As I mentioned in Often Lost, Forever Found, there are some sermons that send me scurrying for a pen and scrap of paper. This past Sunday was one of those, and immediately after church, I asked permission to use what I heard as a springboard for what I’m sharing with you now.
First, though, I should tell you that I was in a beautiful cathedral in a state I’ve been to only once before. (I was there for an amazing organization, which you can learn about in The Grace Card). The cathedral didn’t feel ‘foreign’ to me, however, because one of my dearest friends was preaching, and I was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with one of my besties. There’s something about that presence of much-loved friends that can make anywhere feel like home.
This was the message of the sermon: The first creation account in the book of Genesis tells us that In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:1-2, KJV)
From these 39 words, we have a compelling story, particularly if you know that “the deep” was, in ancient times, an idea that encompassed fear, chaos, and the threat of the unknown. In fact, in the Babylonian myths that inform the Genesis text, Tiamat, the goddess of primordial chaos, has to be slayed in order to make room for the creation of the world.
There is a long tradition, then, of ‘the deep’ representing everything we fear: loss of control, disorder, a world gone mad.
In 1968, as my friend pointed out, America seemed to be sliding into the deep. The VietNam War was raging and American men were being sent off to fight and die in a country they couldn’t find on a map. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been gunned down, only a month after delivering a speech in which he said, prophetically, that upon his death, “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody… that I tried to love and serve humanity.” Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. The USSR had invaded Czechoslovakia. Student protests in France and in Mexico, at different times and for different reasons, had turned deadly.
The world of 1968 must have seemed as close to sliding back into the primordial ooze as ever before. Chaos played out on the nightly news, and if there was anyone in control, you certainly couldn’t tell. If there was ever a time for questioning the existence of God, much less asking whether God had given up on us once and for all, 1968 was that year.
But on Christmas Eve of 1968, something extraordinary took place, 118 miles above the Earth. Transmitting from space, Frank Borman, the Commander, William Anders, the Lunar Module Pilot, and James Lovell Jr., the Command Module Pilot, opened up the Bible.
Looking down on the Earth far below, where virtually every corner of the globe was experiencing some form of chaos and violence and hopelessness, and where the disquiet of the unknown encroached on all sides, the Apollo 8 astronauts read the first ten verses of Genesis, and reminded the world that we had experienced chaos before.
And they reminded us that from the chaotic nothing, God had created something wonderful.
I wasn’t alive in 1968, and I didn’t know this story. If you were, and you heard this broadcast, I hope you will share your memory with me and with the other people who read this post.
And whether you were alive then or not, I hope you’ll carry this story forward with you, as a reminder that God has the power to subdue the chaos both within and without, and from the nothing you may be experiencing now, create something wonderful.
Listen here to the broadcast: Apollo 8 Reading.