What follows is the sermon I offered at Cahaba Springs on July 7, 2019. Within this message I've included a little-known and very timely story about mankind, the moon, and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. May the eternal Creator -- Father, Son, & Holy Spirit -- bless you now and always.
The first words of the first chapter of Genesis, “In the beginning,” recall the account of creation in which God, the maker of heaven and earth, brings forth all things – sun, moon, stars, plants, animals and humans – from nothingness to completion, over the course of six days. We’re all familiar with this account of creation. In fact, we just read from a litany based on the words of Genesis chapter one. However, in the second chapter of Genesis, one finds a different creation story -- one in which God created a man before the plants. This man is called Adam which is the Hebrew word for “man.” In the second chapter of Genesis we read, in part:
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
In my Bible, this passage begins with the heading, “Another Account of Creation,” and it states, in contradiction to the first chapter of Genesis, that God created a man out of the need to farm the land and care for the plants. And there are still other descriptions of creation found in the Old Testament. In the book of Job and several of the Psalms, the text declares that God’s might and power laid the foundations and footings of the earth, as if the earth were fixed and motionless. Indeed, it was because of these texts and others that until the time of Galileo and beyond, the Church taught that ours was a geocentric universe in which the earth was fixed in space. How, then, do we reconcile these differing portraits of creation within Scripture?
One cannot truly answer that question without addressing a much more far-reaching topic: what, exactly, is the Bible, and, more specifically, what is the authority of the Old Testament? Many argue that this ancient text is the infallible and inerrant word of God; therefore, its contents are all literally true. To those who believe thusly, any interpretation of Scripture as other than an unassailable fact is a direct challenge to the authority and even the existence of God. But a literal interpretation of the Old Testament presents some challenges. The application of simple logic to the creation stories raises questions in the minds of even the youngest Sunday School students. Why are dinosaurs missing from the Bible? How did it all happen in just six days? If the sun and moon were created on the fourth day in order to measure time, how was it possible to measure the first three days? Did God create a man prior to any plant life, as we read in the second chapter of Genesis, or were plants created before humans in accordance with the first chapter.
Those who believe the Old Testament is a book of literal history struggle to answer these questions; however, the Old Testament is not an historical documentary, nor is it a scientific treatise. Moreover, it never claims to be either of these things. In his work Church Dogmatics, theologian Karl Barth writes, “The presumed equation of the Word of God with a ‘historical’ record is an inadmissible postulate which does not itself originate in the Bible at all but in the unfortunate habit of Western thought which assumes that the reality of a history stands or falls by whether it is ‘history.’” To paraphrase Barth, every word of the Bible need not be literally true in order for truth to be revealed through Scripture.
We know that many early church leaders thought the Biblical accounts of creation were not literal, but theological concepts. The great third-century Christian scholar, Origen of Alexandria, wrote, “Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and third day, and the evening and the morning existed without the sun and moon and stars? And that the first day, if we may so call it, was even without a heaven?”
Without a doubt the Bible is the greatest written work of all time. It is unique among all literature. The Bible is an anthology of various types, or genre, of literature, written by dozens of different authors, many of whom are unknown, spanning centuries. Poetry, myth, prophecy, biography, legend, prayer, even a little bit of romance are just some of the many genre contained within the Old Testament. It is critical to know the genre one is reading in order to understand the message of the text. Old Testament scholar Matthew Richard Schlimm notes in his book, This Strange and Sacred Scripture, “How we read [the Bible] is determined by what we think we are reading. If we midjudge genre, the Bible can become nonsensical.” When one tries to form the non-historical words of Scripture into an historical record, one loses sight of the spiritual truth of God’s message.
So, if the Biblical accounts of creation are not historical or scientific, what, then, does science have to say on the subject of creation, and how can we reconcile science to our faith in God the Creator? Even for modern humans the complexity of the theories of the origin of the universe is daunting. Current scientific theory holds that it all began some fourteen billion years ago with what is called the Big Bang, from which all of space and some subatomic particles began an outward expansion from a point of singularity smaller than the smallest atom and hotter than the cores of a thousand suns. This expansion was not of these charged particles into space (because there was no pre-existing space in which to expand); it was the expansion of the four-dimensional universe with and within space in all directions simultaneously.
These are complex concepts because we live in an incredibly complex universe. But we know the designer of the cosmos is the Eternal and Almighty God -- omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnitemporal. Remember the words of the Psalmist: “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made…for he spoke and it came to be.”
So it was that after billions of years of expansion and chemical processes that resulted in multiple generations of countless stars and the creation of ever-heavier elements, the cooling dust orbiting our star would coalesce into the planet we call earth. About one billion years later, something miraculous happened. Chemistry became biology, and life began. From these earliest living organisms, one can chart the evolutionary development of all life.
Of course, it is the theory of evolution, specifically the idea that humans made in the image of God could evolve from a lower species, that troubles some faithful Christians. As a result, many choose to regard science in general as anti-Christian, even to the point of denying some of the greatest areas of consensus within the scientific community. My friends, we need not see science as a threat to our faith or to the supremacy of the Creator.
We don’t have to choose between worshiping the Creator and accepting modern scientific theory. Once we understand that the Biblical creation stories are not historical or scientific accounts, nor were they intended to be, we can forego the urge to reconcile them to one another and the impulse to use them as weapons against modern science. We can encounter them as allegorical or symbolic stories of events which would have been impossible for those living thousands of years ago to fully comprehend and document.
As we prayerfully read and study the Biblical accounts of creation not as science but as theology, we can begin to understand and internalize the truths they reveal:
that one God, the Mother and Father of us all, created all things;
that through the creative process, which humanity still struggles to comprehend, God birthed the universe out of nothingness into all that we can observe today and all that ever will be;
that God’s eternal plan leads toward the perfection of creation and the redemption of humanity;
that every woman and every man is made in the image and likeness of God;
that we have been given the responsibility as stewards to care for the creation that God so loves;
and that we, therefore, have been chosen above all creation to be a reflection of God’s light and God’s love.
Of course, as followers of Christ, we have to view the Biblical creation accounts and all of the Old Testament through the lens of the redemptive acts of Jesus, and that brings us to this morning’s reading from the New Testament, Colossians chapter one, verses fifteen through twenty:
Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church:
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Fifty years ago this month, humanity realized its greatest scientific achievement, as Apollo 11 carried three American astronauts to the moon, and, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal, returned them safely to the earth. On Sunday, July 20, 1969, Mission Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. piloted the Eagle in its descent from lunar orbit to a safe landing on the surface of the moon. Upon touchdown Armstrong uttered the first of two statements from that day which are now and forever part of humanity’s collective memory: “Tranquility base – the Eagle has landed.” Little more than five hours later, Armstrong would declare, "that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" as he became the first and Aldrin the second human being to set foot on the moon. What is unknown to most people, however, is what happened that day during the quiet time between landing and excursion.
You see, Buzz Aldrin was an Elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas. Prior to leaving Houston for his mission, Aldrin participated in a private celebration of the Lord’s Supper from which a small piece of bread and a tiny vial of wine were preserved. The elements, along with a small, silver chalice and a verse of Scripture written in his own hand, were place in a pouch and included among Aldrin’s personal possessions on the Apollo 11 mission.
The rest of the story occurs in that quiet time just after lunar touchdown and is best told in brother Aldrin’s own words:
Aldrin wrote: “In a little while after our scheduled meal period, Neil would give the signal to step down the ladder onto the powdery surface of the moon. Now was the moment for communion. So I unstowed the elements in their flight packets.
“I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements. And so, just before I partook of the elements, I read the words which I had chosen to indicate my trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ.
“I read [from John 15:5]: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.’"
“It’s interesting to think,” Aldrin later observed, “that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the earth and the moon….”
Indeed, Jesus created everything, and everything was created for and through Jesus. You cannot go anywhere that wasn’t created by God through Jesus; therefore, we, as God’s children and followers of Jesus, are called to honor all creation by treating it as God’s precious treasure.
Humanity is part of that creation – God’s most precious treasure, and you will never, never, never encounter anyone not made in the image and likeness of God. Man, woman, or child; rich or poor; brown, white, or black; gay, straight, lesbian, or transgender; citizen, immigrant, or refugee – all are made in the divine image, and all are subject to Christ’s command that we love them as we love ourselves. Beloved friends, Jesus calls us to love these, God’s precious creation, with our actions and our deeds, and there are no exceptions to the rule.
No matter what science reveals about our origins, no matter whom we encounter, and no matter how far we journey in life, even to the moon and beyond, nothing, and I mean nothing can change these truths: God made us, God loves us, Jesus redeemed us through the peace he bled into the world, and the Spirit calls us to be light and life for all creation and to all God’s children.
For Jesus’ sake, may we live into that calling.
--Carl G. Martin