Sermon notes 06-07-20                      Reversing Regret                         Pastor David King

Genesis 1:1-2:4a In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

I think the creation story we just heard must surely be one of the most familiar and recognizable passages of Scripture there is, largely because it is at the very beginning of the Bible.  Even if some people who start to read the Bible don’t get very far into it, many people have probably gotten at least as far as the passage Bescye read for us, the account of Creation.  Many people can recite by memory those very first words of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  Those words and this passage are familiar and recognizable to many people.   But I wonder, when we hear the Creation account and imagine the world as God originally created it and intended it to be, is our world today recognizable as being the same world God created and intended?

When we look around and observe what we have done and continue to do to God’s creation, and to each other, it should be clear that the world is not what it was created to be in the beginning.  It can hardly be recognizable as the world God intended.  We might even feel like our world today resembles more the chaos out of which God spoke the world into existence, rather than the perfectly ordered world God created.  There is much for us to regret about the state of the world today, and God also must surely have regrets about what has become of his Creation.  What are we to do with all these regrets?

I’ll come back to that question, but first we should acknowledge that today is the day on the Church calendar known as Trinity Sunday.  On this day the Church affirms our understanding that God is revealed to us in the Scriptures as one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We might question why this passage from Genesis, in the Old Testament, long before the birth of God’s Son, would be one of the chosen texts for Trinity Sunday?  The doctrine of the Trinity was not even conceived until after the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Yet, if we notice, there are significant hints of the Trinitarian nature of God even from the very beginning.

Genesis 1:1 says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  That verse references God, without any indication of three persons.  Yet notice the very next verse says, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  That would seem to be referring to God the Holy Spirit.  Then verse 3 ends with the words, “and there was light.”  Christians know that light is symbolic of God the Son.  The New Testament refers to Jesus as the light of the world, the light shining in the darkness, the One who was co-creator with God in the beginning.  So we see we have at least the basic building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity from the very beginning.  And for yet another hint of the Trinitarian nature of God in Genesis 1, did you notice those mysterious words in verse 26? “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after ourlikeness.’”  Who was God speaking to here, if not to the other persons of the Trinity?

Those hints may or may not be compelling to you, but my goal today is not so much to make a compelling case for the doctrine of the Trinity, which, let’s face it, is as much a mystery to us as the story of God creating the world in six days.  What I rather hope to do is to speak with you about God’s intention for Creation, and how God plans to reverse all of our regrets about the way we have failed to live into God’s original design for Creation.

When we think about Creation not being what God intended, we need to put the blame where it belongs.  The blame for Creation not being as God intended it to be certainly does not fall on God, nor does it fall on any of the other creatures, animals, plants, the sky, the waters, the heavenly lights or any of the other things named in the biblical account of Creation.  All of those things would be perfectly fine, and I do mean perfectly fine, if not for the sins of humanity.  All of the problems of the world can be traced back to human sin.  We are the ones who have messed things up by the sinful, selfish, greedy, cruel ways that we have treated each other and the created world.  We have fallen far short of God’s original design for Creation.

Genesis tells us that we humans were created in God’s image, and we were given the privilege and responsibility of caring for God’s creation.  When we read about God creating humans and giving us dominion over the rest of Creation, we have good reason to question God’s wisdom in doing so.  God said, “it was very good” after he created humans on the sixth day, but we could fully understand if God were to change his mind about that assessment later.

We know that in the course of time, God did regret making humans.  We read about it in Gen. 6:5-6: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth.  We know what happened next: God sent a flood to wipe out all of humanity, other than Noah and his family.  But after the flood subsided, God said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”  God knew that our hearts are inclined toward evil from the time we are children; God knew the flood did not change that, yet God promised never to wipe us off the planet again … even though we have not stopped giving God cause to regret making us.

The events taking place in our country right now are evidence of the human sin that has corrupted God’s creation since the beginning.  The racism and other forms of hatred, the violence and destruction and selfishness and greed that we see in the world, are all the product of sin.  And we need to be honest that these things we see in the news are not just taking place “out there” in the world, somehow separate from us and from who we are.  Things like hatred of others, greed, jealousy, and selfishness are things that take place in here, in our own hearts.  The Bible tells us in Jer. 17:9 that the human heart “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.  Romans 3:23 says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Friends, what we see “out there” is in us.  The awareness of that might lead us to regret that God made us.

For our continued rebelliousness and evil ways, God would be justified in wiping us off the face of the earth as he did in the Flood—completely this time—but instead, God had another plan, a plan not to destroy us but to save us, a plan for the redemption of all Creation.  God sent his Son Jesus Christ to redeem all our sins, and to reverse all of our regrets. The Bible promises that one day God will restore Creation to its original intent.

If we go from chapter 1 of Genesis all the way to the other end of the Bible, to the very last chapter of the Book of Revelation, we learn that in the end, God is going to make right all that has gone wrong with Creation. Even though Creation fell out of order under human stewardship, God’s intentions for humanity and for all of Creation will be fulfilled in the end.  As it was in the beginning, and as it was intended to be, so shall it be in the end.  Just as the Garden of Eden had the Tree of Life, we find in the last chapter of Revelation that the new heaven and earth will have the Tree of Life in it.  In the coming Kingdom of God, the curse of sin will be forever broken and humans will live as God intended: worshiping and serving God and loving one another.

But I can imagine what some of you might be thinking.  You might be thinking, Preacher, you are speaking about the hope of heaven, and that is all well and good, but what about all the evil and pain and suffering that has taken place throughout human history and is still taking place today?  How can the hope of heaven make up for things like the horrific murder of George Floyd, or the deaths of innocent children at the hands of monstrous abusers, or the slaughter of six million Jews by Nazi Germany, or so many other atrocities and horrors that we could name?  There would seem to be no end to all the suffering and evil and cruelty and tragedy in this life for which there can be no recompense, no justification, no reparation.   I realize there are those who have suffered or are suffering so much in this life that they think heaven cannot possibly be worth it.  I think we can all understand that.  There are things we hear about and read about and know about, things that people have experienced and suffered, that no amount of heavenly reward would seem to make up for them.

The 20th century Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote about this in his book called ‘The Great Divorce.’  Listen to these words from C.S. Lewis: (There are those who) say of some temporal suffering (that is, suffering in this life), “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.  This notion of heaven working backwards is a thrilling concept to me, because it is the only understanding of heaven that I think can sufficiently redeem all the suffering of this life.

When we consider recent and current events, and far beyond them to all the endless pain and suffering and sadness and sorrow and evil and loss and regret in the world and in our own lives, we can find it very difficult to think that any promise of “future bliss” or heavenly reward is worth it.  We might think it would have been better for us not to have been born at all, or at least never to have experienced those things at all.  This is where the notion of heaven working backwards is so beautiful.  And we can claim it as Christians because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the complete un-doing of the worst thing that ever happened, the death of our Lord.  In Christ’s resurrection the finality of death was made not to be final after all.  The worst thing ever was completely reversed and un-done.

A couple of years ago, after numerous false starts, I finally got around to reading the Lord Of The Rings trilogy written by J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a devout Christian.  In a scene from the last book of the trilogy, one of the main characters, Samwise Gamgee, awakens from the belief that he had lost everything, including his own life, to find everything restored, and he asks the question of those gathered around him,  Is everything sad going to come untrue? Some of you have probably heard this illustration before.  I am not by any means the first to point out that the answer to that question, for those who believe in the resurrection, is “YES!”  In heaven, everything sad is going to come untrue!

Friends, I am pretty sure we all have something, perhaps many things that we would give anything to be able to go back and un-do.  Sometimes it is not enough for us to know we are forgiven for the wrong and the hurt and the pain we have caused others.  We want more than to be forgiven; we want it to be as if it never happened.  Oh, how we wish those things had never happened!

And here is the good news we claim through the resurrection of Jesus Christ: those things we wish with all of our hearts that we could un-do, as if they had never happened, will ‘un-happen,’ will be undone, when heaven works backwards.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the sign and the promise that what has been lost will be restored; what is sad and bad and regrettable will be un-done.

So sisters and brothers, in these regrettable times, be encouraged with the knowledge that one day God will restore Creation to its original intent.  Everything will be made right, everything sad will come untrue, every regret will be reversed, and we will find that the worst things that have ever happened to us in this life will only enhance the joy of the glory we will know for all eternity.  Thanks be to God.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.