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Beginning and endings

Genesis 1:1-2:4

June 26, 2016

Year C

Have you seen
Bill Reid’s carving at the International Airport in Vancouver? The one with the raven being born from the clamshell?

Like our story this story too comes from the deep. A deep void covered the earth, only water and sky were present and from that the raven created life. That’s how the Haida creation story goes. That is how the Haida Nation was born.

Every culture and religion has his, or her creation story. The creation story that belongs to each culture offers meaning for that people, maybe their religious, or spiritual lives, perhaps for everyday life.
You heard Cindy read our Old Testament Hebrew creation story. It’s a story we know well. Does it offer meaning to your life? If so, what?

There have been creation stories for thousands of years. Myths of creation generally present a symbolic view of birth. Hence, I suppose the birth of something new that leads to the term creation. Like the story in Genesis, they often grow out of a time of darkness and there is a stirring and a churning movement.

Our Old Testament version says the earth was without form, a void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. The deep was the mother’s womb,
tehom, derived from Tiamat, a Babylonian creation story. Creation myths speak of splitting open like the Haida story, the clamshell breaks open and the raven is born along with an entire nation. Our Old Testament story, in the beginning, focuses on the coming of the light, as does the Christian story. A main theme in the Christian story is one of light, particularly in the book of John.

Every myth, or story has its strong points and its weaknesses. The creation story we heard read this morning is quite lovely in many ways. It would appear that every one is included and the world will be a fabulous place. But we only have to read ahead a few chapters and we are faced with a world so evil that God has decided to destroy it with a flood.

A weakness in the story is the idea of dominion over the animals and other living things. This morning with a focus on creation theology, and creation theology is a place that calls us to treat all living things equally, this part of our creation story is under pretty serious criticism.

A strength of the story is that it is about the development of relationship – central to the relationship is being called by name. In baptism we name our children, establishing a relationship for them within the church family. In a marriage ceremony we call each other by name through the covenant, or the promises people make to one another. On Sunday morning we turn to one another and greet each other by name. When we meet at the table on communion Sundays, I encourage those who serve, when possible to use people’s names.

Most of us live out our lives with this Old Testament creation story in the background. At the same time we remember many stories that help us make sense of our lives.

Katherine Keller, author of “Apocalypse Now and Then” and a well known theologian talks about the end times and of course she starts by talking about beginnings. She says we live our lives dealing with beginnings and endings. We are always in the midst of living out our beginnings that we never quite got finished. We live through loss and change and very often the endings are always just sort of left unfinished, not completed; they become small pieces, barely visible, but nonetheless they are present. These beginnings never quite brought to the fullness of what they were meant to be become part of the grief that tags along with us. This grief shapes us in ways that we are not really aware of and it becomes a part of our life experience. It is in fact our beginning.

In the beginning…
At the end…

In the beginning and at the end and all of what happens in between.
I have been in ministry for twenty-one years and I always meant to preach a sermon on happiness. I never did, so today I will talk briefly about happiness and how I interpret happiness through my experience.
My experience in ministry has taught me that people live their lives through the lens of sadness.

That doesn’t mean that they are not happy, they are, but it is through our experience of sadness, grief and sorrow, that we live our lives. We take those experiences and we use them to make sense of how we feel, how we respond to the world. Of course in the midst of that, we are happy.

Happiness is rather illusive, always just out of our reach.

But happiness is seldom the over-powering factor. Sometimes it is. If you watched professional curling this past winter the winners were ecstatic. The happiness displayed in the public forum when teams win a sport is beyond what most of us know, or understand. How short-lived is that happiness? How long does that high last?

Few of us are like
Kevin Koe, whose team won a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics and he just cracked a bit of a smile and then walked down the ice to meet his teammates. But, my question is: Is happiness over-all easier for him then for those who jump and scream and throw their brooms in the air? I believe it is. Somehow he seems to have less invested, but who knows? It just seems to me to be more balanced.

Saturday morning as I procrastinated over writing this sermon, I had coffee with a group of people and I asked them about happiness. One of them said,
“You know, we never say, gee am I ever happy. Instead we say, you can’t imagine what happened to me today. We focus on the negative.”

I agree with Katherine Keller that we spend our lives living out our beginnings that are somehow not complete.

The passage from Mark is one of my favourite passages and Parker Palmer, a Quaker, who taught at Berkley, writes extensively on it. Parker talks about the passage as abundance in our midst. Another writer says it was very likely the woman and children who fed the 5000 that day. They are the ones who would have had food and they shared with all who were gathered. Abundance always equals happiness. We are happier if we have enough to eat and adequate shelter, we need to have our needs met.

At the Board meeting on Monday night I read this passage and I invited those gathered to comment on the abundance they had experienced during our two year Interim. One of the pieces that I liked during our Interim was the service we did on healing. Remember it? We gathered here in the sanctuary, maybe fifteen of us and we wrote on Nepalese paper what we felt bad about, or what healing might need to happen for us and then when we were done we burned the papers in a pail that May had brought. It was a lovely, peaceful sort of moment. Likely not easy, but I believe necessary.

Or, like the Sunday we went to
Star City for church. That was a morning of Abundance. Great waffles, music, worship, fellowship, we were people gathered bent on reconciliation.

I want to share two stories with you. These stories are meant to go with you into the world and to remind you that we are meant to be a connected people. Because we believe in abundance, and that is what Jesus taught us, then how we become connected with one another and with the world.

At Saskatchewan Conference in Regina a couple of weeks ago
Zarqa Nawaz, the woman who developed the sitcom for TV about a Muslim community called, The Little Mosque on the Prairie, says that the show has broken down barriers around the world. She told this story:

Her daughter was a life guard/ instructor at a pool in Toronto. If any of you have ever been or are a life guard/instructor you know the hard work it took to become one. Then, you have to keep up your credentials. You have to stay fit. This is when this story takes place.

Zarqa’s daughter is being tested for her fitness level to continue with her work as a lifeguard. Remember, she is a seventeen year old Muslim girl and it is Ramadan. She is fasting all day until 9:00 pm in the evening. She can’t wear a regular sort of bathing suit, but must keep her entire body covered. One of the tasks for the test was to dive to the bottom of the pool and bring up a twenty pound brick. Then to swim eight laps.

Of course with no food all day, and wearing bulky gear she failed the test.

Her teacher said,
“Let’s try this again at 10:00 o’clock tonight, after you have something to eat at 9:00 pm and you can wear a swim suit.”

So, at 10:00 o’clock they came back to the pool and did the test again. Of course she passed.

Her mother, Zarqa said,
“Only in Canada could this have happened.”
People in other countries like the US would say, why are you fasting, why can’t you dress like we do, why Ramadan, if you want to live here then act and behave like we do. So remember, we stand out because we are willing to accept people as they are. We will all be happier for that attitude.

Second story:

I have been to Nepal ten times. On June 1, 2016 when I got on the airplane to come home a young Nepali man was sitting at the window and I had the aisle seat. I hadn’t sat down yet, when he said,
“Where are you going?”

I said,
“To Canada.”

He said,
“So am I. Where are you going in Canada?”

I said,
“To Saskatchewan.”

He replied,
“So am I. Where are you going in Saskatchewan?”

I said,
“To Saskatoon.”

He said,
“So am I.”

So, on a seven hour flight to Hong Kong, and at the Hong Kong airport as we waited for our flight to Vancouver we talked. He is a Canadian citizen and he works as a cook in Saskatoon. He was just married in Nepal on this visit. He is in the process of bringing his wife to Saskatoon. He owns a house in Saskatoon. We talked about Justin Trudeau and the past election. We talked about the Maoist government in Nepal. We talked about sanitation and the difference between bathrooms in our countries. We laughed as we talked about paper towels and soap and water. Which many bathrooms in Nepal have none of. But it is changing.

We talked about our families, and how we live. As I said goodbye to him I understood more fully that in order to understand one another we have to know each other. In order to be connected we must know one another.

That is why I take groups to Nepal. That is why I take my family there.
So, they can know. So we can be connected. So we can be friends.

In between the beginning and the end - we live out our lives.

How do you want that piece to read? If there could be a manuscript what would it say?

This week I invite you to reflect on the beginning and on the end. Are you happy? And what does it mean to be happy?

Sharon Ferguson-Hood