In the beginning, the earth was formless and dark.
In the beginning, God created—God said—God saw.
In the beginning, God called it “good.”
Somehow, that really struck me this week as I began to think about this sermon. How do we hear that “It is good” as we look at our world? And that led me to thinking,
How did the Jewish people who were in exile for generations hear “It is good” as they were in captivity in a foreign land?
How did those caught up in the evils of Holocaust hear these words, these beginning words about the Holy One? “It is good”? at Auschwitz? “It is good”? at Bergen Belson? “It is good”? at Dachow?
How did people who ran slave ships hear “It is good”? How about those who were stolen or sold into captivity, who were brought to a land, and schooled in a different tongue, and taught a different religion, whose holy book started out with God proclaiming “It is good” when so much of their lives weren’t good?
How do we, living through this worldwide pandemic, with all its isolation, all its spotlight on inequalities of risk and protection, all its randomness, what do we think as God looks at this world and pronounces it “good”?
And how do we balance what has happened in this country for over 400 years—even with the imprimatur of the religious community at certain times and in certain places—to those who are of color—with the beginning of Genesis, the beginning of the Holy Bible, the beginning of the story of God and God’s world? How is it “good”?
Because oftentimes how you start off something sets the stage. The first impression, the starting line, the beginning is important.
See what these first lines bring up for you:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
(Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …”
(The Star Wars films)
“Four score and seven years ago …”
(President Lincoln, Gettysburg address)
“Straight outta Compton …”
“God saw that it was good. And it was evening, and it was morning, [another] day.”
Because this isn’t just how the Bible starts out—this is the frame for everything that comes afterwards—in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, in our lives with our God.
For those who read only the Old Testament, the beginning of Genesis is something that is read every year as part of the Torah readings. It is something that everyone knows, almost by heart. In the beginning, God created. In the beginning, God said. In the beginning, God saw that “it was good.”
So how do we hear “It was good”?
Is it a fact? A scientific observation? Because God created it, and God is good, it must be good.
Is it an opinion? The way an artist looks at their work and sees a masterpiece.
Is it a blessing? Does the voice inflection turn up at the end, as if not so sure, as if hoping against hope, “It is good”?
No, I think it is a challenge, a command, a fist held high in the air. It is good. I created it for good. I meant it for good.
All creation—from the first to the last,
from the skies and seas and ground,
from the things that crawl
to the things that swim
to the things that fly.
Each living thing,
It is good. It is beautiful. It is precious. It is unique. It is rare. It is mine. It is good.
Maybe that is what we need to hear in this time of division, and hate speech, and infernal lies, and military style policing, and people who shouldn’t be dead, dying. Maybe we need to remember there is good, that God created this world good, and that we are supposed to hold onto that promise with all that we have, and to fight for that vision, with all of our might.
This week, I listened as President Obama said he was hopeful because he looked at the protestors and saw a multiracial, multiage contingent. That’s what it’s going to take to get a step closer to “good.”
I listened to Rev. Al at George Floyd’s funeral, shout out like the prophets of old, calling out the reality of injustice, calling out the anger and hurt and waste of it all, “get your knee off my neck!” That’s what it’s going to take to get a step closer to “good.”
I breathed in the words of Rev. Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign, reminding us that “you only protest that which you think can be changed.” So don’t lose hope, because that’s how we get one step closer to “good.”
It is important to remember in the beginning, there was God and not much else. In the beginning, God wanted to create, and God created. And God created not just one thing, not just two things, but an abundance, a plethora, of different things—funny looking things and beautiful things; small things and large things; majestic things and mundane things. And then God looked at all the things that God had created, and nodded God’s head and said, “Yes, it is good.”
People of faith have something to say right now. I know that less and less of our neighbors and friends think going to church has any value. But people of faith have something to say. Because we face twin viruses—Corona and Racism. And neither one is going to be fixed easily or quickly. We as people of faith have a history of walking the walk, even when it isn’t exciting, even when there aren’t crowds of others, even when it seems darkest: for our world, for ourselves, for our faith.
We know the truth that God is with us (as we strive for justice) even in the valley of the shadows. We know that God somehow, someway, leads us in paths of righteousness and near still waters so we may drink our fill. We know God provides daily food. And we know God anoints us to be God’s people, together—rich and poor, male and female and nonbinary, black and white and brown, (even) democrat and republican, no matter where we came from, no matter our immigration status, no matter even what we call the One who created in the beginning. We are one in Christ Jesus—Paul tells us.
We have the stirring words of the prophets from ages past—like Micah “What does the Lord require of us?” and Amos “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
And we believe that God created our world; that God cares so much about our world that God came and lived among us as one of us, willing to die like we die that we all might know the power of resurrection; that God is not something just in the distant or even near past, but God is God of the present and the future as well; that God as Spirit continues to dwell with us and blow embers into us and comfort us and sustain us.
We know the power of movement. But we also know the power of stillness—of listening for God’s whisper (and listening to the stories of each of our lives).
We know that the Spirit was given, not to the special, not to the few, not to the elite, but to everyone. The power of the Spirit fell on each and every one. Sometimes, especially in the midst of a time when it is still dangerous for some of us to gather with others—it is important to remember that each of us does not have to play exactly the same part. Many have used the image of running a marathon (when talking about our fight with this pandemic—and I would add that it is equally true for fighting institutional racism and the rot of American society from institutional white supremacy). You have to train differently for a marathon than you do for a sprint. But not all of us are runners. If you have ever watched a marathon, there are also those very important people who line the roadways, mile after mile after mile. Some bring water. Some bring signs. Some wait hours just to encourage the runners—those at the front, and those who lag behind.
There are some of us who can risk being in large crowds in tight spaces. But all of us can figure out ways to be a part of this moment of history. Raise your voice on social media. Use your privilege (if you have it). Lend support with your money, or your time. There are a variety of gifts—just as there are a variety of people. And each gift is needed, each person is needed, each of us is called to do our part to take another step toward being what God intended, “good.”
So this week, remember “In the beginning”—
In the beginning … through until the end
God claims and cajoles and cries out “Let it be good!”
May it be so, for all of us. Alleluia, Amen.