Genesis 1:1- 2:4a
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that as you speak to us, your creative and redeeming Word may have power in our lives, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We all know the 8th commandment: you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. We would probably also know the old saying ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ isn’t true. Words can be very destructive to our self-esteem, our sense of worth, and once said, they can’t be taken back. God encourages us not to use words to injure, kill or destroy, but to build up, encourage and defend.
Although we might hear many words during the day that often seem to go in through one ear and out the other, some words can have a life-changing impact on us. Consider these examples:
I no longer love you.
You have cancer.
Will you marry me?
These words and many like them can literally change your life. Of course the words themselves don’t change your life, but rather confirm or announce a change in your life has just occurred, whether you’re ready for it or not.
Knowing the power some words can have on our lives when spoken by humans, how much more powerful are the words spoken by God! Rather than just confirming or announcing a change in our lives, his words actually have power to do what they say. Unlike so many of our destructive human words, his words can create, transform and renew.
Take for example the creation account. The Triune God said “light” and it happened as he said it, even though the sun wasn’t created until day 4. The same happened every day during the account of the creation. God spoke and things happened as he said them. His words did (and do) what they say.
Note also that as God spoke, a division or a separation occurred. As soon as he said “light”, there was also the exact opposite: “dark”. The light no longer mixed with darkness, but was separate from it. The sky no longer mixed with the sea, but was separate from it. The water no longer mixed with the land, but was separate from it. God ordered things and set them right, and brought order out of chaos.
Note that he first set the structures in place and then filled those structures. For example, he separated light from darkness on day one, but on day four filled the light and darkness with sun and moon and stars. On day two he separated the waters above and the waters below, and filled them on day five with birds and fish. On day three he separated the land and put plants on it, while he filled it with animals and humans on day six.
While chapter one of Genesis clearly shows us the power of his words, chapter two shows a more intimate story of God playing in the mud to personally bring humans into being. Rather than just words, he reached out to and personally interacted with the pinnacle of his creation – human beings. He then graciously gave humans governing authority over his wonderful and awesome creation before we had the chance to prove that we were up to the job. Of course sometimes we get this job right, but too many times we stuff up what God has made. Thankfully he never stopped his creating word and still preserves what he has made despite our best attempts to neglect, abuse, and destroy it.
From the creation account we see how God’s word is all powerful and does what it says. His words never return to him empty.
If we think about it, most of what we know about God is also revealed to us through his Word and through his voice. For example, he not only spoke creation into being out of nothing, but he spoke to Noah of his plans for salvation in the time of flood, he spoke of his saving plan to Moses from a bush that wouldn’t burn, he spoke his instructions for life from a mountaintop, and he gave his word to prophets so that his people would hear him. No-one has seen God face to face, yet he came to his people through his word. His word was enough because his word did what he said.
This is why John begins his gospel account ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God at the beginning’ (John 1:1-2). God speaks – things happen. Like chapter 2 of Genesis, God also chose to interact with us more personally once again when his Word came to us in the human flesh of Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh. The Word of God lived and breathed and walked and died in the flesh of Jesus Christ. God and humans touched and interacted with each other. The Word was more than a voice: it was God coming to his people through physical means.
The Word of God created and still upholds the whole universe. At the same time, he still maintains his intimate contact with humans – through his word, through the Word made flesh in the man Jesus Christ, and now through the power of the Holy Spirit, giving the Church the authority to speak God’s word of forgiveness.
What is totally surprising is what God did when he finished his six days of creating: God rested. The bible didn’t say he got tired or exhausted from his work; after all, he spoke creation into being. Speaking can be tiring, but not for someone as powerful as God. He doesn’t need any rest!
But again his creative process was continuing, bringing order out of chaos. He separates work – no matter how creative and beneficial – from rest. Rest isn’t an add-on or an afterthought to his creation, but an integral part of it. Rest is as vital as light and water and land are vital for us. Farmers know their land needs to rest so that it can produce its fruit more efficiently. We all know rest is vital for us too, but all too often neglect it or misunderstand the benefits of it.
Through rest God wants to bless us. Through rest God renews us, recreates us and sustains us. Rest is the climax of a work pattern created by God. In the same way, the climax of our week shouldn’t necessarily be our work, but our rest. Humans don’t receive the best of God’s blessings by working, but by resting with him.
This is very relevant to worship. Worship, if understood properly, isn’t work, but rest. Worship isn’t a ritual of work for God as if we can make God greater by our praise or worship, but rather worship is resting with God. Pagan people and non-Christians work for their gods, but as Christians we understand we rest for God. We bring honour and praise to God, not by working for him, but by resting in him and with him.
Worship, then, is when we rest and God works on us through his Word; his creative, redeeming, and sanctifying words of peace, forgiveness, love, mercy and grace.
So how does this all relate back to those words you hear that literally change your life, whether you’re ready for them or not?
When God created the world, he didn’t get rid of the chaos that existed beforehand, but rather he ordered it and ruled over it. Chaos, death and destruction will still happen in our lives and sometimes will seem to overwhelm us. Bad things will still happen in our lives and aren’t sent as punishment or to see how much we can handle. We live in a world that was created perfect, but is now corrupted by sin with all its pain and destructiveness. As we hear of natural disasters around the globe, we’re reminded the whole of creation groans in pain from the corruption of sin.
Yet despite the cyclones of destructive words and the earthquakes of changed health and security that affect our own lives, we put our trust in the one who has power to order and rule over the chaos in our lives. He is the one who spoke the words of creation. He is the one who spoke to his people in many ways through his prophets and ultimately through his Son Jesus Christ. He is the one who continues to speak through his written and oral word in the Bible and sends us the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith.
He is the same one who spoke his words of love and intimacy to us as he adopted us as his precious children through baptism by the power of his holy name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the same one who says ‘this is my body…this is my blood…given for you for the forgiveness of your sins’. He is the same one who says, ‘Come to me, all who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest’.
Sometimes there is nothing we can do to change the circumstances of our lives. At these times we’re encouraged to rest: rest in God’s word and in his promises. They won’t necessarily change our lives back again the way we want them to be, but his words have power to bring us peace in the midst of war, comfort in the midst of grief and loss, patience in the face of sickness and suffering, forgiveness in the face of guilt and shame, and life in the face of death.
May the living and powerful Word of Almighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – continue to do what he sends it to do, to work his miracles of life, peace, forgiveness and love in our lives. Amen.