Having read my previous sermon online, I’ve realised that they need a bit of work before they’re put to paper – things don’t read so well when they’re intended to be read out loud. So this one has been ever so slightly altered.
The theme is the second day of creation. I’ve been rather surprised that it’s actually quite difficult to squeeze in eco-themes into Creation. Mainly because Creation is really very slow… Anyway, here it is.
Today we have our second “day” in the days of creation, and there sometimes has been in Christian churches a strange sort of competition between the creation story in the Bible and what is told to us by science. As I’ve said before, the idea that the bible is factually inerrant is a very new one, less than a hundred and fifty years old. In fact, it can be pinned down fairly specifically to a nineteenth century theologian called Reinhold Niebuhr, who responded to the oncoming rush of technology, and the social instability in the New World in which he lived, by what may have been something of a psychological retreat into the certainty of claiming that the bible was without error or internal contradiction. That in itself was an appropriation of the “folk” understanding of science at the time, making claims of the bible which couldn’t really be justified.
That is a very simplistic reading of the history of literalism! However if we take that literal reading not to be the appropriate one, we are left with the idea that Genesis is just a religious story, and that the scientific one is just a “how it happened” story. And there is more to both than that I think.
So what I’d like to do today is just to lay those two stories, the Genesis story, and the scientific story, side by side.
Looked at from a certain perspective, this story of the second day of creation makes a weird sort of scientific sense. It was a theory that explained how things were as they were, which is essentially what science is. Water is blue, the sky is blue, so maybe there was water in the sky. Sometimes it rains – so there must be water above which is occasionally let down. There must be something stopping the water crashing down upon us – so there must be a firmament. The early Jews were making sense of the world around them, in a relatively logical way. But they were doing more than that. They were dreaming dreams about God, thinking creatively.
God’s says “let there be light” in our translation, but the Hebrew is unclear. It could be that God said “you are light”. As though he was naming it, and in the naming of it, it came into being. But sticking with “let there be light” there is more to this than God making it, fashioning it. He is allowing it, letting it to be drawn out from what has already been created.
There is a lot of talk about “separating” the raw materials of creation. Light separated from darkness, water separated by the firmament, so that the dry land may appear. God is giving things space to become what the are going to be.
Now that sounds to me just like every growing thing – trees, plants, people, need space to grow into what they can be. We are born completely dependent, with no space between us and those who care for us. And we need space to grow into the fullness of who we are. We need to find ourselves, and find the space in which we can grow into ourselves.
Alongside that, there is the scientific creation – what actually happened, or as near to it as we can get with the facts that we have. Obviously, we know a great deal more than the Hebrews who wrote the creation story, so our story will be a little different.
What do we know? We know that between 12 and 14 billion years ago, there was, well what there was before then, we don’t know. There might have been something, there might have been nothing. But our story, our universe starts when the thing we can recognise as something, happened. The big bang, we call it, but what we mean by it is that there was one time, if there was such a thing as time then, when there was no matter, and then the next moment, or perhaps the first moment, there was all the matter in the universe that we see: every star, every planet, every dust cloud and every nebula, everything was there, when a moment before it was not there. Superheated plasma, or protomatter, it is called these days, but all that means is that it was so hot and so powerful and so violent, that it didn’t have shape or form, it didn’t know what it was. And it filled the aching void it found itself in, and it in time, some quick time, some slow time, it became things, recognisable things, atoms, dust, stars, planets, moons, water, trees, air.
So in this way also, things were separated, and were allowed to become what they were going to be.
Now the experiments at Cern, the large hadron collider, are trying amongst other exciting things, to discover the really difficult thing about creation. Which is that in order for the universe to have separated, and become what it was going to be, it needed things to separate it. It needed laws of physics which would give it gravity and mass, laws of motion and gravity, it needed the conditions that would make this something matter and energy and light. The scientific theory is that all these things were created at the moment, or shortly after the moment, of the big bang. Because according to science nothing measurable existed before it.
But when we lay our Christian story alongside the scientific one, then both seem to make more sense than they did apart. The creation story in the bible is inaccurate until we take into account the scientific facts. And the scientific story, I feel, makes much more sense, if we use our Christian faith to suggest that laws and matter did not come out of no-where, but that there was something, something we can’t measure or test for, but something nevertheless, which existed before the big bang, a God who thought and ordered, and created, and who gave the conditions wherein the universe could grow into what it was going to be.
I said I wanted to lay those two stories, Genesis and science, side by side, but in reality they are two sides of the bigger story, a many sided story. A story of one creation, which God made, and declared good.
The fundamentalists, those who say only the bible is true, may pick only the one side of the story and say that is all there is, and atheists may pick only the scientific side of the story and say that is all there is, but the truth is that both make more sense when put together. The purpose of our faith is to look wider than any one story, wider than any one idea, because God is too big to be contained in any one story, any one idea.
The joy of Creationtide is to know that we are part of that bigger story, the all-embracing story, the ongoing story – the story of the temporal and the infinite, the tangible and the intangible, the physical and the metaphysical. Of all that is, seen and unseen.