Dear Friends of the California-Pacific Conference,
In 2017, it was a blessing to share with you a series of Lenten Devotionals as a spiritual discipline for me, and hopefully a spiritual resource for you. This year, you will once again be receiving a daily Lenten Devotional, but this time it will be more rich and diverse. Each day will be a devotional authored by a different clergy member of the Annual Conference. Selected clergy from every district have submitted their devotions, and each week the devotional offering will be sponsored by a different District. The final Holy Week and Easter devotionals will be offered to us by the Cabinet and our Bishop.
May God richly bless us as we take this spiritual journey of Lent together.
Rev. John Farley
South District Superintendent
Dean of Cabinet
By Rev. Mark Wiley, Claremont United Methodist Church, East District
In the beginning, when God begin creating Heaven and Earth…
The Bible opens with a glorious fanfare: “In the beginning.” Cue the special effects, please.
The intention is to get everyone’s attention. But not for the reason we might imagine.
The Biblical writers were not trying to explain how the universe came into being. They were not trying to match up science and theology. Even if they knew about the Big Bang, hydrogen molecules, and antimatter, they would not have cared. They had one giant theological idea that they wanted everyone to know.
They understood, and wanted the hearer to understand, that the God of the tribes of Israel, the God of Abraham and Sarah, was the same God who created everything. The God of Genesis is not a tribal, backwater, parochial God of an exiled people. Oh no, the God of Israel is the God of everything and everyone.
Maybe they wanted to engage in theological bragging. Our god is bigger and more important than your god. (Can I have an “amen” here or a “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah?”) But, the creation story doesn’t read that way. In fact, if you read it out loud, the creation story has a cadence and a chorus. There was evening and there was morning, the first day.
John Hobert has suggested the creation story is an affirmation of faith. It is a “we believe” kind of statement. Of course, if we were rewriting it for our worship today, we would use different scientific terms. But, the core idea would remain the same. In our heart of hearts, in the memory and ritual of our history, from all we have seen and heard and understood of God, we believe God created heaven and earth.
Those who continue to use the creation story as a tool for the defense of the faith have already weakened the faith by misusing the story. They have made it too small, too sectarian, too much about the details.
This is an Affirmation of Faith for all Creation. Let the light sing of its creation. Let the darkness celebrate. Give the stars all their glory. Let the moon’s light shine. Let the sounds of the animals be the choir. Let the noise of the weather be the symphony of our lives. Let all humanity, in all our languages, read the chorus.
So why did God begin creating? No clue. The scriptures almost never tell us God’s motivation, though I have a guess. When my son was first starting soccer, he was fast. He was so fast he was ahead of the pack. (Soccer at early ages is mostly by group). He would get close to goal, then kick it to the other team. The coach called him over, “Nick, what are you doing?” Nick said, “I’m sharing.” End of conversation.
I believe creation is God’s sharing. God’s love and joy, delight and wonder simply could not be contained and must be shared. Since today is Valentine’s Day, we need to see creation itself as a valentine from God. The whole of creation is one giant valentine, probably with balloons.
But, we have not done well with this valentine. We have acted as if God’s valentine was only to us. We mistreated other humans whose valentine was the same as our own. And we pretended that creation belonged to us instead of being a gift to us.
So, it is fitting that today is not only Valentine’s Day, but also Ash Wednesday. And maybe, in addition to wearing ash, we need to send a valentine to someone who won’t receive one or has given up on ever receiving one. Or use fewer resources. Or join with God in sharing the joy.
Prayer: May we hear God in the ash and the joy, the light and the dark, the chaos and the order. Amen.