The Face of the Deep – March 26, 2017, the Fourth Sunday in Lent
Genesis 1, Mark 4:35-41
March 26, 2017
I love the subject of beginnings! If I were to get on a roll with that, we’d be here a long time! I love talking about “cosmology” – the study of the beginnings of the cosmos. I love talking about the “static universe” verses the “expanding universe.” I love talking about the Big Bang, about Copernicus, Kepler, Einstein, Hubble. And I love comparing “Creation” and “Evolution” and the origins of life. And most importantly, I love talking about how such things are not contrary to faith, but are part of the same picture of these iconic words from Genesis.
So no, I won’t “get on a roll.” But I would like you to think about two words. They are the two little Latin words – “ex nihilo.” In English they mean (anybody?) “out of nothing.” For centuries there has been an ongoing debate about those words. And simply put, the debate asks, when God created the heavens and the Earth, did he create them “ex nihilo” – “out of nothing?” Or was there substance of some kind with which he began?
Well, I’m not going to re-open that debate today, either! I suspect that would go on for a long time, too! But I am going to begin by focusing in on the beginning of Genesis. And this may give you cause to think.
This started for me a dozen or so years ago when I was listening to a speaker (at Kirkwood!) talking about Genesis. And in his talk, he highlighted the words I’m using for the title of this message. “The face of the deep.” And he read these words, which I’d heard many times before, but he made me think about what they said.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Notice, that even as the Earth was without form, even when there was no light, there was “the deep.” There was the oceans. There was the waters. And there’s a lot about waters in this passage. And as it begins, “the deep” was seen as the “chaos” out of which God created! And by they way, I don’t know if this negates “ex nihilo,” but it is what Genesis says.
The reason I say all this is that, for the people of ancient times, the oceans, the seas, “the face of the deep,” was the most powerful thing in the world. It was the biggest, baddest power in all of existence! We get glimpses of that in our world, don’t we? Hurricanes, Tsunamis, waves, and tides are scary things, aren’t they? They are sources of amazing power in the natural world! And that’s how the ancients saw the “waters” of the Earth.
So, for God to have created out of the chaos of “the deep,” showed God’s incredible power! And maybe through thinking about all of this we can get a little better sense of that power. Because, as I’ve said before, we all have our images of God. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that too often our image of God is too small, and too powerless.
When the people of Israel were weary of their years of exile, and they doubted God, Isaiah tried to give them a better sense of God’s power and sovereignty. In his 40th chapter, he said, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord (Yahweh) is the everlasting God! The creator of the ends of the earth!” Therefore, he is capable of upholding you and giving you strength!
At the very least, that’s one of the things we should take away from Genesis. Our God is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth! He is the one that took the chaos on “the face of the deep” and created! That’s how infinitely powerful us is! So, he is completely capable of upholding us and giving us strength. And it would be well to “tweak” our mental image to try to conceive of God’s power.
The other thing I want us to think about is how these words in Genesis relate to the story of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. I think it gives it a much greater impact! Because the people of Jesus’ time still had the same understanding of the power and fearful nature of the waters. They were still in awe of “the face of the deep.” And yes, many of them were fishermen. Many of them lived their lives on the sea. But “the face of the deep” was still a fearsome power to them!
So with that in mind, we have Jesus and his disciples out on the sea. And a great storm hits. Those men knew the power of the storms on the sea, and now quickly they can come up! No doubt they also knew fellow fishermen who had perished in such storms. And there is no question in their minds that they were about to join them!
“Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” they cried! Now, as always, we know this story. We know what’s about to happen. They didn’t! And I don’t think they were waking Jesus up to beg him to do something. I’m sure they didn’t think he could do anything about it! They were just incredulous that he was sleeping, as they were all about to die!
But then! He did something! And what he did astounded them! With a word, Jesus calmed the storm! And with their understanding about the seas being the biggest, baddest thing in the natural world, they got a glimpse of the power of God that Jesus himself had! I hope you see that. I hope you put these two scriptures together and see that! And make no mistake! These men would have immediately linked Jesus to the God of creation!
Look at their reaction. “Who is this?” We don’t even know him! He has more “power” than we ever imagined! “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” The two most powerful things they knew of obeyed Jesus when he spoke!
Do you see why I put these two stories together? I wonder if we might sometimes say the same thing. “Who is this man?” “We don’t even know him!” Throughout the Gospels there are a lot of stories of Jesus and water. So I thought first and foremost we needed to recognize that he is master of it! He is the God of creation. And his power is beyond our comprehension. And maybe, along with those fishermen sitting there in that boat, with the waters lapping its sides, with the seabirds crying, with nobody believing their eyes, we too might get a sense of the power of Jesus!
“The darkness was upon the face of the deep.” And God created! And God still has that power! And he sent his son to show us.
Creator God, sometimes our image of you is too small. Sometimes we despair, thinking the storms of our troubled lives are beyond your mastery. Help us to see, this Lenten season, your majesty, your glory, and your power. Help us to know we can look to you our own strength and peace. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.