Scripture: Genesis 1:1-10, Luke 1:38
(Sermon delivered on March 29, 2020)
In the hit 90s movie, Matilda—okay, maybe it wasn’t a hit but it was one of my personal favorites—based on the book of the same name by Ronald Dahl—a child with genius abilities, who is ignored and neglected by her parents, develops psychokinetic powers. She’s able to make inanimate objects and people come alive in new ways with her brain. At a young age, this smart, independent young child, who is often left alone to wrestle with her imagination, finds comfort in books and begins to notice that her imagination is able to lift words off pages—lift cereal out of cereal bowls—make chalk write on blackboards without human direction. She begins using these superpowers to deal with her disreputable family and the brutal, tyrannical principal of her elementary school, Miss Trunchbull.
Over the course of the story, Matilda, with enough focus and motivation, is able to hone her skills, shaping them into something more than just an experiment—shaping them into something useful:
Acts of justice
Acts of rebellion
Acts of resistance against the mistreatment she has experienced and witnessed at the hands of her parents and principal.
With her abilities, Matilda—an unexpected candidate from a corrupt and chaotic environment—is able to create with her mind the just world she desires to see.
In moments of “Let there be”—
let there be
justice for the overweight kid who was being taunted by his peers at her school
let there be
an end to the ways her teacher was being mistreated by the principal—
Matilda is able to cultivate creativity amidst a calamitous and formless void. When she begins to create, what was once experimental becomes extraordinary.
“In the beginning God created”—or as other Hebrew bible scholars have translated it—“When God began to create, God made the heavens and the earth; and the earth was a formless void;” and, in my mind, God began using God’s imagination and I visualize God honing her skills—like Matilda—perfecting her talents, and practicing her genius abilities;
and then, God sees the darkness and the emptiness, and the uncertain deepness, and God, in her infinite imagination, says, “Let there be.”
Let there be light and
Let there be a dome that separates the waters and
Let there be fruits and vegetables and
Let there be day and night and
Let there be animals—living creatures and
Let there be humans, made in our divine image and
Let there be rest.
This creation narrative is the subject of centuries of theological and scientific debates.
Did it really happen the way the book says it did?
Who wrote it down if they weren’t there to see it?
Did it really only take 7 days?
What about evolution?
I, too, have questions.
What was so wrong with the formless void?
Was God just bored?— quarantined in some far-off place trying to pass the time?
Or perhaps, was God disturbed or haunted by what was already in place?
Many Judeo-Christian traditions teach that this story is about the beginning of time—the beginning of beginnings—that nothing was in place before the divine Creator proclaimed, “Let there be;” yet, Hebrew Bible scholar, David Carr, reminds us that “the text does not describe creation out of nothing. Instead,” he says, “the story emphasizes how God creates order from a watery chaos.”
Order out of chaos.
Composition out of confusion.
Structure out of pandemonium.
Justice out of injustice.
This is God’s “Let there be”—the making of miracles out of muddle and mess.
In her book, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process, Catherine Keller calls our attention to this mess, of sorts—to this formless void—to these deep waters of turmoil from which God apparently cultivates creative energy. Keller calls us to the haunting of the deep, or what she calls “the mysterious imagery of a bottomless chaos from which the ordered world emerges.”
Friends, I won’t join in the public disagreement about whether this creation story that many of us know so well is true or false. To be honest, I see it as a factious waste of time at such a crucial moment is our history. What I offer to you, instead, is that the story never ended. It didn’t end with God’s final “Let there be,” though some biblical literalists might say so. We find ourselves, on this very day, whenever and wherever you are viewing or reading this, in a “Let there be” moment. Yes, we are always in “Let there be” moments, but in this particular time of political and economic dysfunction amidst a pandemic, the necessity for creativity is much more critical. Our very survival depends on us saying “Let there be” over and over again, until enlightenment falls upon those in power, until domes of justice burst from the murky waters of chaos, until every creature has what they need to survive without risking their lives to go to work.
We are in a “Let there be” moment and our ability to create will be a key part of our survival.
In a world where CEOs and governors are more concerned about the economy than the health of individuals, creativity is vital. We need everyone who cares about the future of the “least of these” to offer a “Let there be” into the atmosphere—a reimagining of what is possible.
For all the artists out there, you—like, me—are used to saying, “let there be.” You’re used to creating whatever your art is, be it poetry or music, paintings or novels. Perhaps, there are some of you out there who are afraid of creativity. I’ve heard a few folks say, “I’m not a creative person,” or “I’m not artistic.” Maybe, somewhere along the way, somebody said to you that your “let there be” wasn’t good enough. Maybe they said your “let there be” wasn’t going to make you any real money. [I heard that a lot as an artist] Or maybe, your “let there be” was going against tradition—your innovation was going to upset the ways things have always been.
But perhaps, we have an opportunity here to carve creative prospects out of this crisis—this opportunity. If we truly believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God, as given to us in the 28th verse of Genesis 1, we must also believe in our “Let there be” possibilities. For God, it was let there be light, but maybe for us and the world, it’s:
Let there be shelter for the housing insecure.
Let there be financial assistance for those who have lost employment.
Let there be groceries delivered to those who couldn’t stock up in advance.
Let there be the spirit of sharing resources instead of hoarding them.
Let there be toilet paper—for Christ’s sake.
Let there be Zoom Meetings and Google Hangout Bible Studies.
Let there be virtual worship services and virtual happy hours.
Let there be clean water in Flint, MI and Newark, NJ, and eastern Carolina.
Let there be a release of the captives from corrupt prison systems.
Let there be a spiritual closeness amid a physical distancing.
Let there be.
Let there be.
We have the power to create in the face of crisis. We have the authority to change the trajectory of injustice with our “let there be” moments. Our creativity will be our salvation. Our innovation will be our survival.
Let there be.
Monica Coleman, a Womanist and process theologian, says that “God is one who helps us to make a way out of no way”—that God doesn’t just do; God helps us to do. This means that the creation story isn’t done—
God doesn’t merely create by Godself, but ordains us—the ones made in the image of God—to the ministry of co-creation alongside God, giving us permission to say “Let there be” alongside God, especially in moments of chaos and crisis.
This is a part of our process of becoming. And genesis means becoming, so this is our genesis.
From out of these murky waters of the formless void,
we are becoming better leaders
we are becoming better teachers
we are becoming better neighbors, better pastors, better disciples, and better friends.
It is in that becoming—that harnessing of creative energy—that a new reality is born.
This past week, many Christian traditions across the globe celebrated the Annunciation of the Lord, also called the Annunciation of Our Lady or the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, honoring the announcement of the Incarnation. In the story found in the Gospel of Luke, we read the circumstances surrounding the revelation to Mary that she would be carrying a royal child, one who would bring liberation to the people. New Testament scholar, Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, reminds us of Mary’s social location—A young, unmarried woman of low social status, who resides in an insignificant rural area that rarely appears in historical accounts, whose unplanned pregnancy would surely lower her status even further. News by way of an angel named Gabriel comes to Mary in the midnight hour—news of creation that is at work in her womb—news of God’s conceptive creativity in partnership with an unlikely candidate.
Many view Mary as lacking agency in this moment. They view her, maybe rightly so, as this young woman who has no say about what happens with and to her body. Yet, Crowder reminds us that “Mary does not readily accept the prophecy given to her” on account of Gabriel. She asks what many of us might ask in we were in her position: ‘How?’” How could this be so? Mary wrestles. Mary questions. And then, Mary decides to create. Mary agrees to create with God. In the final verse of this Lukan passage, Mary responds:
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
- Luke 1:38
“Let it be,” she says. “Let there be.” In this moment of great uncertainty, Mary—young, unmarried, poor, from an insignificant town—chooses to create in the face of crisis and chaos for the sake of salvation and liberation, saying, “Let it be.” Out of the depths of despair, let it/there be. Out of the pits of poverty, let there be. For the sake of humanity, let there be.
Could this unfortunate and unexpected pandemic occasion be our annunciation moment? Could this be a moment of revelation—a forced unveiling of the systems of injustice that should have long been overthrown? Out of crisis and chaos, could we be called to birth something so far beyond our wildest imagination? Are we being called to use our Matilda-like superpowers that, perhaps, were always within us but were waiting for the appropriate time to make themselves known?
I’d say, Yes.
Yes, the moment is here.
Yes, creation is waiting on you to lean into your “let there be”—not for the sake of frivolous and futile fun (though that can be a part of the process); for the sake of survival—the survival of yourself and the survival of your neighbor and the survival of those who aren’t your neighbors, and even the survival your enemies.
Will you, “Let there be” with me? Will you, “Let there be” with God?
 Carr, David.