Exodus 31:1-11 & John 1:1-5


I wonder what you think, how you react, when someone starts talking about creativity or being creative. Maybe your mind immediately jumps to paints or fabric or wood, and what you could do with them. Maybe the phrase “creative accounting” springs to mind. Perhaps you shut down completely, believing that you aren’t creative and that it doesn’t apply to you. Perhaps there are feelings of frustration that the church doesn’t seem to have space for you to express your creativity.

This morning we are continuing our exploration of one of our church’s values – Exploring, and particularly the place of creativity within that. I hope to unpick some of our reactions, positive and negative to the idea of creativity, and to see if we can find a way forward together.

The first thing I want to say is that I believe that the urge and desire to create is universal in humanity. Let me give an example. One of the most common calls from a child is, “come and see what I made”. Whether it’s lego, stickle bricks, mud in the garden, bits of stick and string, from a very young age children want to make things, to create, and to share their creations with others.

Fridges up and down the country are decorated with paintings created by the children of the house. We have an inbuilt desire to make a mark – to create something that wasn’t there before.

This shouldn’t surprise us. In the first book of the Bible, in the first account of creation in Genesis 1:27, we read “So God created human beings in his own image”. We all, as human beings, bear the stamp of God’s image. And what is God like? Well, what does the beginning of the sentence say? “So God created…” This theme is repeated in our reading from John’s account of the good news of Jesus, “Through him all things were made.” God is creative, and we are made in God’s image, so we are a creative kind. It is fundamental to our humanity.

Over and above this baseline creativity that I believe is in all of us, some of us are given specific gifts of creativity in different areas of life. In the reading we had from Exodus, the account of the people of God’s escape from captivity in Egypt, we heard about some of these gifts. In one of the first mentions of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, in the Bible, I wonder what you’d expect to find? Would you have expected to read about skill in metal working, jewellery, wood carving and other crafts?
These are gifts of God, of the Holy Spirit, given to enable and encourage the worship of the people of God. Just like the gifts that we read about in the New Testament – prophecy, words of knowledge, healing, tongues, teaching and others -which are also given to build up the people of God for the purposes of God. I wonder if sometimes in the church we have not seen these artistic, creative, gifts of the Holy Spirit as as important as the ones that are more “spiritual”? As we read on in the Bible we come to accounts of those who are given creative gifts in music, and the whole Bible is a demonstration of the creative gifts of story telling and writing.

So, if these two basic things are true – we are all created in God’s image and therefore we are all creative, and that some of us have specific gifts of creativity in particular areas, what more is there to say? Well. It seems to me that not all of us believe that we are creative, and that not all of us are given the space we need to express our creativity. Why might this be, and what can we do about it, if we are to live in the reality of who God has created us to be?

The sad truth is that some of us have had the creativity discouraged out of us. We were told one too many times as a youngster that our painting was rubbish, that we were too messy, that we were tone deaf.

The writer Adrian Plass writes about graffiti on the heart. Things that were said to us when we were young that have stayed with us, and it feels like no amount of scrubbing will get them off. This can leave us with a fear of what other people think, a fear of failure, a belief that what we do isn’t good enough. Sometimes we look at those we believe are more gifted than us, and are intimidated by what they produce, and are discouraged in our own attempts. As always, comparison is the thief of joy.

So, what can we do about this? We can tell God how we feel about it, and we can ask God to heal us and to scrub away that graffiti. We might want to share this with a trusted friend and ask them to pray with us. It is likely to take some time, especially if the graffiti has been there a while. It might help to focus on what God thinks about our creativity, and the product of it.

There is a recurrent theme in the Bible that is summarised by a phrase in James’ letter, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’” I believe that one of the outworkings of this principle is that God is more delighted in us expressing our creativity as an expression of worship and of our God image bearing nature, even if the output is, objectively, not great art, than God is in the most accomplished musical composition or sculpture created with pride and self-regard. God always looks at the heart.

As a community we can encourage each other. Where we see signs of creativity we can make the choice to build up rather than tear down. We can commend and praise. We can put some of our other values into practice – loving each other and celebrating – when we see creativity at work. Now, it is true that there are times when we might have to say to someone, actually I’m not sure that this is something you’re particularly gifted in, and you might want to explore other things. We are not called to deceive each other, but we are called to speak truth in love. And if there is something positive we can find to say then we should make the effort to do so.

We can also, as a community, create spaces for creativity. It seems to me that this connects with what Nick was saying last week about risk taking. Creating spaces for creativity can feel risky. To say to the musicians, we’d like you to write some songs that we can use in our services – we’d like to partner with you in discerning the shape our musical worship takes, and we’re willing to learn what you write. To say to the artists, we’d like you to paint and sculpt and collage in our worship, to decorate our worship spaces to enhance our worship. We’ll take the risk of some mess and untidiness. To say to our craftspeople, feel free to bring your crafts into worship. I have a friend, who I got to know at theological college, who used to bring her embroidery to chapel and would stitch as she prayed – each stitch a prayer and each prayer a stitch. Some of our knitters and crocheters have made prayer shawls for people who aren’t well, praying for them as they did. I wonder if they could do that during our services, so that we’ll be praying as they’re stitching?

Of course, at the moment, we’re not meeting together physically for our services. So, actually these risks are less at the moment. So, I invite you to make an experiment. If you already have something that you do that feels creative for you, why not do it whilst you’re taking part in an online service. Not to distract you, but to bring that aspect of your life into the worship space and see what it means to offer it to God as part of your worship, prayer, and learning. If you don’t feel that you are creative, perhaps just do something really simple. Maybe get some paper and some coloured pencils and doodle as you take part in an online service. Don’t worry about the “quality” of what you do. Just make some marks and see what happens. Maybe have a pen and paper and note down impressions and feelings, and see if they will weave together into some kind of reflection or poem.

Of course our worship and discipleship is much more than what we do on a Sunday morning. So the flip side of this is to choose to be conscious of God’s presence in our creative space. That might be at work, in the garden, in the shed, at the sewing machine, at the computer, in the kitchen. Where ever it is, whenever you’re making, take a breath or two, be aware of God’s presence, and offer what you’re doing to God.

God is a creative God, who created us to be creative. Let’s be open to exploring what that means for us each as individuals and as a community, and let’s live in the freedom that Jesus won for us, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

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