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Sunday Worship 25 April | Knowing the world

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

The past year has broadened and narrowed our perspectives in different ways, and so this Sunday we begin a short series encouraging us to look out at the world seeking God's perspective. We will start by reflecting on Knowing the World, and our reading will be Genesis 1.


**The recorded service is no longer available, but the text of the reading and reflection are below.**



Reading: Genesis 1 (NIV)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.


Reflection

The past year has broadened and narrowed our perspectives in different ways. There will have been times when our worlds have seemed to shrink right down, and it will have been easy to become quite inward looking. And yet experiencing a global pandemic has perhaps made us more aware of the interconnectedness of our lives, and this may have in fact led us to look further beyond our own horizons. I know that for myself, moments of self pity have been tempered by a greater sense of empathy, and more time stuck in the house has meant more time reading about the world outside.


As restrictions ease and our lives expand, we may find that our perspectives start to shift again. There is the potential for them to keep expanding, as we get back into the world we have started to think more about. But there is also a danger that they contract again, as we focus on rebuilding our own lives. And so this Sunday we shall begin a short series encouraging us to look out at the world seeking God's perspective.


You may remember me mentioning before that my previous church has a history of writing its own music, and one song I remember in particular has the chorus “Let me rise, let me rise / Above the city, above time / Let me borrow your eyes / Beautify my sight”. Those words conjure up a really powerful image for me, and I don’t want to destroy it by overexplaining it, so I simply offer those lines for you to decide if they resonate with you too. No matter if they don't, but I do hope that at some point in these coming weeks you will find yourselves rising and seeing the world through borrowed eyes.


We will start the series this morning by reflecting on the theme of Knowing the World. I wanted us to begin by hearing Genesis 1 because here we really do see the world from God’s perspective, and it is good. In fact by the end, it is very good. For me, starting with knowing the essential goodness of the world is really important, because there has been a strong tradition within Christian thinking that has started from the fallenness of the world. The fourth gospel uses ‘the world’ as shorthand for all that is opposed to God, and Augustine’s doctrine of original sin has taught for hundreds of years that we’re all essentially terrible.


I’m not going to pretend that the world doesn’t pull away from God at times or that we don’t have a powerful tendency to mess things up - in fact next week we will think about our need to confront our mistakes in order to repent and repair - but I’m not convinced that is the right place to start because it is not where God starts. God makes the world and says that it is good. And I believe God still sees enough goodness in the world to believe it is worth loving and redeeming.


I think that starting with the essential goodness of the world reminds us that we have a duty to protect that goodness, and can guard our hearts against despair when that goodness is hard to see. And I also think that remembering we were made to be good helps us be a little more hopeful about our chances of actually being good. That’s important for how we see ourselves, but it’s also important for how we see others.


I want us to try a little thought exercise now. I invite you to close your eyes and picture something you find beautiful about the world. Tell yourself that it is good, and ask what you might do to protect that goodness. Now picture something you find ugly about the world. Tell yourself this too can be good, and ask what you might do to discover or uncover the goodness in it.


I invite you now to picture yourself. Remind yourself that you are made in God’s image, then try to identify one thing that reflects that image and one thing that distorts it, one way in which you are good and one way in which you get it wrong. Ask how you might make more of that goodness and start getting it right a bit more often.


Now picture someone you dislike or distrust, and remind yourself that they too are made in the image of God. You already know the ways in which you think they get it wrong, so focus on trying to name a way in which they are good. If that’s a struggle, perhaps pray that you might have the grace to act toward them as if you believe they are possessed of an essential goodness, and that they might be so moved that their essential goodness will be made clearer to us.


I wonder if this might be the sort of exercise that bears repetition, and so I encourage you to return to it, to keep seeking and celebrating goodness. I want to be clear that this isn’t about ignoring what is wrong with the world, but rather it is about countering a tendency towards cynicism and nurturing a kind of hopefulness, so that we might be encouraged to keep doing the work of putting things right in the world, because we know not only what it is but also what it can be.


I’m going to draw to a close soon, but I want to offer one final thought with regard to our theme of Knowing the World. I believe that we best come to know the world through stories. We experience it with our senses, but it is through story that we begin to understand it. The creation account we heard from Genesis 1 was never meant to be a scientific text, but rather a story of God’s power and love and imagination. The gospels are not scholarly works of systematic theologies, but instead they are stories which reveal the character and message of Christ. As children we learn about right and wrong from fairytales and fables, and as adults we glimpse other views on the world through dramas and documentaries.


So I encourage you to invest deeply in stories, from as many different places and people as you can manage. I touched on this when I talked about the practice of wearing skin, and the importance of hearing from those whose skin is not like ours. And tell your own story too, again and again if you need to. I touched on this one when I talked about the practice of bearing pain, and the importance of learning to tell our stories in ways that bring healing. Of course we need to approach stories with some degree of discernment, not simply accepting them but asking what is true in them, testing what they have to say about us or God or the world. But as we collect stories, may they help us to not only know the world better, but also to piece together and place ourselves within the bigger story, which started in the beginning…

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