Sunday’s sermon: Acadia National Park – Beginnings

Text used – Genesis 1:1-5; 2:1-4

  • What is summer for, friends, but a good road trip?
    • Bags packed
    • Snacks handy
    • Sunglasses on
    • Hair wrapped a la Grace Kelly in opening scene of “To Catch a Thief”
    • Maybe you’ve got a map or your GPS … or maybe you’ve decided to venture out without one, opting instead to chase the horizon wherever it may lead you.
      • Incomparable American Beat author and poet Jack Kerouac: All he needed was a wheel in his hand and four on the road.
    • So that’s our plan for the summer, friends. We’re taking a spiritual road trip together – for fun … and for formation. → travel to 8 or 9 National Parks together, using the beauty of nature (virtual though we may be) to help us learn and think about God in some new ways
    • Book for the summer: America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks by Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer[1]
      • Begin this wonderfully little book with a number of Scripture passages including one that really stood out to me and really captured the essence of this sermon series – Ps 8:3-9: When I look up at your skies, at what you fingers made – the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place – what are human beings that you pay attention to them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur. You’ve let them rule over your handiwork, putting everything under their feet – all sheep and all cattle, all wild animals too, the birds in the sky, the fish of the ocean, everything that travels the pathways of the sea. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth![2]
      • Also begin with quote from Scottish-American naturalist and mountaineer – and the person known as the Father of the National Parks – John Muir: No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty![3]
      • Purpose [READ FROM INTRODUCTION, pp.17-18, 19]
  • And of course, as we embark on this journey together, where better to start than the beginning? The beginning is, after all, a very good place to start.
    • Begin with the history [READ FIRST HALF OF REFLECTION, pp. 25-26]
    • Text: 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[4]  It’s a passage you may have encountered any number of times throughout your lives.
      • Read in various devotional material
      • Heard interpreted lots of different ways
      • Heard preached lots of different ways Heck, it’s one I’ve preached myself in some form or another at least 4 times over the past 10 years and have referenced I don’t even know how many times.
      • This morning: want to take a look at this text simply for the beauty of the language and how it speaks to us about this incredible, beautiful world that God created dig deep into the Hebrew
        • v. 1: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth[5]
          • Heb. “create” = word only used for God’s acts of creation throughout Scripture “create, shape, choose, select”[6]  There’s a sacred intentionality to this creation. It’s not a willy nilly sort of creating – tossing paint on the canvas to see where it lands and what comes next. This creation at the beginning of all things is God consciously and willfully entering into the act of creation.
            • Goal in mind
            • Hope in mind
            • Love in mind
          • Heb. “heavens” = word in particular dual form that encompasses both the known and the unknown in the heavens element of what we can see (clouds, sky) woven together with what we cannot see (“the part beyond where the sun, moon, and star are”[7]) There’s something so incredibly expansive and all-encompassing in this word – like those who first told this creation story around an open fire wanted to make sure those who heard about God’s amazing creation understood just how mind-boggling and far-reaching that creation truly was.
        • v. 2 makes it clear just how necessary that new beginning was – text: the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the waters.[8]
          • Heb. “formless,” “void,” and “darkness” are all words reverberating with chaos and obscurity, meaninglessness and emptiness, misery and destruction[9]  There’s a wildness and an uncultivated quality to this “before the beginning” time that sounds to me like Lyons and Barkhauer’s description of the water at Acadia National Park: From the coastal cliffs you peer down into narrow inlets of the North Atlantic Ocean where rough waters put on a spectacular display of spray and froth as they become trapped against the land.[10]
          • And yet over the face of that wildness – a wildness that we cannot even begin to imagine – blew the wind from God.
            • Heb. “wind” = not just a breeze or even a gale force wind No. This “wind of God” is so much more than that. This is ruach. This is a powerful, holy little Hebrew word that means wind … and breath … and Spirit.
              • Same Holy Spirit wind that blew over and around and even through the first disciples on that Pentecost morning bringing them purpose and power and a new beginning
  • [READ SECOND HALF OF “ACADIA NATIONAL PARK,” pp. 26-27]
    • The moving of the Holy Spirit of God over those wild and chaotic first waters brought the first beginning. It brought a newness and an orderedness and infinite, unfathomable potential. – text: God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night. There was evening and there was morning: the first day.[11]  From that wildness and chaos, the presence and purpose and power of God brought new life and new possibilities.
      • New … in the midst of the darkness and desolation
      • New … in the midst of the unknown and unfamiliar
      • New … in the midst of the unexpected and unpredictable
      • Friends, it is not lost on me the magnitude of the fact that we are reading this passage and “visiting” this park and this theme of beginnings (and new beginnings) at this a particular time.
        • Potential for new life and new possibilities in this church
        • Potential for new life and new possibilities in this COVID-endemic world
        • And so many of us are facing new life and new possibilities in our own lives right now as well. lots of transitions happening in our individual lives right now
          • Graduations
          • Weddings
          • New career paths
          • Retirements
          • New relationship opportunities
    • Scripture gives us blueprint for new beginnings from that first beginning
      • Presence of God
      • Openness to the intention and expansiveness of God’s creating power
      • And time to give God a chance to work and time to let that newness take hold – text: The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed. 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. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation.[12]
        • Heb. “rested” = shabat  Yup. Sabbath. Holy rest. Intentional time away from the activity to marvel at and be in the presence of the One who set the work in motion. God rest. GOD rested. You can, too. Because that truth is that while there is beauty and possibility in newness … there is also a need to rest – to let the work of God work.
          • Chance to stop for a breath
          • Chance to set down your pack and rest
          • Chance to catch your bearings again Because, as we all know, new beginnings can be exciting … but they can also be overwhelming and disorienting. If you were hiking to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to catch those first rays of sun as they graced the eastern seaboard, somewhere along that path to the top, you’d have to stop and rest (probably more than one “somewhere!”). Because if you burn yourself out before you reach the peak, you’ll never feel those first rays of the dawn – the beginning of a new day.
    • Questions from the end of Lyons and Barkhauer’s “Acadia” reflection: Can you make an important “beginning” in your life? Is there something that you would like to start over or begin afresh today? Regarding your relationships, is there space to create a “new day” with someone?[13]  Amen.

[1] Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer. America’s Holy Ground: 61 Reflections on Our National Parks. (St. Louis: Chalice Press), 2019.

[2] Lyons and Barkhauer, 15.

[3] Lyons and Barkhauer, 16.

[4] Gen 1:1-4a (NRSV).

[5] Gen 1:1 (NRSV).

[6] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy – “So Much Bible!” blog: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/genesis-11-24d/.  

[7] Levy’s exegesis.

[8] Gen 1:2 (NRSV).

[9] Levy’s exegesis.

[10] Lyons and Barkhauer, 25-26.

[11] Gen 1:3-5 (CEB).

[12] Gen 2:1-3 (CEB).

[13] Lyons and Barkhauer, 27.