do scientists really say about the state of the world? The news may not be as good as you think.
  • What do political leaders and policy experts really say about current events? The old labels of "conservative" and "liberal" may not be very descriptive these days.
Taking a fresh look, setting aside the assumptions, hearing new ideas, is both challenging and refreshing.

As people of faith, we're called to heed the actual message of scripture, the real facts of science, the real people that we encounter in our families and communities.

 

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5. An occasion to discover the conversations within the Bible
Scripture includes many different voices and different views of God, humanity, creation

We're familiar with that in the 4 Gospels, multiple New Testament letters, different historical books

Affirm that there are two primary creation stories in Genesis, and that they disagree on important theological perspectives, as well as most details of the story. (Warning: this is a very challenging and threatening idea to many Christians!)

Sermon image -- compare to the biblical conversation the political debates within a larger tradition. Beyond their differences, both parties are very much part of the larger US perspective. (One of the Eco-Justice Notes commentaries posted on this website, A Heated Debate, fleshes out this theme.)

Our faith is enhanced when we hear a dynamic, diverse set of voices. The diversity within our own faith communities is a similar dynamic of honest disagreement among people of faith today about theology and ethics. We may be able to do a better job managing the conversations, debates and conflicts in the church today when we remember that our faith tradition, and the Bible itself, have always shown many different views of faithfulness.

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6. Grounded in a worldview
"We take the Bible seriously, not literally"

Recognize challenges of reading, understanding and appropriating texts like Genesis 1. These text come from a culture and a world that we don't understand (and maybe even don't like!)

Priestly cosmology is not ours - the dome of the firmament, light without sources. This is not the big bang and evolution!

Similarly, the Priestly writer and people of that time could not comprehend something that we see as normal -- 2 landers on Mars, rolling around on the surface of another planet, and sending back pictures. For them, Mars was a dot of light on the dome of the firmament. You can't "go there".

For priestly writer, this story is all about the importance of separation and boundaries (a theme that is at the heart of many of the Jewish laws). This story is all about God; it is not a science text about the process of creation. (See the quotation from Hauerwas & Berkman in these resources for the difference between scientific explanation and theological text.)

The Genesis 1 story assumes an unchanging, highly structured, and hierarchical world. (The Eden account is far more "evolutionary" and has a far greater sense of mutuality.)

The growing awareness that Christianity needs to speak clearly and firmly about the healing of God's damaged creation has called us to look more carefully and critically at these texts. In the light of modern science and technology, in light of an evolutionary/ecological perspective, and in light of the ecological damage that is happening every day, we need to wrestle with what is true for us in this story, and what does not speak to our faithful understandings.

Affirm the importance of asking hard questions, of seeking new interpretations.


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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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