Genesis 1:9-13 | Mark 1:14-20
Let the waters under the sky be gathered together in one place, and let the dry earth appear.
Last week, as we explored the second day of the creation story, we saw the separation of the waters of chaos into two – the waters above, the sky, the heavens, and the waters below. Our attention today focuses on the waters below. For the process of making a space for the world to exist is not yet done; below the dome of the heavens is simply the waters below, where chaos still reigns.
And God gathers those waters together in one place. As if having separated the waters vertically on day two, now God separates them horizontally, pushing them back to allow the dry earth to appear. For a people suspicious of, afraid of, the sea, it is a compelling image; on the first day God provided light, driving back the darkness; on the second and third God constrains the waters, making a safe place, dry land, appear. This, as an image of God’s power recurs numerous times in the psalms, and perhaps most obviously in the book of Job, which report God as saying:
who shut in the sea with doors … and prescribed bounds for it,… and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped”
So God separated land from sea, and God saw that it was good.
I don’t know if you noticed that – last week, on the second day of the creation story, God didn’t say that it was good. This week, on the third day, as if to make up for it, God says it twice.
It’s almost as if the first half of day three, God is merely completing the work of day two – separating the waters – and it isn’t until the separation is complete that it can be declared to be good. And let’s face it, we’ve all had days like that – where you get to lunch and realise you just finished yesterday’s work. Actually, that’s probably on a good day. But I digress.
Having created the dry land, the story cannot wait to move on; can’t wait another day. As if the mere existence of the land demands the next step, demands that that land become fertile; for without a pause, the land bring forth vegetation, plants, and trees.
And those plants, and those trees, the writer takes the trouble to tell us, are plants yielding seed, and trees bearing fruit with seed in. At first glance that might seems to be making a point of the human utility of these plants – plants bearing seed and trees bearing fruit, after all, are fairly basic necessities of the agrarian society in which this story was written. But the focus of the writer seems not to be so much the value of these things for food (that will come in the sixth day), but in the repetition of the word “seeds”; plants bearing seeds, trees bearing fruit with seeds in.
And of course the point of seeds is that they make more plants, which in turn make more seeds. Having created a space for life, God’s first act of creation in the story is to make plants which have themselves the power to recreate. Here we have the first hint at one of the most incredible truths of the creation story: that God, the creator, imbues creation with the power to create. It’s often said that when God creates humanity in the image of God, the story identifies us as co-creators alongside God; gifted with the power, the instinct, the ability to create.
But in truth, long before humanity comes onto the scene – billions of years before – creation is created creative. Of course, it’s a different sort of creativity from that of God, or that of humanity; the simple ability to reproduce its own kind; but it paints an image of a God who is willing to give space to creation – for God does not need to create each leaf and flower, does not to teach each seed how to grow; instead God has gifted the power to grow and reproduce to creation.
The poet W. Tyson Thomson wrote “God painted the stream, each rock and leaf; then painted the cloud, though it’s life is brief, all the colours so rich and pure, as only God can paint, of this I am sure”
And that’s a lovely image – but how much more amazing is it to suggest that God does not paint the leaf, but gives to the seed the capacity to grow the plant and create the leaf. And putting my scientific hat on – painting the leaf is nothing compared to building chloroplast and filling them with chlorophyll; adding stoma which open to allow gas exchange and close to preserve water; creating xylem and phloem to transport nutrients to and from the leaf.
And all that; all that complexity; is there in the seed. Not waiting for God to painstakingly fashion each leaf; God gifts the plant the agency, the capacity, to make leaves for itself.
The image of God as parent comes to mind; that a parent does not do everything that they want a child to do; instead the parent’s fundamental role is to empower the child – to gift them with the ability, the knowledge, the wisdom and the freedom to act for them themselves.
The God who paints each leaf is the God who keeps control.
The God of the scriptures is the God who gifts creation with freedom, and in doing so, as an act of generous love, chooses to be limited. Here, in day three, it’s just God allowing something else – seeds – to share in the work of creation. But it is a theme that will grow throughout the creation story, but more, will grow in the calling of a nation, and most dramatically, grow in the self emptying of God in the incarnation, and the rejection of God in the crucifixion.
Our God is not the God of absolute control; for absolute control is the place of the tyrant, the anathema of love, which always seeks to set the beloved free. Our God is the one who chose to allow that which is not-God to be; to allow it to be creative; and ultimately, to allow it – us – to grow up, to take responsibility for our own acts of creation, and with it, to make meaningful mistakes.
Which brings us back to Job – for God said to the sea “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped”. But by human skill and technological advances; in particular in the massive exploitation of our fossil fuel reserves and the dramatic effect that this is having on the global climate, we are breaking those constraints. 2014 was the hottest year on record; 13 of the 15 hottest years have happened since 2000; and the trend is clearly upwards. As a direct result the ocean levels are rising, at perhaps 3mm per year, and the sea is moving past it’s historic limits. Our freedom is driving the sea back onto the land; and the people of Tuvalu, and Bangladesh, and the Maldives, and Pakistan, and Miami, and New Orleans, and Sydney will all feel the consequences of our choices.
For one thing about a God who is a parent and not a tyrant is that we, God’s children, have meaningful responsibility, and the ability to make a difference, for better and for worse; on those around us, by the way we treat them; on those further away, by the way we act – or fail to act – for justice; and even on creation.
It would be simpler to believe in a God who took all control and all responsibility, and asked us just to worship and acknowledge God’s rule. But the Christian faith calls us instead into partnership with the creator God who endowed creation with the power to create and, at least for us, the freedom to choose what to do with it.
That’s harder. But probably more fun.