Preaching: Genesis 1:1-5
The Painter's Colours is a sermon preached by Austin Farrer, an Oxford Anglican, in Christ Church Cathedral. Its gist offers a great approach for a homily by analogy. "Who knows about God's creation?" asks Farrer. If by God's creation you mean the physical system God has instituted, then the scientist has a sort of knowledge about it. If by God's creation you mean what the Creator's will intends and achieves, then it is not a subject the scientist can directly examine. It is like a supplier of artists' materials, says Farrer. The supplier may know what paintings are, for he or she knows paints and canvas. Yet in another sense that person knows nothing about the paintings. The painter knows, however, for he or she understands the game which has been played with these substances.
Applying the analogy to creation, God both supplies the materials and paints the picture. God is the expert in both fields. So God paints the picture, and God explains the effect at which the picture aims.1 The account places an undeniable claim upon the hearers. As the scriptures begin with God and our world begins with God, so ought God to be the principal source of our individual lives. Or, as Farrer put it: "We shall not deeply and honestly believe that the Painter paints the picture until we are willing to be liquid colours under his brush."
The homily may be reconstructed to a sermon form by condensing the above analogy into an introduction. For this time let the sermon's line of direction answer the question of "how." How is God revealed through creation? Develop the body of the sermon by stating the ways in which God calls order out of chaos or by explaining God's ongoing dialogue and our response.
Another way to attack the thesis/question is by using the keyword "revelation." God is revealed in the Genesis context through eight specific commands. The preacher may also choose to incorporate the other lections for the day to help structure the sermon outline. For Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God's good creation and of God's loving presence among the people of this earth. In the Gospel lesson, God is revealed through Jesus' solidarity with humanity in baptism. (Note the threefold attestation of the person and work of Jesus as Son.) In Acts, God brings into lively historical embodiment the work of Jesus. What unites these texts is the work of the Holy Spirit in giving us our world, the Person of Christ, and the Church. So, in baptism we affirm: "I believe in God the Father...in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord...in the Holy Spirit."
The sermon takes place in the season of Epiphany. It is a season of new vision. The incarnation has happened, but who recognizes the Christ? It is a time to tell the stories of God's meeting with us. Try, therefore, fleshing out the sermon's dominant truth by a series of tableaus. Various epiphanies thus become the outline answering the "how" question of God's manifestation through creation. For example, share someone's experience who stopped to pray in church and was overwhelmed by God's direct nearness. Immediately Saint Francis and John Wesley come to mind. Whose stories can you share out of the present generation? For Frederick Buechner God met him during the last part of a sermon. At twenty-seven, living alone in New York, struggling to write a novel, in love with a girl who didn't love him, a non-churchgoer, on impulse he went to the church next door. What he remembers is the preacher saying that Jesus is crowned among confession and tears and great laughter. "And at the phrase great laughter, for reasons that I have never satisfactorily understood, the great wall of China crumbled and Atlantis rose up out of the sea, and on Madison Avenue, at 73rd Street, tears leapt from my eyes as though I had been struck across the face."2 A revelation of God took place with C.S. Lewis during a bus ride. "I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back—drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling."3 That epiphany was part of his turning to God. Consider also the young man who saw God manifest in nature: "I came to where the sun was setting over the playing fields. A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree by which I was standing.... Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remembered now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel; and I hardly dared to look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it was but a veil before the face of God."4
Be it through a venomous rattler's strange behavior for David Brainerd's Indians; or the prayer of Peter Cartwright on a dance floor; or the face of a homeless person on your street corner (God's face has many guises); or in today's liturgy of Baptismal Reaffirmation, Holy Eucharist, or perhaps Wesley's Covenant Service; or your own private story, God continues to act in this world. Epiphany affords us the time to reflect on these experiences of ours. Then we know that God has been meeting with us all along—knocking at the door of our hearts, coming up to the windows of our souls, working in ways that amaze us, and is always waiting for our response. If we miss the revelations of God it may be because we are looking for him in the wrong places, times, or circumstances. It is God who chooses the when and where and how of Kairos (our time; the moment). If we appreciate any of these signs of divine power, perhaps we will also understand "there was evening and there was morning" (v. 8). We will surely understand a bit more about Jesus' baptism in the Gospel lesson.
Donald C. Boyd
1. Leslie Houlden (sel. and ed.), Austin Farrer: The Essential Sermons (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Crowley Publications, 1991), pp.1-4. 2. The Alphabet of Grace (New York: Seabury, 1970), pp. 43-44. 3. Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955), pp. 224-25. 4. Bede Grioffiths, The Golden String (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons), pp. 9- 10.