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God Created the Heavens and the Earth
Fall Quarter: God’s World and God’s People
Unit 1: God Created the World
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 2, 2018
By Rev. Ashley Randall
Lesson Scripture: Genesis 1:1-13
Key Verses: Genesis 1:1-2
1. To reflect afresh about what it means to say that God created the universe.
2. To consider how the story of creation affects the expression of our faith.
Right from the Start
Why Study Genesis (Again)
Marvel Studios released “Avengers: Infinity War” on DVD at the beginning of August. You may be considering buying or renting a copy. The movie holds the current record as the highest grossing superhero feature of all time, and it received predominantly good reviews and mostly high praise from loyal fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Let me warn you, though: if this is your first foray into the MCU, you are likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of superheroes and the complexity of their relationships.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby began creating their characters back in the early 1960s. They knew that if people were going to connect with their characters, they had to know about the situations and circumstances that made them who they were. They developed origin stories for each of these heroes that not only led readers to accept the amazing abilities these characters possessed, but also to empathize with them as they confronted the challenges of life in a less than perfect world. Writers, directors, and producers have continued to follow that strategy with the movies Marvel Studios has released over the last 10 years.
Lee and Kirby also introduced the innovation of bringing their characters together occasionally to collaborate when confronting a particularly challenging situation or an extremely powerful enemy. It is this innovation that makes “Avengers: Infinity War” an especially difficult place to start if you are a newcomer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are more than 25 different superheroes who play a significant role in the story. They have shared various adventures in the movies that have been released since “Iron Man” came out in 2008. When you add in all the secondary characters, the plot becomes a puzzle that is nearly impossible to solve. Even those who have some passing familiarity with the characters may be left asking questions about what is happening and why certain characters are doing what they are doing. When you know what has come before, it is much easier to understand what is happening now.
Understanding origins is essential if you want to get the story right. Genesis is the origin story for Christians. It is not God’s origin story. As our writer reminds us, “There never has been a time and never will be a time when God is not, when God is not real, when God does not exist” (p. 6). Genesis is the origin story for the universe – “the heavens and earth.” It is the origin story for humanity. Even more importantly, it is the origin story for the relationship that God initiates with humanity.
Hearing (and Remembering) the Story
Brent Strawn, professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology, makes the case that many Christians have forgotten (or at least, neglected) the stories that are foundational to our faith in his new book, “The Old Testament Is Dying.” He uses a linguistic analogy to make his case.
“Every society constructs reality in a certain way, with language serving as a primary vehicle of the construction. The same holds true for religious societies and/or for religious aspects of a society… What I mean by this linguistic analogy, then, is that the Old Testament like any other piece of literature or art – like any other way of figuring the world – is, or at least can be, a way of constructing reality, a way of understanding the world, a way of perceiving all that is, including ourselves. Just as language – preverbal, nonverbal, and verbal – allows us to make the world and ourselves, the Old Testament provides (or can provide) a kind of grammar for constructing, perceiving, and understanding the same… To put the matter more directly: it seems clear that the Old Testament works (or can work) on readers in these world-constructing ways quite apart from intentional use or conscious awareness.”
Strawn also warns his readers that we must avoid rushing to make the text answer the concerns that we bring to it. If we want to learn and hear what it is trying to say, it would serve us well to remember the people who first cherished these stories enough to preserve them and pass them on to their children and eventually to us.
Strawn shares this insight from Walter Brueggemann: “this text, in its very utterance, in its ways of putting things, is completely unfamiliar to us … Hebrew, even for those who know it much better than do I, is endlessly imprecise and unclear. It lacks the connecting words; it denotes rather than connotes; it points and opens and suggests, but it does not conclude or define.”
As you read, study, and discuss the lesson this week, make your best effort to consider what this text is saying about the nature of God. What does it mean that God creates in the midst of chaos – an existence without shape or form? Who finds comfort in the knowledge that God speaks light into a dark and stormy deep sea? When have you marveled at the order that defines our universe? How can you delight in the goodness God has created?
When you understand how it all began, the ending is much more satisfying.
*Check out this article on cnet.com before you watch “Avengers: Infinity War: ‘How to Watch Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Film in Perfect Order.’”
Rev. Ashley Randall serves as pastor of Garden City United Methodist Church. He is also a member of the Conference Advocacy Team. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.