Genesis 1.1-2.3; Roman 8.18-25; Matthew 6.25-34
Each of the readings today have something to say about the creation of the world and our place within it as God’s creatures.
And the first thing to note is how God loads creation with potential. Listen to this:
Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind, and 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. Genesis 1.11-12
Rob Bell writes,
Notice it doesn’t say, ‘God produced vegetation.’ God empowers the land to do something. He gives it the capacity to produce trees and shrubs and plants and bushes that produce fruit and seeds. God empowers creation to make more… Creation is going to move forward. It can’t help it. It is loaded with energy. It’s going to grow and produce and change and morph. This point is central to the story: The garden of Eden is not perfect. Nowhere in Genesis does it say it is perfect. The word the Bible uses is good. Good means changing and growing and advancing and producing new things.
— Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
God is not micromanaging the world. Instead creation has been set running, loaded with all this good stuff to keep it moving and developing and growing.
I wonder if you have ever bought a gift voucher for someone, perhaps when you weren't sure what to buy for their birthday or Christmas? I remember when they used to be a paper ticket stuck inside a greetings card. These days the amount of money you choose to give is loaded electronically onto a little plastic card. The person who receives the card can take it along to the shop and buy whatever they wish up to the value you chose. The card has been pre-loaded with cash. It is up to the recipient to decide what to to do with it.
The earth comes pre-loaded with all this capacity to bring forth more. And we are part of that creation. We, too, come empowered, not just with the capacity to reproduce ourselves, but the potential do all sorts of things that are good.
The fruit trees and the flowers, the crops and the fish, the birds and the animals just get on with fulfilling their potential as part of this fantastic creation. They don’t choose to pollinate and germinate and mate and grow and reproduce, they simply do so. But people are pre-loaded with an extra bit of potential — free will. We have the choice and the capacity to decide what to do with all that we have been given.
So creation isn’t a one moment in time event. It is ongoing. The world continues to grow and evolve and adapt — or at least it does in those places where people aren't busy destroying it for personal gain.
And we continue to be created as life goes on. The cells that make up our blood and flesh and bone and brain continue to replace themselves. Every seven or eight years you grow a new set of lungs, for example. Isn't that incredible? You are quite simply not the person you used to be. You have been replaced many times over.
And this ongoing creation within us is not only true of our physical, material self. It is true of our inner life too, our Spirituality. All of us have a part of us that is hidden from view, which includes our thoughts, our feelings, our imagination, our moods and, most importantly, our soul — the engine room that drives all we do to fulfil our potential, to grow spiritually and to seek communion with God.
The soul is the part of us where the Spirit of God resides. When we pay attention to it, and nourish it and listen to the still small voice of God within, we change and grow as people of faith: learning how to be closer to God, how to allow God to speak into our lives, so that the choices we make not only fulfil our potential and allow us to make the most of all that God empowers us to be, but enables our life and character and behaviour to become an expression of God’s goodness within us.
Creation is not perfect, but it is good. Yes, there are disasters in the natural world that are not always the result of human behaviour — earthquakes and tsunamis and bush fires and droughts and floods. The human body does not endlessly reproduce itself perfectly, but begins to deteriorate over time. Cells get corrupted. Muscles, joints and bones weaken with age.
St Paul writes,
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us… creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay… We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8.18ff
Our lives are pregnant with possibility. Yet bringing that potential to birth can be painful. And we live in patience and hope for the final act of creation, in our world and in ourselves, when the glory of God will be brought to bear in all its fullness.
And how do we know this is coming? Look around you. The world and all that is in it, including humanity, bears witness to the glory of God already: a foretaste of all that is to come. ‘Look at the birds of the air,’ says Jesus. ‘Consider the lilies of the field…’ Look around you. It is there to see if you choose to see it. The fingerprints of God all over creation. God is in everything.
St Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits in the Middle Ages, taught his followers much about how to nurture their spiritual life. And one of the pillars of Ignatian spirituality is learning to find God in all things. When we pay attention to God and see even the smallest of things in life as an expression of God’s presence, our love and devotion for God, for each other and for creation grows.
Consider the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air. The sun on your face. The first crocus of Spring. A good conversation.
Undertake the smallest of tasks with purpose and attention, and find holiness in the mundane. Prayerfully take stock of your blessings. And when you find yourself in the midst of a challenging situation, remind yourself, ‘God is here.’
We are made in the image of God. We come preloaded with a capacity to know God and love God, to see God in all around us. To grow into fullness of life and wholeness. It is our choice whether we use that gift or not. We aren’t changed by trying harder, or following rules or all the other things that religion sometimes tries to impose on people. We are changed by attending to God within us, nurturing patience and hope as we wait for all that God will reveal to us.