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June 22, 2014
"The Bible Tells Me So – Part 2"

Barbara Lorbach

Genesis 1


Creation—we ended here last week in our journey with the Bible. We looked at the two creation stories in Genesis. Why two creation stories?

Let’s start with a different question. I’ve asked two people to answer this.
What is the most significant event in American history?
2 different answers—were the events they chose the same as what you chose?

What is the most significant event in world history in the last ten years?
Why would we differ on the answer to these questions? Age, life experience, what is important to us.

How do you think the question on world history would have been answered by someone who lives in Egypt or Japan or Thailand or Brazil or China or the Republic of Congo? Our location, our culture, our status in the culture all make a difference in how we answer the question of what is the most significant event in world history.

We call this context. Context takes into consideration the setting, the background, the situation, the framework, the environment, the perspective and the circumstances. Context should be considered when reading the Bible.

We talked about one example last week. Three thousand years ago, the time when the Bible began to be written down, people believed the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. That is part of the context of the ancient Hebrews who told this story of creation. Genesis 1 and 2 are not the only ancient stories about creation. They are the sacred stories of Jews and Christians but other creation stories exist from other cultures and religions.

Since the beginning of written word and this collection of writings we know as the Bible, there has been disagreement about how to read and interpret this profound collection. Some believe with all their hearts that what you see is what you get and if you have to ask questions then you are probably not ready to give your life to God. Many, myself included, believe that we do not have to check our brains at the door of the church, and that the Bible can handle our questions or maybe it would be better said, “God can handle our questions.”

In a class on the New Testament, the Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor teaches that the Bible did not fall out of the sky as God’s gift to the church. It was the church’s creation—a selection of new Greek texts about Jesus added to a rearrangement of the old Hebrew (Jewish) ones, which made it a library, not a single book, intended to shape the early Christian imagination in ways that would make faith in Jesus a no-brainer.

Or almost a no-brainer. The truth is there are heated arguments in the pages of the New Testament that are not much different from the arguments we experience today—just different ones, like “is circumcision necessary or do you have to keep a kosher kitchen to follow Jesus?” “Is it faith or works that is necessary to salvation?” Of course that led to new arguments later on—is Jesus human or divine and so we end up with something known as the Trinity.

One of Taylor’s students, a mother of 5, said she was going to put warning stickers in all of her children’s Bibles: “Remember this book was written by human beings with agendas.”

What I appreciate most about Taylor’s writing is her imagination. And that’s the best thing about the Bible. It will not let you settle down between its pages. It pushes you out into the world—to look for the rainbow, to wrestle with the angel, to give your shirt to the stranger, to love your enemies. She says: “Open your imagination to the divine stories the Bible tells and the world stands a better chance of becoming a sacred place, if only because you are out there acting like it is.”

Did you think I forgot to read the scripture for today? It was intentional—I want to share this version of the creation story as we close.

"The Creation"
by James Weldon Johnson 1927

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely - I'll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That's good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That's good!

Then God himself stepped down -
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw

That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas -
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed -
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled -
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
The God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That's good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I'm lonely still.
Then God sat down -
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I'll make me a man!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.