11 June 2017 – Genesis 1

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Paul Fletcher


Albert Einstein once said:

“I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.”

Is the universe a friendly place? Is this a world to be embraced or feared?

Einstein goes on to state:

“For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process…”

This years news-outlets and face-book feeds have been obsessing over the apparently outrageous results in recent Western elections: particularly in regards to the American election of Trump, the  British vote for Brexit, and the French admiration of Le Pen. There has been this intense swing toward candidates proclaiming a message of fear: messages preying on the apparent unfriendliness of the world and our need to be forever guarded and battle ready. Anxious populations have responded by voting for candidates promising safety via policies that ensure distance from those who are different and therefore threatening.

If the voting represents anything, it represents a common mass answering of Einstein’s question:

The world is unfriendly! Protect us from it!

And so the votes get counted

And bigger walls get built

And larger weapons get constructed

While people retreat and their fears heighten.

Ana and I have a son. Ishmael. He is now 2. We also have spent some years fostering children.

I’ve been considering all of them and those to come, as I consider all this.

How do I want to raise him?

How do we want to raise them?

Do I want him / them to grow:

With the base belief that the world is inherently scary?

There are so many stories & events to reinforce that belief!

Do I want his underlying belief regarding the world; its communities, it’s people, his neighbours, his school mates, his friends… that these things are to be approached suspiciously and cynically?

Do I want my child, and others, to be parented in a way that will see them grow with an underlying anxiety?


How do I want my child to grow?

What do I want my child to believe?


It really matters how we answer the question: Is the universe a friendly place?

This question, and questions like it, have been provoked from my reflections upon today’s reading from Genesis.

Because at its root, this piece of ancient poetry, was seeking to address this very question!

“Is the universe a friendly place?”


Genesis 1 was put into written form at a time when:

Its writers’ community had every reason to answer Einstein:

“The world is unfriendly!” “Protect us from it!”

Israel had been taken off into Babylonian exile:

Removed from their land.

Humiliated as a people.

Stripped of dignity.

Forced to labour.

Slaves in exile.


Life had already been a struggle.

Yet now the struggle was intensified.


They were now captives in Babylon:

And in the midst of that struggle there was an overarching message being proclaimed

A message that reinforced a sense of defeat / of worthlessness / of irrelevance

A view of the gods, of the world, of humanity, that reinforced defeatist beliefs…

All around them there was this popular, dominant, Babylonian narrative:

The Babylonian creation myth – a story I want to quickly share with you…

In the Babylonian creation account there is this family of capricious gods who soon go to war with one another. Within their violent story, a victor god emerges, and from the carcass of a defeated divinity, the heavens and earth are formed. The victor god then gives the remaining gods various roles to play in the running of this world. And then, from the blood of a defeated demon, humanity is created as slaves in order to ease these other gods’ workload.

Like so many ancient origin stories – the world was viewed as greatly unfriendly, formed from chaotic violence, and run in an oppressive manner.

It was a world-view that reinforced fear and submission.

That was the Babylonian creation account: an account that helped shape its subject people into a particular subject manner.

In light of that story…

Enter then the Genesis 1 story…

A narrative written to not only speak against these other dominant narratives

But a narrative written with the primary purpose of inspiring a particular people into a particular way of being, even in the midst of difficultly.

Genesis 1 is an alternative story; another way of viewing the world, of viewing life.

In the Genesis story we discover new truths:

We discover a god not defined by hostility and violence, but a considerate God defined by care and creativity.

We learn of a world not formed out of violent divine conflict, but created from the artistic heart of a joyful divinity.

We find a humanity, not made from the blood of evil, nor made as divine slave labour – but made in God’s very image: made with dignity, worth and purpose!

In this Genesis story we discover new liberating truths:

That God and His world is good / friendly – and that we, his good people – are created to guard, encourage and celebrate that very goodness!

While other narratives portray a world that is inherently evil: unfriendly…

The Genesis poem portrays one that is inherently good: friendly…

Einstein said:

“I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.”

Genesis 1 answers:

“Yes, foundationally, the universe is friendly…”

Einstein went on to explain, that if we choose to believe that the universe is friendly, we will use all that we have to understand it, work with it, and move forward in constructive and life-giving ways.

The Israelite leaders hoped for a similar outcome.

Placing this alternative narrative at the beginning of their sacred book collection

Their hope and prayer was:

That their people would be inspired by the belief that the world is more capable of good than bad

They hoped that their people would continually raise their thoughts, their hopes, higher:

…where the view of God was good, the world welcoming, and the picture of humanity hopeful.

Therefore inspiring their people to be a community of hope and compassion that lived the blessing of God!


Is the Universe a friendly place?

Genesis 1 says: at its root, yes… yet it is: now go live as if that is fundamentally true!

Moving then, to us, now…

Let us consider that answer to be true…

What would actions, lived from such a positive belief, look like?

How could this help shape our communities approach to life?

What does a community, not living in fear of others, look like, live like, bless like?

How does a community, whose foundational belief is “the world is friendly”, live in the midst of difficulty?

I want to share a story that, perhaps, can help shake our thoughts into beginning to answer such a question…

My wife and I had a friend (Alison – not her real name) who lived with us, on and off, over the years.

Alison had lived, for the most part, on the streets since she was 14. She became a drug addict very early on; glue, in particular, was her drug of choice. We first met her in her early 20s. She was recognizable largely for the way she shook: she had this disability that caused her to consistently and uncontrollably shake. The shakes made daily life for her difficult (using cutlery, going to the toilet, holding a cup and so on). She was also legally blind – to the point she would hold her mobile phone within an inch of her face. On many levels, she was a vulnerable and frail young woman.

Her back story was one of being used and abused as a vulnerable young woman: and that narrative had only continued on. Life had damaged her and continued to damage. However, behind the rough exterior and beyond the glue fumes, she was a gentle spirit, someone who possessed great kindness, and a great sense of humour; she had this infectious giggling laugh.

My wife Ana, in particular, had journeyed with Alison for a numbers of years. They had become friends. Occasionally, Alison would move in, attempt to go straight, come off the drugs, do okay, then fall again, feel ashamed and take off, until next time. This painful recurring theme continued for a number of years.

After some time, however, some things hit home hard for her. She was up in court for some petty crimes. And while having to interact with multiple professionals, she was made to face the reality that her body was literally giving up. She was, by this point, extremely frail; unable to perform even the most basic tasks independently. So she decided to give it another go – going straight. Part of the court arrangement was that she needed to be in highly structured, well monitored, environment. The problem was that no drug rehab would accommodate her disability needs.

Then, someone who knew someone, got in touch. This someone happened to know of Alison and happened to run an old folks home in Royal Oak. And basically, this elderly home put their hand up to take Alison in.

Now, this wasn’t a nice, flash, retirement village. This was a large old house, housing elderly folk who didn’t have the resources, or whose families didn’t have the resources, to pay for their care. This was a simple, two to a room, clean, but tired, run down, and under-resourced place – that housed a heap of older folks; some whose mental abilities had greatly deteriorated and others who simply couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. It really was, a vulnerable place. And placed within it, our 23 year old friend Alison. Now sharing a room with a very frail, mute, woman so different  – in so many ways – to her new room mate.

Funny thing about that forgotten, worn, old place… it was run with love. Not just the lady that ran it, many of the occupants… loved.

Many of those frail men and woman, sat with Alison in ways that most had never sat with her. They would grab her a tea, sit with her near the TV… they spoke to her with dignity, gave her the time of day – even went on outings to the swimming pools with her. They had every right to be fearful, standoffish, anxious – but no, they welcomed and cared for her even though she was so far removed from them in age, colour, personality and background.

That place, this frail and delicate somewhat forgotten community, did what no rehab and no other community had managed to achieve: they got Alison clean. After 6 months, in this retirement lodge, Alison ‘graduated’ fully sober; friends from the street who had known her for years, met someone they had never met before – still Alison, but Alison defined far more by clarity and hope. She hadn’t been drug free for longer than 2 week since she was in her early teens.

She had been loved back to life.

Now, I’m not going to sugar coat this story. A number of months later, Alison fell back into her old world. Life has been a roller-coaster of ups and downs since.

But for close to a year we caught a glimpse (more than a glimpse in fact) of the true Alison; one more at ease, more content, more able to enjoy and hope and dream. One, I am stoked to say, is true even in recent months. And so much of that was cultivated by the work of a community of unknown elderly people – people who did not have much in the way of physical or financial or (for many) even mental resource – but who did a kingdom work that was second to none. A community of people who took part in a story of hope and restoration that has fuelled mine and others faith more than any collection of sermons ever will.


They saw, not someone to be scared of.

Even though there was good reason to be!


No, they saw someone inherently good!

They saw a situation where goodness could flourish!


Whether they realized it or not…

They lived as if goodness was present.

Their world-view, whether they realized it or not, was a Genesis 1 world-view:

One that spoke of a God who created everything and everyone with care and dignity, and who invites us to work for, heal and guard that care and dignity.


In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is found sending his disciples out to make disciples; to go and form communities of love that speak of a Genesis 1 God and world and mankind. That retirement home made some disciples – one of them was me; their love, in the face of adversity, spoke of the Genesis 1 goodness and friendliness of God’s at work in the world.

They could have answered that important opening question positively…

How about us?

“…the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.”