In the Beginning, God


St. Mary’s Episcopal School

The Reverend Sandy Webb

January 30, 2023


I’d like to begin this morning with a quotation from a colleague years ago: “The first four words of the Bible are the most important. Everything else is variation on a theme.”

The first four words of the Bible are the most important: “In the beginning, God.”

Those four words set the stage for everything that follows. God existed before us. God is bigger than we are. God is the initiator of the universe. And, we are not.

Think about how the world began: God looked over a formless void and said, “Let there be light.” God spoke light into being. And, as the days went along, God spoke life into being too. These first acts of creation were entirely selfless — there was nothing that God lacked, nothing that God needed, yet God created us anyway. God created us just so that he would have someone to love. As a parishioner at this church once said, even God can’t love alone.

The gift of life is a tremendous act of love. Perhaps, then, it should be no surprise to us that the First Letter of John says this: “God is love.”

We cannot get a full picture of the creation narrative unless we look at both of the creation stories — the epic and powerful days that are described in Genesis 1, and the intimate garden that is portrayed in Genesis 2.

Look at how God loved his people: He placed them in a garden. He placed them on the banks of the river of life, and he shaded them with the tree of life. There was no death in that garden. There was no shame. Everything was just as God intended for it to be — God lived with his people, they lived with him, and love burst out on every side.

Any time that we experience a world that is not defined by light and life, by life which is love, we experience something less than what God intended for us. There are a few examples of that in the Bible too: In truth, most of the rest of the Bible is an example of how life can fall short of the standard of love that God gave us in creation.

God never gives up, though: All of those stories of the world falling short are also stories of God pursuing the people that he loves. The patriarchs were God’s first attempt to bring us back to a place of light and life. Then the judges, then the prophets, then the kings. Then, as Christians hold, the gift of God’s own son — the gift of Jesus Christ, which was an even more selfless act than creation itself.

Every time that life separates itself from love, God responds by loving us even more. And, if we turn to the very last page of the Bible, we hear a promise that God will win in the end.

In Revelation, St. John the Divine looks up to heaven and sees a vision of the end times: After a vision of warfare and violence that spans twenty chapters, John sees a New Jerusalem descend from the sky.

How is that New Jerusalem described? Well, God is there. And, we are there. Death is not there, because it has been abolished. Mourning, crying, and pain are all gone too. The tree of life is there, and river of life too. Because, God’s great promise is that he will bring us back to the same place that he always wanted for us to be — a garden filled with life, fed by light, and defined by love.

Remember where we began: “In the beginning, God.” And, if I may add just a bit: In the end, God too. The responsibility for redeeming the world lies with the one who created it. "I am the alpha and the omega," God says from his throne in the New Jerusalem, "the beginning and the end."

When light seems dim, and when life seems fleeting, and when love seems scarce, we can put our trust in the God who is defined by all three — the God who is light shining in the darkness, the God who created human life and then took it on himself, the God who is the very definition of love.


Image by Spencer Wing from Pixabay

Posted by Sarah Cowan at Feb 27, 2023