The Story of Love and Grace

Do you know how many creation stories are told in the Bible? This is not a complete list but it gives a sense of some of the Bible’s rich complexity.

Most people probably know about the version we find in Genesis 1. The Creator creates from a distance and outside of creation.

In the beginning— was God, creating the heavens and the earth . . . Then God said, “Let there be light.”

And God said. And God said. And God said.

Like a brilliant composer, imagination becomes palpable reality, and the music of the cosmos is created. Like a master conductor, with a nod to the string section, and then a wave to the woodwinds, and now a sweeping movement toward the brass section, a complex, polyphonic symphony of harmonies and melodies comes into existence.

“And God said.”

And then God created the humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female God created them. And God blessed them . . .

And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Then there’s a different creation story in Genesis 2. Here the Creator is close by and intimate, like a potter with dirty hands bending over her clay breathing life into her creation.

Then the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.

Here’s a poetic version of the creation story from Psalm 33.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth . . .

He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle and put the deeps in storehouses. Godspoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

Quite a few of the psalmists retold the creation story with extravagant poetry. Listen to Psalm 104.

O Lord my God, you . . . are wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you make the clouds your chariot and ride on the wings of the wind . . .

How manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.

And then Wisdom herself speaks, telling her own creation story. Hear these words spoken from the mouth of Sophia/Wisdom in Proverbs 8.

When God established the heavens, I was there . . . when the skies above were made firm . . . and the sea was assigned its limit . . .

When God marked out the foundations of the earth, I was there, like a master worker; rejoicing always in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Then centuries later, when the New Testament theologians wanted to tell the story of Jesus, the one who had completely changed everything, they were challenged to re-read their Hebrew Scriptures and reconsider everything they had known before. The prologue to John’s gospel is bold as he now saw the Genesis creation story through the lens of the Christ. John dared to re-write his Holy Scriptures when he said:

In the beginning—was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word was in the beginning with God. And all things came into being through him; without him not one thing came into being.

John 1:1-3

And then the soaring poetry and high Christology of the writer of the letter to the Colossians:

Christ Jesus is the image of God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer: One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Living in The Story

So this is a quick summary of Week 2 of Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace. 48 weeks to read the Bible by reading across the Bible.

When I developed Living in The Story, it was important to me to read the Bible in the Big Picture and to see how the Bible has been in conversation with itself over its many centuries. I want to understand how the Torah and the Prophets and the Wisdom writers explored and interpreted their own journeys of faith. How they asked the age-old questions: Who is God? Who are we?

And then I want to see how the New Testament theologians re-read their Holy Scriptures in light of their experience with Jesus, the one they understood to be the promised Christ of God. How did Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul re-think and re-imagine the ancient questions of their faith: What does this mean?

Read the Bible Through in 2022

A few weeks ago, a local pastor and I sat down for coffee and I was pleased to realize these questions are important to him as well. He invited me to come to his congregation to invite them to read the Bible through in 2022. Or maybe just read part of it. But it’s important for all of us Christians to read the Bible for ourselves because this is the book we claim as important—as guide and teacher, as comforter and confronter.

Living in The Story is one way to do that. The reading guide is the core piece of this project—a weekly plan that leads us across the sweep of the biblical story. The reading guide and several essays are available on the LivingInTheStory.com website, open to the public. The just released book Living in The Story offers all those resources expanded and edited into one convenient place.

But the main thing I want people to get from the Bible is The Story, The Cosmic Story of God’s Love and Grace to which the Bible bears witness.

Very Human Stories

I’m quite aware that many of the stories we find in Scripture are not stories of love and grace. There is plenty of violence and cruelty, greed, betrayal, and arrogance. But I think the very fact that these absolutely human stories are included in the church’s Holy Scriptures proves the point that this is not a magic book. Rather it’s a very human book written by humans for humans, a library of books that tell our human story honestly—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

That’s why the witness of love and grace is so remarkable. Within and beyond these limited human words, the church confesses that The Eternal Word is still speaking and Spirit is still inspiring and breathing life. We confess that God is still creating goodness and beauty and order out of every dark and ugly chaos. 

The Bible is not magic, but it is mystery. Much as the church confesses that Jesus the Christ is “truly human and truly divine,” so is the church’s book. Truly human words through which the truly divine Word still speaks. To us. Now.

Bold New World of Faith

I’m ever so grateful for this faith journey that has led me into a bold new world of faith where the journey keeps going “further in and higher up.”

I’m grateful for new eyes to see and new ears to hear with fresh insights the promise of Isaiah’s God: “I Am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:19)

To hear Paul’s claim that: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2Cor. 5:17)

To hear the witness of the Revelation that the One seated on the throne is in the process of “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

This journey into newness, This Story of love and grace keeps unfolding before us and inviting us to come closer, go deeper, soar higher, and live larger.

Like Abraham, we’re invited to walk away from some of the things in our lives that seem settled and safe in order to journey into new awareness, new opportunities, new possibilities.

Like Jacob, we’re invited to wrestle with this God who calls us. To hold on with a stubborn, even stumbling faith in the God who changes us, re-names us, and re-claims us.

Like Mary, we’re invited to once again (and again and again) birth Christ into our own dark and desperate world. Even with our questions that echo Mary’s own questions: Who am I? How can this be? we, too, with Mary, are invited to risk everything and say “Yes. Let it be.”

God is Not Finished

The Story tells us that God is not finished. That Creator keeps creating love and grace in all sorts of unexpected places and unlikely people. The Story gives witness that the One True God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer will continue to form, reform, and transform everything until all God’s creation is brought together in a final conclusion of love and grace.

That’s the Big Story of the Bible I want to help others see and hear and understand. That’s The Story I want to live in.

Amen



A version of this sermon was preached at Calvary United Methodist Church in Paris TX on November 14, 2021.

Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace is available at Wipf and Stock publishers, Amazon, and Kindle.

Author: Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and developed Living in The Story while doing doctoral work at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. Charlotte also blogs about intersections of faith, politics, and culture at CharlotteVaughanCoyle.com.

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