“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.'”Genesis 1:26-31
Someone asked me the other day why I took up woodworking as a hobby. My answer, a little facetious I admit, was that I did so because I try to follow Jesus, and he was, as far as we know, a carpenter. But, then, we might ask, why don’t all Christians become woodworkers? Or do you have to be a woodworker to be a follower of Jesus? So there must be a better answer to the question why did I take up woodworking.. I suggest it has to do with the biblical claim that human beings are made in the “image of God.” A statement that comes as the climax to the first story about creation in Genesis. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.'” The meaning of these words has been discussed and debated many times over the centuries, and there are several plausible understandings of what they mean. One is that human beings have a self-conscious relationship with their Creator. But another has to do with the creativity of God, to God as artist,. For if the creation story says anything about the mystery we name God, it says that the creation is an inspired work of a creative and even playful mind. Therefore being in the “image of God” we are created to be stewards of creation and co-creators in the unfolding drama of the earth.
In the beginning before the universe was born, there was nothing, emptiness, a void, a blank canvas if you like. All was dark, there was no light, no beauty, no colour, no movement. But gradually the canvas was filled in as the Spirit of creativity got to work inspiring each step towards the emerging, evolving masterpiece full of wonderful forms and shapes, full of life, colour and movement. All of this revealed the splendour of God, for “the world was alive with the glory of God” as Gerald Manley Hopkins so aptly said. And yet, as God stepped back from the canvas to take a look, there was something missing, a final but significant addition was needed to make the painting complete. It was, of course, God’s personal signature. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.'” Like many a great painting, the artist includes a resemblance of himself or herself. There in the corner, we say, is surely a self-portrait or selfie if you like, of Rembrandt or Michelangelo. That signature is us! As the Psalmist puts it: “You have made human beings just a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.”
Today we have welcomed the first cohort of the Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme to our weekly Eucharist. And because VLYTP is such a mouthful, we have baptised the group as the “voeltjies” or “little birds.” So if you hear many fresh and vibrant sounds breaking the Volmoed silence over the next nine weeks, it is the song of the “voeltjies” adding sound and colour to creation. What led to this naming was that someone misspelt Volmoed recently, writing instead “Voelmoed!” So “voeltjies” it is. And, what is more, the “voeltjies” will sing each Thursday here at the Eucharist! This is not singing for their last supper. but singing with joy and thanksgiving for the gift of life and the wonder of creation.
Each week the “voeltjies” focus on a different theme related to those in the Volmoed Prayer Book. Last week it was on building community, next week on healing and wholeness, the fourth on justice and peace, and the fifth week on reconciliation. Then the cycle repeats itself. But this week it has been on creation. We have not spent precious time on the silly debate about whether the creation narratives in the Bible are literally true, or whether believing in creation contradicts evolution. That debate misses the point of the story. The creation narrative not history or science, but “myth” which simply means a story that is profoundly true.
To believe that God created the universe does not mean that evolution is wrong, but that there is meaning and purpose to the universe. It is an affirmation that we “live, move and have our being” in the mystery we name God. The Creation story probes what that meaning is all about and where we humans fit into the picture s painted in the opening chapters of the Bible. What emerges is that we are part of the animal kingdom interconnected with all other forms of life, and yet we have a special place within this remarkably diverse creation that is still in process. We are the gardeners, we are the workers, we are the sculptors and actors. For creation does not end on the sixth day in reality. God may take a break to step back and admire what he has created, but come the eighth day and God is back at work. Creation is a work in progress. And we human beings have the awesome responsibility to care for and nurture what has come into being. In other words, we are called to be creative artisans, adding to the canvas of which we are a part. Imagining fresh possibilities, inventing new artefacts, building bridges of reconciliation and making peace when conflicts arise.
St. Paul tells us that the whole creation is groaning as it awaits to be set free from its own travail by those who have already come to know the redemption of God, those who have recovered their humanity as being “in the image of God” and therefore stewards and co-creators. That is why we have to imagine fresh possibilities in anticipation of the birth of a renewed earth in which everyone will find a home, have sufficient for their needs, and make peace instead of war. As Archbishop Tutu said to the “voëltjies” when he met them in Cape Town last week, “make the world beautiful, especially for the poor.”
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 2 June 2016