Sunday, January 12, 2014


The great African American poet James Weldon Johnson
            wrote in his classic poem The Creation:
            “God stepped out on space,
            And he looked around and said,
            ‘I’m lonely –
            I’ll make me a world.’

            And as far as his eye could see,
            Darkness covered everything,
            Blacker than a hundred midnights
            Down in a cypress swamp.

            Then God smiled
            And the light broke,
            And the darkness rolled up on one side,
            And the light rolled up on another,
            And God said, ‘That’s good.’”

Gary Lagerloef wrote in his poem, 
          A Contemporary Genesis,
            “Before it all began.
            There was nothing.
            No space, no time, no matter, nor energy.
            Except perhaps God.
            God of nothing, and God of everything.
            God who is infinite possibility.

            And God said “Let’s see what the possibilities are”.
            Then there was light.
            All light and all energy, infinitely dense 
                  and infinitely hot.
            All that was needed to make a universe
            Was encoded within the first second.
            A burst of inflation.
            Atoms formed.
            Hydrogen and helium:
            All made in a few seconds.
            And God said “The possibilities look good!”

            The opaque fireball lasted 300,000 years;
            Cooling, expanding.
            Until light decoupled from matter.
            All became dark, transparent.
            Thus darkness was separated from the light.
            And the cosmic radiation took flight.
            And God said “Now that’s done.”

Both these poems drive home a key point
            in our Biblical account of Creation.
When Genesis talks about what God was doing
            at the time of Creation,
            there is a mind melting assumption 
              in the background.
The assumption is that God was already there.
Everything else has a beginning and an end.
But not God.
God is what was already there,
            and God is what will be there
long after the universe blinks out of existence.
God is the foundation of all reality,
            the context in which everything happens.

Genesis is a 3,000 year old answer
            to two great questions:
            Is there a God and what is God like?
Genesis addresses the first question straight out:
Yes, there is a God – who is the beginning and the end,
           the source and the destiny of everything that is.

Throughout history virtually all people everywhere
            have believed in some sort of divine nature.
But there have always been a few who deny it.
The greatest denier of the 20th Century
was a brilliant English philosopher named Anthony Flew.
Dawkins,Harris, Stenger 
and the other atheist popularizers today
all depend on the arguments 
of the atheist philosopher, Anthony Flew,
an intellectual giant in whose shadow they stand.

However, Anthony Flew has changed his mind.
All his life, Flew has been faithful to one principle:
            Follow the evidence wherever it leads.//
Until recently, the evidence was not strong enough
            to persuade him of God. 
But now it is.
Partly, it is his own further thought
            and the arguments of other philosophers
            -- but it is also the newest scientific discoveries.

The validation of the Big Bang Theory told Flew
            that the universe has not always been here.
So something had to initiate it.
 The Human Genome Project showed Flew
            the complexity of DNA,
            and he saw that this kind of order
                        could not just happen.
So Anthony Flew came to believe
            in the creator God.
Francis Collins, the geneticist 
            who served as spokesperson
            for the Human Genome Project,
                        came to the same conclusion.

Of course, there are other reasons for believing.
Most of us don’t come to faith
 through such a logical process as the philosophers,
or the scientist believers, Francis Collins, Paul Davis,
               or Albert Einstein.

Most of us feel God rather than figure him out.
As Pascal said,
            “The heart has reasons
            that Reason knows not of.”
But for those of us who just know inside that God is real,
it’s reassuring to hear that great thinkers
have come to the same conclusion.

Just believing there is a God 
doesn’t get us anywhere though
until we answer the second question: 
      what is God is like.
It takes both our reasoning mind 
and our intuitive heart
            to get a sense of that.
Genesis shows us who God is 
by what he does.

God speaks light into the darkness.
That could be a poetic way 
of describing the Big Bang.
But the author of Genesis 
is saying something less literal
            and more important to our daily lives.
He is saying that 
when there was nothing but darkness and chaos, 
God spoke light into that darkness
 and formed a cosmos out of chaos.
That’s who God is.
Since God always was and always will be,       
            that means God is now.
The God who first spoke light into the darkness
            is still here with us, 
still present in very situation.
And what is this God like? What does this God do?
He speaks light into our darkness.
He shapes the chaos of our lives into a meaningful order.

I knew a man who lived in the darkness.
My friend Gibson had made a mess of his life
            through compulsive drinking.
When his daughter was a young adult,
            she was killed in a car accident.
That was more than Gibson could bear.
So he drove up to Atlanta one Friday
            and spent the afternoon drinking 
            in a motel room.
The sun went down and the room went dark.
He had begun to seriously consider suicide,   
            but, although he had not been 
to church for years,
                        he stopped to pray.
And as he prayed, he felt a presence in the room.
He did not see a light, but the presence was a like a light.
There were no voices, there were no words --
            only a sense of light 
and it consoled him -- strengthened him.

It did not erase his pain,
            but it assuaged his pain with hope.
He became a pillar of our church
            and of his AA community 
            for the rest of his life.
Every Sunday morning without fail, 
Gibson was the first one there.
He came to light the candles for us.

At Evening Prayer, the Episcopal Church prays 
a 1500-year-old prayer called the phos hilaron
 -- the holy, consoling light – it goes:
  “O gracious Light,
    Pure Brightness of the Everliving Father in heaven,
    O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed . . .
    You are worthy at all times 
     to be praised by happy voices,
    O Son of God, O Giver of Life.”   

Sometimes our personal lives 
feel like darkness and swirling chaos.
Sometimes our family lives 
feel like darkness and swirling chaos.
Or maybe it is our work lives.
It happens from time to time
            like the coming and passing 
            of day and night
                        in the life of the Church.

The young priest John Henry Newman fell ill
            while traveling overseas.
Feeling miserable and lonely, he wrote this prayer
            which became a classic hymn:
            “Lead kindly light amid the circling gloom.
            Lead thou me on.
            The night is dark and I am far from home.
            Lead thou me on.”

Do you see the connection?
The same God who spoke light 
into the cosmic darkness
            still speaks light into our darkness.
Sometimes we forget that.
Sometimes when things go wrong,
            we get panicky, angry, and confused.
That happens. 
It goes with the turf of being human.

But faith remembers that God is with us
 as the gracious light in a dark motel room,
the kindly light amid the circling gloom.
Faith remembers that light which is the foundation
            of our courage, our calm, and our wisdom.
Christians are called to live out of that faith.
Theologian William Stringfellow said
 “’Being called’ means being caught 
  in the spotlight of God.
  Once that happens, nothing can ever be the same.”

My friend Gibson was caught 
in the spotlight of God
            just before he fell into darkness.
He lived the rest of his life in that light.
May God give us also the grace to live
            in his holy, consoling light,
            to live with courage, calm, and wisdom,
            to live kindly and generously in the light of God.