Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Artist

The following is more or less what I plan to preach tomorrow, based on the first creation story in Genesis:
How many of you enjoy the process of creation?  I want you to begin our sermon time this morning by turning to a neighbor and telling one another what you’ve made recently that’s been a pleasure to you, either in the making of it or in the final product?  How have you in your own creativity reflected the artistry of the one in whose image you are made?
(I know you’ve done this!  Anyone plowed or harvested a field lately?  Baked a pie?  Knit a sweater or crocheted a scrubbie?  Painted a picture?  Taken a photograph?  Added a piece to a genealogical puzzle?  Sung a song?  Played an instrument?  Written a note or a letter to someone? You may not have thought of yourself as engaged in a creative process, but if you placed or added something where there was  nothing, or if you altered something that was already there – then you’ve been at work as a creator.)
Isn’t it interesting that the very first page of the Bible begins with a hymn of creation?  This past week I listened to a podcast[1]  as I prepared the sermon, and one of the points emphasized was that on the very first page of the story for Jews and Christians, there is a creator and a creation: there is an intentionality about the universe.  
The Bible doesn’t have to begin that way, does it?  There are all kinds of writings and all sorts of stories in the Bible.  We kind of take for granted that it begins with the story of creation, but there are other possibilities.  It might have begun  with a geography, or with a history of the first human beings, or with the prayer and music of the Psalms.  All of those things appear soon enough, but the Bible begins with a story of the beginning.
And, another interesting thing: The Bible begins with a hymn, with a form of music.  If you were in the Bible study class last fall, you may remember that we talked about all the different forms of writing in the Bible: stories and songs and laws and speeches and biographies and instructions for construction and letters and visions and announcements.  All kinds of writing.  And the very first kind is a hymn.  We just listened to this hymn, and perhaps you heard in the choral reading certain lines that reminded you of song: repetitions, or refrains,  such as “God saw that it was good,” and an organization into something like verses, “the first day” and “the second day.”  Take a few minutes sometime and highlight the various repetitions and organizational markers in this passage in different colors, and you will see a hymn emerge.
A grand and glorious hymn of a grand and glorious God.  This is a majestic God, a God who speaks and a universe comes into being.  A God who speaks and water flows and grass grows. A God who speaks and creatures populate a planet.  A God who speaks and human beings appear, creatures made in the image of God, whose image is both male and female; whose image is designed for partnership, for community; whose image is designed to create and to exercise care for all of creation.
We might take it for granted, that the beginning of the book sings joyously of the beginning of all things, or we might ask some questions about this beginning.  What’s it about?  Why is this the beginning, instead of one of the other possibilities?  What is the point of the Book of Genesis?  Why is there such a book?
One answer is that the Book of Genesis seeks to tell us who God is.  To communicate something about God’s identity to us. 
Some time ago, in response to a question posed by someone else, I began to ponder that question, “Who is God?”  And because we have this text, right at the beginning of the Bible, I started with its words.  And the first thing that came to mind, for me, anyway, on that particular day, was that “God is a painter.” 
Then I began to ponder the word "painter."  God as a designer.  God as abundantly and infinitely creative and creating.  I considered adding a few more nouns.  God as a painter, an architect, a builder, a potter, a designer, a musician, a dancer, a photographer.
Hmmm.  Was I responding to the "Who?" question with a litany of what God does rather than an affirmation of who God is?  I didn’t want to describe God as merely someone functional, someone doing utilitarian work.  No matter how beautiful the interlocking network of relationships and connections – relationships of chemical compounds, of atoms, of stardust, of cells, of thought, of emotion – God was more than a construction expert, or a framing specialist.
God, I realized, is an artist.  That's a what, and it's a "what God does," but most of all, to my way of thinking, anyway, it's a who.  An artist is a who.  An artist is someone who creates from the core of who he is.  An artist is someone whose very essence pours out of herself and into her creations.  An artist is someone who creates out of love – and God, by definition, cannot not love.  Cannot not be love and and give love.
God is an artist.  We know this from what we read in Genesis, and we know this from our own lives: almost every form of human work and human relationship is a work of art ~ an expression of the one in whose image we are created. 
What tells us that God is an artist?  To start with, the universe itself.   If you had asked me when I was a little girl how I knew about God, I would have pointed to the world around me: the brilliant beech trees on the autumn hillside, the glittering ice in the winter sunshine, the caterpillars turning themselves into butterflies, the lightning bugs filling the summer night spaces, the oriole nest hanging from the tree across my grandmother's driveway, the goldenrod growing alongside the country roads, even the snakes leaving their discarded skins across the gravel road to our own house.  Color, shape, size, form;  such dazzling ingenuity.  There is God, I would have said. 
And how does this God, this Creator, this artist, work?  Or play? – I often think that creation is more play than work for God.  As I’ve been attending to this text this past week, two things – no, three; three dimensions of God as Creator have sprung to my attention.
For one thing, God separates.  God makes distinctions; God pulls apart in order to create differences.  God separates the light from the darkness; God separates the waters above – which become the rain and the snow – from the waters below – which become the oceans and lakes and river; God separates the waters and the dry land; God separates the day from the night.  For us, made in God’s image, these distinctions make sense.  Distinctions create order.  Distinctions help us to understand.  Would we know what land is if we did not know what water is?  Could we grasp the concept of light in the absence of the concept of darkness?
But God does not merely separate and distinguish.  God designs and conceives and erects and builds and fashions in abundance.  Abundance!  Diversity!  Lots, and all kinds!  Vegetation and lights and living creatures.  God creates corn and orchids and banana trees and grass; God creates the woodlands we know and the savannah grasslands and jungles of Africa and Asia. 
God creates suns and stars; bodies in space that we hardly know anything about.  A few weeks ago I heard on the radio that there are countless stars out there like our sun, stars around which planets orbit.    Did you know that there are seven main types of stars?  I learned that this week on a website called “Enchanted Learning.”  What a great name for a site devoted to learning  -- it immediately made me imagine God, absolutely enchanted and delighted by creation.
God creates living creatures: elephants and birds and alligators and tigers and polar bears and dolphins and butterflies and human beings – God creates living creatures in abundance and diversity.  God creates which swim and those which walk, and fly, and think and talk. 
And what is it about God as artist that puts God’s mark on this vast creation of distinctiveness and abundance?  How is it that God’s creation reflects who God is?  How is that God’s creation is pure gift, pouring out of love?
Relationship.  Connectedness.  An interwoven network in which all are involved, all are related, all work – and play – together.   God is a Trinitarian relationship; God’s very being is always in relationship.  We see an expression of that in this first Genesis creation story:  As God begins to create, a wind from God – the Spirit of God – sweeps across the waters.  We see another expression of God in relationship in the creation story at the beginning of the Gospel of John:   
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The Word: Jesus Christ.  He was there – here – in the beginning, from all time.  Life came into being through him, and that life was the light of all people.
Relationship and connectedness, within God, within God as Creator, Christ, and Wind, and extended to all of creation, to the abundance of all creation, to each of its distinct parts, woven together and dependent upon one another to express the love of God the artist.  God separates; God pulls apart in order to create: light and dark, land and sea, yellow and blue.  God fashions in abundance and variety: green plants and scaly fish and sleek foxes and conversational human beings.  And God designs for relationship: the sun to warm the earth, the rain to nourish the plants, the birds to sail the skies and sing in the trees, and the human beings to care for it all. 
Yes, God is the architect and the artist of all.  And it was all very good.  Amen.

[1] Working Preacher’s Narrative Lectionary Podcast for 9/8/13.


  1. Lovely. You are such a gifted preacher.

  2. Yes...what Maggie said.

    For my second Theology I paper I wrote it on "The Portrait of God" artist works perfectly for me.

  3. Inspiring way to look at creation.