Form & Fulfillment

“Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Psalm 107.8-9

Today, we’ll be looking at Genesis 1.1-28 so that we can get a sense of the overall structure of the chapter and how that structure provides a trajectory for the rest of the Biblical narrative. I’ve included Psalm 107 in the liturgy because verses eight and nine proclaim one of the fundamental realities of being human and the spirit of today’s sermon. We are empty vessels in desperate need of God to fill us.

Auguste’s birth brought about many epiphanies, but one in particular was the realization of my ability to change. It was amazing to me to suddenly have time to change diapers, get up three and four times a night, fix a de-humidifier, and wash poop off my hand. Presumably I had the time to do these things before Auguste was born, but I didn’t. I had other things that were taking up my time, and I’m sure if I were asked I would have told people I was busy. So from where did this time magically appear?

I was struck by the process of change. In particular I learned the importance of people if there was to be any real change. More than will power or fortitude, I needed another person. It’s possible that I have made a conscious decision to change something about myself, but I can’t recall many of those decisions that weren’t a direct result of the introduction of someone or something else “taking up space” in my life.

Genesis one gives an indication as to why this might be the case. Look with me at verses one through 28. Notice the correspondence between days one through three and days four through six. Day one God creates light and darkness. Day four he creates the greater light, the lesser light and the stars to fill the light and darkness. On day two God creates the seas and the sky. On day five, he fills the sky and sea with birds and sea creatures. On day three God creates the land, and on day six, God fills the land with beasts and humans. Notice the theme of form and filling. God creates a place and then populates that place. In fact, we see in verses 22 and 28 God blessing his creation and saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill.” This theme is carried throughout Scripture. Again, he blesses Noah in chapter nine of Genesis saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill.” Also, with Abraham he establishes a covenant in which he promises land and people to inhabit that land. God does not leave his creation empty.

Then, in day six, there’s a bit of a departure from the pattern of chapter one. Not only does God create the beasts and humans to inhabit the land, he also creates humans in his own image. That humans are made in God’s image means a variety of things, and one we will focus on today is that fundamentally humans are made for God. That is, just as the sky is to be filled by the birds, so too are humans to be filled by God. God has left his impression upon us. Therefore, we will not experience our purpose or any sense of fulfillment absent of God.

Of course, herein lies our problem. Humans, even the first ones, have a knack for filling themselves with everything but God. That habit is at the root of the first sin. Adam and Eve reached for the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather than being filled with God himself, they preferred to be filled with all knowledge – to be like God. Moreover, the problem is that when humans fill themselves with things other than God they die, we are riddled with anxiety, depression, anger, gluttony, lust, etc. Without God, we literally revert back to darkness and become void. Yet, now instead of the void in the first verses of Genesis that rested in submission to God patiently waiting for God to reveal what it would be, this void lives in rebellion. Patience is replaced with impatience, trust with anxiety, life with death.

Now, having been separated from God, the source of our life, we largely reach for things that reassure us that we are going to be ok, that we are going to survive. We look for approval by way of a job offer, good grades, or romantic relationships.

My friend, Justin, is a Phd candidate. He recently had a conversation with a fellow student, who articulated the tyranny of looking to something other than God to fill our lives. Initially, he said, all he wanted was a GRE score good enough to get into a grad program. Once that happened, he wanted to get into a school with a good reputation. Once he got into a good school he began comparing himself to his peers. He wanted their approval and the approval of his advisor. Then, he wanted to get published. And so on, and so on it went. The target always eluded him. At the moment he thought he’d arrived he was immediately aware of a new goal. There was always something more he could achieve, someone else’s approval he could strive for.

I think what he was experiencing was the emptiness we feel when we try and fill our lives with something other than God. We never have that sense of arrival and completion because we are filling our lives with something that will never satisfy. If there’s a silver lining, perhaps a constant life of striving will ultimately convince us that things on earth will never give us what we need.

Why do we look for these things to fulfill us? We’ve forgotten God. Turned away from him, he’s “out of sight out of mind. “ We now live in a world that reinforces that, too. We are constantly filled with messages from our world to get what we can now in order to survive. I’m reminded of a friend from my youth group, Sarah. Sarah was easily one of the most committed people to the group. She showed up to everything. She was the first one to show up and the last one to leave. We knew that Sarah had a tough time at home, so our youth group became a real place of solace for her.

Sarah and I kept in touch for a while after I graduated and went to college. I’ll never forget a conversation we had my junior year. We were talking very casually when she mentioned in passing, “Everyone called me ‘boo boo’.” “Wait a second,” I said, “no one called you ‘boo boo’. At least none of us in the youth group knew about that.” “That was my parents’ nickname for me. They’ve always called me that. I was a mistake.”

The conversation took a very serious turn suddenly. For her entire life, Sarah lived with the idea that she was a mistake. Her self-image never even got a chance to be shattered. It was destroyed from the moment she was conceived. She had been filled from the moment she was born with the idea that she wasn’t wanted. Of course, it read all over her – the low self-esteem, the reluctance to go home, the depression.

We live in a world that does not know its Creator, and separated from its Creator the world doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie. I quickly told Sarah that it was a lie. The truth is, we all are in desperate need of a word of truth. We need to be reacquainted with our Creator, the one who has the authority to speak about “the beginning” including each of our beginnings.

How are we reacquainted with God? How are we filled by him instead? Given the previous story this may sound absurd, but God still uses people. Just as my son, Auguste, caused me to change for the better it is possible for people to be in our lives in such a way that we change for the better. My son is 20-months-old. It took 17 of those months before I finally came to grips with the fact that if I was planning on getting any time to pray, write and read Scripture, I was going to have to wake up at the crack of dawn. One day, our house mate, Austin, mentioned he wanted to pray. “Perfect!” I said, “So have I.” He and I among a few others have been getting up consistently for prayer for three months now. I sincerely wanted to get up long before that moment, but that just shows you how far sincerity will get you. I needed another person to remind me of what I need and help me make the necessary changes to receive it.

That’s who the church is. The church is the gathering of those who’ve been made aware of their need for God. We weren’t made aware because of any talent or strength we brought to the table. We were made aware by God’s grace. Now, we gather each week not because we find the people in this particular community attractive or close-knit, but because together we can remind each other of our need for God. We commit to one another to approach God for mercy each week. We confess our tendencies to look for fulfillment in seemingly everything else but God. Finally, we gather at the table to be fed by God, the body of his Son, Jesus Christ. There we say with the psalmist, “The hungry soul he fills with good things.”

Yet, not only are we to be filled with God together, but having been filled by him we are to fill the world with Christ. In fact, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to say we are the body of Christ. Having been fed by Christ we leave worship to be Christ to the world. In other words, the blessing to be “fruitful and multiply and fill” still applies. However, where that once was a biological issue, it is now a conversion issue. God’s progeny has filled the entire earth. Christ, the one who “fills all in all,” has fulfilled God’s blessing given “in the beginning.” We are here to testify to Christ who has filled his world. Hopefully, people will “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and having tasted will lose their appetite for all other things beside.

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