Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sermon: It Starts with Water

Genesis 1:1-10, 26-27, 31-2:3 (Matthew 3:17-17)
It Starts with Water
James Sledge                                       July 24, 2016, start of Vacation Bible Camp

When I first became a pastor at a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, a more experienced pastor was very kind to me. Her name was Wylie, and she gave me a lot of good advice. She also invited me to be a part of group of pastors who gathered each week to discuss Bible passages for upcoming sermons. But before we talked about the Bible, we socialized, ate lunch, and talked about being pastors. One day, Wylie told us a story I’m going to share with you. I think I’ve shared it before, but it’s a good story and worth hearing more than once.
Wylie had gone to a big gathering of pastors from all sorts of denominations and traditions. She found a seat at one of many tables, and there the pastors introduced themselves to one another, telling their denomination, the church they served, how many members it had, and so on. One pastors asked the rest of them, “What day do you take off?” Because pastors work on Sunday, we often take a weekday off instead.
The pastors answered saying, “I take Monday off,” or “I take Friday off.” But one pastor thought taking any day off was a bad idea. “I never take a day off!” he shouted. “The devil never takes a day off.” My friend Wylie replied to him, “God does.”
That’s what the story we just heard says. God finishes with all the work of creation, and then God rests. God takes a day off. What’s more, God gives everybody the day off. The seventh day, the Sabbath, is “hallowed” the Bible says, which means it’s set apart for special purposes. And the main purpose is rest.
But we humans are not always good at resting. I recently read a story in the newspaper about people not using all their vacation time, working instead of resting. And even when we do vacation, we don’t always rest. We cram our vacations with travel and theme parks and activities, so much so that we’re often worn out when we return.

That pastor my friend Wylie met never took days off, never rested, because he was worried, maybe even scared. He had to stay busy because he was afraid that if he didn’t things might go wrong. “The devil never takes a day off,” he said, which was his way of saying that there was so much bad in the world, good people could never ever take a break. But God doesn’t seem to agree with him.
Now I don’t worry a lot about the devil, but there are other things I worry about, things that make me want to stay busy rather than stop and rest. What things worry you?
There are scary things in the world that make it hard for some people to relax and rest, but people worry about a lot of other things. Sometimes they worry about being good enough in school or at sports, or about getting into a good college. People who worry about those a lot may work so hard and stay so busy that they don’t ever rest.
Some people worry about being successful or having lots of money. Sometimes they work long hours and work weekends because if they don’t, they won’t be a success or make enough money. Sometimes people who own companies make their employees work long hours and weekends because they’re worried that other companies having more success or money. And nobody gets to rest, and God says that’s not good for us.
The story where God takes a day off is a beautiful story. It’s not a scientific story because it was written before people knew about science. The story wasn’t trying to answer questions about when or how evolution works or how long things took. It says that however things happened, they happened because of God. And it starts with water.
At first things are a mess. My Bible says that everything  was a formless void. That translates my favorite phrase in the Hebrew Bible, tohu vavohu. And out of this watery chaos, this dark mess, God forms a world that is orderly, complex, and has lots of creatures, including human ones. And God is happy with it. God likes it very much.
And God seems to think that it is designed well enough, that it is good enough, that things will not fall apart if everyone takes a day off, God included. Unlike many of us, God is not worried. God is not anxious.
It is true that sometimes things go wrong, sometimes terribly wrong. But the world is still God’s good creation, we are God’s good creatures, and God is at work in the world to make sure that in the end, the world stays good. Bad things do happen, but God is always there. We all have important work to do, but the fate of the world doesn’t rest with us. It rests with God. In the end, God is in control, and no one or no thing is as big as God.
The Creation story starts with water, and the story about Jesus being baptized is also about water. This wasn’t the sprinkling of water that we do here. People would get in the river, more like a bath. It was a symbol of washing old things off so they could become something new. John the Baptist called it a baptism of “repentance.” We sometimes think repent means to stop being bad. It can mean that, but it can simply mean to change.
When Jesus comes to have this baptism of change, John doesn’t want to do it. Jesus doesn’t need to change. But Jesus insists. He says it’s necessary in some way. And when Jesus comes out of the water, lots of stuff starts to happen. The heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove, and voice speaks from heaven. It actually reminds me a little of our Creation story where there’s water and God speaks and we see the heavens and there’s the Spirt and birds, and God is pleased. It is very good.
Jesus is how God continues the work of Creation. Jesus is the beginning of a new creation that we are invited to become a part of. The Apostle Paul writes that when we are baptized into Christ, we become new creations. When we are joined to Christ in these waters (of baptism), we too are beloved children of God, and something new begins.
When we realize that we truly are brothers and sisters of Jesus, that we truly are children of God, we know that we are not alone. Jesus is with us. Even when terrible things happen in the world, when we see much that is bad, there is more in the world that is good. The world is still God’s good creation, and it is still in good hands. We don’t have to worry about whether or not the devil takes a day off because it is God’s world. God gives us each work to do, but God thinks it’s a good idea to take a break from work and worrying, to take Sabbath. In fact, God thinks it's such a good idea that it’s in God’s top list of rules, the Ten Commandments. Remember the Sabbath. Remember to take a day off. Remember to rest.

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