In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. --Genesis 2:4b-25 (NRSV)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here we go again! One more time we begin at the beginning.
It’s the pattern of our Narrative Lectionary readings - we begin each fall at the beginning of scripture. In the Hebrew scriptures. With a creation - and sometimes a re-creation - story.
Last year, we started the year with the story of Noah. And that great ark full of animals escaping the flood. A story of God’s re-creation of a world that had become almost entirely evil. And a story with a promise, sealed with a rainbow, that God would never again destroy the earth.
This year we begin in Genesis 2. This is a second creation story. Yet, even though it is the second of the two creation stories, scholars believe that it actually was the first creation story written down. During the time of the reign of David. And that the first story of creation in Genesis is actually the second story. Written down during the time of Israel’s Babylonian exile - a myth that was perhaps needed to help the people make sense - make order - out of the chaos they were experiencing.
That first story gives us the Google Earth version. From high above at the cosmic level, we see God’s hand at work. In a more general way. Separating the waters. Creating the animals and the sea creatures. The plants. And creating humanity. Creating humanity. Today’s story - the second Genesis story, but, again, the first written - is a story from Google Maps Street View. Down on the ground. With much more detail. And much more intimacy.
It’s a place that, unlike the Genesis 1 version, lacks water. A land that is barren. There are no plants and no animals. Because there is no water. And no one to care for the land. At least not yet. The only sign of life is a stream that rises out of the earth and begins to water the fertile land. A living stream that begins to turn the dry, dusty place of no life into one with life.
It’s out of that dust that God forms the first human. Adam in the Hebrew. Not a word that means man or that is the proper name of a man. But a word that means “human.” God forms human - literally, the act of an artist, a descriptive act of the life and work of a potter. There is God in the dirt, making mud, toiling over a potter’s wheel, forming and shaping this first human being. Genderless at this point. Earth creature. We might call this being, “Dusty.” Formed out of the dust of the dry, barren plain.
It is then that God breathes into Dusty the “breath of life.” That unique gift of our holy God that makes a living being out of all of us bits of dusty brokenness. God breathes into this earth creature God’s very own Spirit.
Then, God turns from this human to form a garden in Eden (a word that means “pleasant”). And it is into the midst of this garden where God places this adam. God continues to create, making trees - beautiful trees with fruit for eating. And two trees in particular are noted in our story, created by God. The tree of life. And the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Theologians talk about this second tree, in particular - the tree that will later on cause a problem. A rupture in the relationship between God and human. This tree brings with it an understanding of the “weal and woe” or the deep sadness and great joy that is the human condition. Hearing the story for the first time, we might begin to wonder why there is this special attention on these two trees. How will the trees and Dusty relate to each other? What will Dusty’s role be in this beautiful garden of God?
Our story continues. Soon there are four rivers placed to distribute water to the world. The source of each of these rivers - the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. Rivers that flow into all parts of the civilization. Rivers that have their source in God’s garden. Then, God tells Dusty to “farm” (or to “serve) and to “take care of” (or to “guard”) the garden. If this were a church, Dusty would be the chair of the landscaping committee. Dusty’s role is not simply to guard the garden, but to work it. To make it better. To steward the entire garden. Well, almost the entire garden. Because there is one part that is off limits. Every tree laden with fruit is available to Dusty for food and nourishment. Every tree except for one tree - that tree that, if its fruit is eaten, will open Dusty’s eyes and give a full and complete understanding of the agony and ecstasy that is the human condition. Because eating of this one tree will lead to a certain death. One wonders if that death is a death of innocence.
We already see an interdependence that God has created between the human and creation. A mutuality. A relationship. The human cares for creation. Creation responds by providing sustenance and food. And beauty.
But, God is not done yet. Because God does not want the human to be lonely. Because God has created all of humanity to be in relationship with one another. And so God creates and brings each animal to the human. Searching for the perfect partner for Dusty. One can just imagine the scene. God brings the animal forward. How about this one, Dusty? Look at this duck-billed platypus. Don’t you think it would be a great partner for you? A complementary helper? And the human just shakes the head. “No God, that’s not quite it!” Over and over God brings animal after animal to the human, who is also given the responsibility of naming each animal. That giving of a name that so often is the beginning of a relationship. Yet, each now-named animal, is not quite right.
And so God puts the human to sleep and out of this human creates two humans, two genders. Man. And woman, who is man’s helper. The Hebrew word for helper used here is the same word used throughout the Hebrew scripture to refer to God. So this woman is not a being that is lesser than man, but a partner. In the same way God seeks to be a partner with all of humanity.
This is the end of the second creation story. The family that God has created can now live together in God’s garden. Mutually dependent upon each other and creation. In relationship with one another and all creation. The author concludes the story, saying that both the man and woman are “naked” but not “ashamed.” It’s a clear distinction between this wonderful garden and where we now live. A distinction between life without shame and life with shame.
Because that’s what sin does, isn’t it? Whether our nakedness is physical or psychological, it results in shame. Shame that makes us strike back out of our own feelings of inadequacy. Shame that leads us to hurt one another. To blame each other. To harm our relationships. To break apart our families and our communities. To destroy creation. Shame is at the root of our problem as human beings because we never feel good enough. Never feel adequate enough. In our nakedness we are ashamed.
Yet, this is not God’s desire for us. God’s will for us can be witnessed in Christ. God in human form come to us to bear the weight of our shame so that we might, once again, experience the beauty and wonder of life in God’s garden. Of the wholeness of life in relationship with God. Of life in families of all shapes and sizes. Life here, in this place. Lives of mutuality and interdependence and relationship. Lives of beauty and purpose. Lives in relationship with God, our creator. Who breathes into us God’s own Spirit - and with the holy water restores us into relationship. Relationship that is here and now. And that will continue forever into all eternity.
This is where the story begins again today. Where are you in the story?
Preached September 8, 2019, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Genesis 2:4b-25; Mark 1:16-20.