Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Handcrafted, Artisan World

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Our family likes to joke about how certain words come into favor and describe the strangest things. Like the word artisan lately. What advertisers want you to know is that their product is made with special skill, it is done hands on. It isn’t made by a machine, turned out at thousands of products a minute.

But the word gets abused, for example artisan pizza by Dominos. Sure they touch it with their hands, but is that enough to get it called artisan? Sometimes I think pizza companies just call something artisan when it isn’t quite round, when it is misshapen and lumpy.

Another word that gets misused is handcrafted. Especially when a company like Jim Beam used it to describe their whiskey. They make 500,000 barrels a year. Let’s be honest, that isn’t what we think of as handcrafted.

Now I am not trying to tell you that Dominos and Jim Beam are evil, I am just saying that sometimes the words we use are misapplied!

To me this is what I think of when I think of handcrafted and artisan. [show the RedHot Glass – South African Glass Making Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix-OrJddAXQ

Translate the following phrases:

·         Potensiaal: Potential·         Liefdevol gevorm: Lovingly Formed·         Vormbaar gehou: Kept Moldable·         Laat groei: Let Grow·         Tot eer van God: In honor of God

To me that is artisan, and that is handcrafted!

So why the big discussion of handcrafting at the start of my sermon?

Our scripture passage today makes an amazing claim – the claim is that God was hands on when creating the universe, that God was intimately involved in forming it – in other words, the scripture says the universe is handcrafted, it was really made by an artisan. The universe! Our world! And us!

This passage about creation was probably written while the people were in exile in Babylon, and the author wanted to make sure that people understood that the God of the Israelites was different from the Babylonian gods. In the Enuma Elis, the Babylonian creation story, the earth and the sea are created when one God, Marduk, cuts the dragon goddess Tiamat in half. One half of her body forming the earth, the other forming the sky. The world is a result of a battle, and the remnant of a dead goddess.

This story may be trying to say to that story, “No, our world was lovingly made, it is not the result of a hateful act, or a war, but the God of the Hebrew people is in relationship with creation, even making parts of it resemble Godself.

And if you think about it, those two stories of how the universe is created affect what you think about our life. If you think that our world is the result of a god’s anger and destruction, then you aren’t going to look at this world very positively. The purpose of life then might be to destroy, to conquer, to show your power through force and domination.

But if you look at this world as the result of God speaking it into being, calling it forth into existence, and then describing it as good, you are going to think very differently about life. Life is about relationship between light and dark, between plants and animals, between God and humanity.

Actually this passage argues with many in the religious community who act like the world is evil. There are Christians who act like God is only the God of heaven and that the world we live in is ruled by the devil.

 There are people who act like this life and all that goes with it is evil. And yet, that is clearly not the perception of the writer of this part of the bible. After each and everything is made, including people, God pronounces it good. Even though we are capable of evil, even though we can do great harm, at our base, at our foundation, at our very essence we are good. Why?

Because God is very actively involved in our formation – speaking the words that cause the light to separate from darkness, making human beings in God’s image (male and female), and even evaluating the finished product and calling it good. God is not hands-off, but intimately involved. In fact, it is crafted with a loving touch, a desire to bring order, to create beauty, and the joy of sharing life the gift of life with others. The writer felt it was important for us to know that. And it is.

So part of the message of this passage is to remind us that our view of the world around us should be one of seeing its goodness.

One writer in Seasons of the Spirit reflects: “Take just a moment to step outside. Look at the sky, what is happening there? Are there clouds or stars or is it brilliant blue? Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Do you hear birds or traffic or insects or voices? What can you feel? The sun on your face, the wind blowing gently or throwing things around? Open your eyes. This is God’s good creation, formed by love and you are part of it. Offer your own thoughts and prayer to the God who loves you.”

That’s the message. This world isn’t the result of a great battle, it isn’t a dead body, or even the tarnished creation of an evil mastermind. It is formed by love.

Now I admit, we do not live in an era where people believe that the world was created by warring gods. But we do live in an era of science.

And this scientific era is tempted to say that the universe has no heart – that there is nothing either good or evil about it, that it is loveless and cold, random and perhaps even apathetic. One of the dangers of science is that we reduce everything to numbers, to formulas, molecules and chemicals.

And that too can affect how we look at the world around us. Because if all we see is heartlessness, survival of the fittest, and there is no good or evil, we are going to live as heartless, survivalists, with no moral values.

But this passage says to that worldview, “no. Creation is good. It is touched by God.”

Now, I don’t think that we should be reading the passage as an argument against what science has learned about how stars form, or how old the universe is, or how species evolved. I think science is probably right on those things.

But what this passage tells us is that behind the scenes, as these grand and marvelous events unfolded across the ages, God was involved. Like the glass in the video, God is spinning the hub, breathing life into it, putting color and texture on, shaping and reshaping. God is involved in every moment of the process, so that it can be declared good!

You see, I believe that humanity has compassion because God has compassion. I believe that the life sprang forth in our universe because God values life.

And that changes how I live. It changes how I interact with others and with the world around me. Life has value, people have value, relationship has value. Because each of these things are the result of God’s handcrafting. God carefully made sure they were there!

Now I admit, to think that God has done this with billions of stars over billions of years is overwhelming, I am not sure how God could do that. What it makes me realize is just how big God is compared with my smallness. And yet, at the same time, it tells me that even though God is so big, so beyond my capacity for understanding, God still spoke, let there be light, and there was light; God still made human beings in God’s image, and God still called all of this good. And I can live as though it is good – act as though it is touched by God, act as though you are created in God’s image. 

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