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Sermon Briefs: Genesis 1:1-5

In the third in a series of sermons on Genesis1 to his congregation in Antioch just prior to his elevation to the See of Constantinople in A.D. 398, John Chrysostom invites his people to take a moment from their daily preoccupations to set loose their spiritual aspirations before Holy Writ. In classic "homily-style," that is, verse-comment, verse-comment, he begins from verse 2, highlighting God's creative power as an expression of God's love, and the precise ordering of creation as revealing its Creator's guiding and controlling wisdom. Any who try to claim that "beings get existence of themselves," he calls pitiful and stupid. Just look around you, he implies, look at the intricate order of creation and dare to doubt that there exists a loving Hand behind it all. And this Hand that brought all things into being willed before the foundation of the world not our destruction, but our salvation and eternal bliss. So, says Chrysostom, we may feel free to care for our neighbors, and conduct them to the way of truth. Moreover, he assures us, we can do so despite the fiercest opposition or scorn, for we have behind us the very power of the Creator, so we need not tremble.
The late Helmut Thielicke, in his sermon on this passage, entitled The Primeval Witness,2 considers the colossal import of the claim that God created all that there is. To begin with, he states that regarding God's creative act, the Bible does not particularly concern itself with matters strictly philosophical or geologic, but intends rather to show what it means for us that God is there at and beyond the beginning and end, and that our lives, the broad sweep of human history, and, indeed, all that exists, is, "so to speak, a discourse enclosed, upheld, and guarded by the breath of God." The reason why questions about the Creation interest us, he maintains, is not that they tell us of God's existence—we already know about God—but rather what they tell us about God, and how God relates to our existence. First, he tells us, the message of the story of Creation is that "long before I can think of God and love him he [sic] has already thought of me and anticipated me." Our lives are fashioned and guided by the veryHand that beckoned stars and flowers at the dawn of the world: We, too, are part of the story of Creation.
He focuses on the consequence of God's creating the world out of nothing. Unlike other creation stories, in which the world is wrought out of some clash between feuding gods, out of some tragedy, so to speak, God creates something out of nothing. The implication is that, were tragedy a part of the very fabric of existence, we would then have an excuse for errant 's Hands, and we will be held accountable for the lives which have been lent to us by our Creator. Creation ex nihilo leaves us no out: We are responsible to God for all we say and do. But, Thielicke concludes, we must not despair, for the Creator who so confronts us is also the Father of Jesus Christ, who came to us, for us. This God is faithful, a God who will not let us down.
Robert R. Howard
1.St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis, 1-17, trans. by Robert C. Hill, Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, Vol. 74 (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), pp. 39-50. 2.Helmut Thielicke, How the World Began: Man in the First Chapters of the Bible, trans. by John Doberstein (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), pp. 12-25.