“Identity Matters” – Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 6/7/17

Exiled in Babylon, displaced from the Promised Land and disoriented by life without a Temple, the Jewish people were in doubt.  And if faith is primarily about remembering all that God has done and is doing, then the Jews were starting to forget.

The Book of Genesis is Moses’ written response, a poem about the origins of life, a story about how everything that is came to be, a holy reminder when we get confused and our memory starts to fade.  So for the Israelites then and the family of God now, what do we need to remember about the account of creation?

Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 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. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Congregational Responses:

Everything God creates is good, beyond name-calling.

Regardless of how creation began, God was started.

Dominion over the earth means stewardship with.

In elementary school, I came home and asked my dad if I was black.  “Dad, am I black?  My white classmates keep wondering why I’m browner than they are.”  They ​keep ​inquiring, “Who are you?” As an eight year old, that’s a devastating question because it makes you feel entirely other, alien. And so I tried to assimilate: wear the right clothes, get the trendy haircut, carry the popular lunch box and then, maybe, I’ll ​pass for the majority.

As I got older, not only did people keep asking, many starting answering.  On one occasion, I was standing at the gate ready to board a flight home when a group of men from Homeland Security pulled me out of line as a suspicious passenger​, took me to a secure location, searched my bags and padded my pockets.  After a few minutes, one of the officers began his interrogation by asking my country of origin, expecting to hear Yemen or Syria or Afghanistan.  “I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina in the United States of America,” I finally said.

After hundreds of these mistaken identities, you try to get ahead of the narrative before getting profiled again. “No, I’m multi-ethnic or bi-racial, I’m so much more than one of the penciled in boxes on the standardized test.”  After four decades of being defined and trying to define myself​, I still don’t know who am.  But I’ve come to realize that the only question which leads to life is not, “Who am I?” but rather, “Whose am I?”

Dangerously, much of the world starts reading the Book of Genesis at chapter 3 when Adam and Eve chose the delight of their eyes and the curiosity of their tongues over the commandment of God not to eat of the forbidden fruit.  And if we only pick up the story after life in the Garden has been forsaken, then we are that much more likely to turn people into objects that can be dismissed for their decisions, categories that are less than human, citizenships in the kingdom that can be revoked.

But if we learn anything from the creation story, it is that you are not your disability or diagnosis; you are not your stereotype or status; you are not your label or liability; you are not your addiction or condition. No, you are a vessel formed in the shape of the potter, a canvas painted with a self-portrait of the artist, a person of sacred worth that reflects back the every image of its creator.

Genesis doesn’t begin with Original Sin but rather Original Blessing, a blessing born out of a creative and creating love that ​shapes​ our deepest identity.  So if you have gotten confused, or your memory is starting to fade, or if you’ve forgotten, that is why we gather for worship every week to answer the same ​three ​questions, to remind ourselves that beginnings matter, to remember.

Whose child are you?  God’s child!

Whose child are you?  God’s child!

Whose child are you?  God’s child!

Speak Your Mind

*