Dr. Terry Green
When I was a preschooler in Sunday School, I looked forward to that event every Sunday because in our Sunday School department there was a large collection of wooden blocks. And perhaps a lot of you played with a similar set of blocks when you were growing up at church. There were round ones, square ones, rectangular ones, cubes, and a variety of others, all of which taken together filled my young mind with endless possibilities. And I use to love to gather with my friends in that preschool department and imagine how we could put those blocks together and what we could make and it always seemed that the hour ended much too quickly. We never quite got all of our creations finished.
I grew up, and as I did, they told me that there were really higher purposes to Sunday School. And they invited me to participate in them, and I did, and I’m grateful for it. But I’m here to tell that for shear entertainment, nothing beats those blocks. And I look back on that fondly.
What is it about being a child that finds within us such a capacity for imagination, such an inventiveness and an enthusiasm for that which has not yet been tried? What is that in our nature that’s coming to expression there? And why is it so difficult to hold on to that as we grow older?
That instinct to create something, to fashion and mold something, that willingness to be open to new possibilities is a wonderful gift apparent in childhood because in truth because it is a very mark of our human nature under God.
We were made, the Bible says, in the image of God. And, being made in God’s image, we are given the gift of creativity. Indeed were even given the opportunity by God, the responsibility by God, to continue to shape that wonderful creation which God has given us. We are to take care of what God has created not as though it were stagnant and unchanging, but instead, responsive to the image of God in us as we use that holy instinct of creativity. It is a marvelous stewardship that we have. And yet, it is one that I think we often have paid too little attention to, perhaps because as we grow older our lives become more filled with competing demands, perhaps because we feel if we don’t always walk in ordered paths that life may somehow return to chaos again. But I’d like to invite us to think anew about the marvel of creativity and about the very fact that it is one of the holiest of instincts that God has bestowed upon is.
As a Bible example of it, consider the word we just heard from the 19th Psalm. It is, the Bible scholars say, one of the most imaginative passages in scripture. For years, English scholars of the Bible, along with some Hebrew scholars, wondered if this psalm were not, in fact, two psalms because the subjects seem to be separated from one another. There is this beautiful lyrical celebration of the glory of God in Creation, capped by the beauty of the sun above the earth. But then there’s a turning to the nature of the law of God and a celebration of God’s commandments – important to be sure, but usually not
joined to the mystical celebration of the created order. As students of the Bible have looked at this psalm more and more closely, they’ve come to recognized that it is in fact, shaped by the creative genius of its author who is saying to us, in effect, look at the heavens and the universe and all there
is in the world, and then understand that after you have appreciated its glory, the most glorious creation of all is the law of God which shepherds God’s children.
It is a wonderful thing to bear in mind, isn’t it? Wherever you look in this universe – high or low, north or south, east or west – even in a very small corner, you see the signature of the Creator. As the telescopes open our eyes to the vast expanse of space and the glory of God’s Creation, we are awestruck with wonder. And we do well to be, for any use of the instinct of creativity has to begin there. If we are to serve God with this marvelous potential of inventiveness, we do so only by beginning with heads bowed in reverence and awe. We get on our knees with the psalmist and wonder at such a creation like this. How vast! How powerful! How beautiful! We remember that only God could
bring such a creation into beginning. And only God could share with us the gift and privilege of participating in it and in exercising the possibility of creativity in our own human nature fashioned after the image of God.
Of course it’s right here where all the trouble starts and always has been, for human beings have first wondered about God’s Creation and then lost the capacity to wonder, first realizing they were stewards of the Creation and then deciding that they were actually owners, and have taken the gift of creativity and perverted it to such a degree that it becomes not a blessing but a curse. The misuse of our powers, scientific and otherwise, in our world, is an act of rebellion against God, a sign that our reverence has been forgotten or neglected. Indeed, our powers must be guided by the will of God, or our creativity will turn against us, and the garden which God gave us will be diminished by our own self-centeredness. And that’s why the power of creativity must always be held by the guidance of the Law of God. It’s why creativity includes reverence and moral understanding, for it recognizes that all human
gifts and all human powers are given with the possibility of creating good where God intends it: to enhance life in community, to bring about peace and reconciliation, to develop the highest possibilities of love and generosity in the human soul. That’s why God gave us the instinct of creativity. That’s why
God gave us the privilege of shaping his Creation. And that’s why God gave us the gift of a law – commandments, a Bible, tradition. For without reverence for these, we will begin to take God’s place and the beauty of the Creation will be marred by our sin.
The glory of course is that when we fail, God comes into the Creation to deliver us from ourselves and to show us anew the life of obedience in Jesus. With marvelous creativity and freedom, Jesus lives out the love of God, and invites us to perfect freedom that comes therein. He shows us what it means to
be fashioned in God’s image. And he says to all of us, whether there is one talent in our hand or many, “You are unique. You belong to God. You have gifts to offer in the service of his Creation.”
Whenever we hear fine music such as we are going to enjoy in this festival, whenever we admire the work of distinguished artists, we are liable to imagine that the gift of creativity is a sparing gift, and nothing could be further from the truth. If the inspiration that we enjoy with the presence of the Spirit in these days really reaches us, then it will be inviting all of us, not just the artists, to think about what we can do to express the holiness of creativity in our own service and witness. What gift has God given you? What is it that you need to offer more fully to God?
In that famous story that Jesus told about several men who had talents in hand, a stern condemnation was given to one man who said “What I have is not worth much. It’s just one talent. I‘ll bury it.” And he met with a stern rebuke precisely because he underestimated how precious that talent was. Most of us
will not have the talents of gifted artists, but in the exercise of their talents, they invite us in the Spirit of God to utilize even the single talents that we possess.
In one of the churches I served, we had a member who had had a very serious back injury years ago. It was difficult for her to even walk. Wondering what she could do for the church, she took a class on flower arranging, and she had a talent for that such that every Sunday we had a fresh arrangement whether we could afford it or not. I think that Susie could get more miles per flower than anybody I’ve ever seen. It was because she loved the beauty of God, and it was because she was determined to exercise a talent that God had given her.
What is it that God has given you that perhaps you’ve underestimated? How much the gift of creativity needs to be expressed in ordinary human lives and in the standard institutions or our existence! We need creative schools. We need creative teachers. We need creative healthcare centers and nurses and physicians. And yes, we need creative congregations. We as Christians live firmly anchored to the tradition and the history of our faith. But in no way does that mean that the creative gift of God should not also be expressed in our corporate life.
I was reading the other day a critique of the average Baptist church in which I found one rather disturbing, and I feared, accusing quote. The author said, “The gift to bore people is neither a gift nor the fruit of the Spirit.” I felt a little uneasy. But it reminded me that Jesus said that the gift of the Gospel is like fresh wine that needs new wineskins. And as I think about the life of my church and churches everywhere, I’m reminded that the gift of creativity is given us for the service of God in each new generation. It requires some risk. It requires some daring. And as any truly creative person will tell you, it requires a good deal of discipline, prayer, and hard work. But if we offer those things up to God whether there be many or few gifts in our hands, then the Lord will use us in our homes and families and vocations, and in our churches, to bring glory to his name.
Fashioned in the image of God, each of us has been given the instinct for creativity and gifts for its expression. If that is so, should we not gladly offer back to God what God has entrusted to us in whatever proportion God has given? Let these days be a time of beginning for us when we choose afresh to lend our hands, our hearts, our minds, and our voices to the ongoing work of a God who promises to make all things new, for it is when we dare to do that that we draw nearer to the God who created us and obtain the glorious liberty that is promised to his children.
Let us pray together.
Eternal God,Open our eyes that we may behold your beauty and the wonders you have made.
Open our minds that we may receive the gift of your commandments and know that they lead to life and freedom.
Open our hearts that we might receive the gifts of your Spirit and, in courage and faith, express them in fresh ways so that in our personal lives, and in the work of our congregations, we may remind all the world of the newness of life which we share together in Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is in his name that we ask all these things. Amen.