Sunday, October 14, 2012
In the beginning....
“In the beginning…..”
A Sermon preached on the First Sunday of the Season of Creation
Saints Andrew and Matthew – Wilmington, DE – October 7, 2012
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Good morning! It is such a treat to be with you this morning on this first Sunday of the Season of Creation. I’ve had the privilege of serving two congregations which had something to do with the launching of this particular liturgical innovation. Back then, many people laughed at us and thought we were, like, tree-hugging Episcopal Granola-heads. That was before “being green” or “going green” had more to do with money than it did with the environment. I like to think people got green – with envy. So much so that imitation has become the highest form of flattery. It’s a wonderful season! I’m so pleased to share it with you!
I’m also delighted to see that you have chosen for your lessons two of my favorite Nativity Stories: The birth of creation and the coming of The Word made flesh. From my perspective, these two stories make the two accounts of the birth of Jesus – beautiful and lovely, conflicting and confusing as they are – pale in comparison.
The story of the birth of creation begins as any good story does, “Once upon a time….” Okay, so the actual words are “In the beginning….,” but there is something of a child in all of us that knows when we are about to hear a good story. We find ourselves wanting to sit cross-legged on our little mats, all in a circle, our ears ready to hear the words, “….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.”
It’s a wonderful story even if, scientifically, it can’t be proven. The poetic power of the story carries us over rational thought, just the way it’s supposed to, bringing us deeper into the mystery of God and creation – just the way it should.
My second favorite nativity story is from John. Oh, I confess to have the same romantic attachments to the stories in Matthew and Luke that many of you do, but John gets right to the heart of the matter. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
It’s beautiful, poetic Christology, which, I think, is really the only way to understand the mystery of Jesus. Of course, it’s important to assert that Jesus was a human being and had human parents and was born poor and vulnerable, but for me, those are just details. Jesus is the Word who was with God, and he was the Word who is God. You can believe what you want about the miracles of Jesus, including His resurrection, but if you don’t believe in the Incarnation, nothing else really matters, does it?
That same Word that brought creation together is the Word who dwells with us – in us – and knows our delights and our joys, our pains and our sorrows, our deepest loves and our fervent hates, our fretful anxieties and our jubilant expectations.
It’s hard to take that all in, isn’t it? Some of us would rather have the traditional Nativity story, which normalizes things and makes it easier. Me? I love the mystery and the unknowing of it all.
Which leads me to the mystic Hildegarde. A sickly child, the youngest of ten, she suffered what we now know must have been debilitating migraine headaches and, as a result, had many visions and spiritual auditions. At a young age, she was sent to live in a convent and grew from a sickly child to become one of the strongest spiritual leaders and healers in the history of the church.
I am struck by these poetic words of hers: “The fire has its flame and praises God. The wind blows the flame and praises God. In the voice we hear the word which praises God. And the word, when heard, praises God. So all of creation is a song of praise to God.”
I live on the marshes of Rehoboth Bay in Long Neck. Most mornings, even before my eyes open and my feet hit the floor, I am awakened by the sound of the gulls crying their Hosannas to the Lord of Life. When I follow their chorus and look out my window, I see the morning sun dancing a joyful “Gloria” on the water. I listen to the soft slap of the waves on my deck in a humble, supplicant “Kyrie” for things, done and left undone. All creation praises God, their Creator, each in their own way – as Hildegarde says, “singing their own song of praise.”
How do we sing praise to God? How do YOU sing praise to God? How does the song that is our lives become one in harmony with the rest of Creation? How do some of our thoughts, words, and/or actions strike discordant notes that wrinkle the brow of Gaia, Mother Earth?
Here’s what I think: I think that the Word that was with God in the beginning, and the Word that is God, loves words. The Word loves it best, I think, when we string words together to make stories. Indeed, scientist and poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
So, let me tell you a story of creation that was written by a modern mystic, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst, one Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Here is her story about the creation of stories. Imagine pulling up your mat, sitting with your legs crossed and place yourself in the sacred circle and listen: Once upon a time……there were no stories.
“How did stories come into being? Ah, stories came into the world because God was lonely.
God was lonely? Oh yes, for you see, the void at the beginning of time was very dark because it was so tightly packed with stories that not even one story stood out from others. Stories were therefore without form, and the face of God moved over the deep, searching and searching – for a story. And God’s loneliness was very great.
Finally, a great idea rose up and God whispered, “Let there be light.” And, there was a light so great that God was able to reach into the void and separate the dark stories from the stories of light. As a result, clear morning stories came to life and evening tales as well. And God saw that it was good.
Now, God felt encouraged, and next separated the heavenly stories from the earthly stories, and these from the stories about water. Then God took great joy in creating the small and the tall trees and brilliantly colored seeds and plants, so that there could be stories about the trees and seeds, and plants, too.
God laughed with pleasure, and from God’s laughter fell the stars and the sky into their places. God set into the sky the golden light, the sun, to rule the day, and the moon, the silver light to rule the night. And in all, God created these so that there would be stories about the stars and the moon, stories about the sun, and stories about all the mysteries of the night.
God was so pleased with these that God turned to creating birds, sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, every fish and all the plants under the sea, and every winged creature, and all the cattle and creeping things, and all the beasts of the earth, according to their kind. And from all these came stories about God’s winged messengers, and stories about ghosts and monsters, and tales of whales and fishes, and other stories about life before life knew itself, and about all that had life now, and all that would come to life one day.
Yet, even with all these wondrous creatures and all these magnificent stories, even with all the pleasures of creating, God was still lonely. God paced and thought and thought and paced and finally! It came to our great Creator. “Ah, Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them care for, and be cared for in return, by all creatures of the seas, all those of the air, and all those of the earth.
So God created human beings from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, and human beings became living souls, male and female God created to them. And as these were created, suddenly, all the stories that go along with being completely human also sprang to life, millions and millions of stories. And God blessed all of these and placed them in a garden called Eden.
Now God strode through the heavens wreathed in smiles, for at least, you see, God was lonely no more. It was not stories that had been missing from creation, but rather, and most especially, the soulful humans who could tell them.”
I think, each time we tell our stories, God smiles and laughs and something in us is released into the cosmos, bringing new life to the rest of creation and deep into our very souls.
When we live into – and out of – the Gospel story, bringing justice and liberation to all of God’s creatures and creation, Jesus smiles and laughs and something in us is released into the cosmos, bringing healing and hope to the rest of creation and deep into our very souls.
When we create stories and poems and art and music and sculpture and instruments and tools and ideas, and concepts, The Holy Spirit smiles and laughs and something in us is released into the cosmos, bringing new life and a new spirit to the rest of creation and deep into our very souls.
And, all three members of the Trinity laugh together, and that laughter, that joy, that creative energy, I believe, is what is at the center of the universe, allowing it to renew and give birth to itself again – despite our human penchant for foolishness and arrogance which make our relationships with each other and the rest of creation toxic, and pollutes the face of the earth.
And that, my friends, is the best Nativity Story. Ever. Indeed, I think the laughter and joy at the center of the Universe – when heaven and earth laugh and rejoice together in creation – may well be God’s favorite Nativity Story, too. Amen.