Here we are at the beginning. John writes, “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 was life.” (John 1:1 – 4) The writer of Genesis says “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1 – 2) In both of these readings God speaks the world into being. It is a beautiful way of describing not only the gift of creation but a reminder that all things start somewhere.
We are in a beginning of sorts – not as grand as the beginning of creation. But September with all it flurry of activity feels in many ways like a beginning of a new year. There are lots of things starting, new routines that need to be established, new schools, new teachers, new activities. We are no different in the church. After the hush of summer we ramp up with our activities – Sunday School, Bridge, Messy Church and the start of all the group meetings. We are in a beginning in another way too. Next weekend we are gathering to talk, to pray, to discern where and how God is calling us to live out our faith in this time and this place. We know that we cannot continue as we have in the past – finance, aging infrastructure and congregation size are all part of the reason. So we are at the beginning of this new journey of discovery of what the future will hold for us as a congregation.
Beginnings are exciting – they are full of possibility. One of the reasons I always loved September was because you always got new school supplies. I loved the new notebooks that you get to start – clean crisp pages with no mistakes or messy writing or doodles on the side of the page. For a moment perfection is possible – even though we know it is not attainable.
Beginnings are also scary and stressful. There is the unknown – what will the teacher be like? Will I like him or her? What kinds of new challenges am I going to have to face? And it is a scary thing for us as a congregation to be looking to the future not knowing what it holds for us. The start of anything is stressful because every new beginning means an ending to something else. For us it means celebrating, remembering all that has brought us here today, faith, resilience, God’s grace but it also means letting go of how things have always been done and being open to new possibilities and new ways being a church family.
Nadia Bolz-Weber in her new book Pastrix writes, “Smiley TV preachers might tell you that following Jesus is about being good so that God will bless you with cash and prizes, but it’s much more gruesome and meaningful. It’s about spiritual physics. Something has to die for something new to live. Death and resurrection – the recurring experience of seeing the emptiness, weeping over our inability to fill it or even understand it, and then listening to the sound of God speaking our names and telling God’s story – is a messy business.” (14 – 15)There is nothing neat or easy about creation. Our story, God’s story is all about death and resurrection, beginnings and endings.
In the beginning... filled with possibility and uncertainty... God stepped out into the chaos, the Bible says into the formless void, and puts an end to the chaos by starting the work of creation. The gift of light and dark, the gift of waters above, the waters below and all vegetation, the gift of day and night away to mark time, the gift of sea creatures and birds of the air, the gift of all living beings, the gift of human kind – male and female made in the image of God. And then God looks at creation declares it “very good.” Then God rested.
In the beginning with all its possibility and all its uncertainty is happening all the time. We read the creation story and it’s easy to believe that it is a one-time event. With the work of scientist we know that creation did not happen literally in six days but on an ongoing process. The work of creation is not finished and God is continually creating and making all things new. Nothing reminded me of this more profoundly than the birth of my children. With their first cries, I cried with joy at the beauty of this tiny baby placed in my arms. A miracle, a gift from God and a reminder that the story of creation goes on.
Scientists are always learning new things about the universe and how it functions. The creation story helps us to remember the many gifts that God gives us, that we are made in the image of God and that we are called to live in relationship with God and all our neighbours – even the things that slither, buzz or bite.
I was listening to CBC’s Quirks and Quarks yesterday, and they were talking about how sometime this month the sun is going to flip its polarity. This process happens every so often and often causes increased electrical storms when the transition is happening. But isn’t it amazing that the sun that we depend on for warmth, the constant in the sky and source of that all important vitamin D – is constantly shifting and changing. It is nothing short of miraculous. Every time we look at the world around us, the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals, the birds, the sea, the ponds we are reminded that God is not finished with us yet.
That is true in our personal lives and it is true in the life of the church. At the start of something new it is normal to be uncertain and nervous. On his first day of school, my son Will who was unsure how he would cope, knowing his comfortable routines from grade one were gone, that he must go and face the first day of grade two with all its changes and uncertainties, came running downstairs. He said to me, “Mom, I’ve done it before and I can do it again.” Smart guy – he knows he’s not sure about what the day will hold but he knows he can do it. He knows that because he faced challenges, nervousness and new beginnings before and learned through those experiences that he has abilities and resources - which run deeper than situations - to overcome fear to step into all the possibilities of grade two.
As this congregation through prayer and conversation looks to the future we have a choice to make. We as a congregation, as a people of faith can choose to give into despair, we can choose throw our hands up in the air and give up believing that the church of Jesus Christ is dying.
Or we can choose to remember that God has guided us and sustained us over generations and through many changes – leading us to renewed life. We can remember God’s abundant blessing, “It is good.” We can remember that in Jesus the promise new life rises from death on the cross. With every ending there is a new beginning. It is a time of uncertainty and possibility. Let us stand at this beginning and say, “We’ve done it before and with God’s help we can do it again.” God is not finished with us yet. There is life to be lived. There is gospel to be proclaimed. Thanks be to God. Amen