These thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 23, 2019. This message was based upon a reading from The Beginner’s Bible: “The Beginning” (based upon Genesis 1).
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here.
What was the last book you read through in its entirety?
When was the last time you even read a book?
“For almost 1 in 4 of us, it was more than a year ago, according to Pew Research. That’s three times the number who didn’t read a book in 1978.” In America, there is a growing literacy problem. 14% of Americans cannot read; and, those that do are less proficient than they used to be. Our country ranks 125th among nations when it comes to literacy and comprehension. We are reading less and we are reading more poorly.
The American Bible Society reports that 87 percent of American households own a Bible. In fact, the average household has three Bibles available. However, just 11 percent have read it in its entirety. Some 30% of Americans have read no more than several passages or stories.
Over the course of this summer, I want to encourage you to read. Throughout the summer we are going to go through several of the foundational stories of the Bible. Each week we will look at one story. We will read from a simplified, paraphrased version of the story in worship from The Beginner’s Bible. And, you will be encouraged to read the full story in your own Bible at home. If you have children, I encourage you to read the story we read in worship to your kids. I am looking to make a bulk order of The Beginner’s Bible ($111.84 for 16, 6.99 each). If you’re interested please let me know. It is much cheaper if we buy in bulk. If you are a youth or adult who needs a bible, I can happily arrange to get you a Bible. We can order these in bulk too to save some money (CEB Wesley Study Bible $287.88 for 12, $23.99; or CEB economy $85.68 for 36, $2.38)
It is important that we read and contemplate the Scriptures. The Bible is a library that tells the history, belief, and practice of our faith. It contains everything we need to know for salvation. These stories matter. They tell us about where we’ve been and give us hope for what is to come in God’s future.
In a scene from the Sound of Music, Maria sits on a mountainside with the vonTrapp children dressed in clothes she’s made from the old curtains in her room.
Let's start at the very beginning:
a very good place to start.
When you read you begin with A, B, C.
When you sing you begin with Do, Re, Mi.
I thought about changing the last line for this morning to: “In the Bible you begin with Gen-e-sis,” or “Cre-a-tion.” But the reality is that no matter what it sounds like in my head or in the shower, I cannot and never will sing like Julie Andrews. Nevertheless, this morning we start at the beginning.
In the beginning.
I really like the way Jurgen Moltmann describes creation. He suggests that in the beginning all that was, was God. And, God had to create space for something other than God. So God created a void within Godself. God made space for something else to exist. Like a woman makes room for new life in a womb, God creates a void in which Creation, new life can occur. It is here that the Scriptural narrative picks up.
When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters…Genesis 1:1-2, Common English Bible
With a simple command, God creates:
On the first day, God created light and separates light from dark. And, it was good.
On the second day, God created “the dome” which separates the waters below from the waters above. And, it was good.
On the third day, God created dry land, separating the waters on the Earth and the dry land. Seeing how good the dryland was, God created plant life. And, it was all good.
On the fourth day, God created the lights in the sky—the sun, the moon, and the stars. And, it was good.
On the fifth day, God created the animals of the water and birds. And, it was good.
On the sixth day, God created the animals of the land. God saw how good it was. Then God made humanity.
God created humanity in God’s own image,Genesis 1:27, Common English Bible
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
God blessed them. The first thing God does, at least in the story, after creating humanity is to bless it. This is God’s first action toward us—to offer us life and blessing. God tells them
“Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food.30 To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything [God] had made: it was supremely good.
The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed. 2 On the sixth day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done.3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. 4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.Genesis 1:28-31, 2:1-4a, The Common English Bible
What we have at the beginning, in the very first story, the opening chapter of the Bible, is a story of how all that is came to be. It is important to know from whence you came. This story seeks to tell us that in the beginning was God and that God creates all that is and it is all good.
Whether one believes that God created all that is in 6, 24-hour days or that one believes God created through some evolutionary process is irrelevant, I think, to the point this story is trying to tell us: in the beginning was God and God, with a Word brought forth all that is and will be, including us. He blessed us and it was all good.
The challenge for those of us who read and seek to find meaning in this story is to discern ways in which the truth of it can be experienced today.
God created all things good. The challenge for us is to find the good in it all. So often our world seems anything but good. What might it look like if we strove to find the good in all things?
God’s first word and act toward humanity after creation was to bless it. God’s first act is not to condemn or judge, but to bless—to show favor, protect, and offer us life. In what ways do you experience God’s blessings in your life?
This is how it happened in the beginning. Amen? and amen.
 “List of Countries By Literacy Rate,” WorldAtlas.com (https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-highest-literacy-rates-in-the-world.html) accessed June 23, 2019.
 See “Infographic: Language and Literacy in the U.S.: Going in the Wrong Direction,” MLA.org (https://www.mla.org/Resources/Advocacy/Infographics/Infographic-Language-and-Literacy-in-the-U.S.-Going-in-the-Wrong-Direction?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3ZfpqKn_4gIV7ffjBx3JggV7EAAYASAAEgJBtfD_BwE) accessed June 23, 2019.
 Ed Stetzer, “Biblical Illiteracy and Its Solution” InfluenceMagazine, January 9, 2018 (https://influencemagazine.com/Practice/Biblical-Illiteracy-and-Its-Solution) accessed June 23, 2019.