When I lived for a summer in a small, rural Quebec village, I noticed there was one question that people tended to ask me: “Who is your father?” When I moved to Prince Edward Island, the question that soon came up in conversation was something like, “What is your family name?” In PEI, a family name could tell a great deal about your roots and associations. Here in Vancouver, where a great deal of the population is from somewhere else, we ask, “Where are you from?” These questions all belie the fact that we tend to think if we can get at the origins of a person, if we know where they come from, then we also know something of what they amount to. Criminology looks at the accused’s background; psychologists seek to find answers in a person’s childhood; astrologists look at the alignment of the planets at the moment of a person’s birth. Even the contemporaries of Jesus said, “He comes from Nazareth? Can any thing good come out of Nazareth, such a common place? No one extraordinary could be from there.”
So, I ask the question of myself, “Who am I?” “Who are you?” Not who are you according to census Canada, or the medical chart, but who are you really in your soul, that essence of who you are?
I want to suggest to you this morning that the story of creation that Lynn, Las and Joe just read was written by early Jewish scholars as an attempt to answer this question. They believed that if they could answer the question of where are we from, then it would give us great clues as to our identity as God’s people. If they could go back to the pure Garden of Eden and see what God had in mind when God planned the image of human beings then we might begin to get some sort of picture of who we truly are. As we listen to the words in the story which God spoke in creation and to Adam and Eve we might learn something about our lives and the meaning of life. We might also hope to find the answer to the question, “What does it mean to believe?”
As we read of this vision of the world intact in the act of creation, do you not feel a little bit sad? In Joseph Hayden’s oratorio, “The Creation”, even the thunder and lightening and the snowstorms are harmless, playing together like young animals. We know our world today isn’t like this: it’s paradise lost. The world is not perfect and whole, but when we continue on in the story we learn how humanity broke away from this original concert of creation, wanting to set itself up as the soloist, the star of creation.
I was reading a lecture written by the German theologian Thielicke at the time the Russians launched, in 1957, Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. He said, “Even the lights which God fixed in the firmament, the moon and the stars, no longer revolve as they did on that first day of the world; for now, Sputnik has joined them, and soon there will by systems of cosmic highways and red and green lights will blink in a universe which has retained for the longest time the untouched state of the first day of creation.”
Does it not seem that the longer humanity walks the face of this earth, the more difficult it is to find the autograph of God in creation? We are doing a good job of erasing the words, “Let there be” as pollution and development kill off countless species on land, in the air and in the seas. Terrorism in some ways seems to further distance humanity from the created good. When I walk downtown and I see homeless people, drug users, teenagers begging for money, I have to squint to see the hand of the divine, not in the faces, but in the society which has been created overtop of creation.
Perhaps what pains the heart as the story of creation is read is that it seems as if the workings of God can no longer be seen directly, that God has become indiscernible. Maybe the really tormenting thing in life is not that we must go through illness, that our loved ones die, that we suffer job loss or that we fail examinations; this is hard, but wouldn’t it be much easier if only we could see God’s autograph, God’s hand in all of it. Then we could find some sense of peace in it. If I could seize with my whole heart the understanding that God means this to happen to me for some sort of greater good, then maybe the suffering would be worth it.
Perhaps this is why the people, time and time again, came to Jesus of Nazareth asking, “Show us a sign.” Raise the dead. Make the lame walk. Cure madness. We know you can’t do it for the whole world…but just this one time…let us hear once again the “Let there be” of that first morning of creation. At just one moment, let God break forth from his anonymity. Just let the heavens crack open a little bit and the Creator say, “Here I am.” Then we would be content.”
When our family was thinking of moving across the country from PEI to the west coast, I remember praying, “God, I just want a sign.” I wanted the divine voice to speak once again and to hear echoed, “It is good.” God, just give me a small indication of what I should do and where you want me to be.
Jesus always refused to give the sign they sought. Even hanging on the cross, nothing. It wasn’t God’s autograph that was nailed to the foot of the cross. It was a sign of human construction which mocked God: “Christ, King of the Jews.” The soldiers yelled loudly, but God’s voice isn’t heard.
Where is God’s voice to be heard, God’s autograph to be seen? Many people tell me that they find God in nature. I love to climb up the North Shore Mountains and take in the vista. But in the spendour of that view, I find, not God but a wonderful reflection of the divine. You see, the view doesn’t tell me that I must change my way of life, that I have, at times, wronged and hurt. It doesn’t call me back to God’s vision of me on the first day of creation. Nor does the vision challenge me as to whether I am wasting my life with vain and trivial pursuits and material desires. The Salish Sea, Mt. Baker, the San Juan Islands, they are all beyond good and evil, right and wrong, justice and inequity. Ask the survivors of tornadoes, or hurricanes, or tsunamis if they see the hand of God in nature.
Some of you may have read James Whittaker’s book, We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing. He was the pilot of a four-engine plane which sank in the ocean. The eight occupants of the plane were in life rafts under the blazing sun for three weeks without water and food. The book talks about their ordeal. Whittaker says that before the incident, he loved nature, especially the sea, but as the days wore on, he began to hate the ocean and the blazing sky. One day, out of desperation, one of the men began to pray the Lord’s Prayer. So, that night they pulled their boats together and began to pray for help. They didn’t know how to address God so they called him, “Old Man.” As they prayed, a transformation took place. They knew that even there, God was present, and even though death was likely, they had peace.
Where they found God was not in nature, but in the words of a prayer of Jesus, recorded by ancient writers. They found God in the witness of the ancient people of the faith. They heard the voice of Creator in the presence of the people of faith. They saw the autograph of God in words recorded a couple of thousand years earlier.
As we read through the witness of the women and men in the Scriptures the one thing they all testify to is that human beings are loved by the Creator in a way that is beyond our human understanding. They are able to see God’s autograph in the events of their lives. Their witness is one of trust and faith.
Their experience of this Creator led them to write about creation. There wasn’t anyone there on the first day of creation recording what was happening. So they asked, how would the God they had experienced in their lives create? They saw Love creating a harmonious world and they passed this story on from generation to generation so that others would know through their witness what God was like. This is God’s autograph in creation.
We are witnesses today to the Creator. When I did my doctoral thesis looking at spiritual care-giving to persons with a life-threatening illness, I was surprised to find that people found the greatest amount of comfort from those who were able to witness to God’s love through their words and deeds. Most people said that it was a neighbour or a relative who helped them the most in their time of need.
As a church community, as individuals, we continue to write the Creation story as we live as people who believe in God’s love and care. I believe that we are the primary way in which God is expressed and God is active in creation today. You are God’s autograph. When we are so busy looking for God, why are we so surprised that God is to be found in our expression of love and creation? Why are we so surprised that we are God’s autograph today?