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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

2nd Sunday of Lent, March 16, 2014

Maker of Heaven and Earth

Genesis 1:1-5, 24-31; Colossians 1:15-20

             “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  Thus opens majestically the Bible, the most widely-owned, best-selling book on this planet.  Genesis, of course, means beginning, and here it affirms that we all find our beginning in God.  Actually, the Bible affirms that everything, “the heavens and the earth,” finds its beginning in God.  This is a large, sweeping and consistent Biblical claim.  God is the source, the beginning, the sole creator or maker of all that is.  Today we turn to the second verse in Psalm 121: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  Saint Augustine, in commenting on these words in a sermon delivered in Northern Africa in the late 390’s, said, “The whole creation, you see, is briefly unfolded in these two small words, heaven and earth.”

             This affirmation may seem simple, obvious, even innocuous.  But to most ancients, the world was seen as an arena of competing powers.  In such a worldview, one god controlled one aspect of life or nature, and another god some other aspect.  Often deities were seen to be in conflict with one another.  Thus the world was seen as a frightening place where conflicts were always being resolved, and as such, it was neither hospitable nor the least bit predictable.  One would always worry if the proper gods had been placated.  Chaos and competition ruled the world of many ancients, leaving them terrified over the anger or caprice of the gods.

             The notion that one God served as the creator of heaven and earth, or what H. Richard Niebuhr called, “radical monotheism,” allowed people to see all things as reflective of a single and singular divine will.  Such a worldview offered a sense of cohesion and order, and gave people a certain security about the God-given goodness of the world.

             Did you hear it in the Genesis text this morning?  What God created was pronounced “good.”  This is the fundamental assumption of a Biblical view of the world.  The world is good because the God who created it is good.  Psalm 100 affirms this explicitly: “For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.”

             To affirm that God is “the maker of heaven and earth” is to assert the complete and utter dependence of the whole creation upon the Creator God.  Three times in the fifteen Psalms of Ascents, God is proclaimed to be “the maker of heaven and earth.”  God is called “the maker of heaven and earth” again in Psalm 146.  And in Psalm 24, we are told, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein….”

             Nothing exists in the universe apart from this good God, who called it into being by the power of His word.  This God is not only sovereign, “Almighty,” but also altogether good.  The reason we can trust that the world is good is because God created the whole of it, and God is good.  Biblical religion teaches that nothing exists outside the purposes and power of the Creator God, “the maker of heaven and earth.”  God’s power to help is unlimited by anything that is.

             That is why Paul could say to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  God is larger and more powerful than any problems that beset us, and superior to any threats that face us.  This is what the Apostles’ Creed is saying when it affirms, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

             We live in a world that can be utterly frightening, a world where dark things happen, where violence and chaos threaten daily, a world where evil is real.  But the Bible offers us a true picture of this world by reminding us of its origin in the good God who created it, by reminding us of its “original goodness.”  The universe and our world are not only beautiful, but our universe is also orderly and trustworthy.  Night follows day, and the seasons in their courses come.  The buds on the trees are beginning to burst with life again, and the daffodils are emerging from the brown earth, and we are reminded again of God’s utter faithfulness, of God’s power to renew and restore, to heal the whole creation.

             The Bible also teaches us that God created the heavens and the earth by His word.  We read that pattern again this morning: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  God’s word is dynamic, it is powerful, and whatever God says is true and wise and creative of good.  Bernard Word Anderson, my Old Testament professor in seminary, said, “God’s word is an act, an event, a sovereign command which accomplishes what it purposes.”  And this Word became flesh, the Church believes, in the incarnation of God in Jesus.  Jesus Christ is that Living Word of God, and early on the Church identified Jesus with that same creative, evocative power of God at creation’s dawn.  “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made,” proclaimed John in his Prologue.  In the so-called “Christ-hymn” in his letter to the Colossians, Paul may be quoting an early Christian creedal statement or even a hymn.  In it Paul likens Jesus to the Creator God by saying, “For in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible – all things were created through Him and for Him.”  Then he says it: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  I love this affirmation that all things hold together in Jesus Christ.

             We live in a world where we fear that things are falling apart.  William Butler Yeats wrote these lines in his poem, The Second Coming, that speak for the fear and anxiety of our age: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world….”  This is the visceral fear, even terror, of our age.  The ancients lived in a world of many and competing gods, which threatened chaos and created fear.  But we live in a world of no god at all, or in a world where we are attempting to be our own gods, and that is even more terrifying.

             Over and against this godless arrogance is the Christian claim that things cannot fall apart, that things will not fall apart, because “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  In Jesus Christ, all things cohere, all things hold together, in Jesus Christ, “all things work together for good.”  I believe this with all my heart, and I commend this faith to you today!  Biblical faith is faith in a Creator God who is good, who created us in the Divine image, and who promises to redeem and restore, to reconcile and to heal the whole created order.  Nothing exists outside the Divine intentions of this God, whose word accomplishes what He purposes.  “All things hold together in Him.”  The Bible starts, “In the beginning God…”  And in the end, God will have the final word, the best word of all.  That word will belong to Jesus, who said, “In this world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” 

             Last Friday, Connie and I were in Spartanburg for Grandparents’ Day at the Spartanburg Day School.  Our boys, Ben and Garrett Jones, sang with their classes, The Farmer in the Dell.  (This is a very complex, sublime and challenging piece of music, and they handled it with great skill!)  But as they were singing, I was thinking of my sermon (I am always thinking of my sermon!), and another song came to mind.  “He’s got the whole world in His hands, He’s got the whole wide world, in His hands.  He’s got the whole world, in His hands.  He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

                                                                                     Amen.

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