Friday, September 18, 2015

“Created for Community” - September 13, 2015

Text: Genesis 2:4b-25

It is good to see you here this morning!  I was kind of worried that nobody would show up.  Last week, we covered the entire Bible in 18 minutes, hitting all of the highlights that you could fit into one sermon.  But since we covered the whole thing last week, I was afraid that those of you who were here last Sunday might not see a need to come back for awhile.  So, I’m glad you are here!

This fall, we will look at key, formative Old Testament stories.  We begin this morning with creation.  Might as well begin at the beginning, right?  Like the song says, it’s a very good place to start.  Our text today is the second creation story.  In the first creation account, in Genesis 1, God creates the world in seven days.  God says, “Let there be light!” and there is light.  God creates a portion of creation on each day and finally creates human beings.  God declares that creation is good, indeed it is very good.  And then on the seventh day, God rested.

Our scripture today is quite different.  I know that for some people, it is a revelation to hear that there are two different stories of creation - but there it is.  The first chapter of Genesis gives us this broad, big picture view of the heavens and the earth, but the second chapter of Genesis zooms in and describes creation in a very personal way.  If you want to think of it in terms of a football broadcast, Genesis 1 is the view from the Goodyear blimp, where you can see the stadium and parking lot and the formation of the marching band at halftime.  Genesis 2 is more of a zoom-in shot as the football crosses the plane of the goal line.  (If ISU had won, I was going to say Genesis 2 was like a slo-mo instant replay of Quentin Brundage scoring a touchdown, but since we didn’t win I’m not going to say that.)

These two accounts are obviously different.  Humans are created last in the first chapter of Genesis.  In the second creation narrative, the human is created first, before all the other animals.  God is distant and above it all in the first creation story, but here God is very hands-on and right in the middle of it all.  God is described in anthropomorphic terms, playing in the mud, walking in the garden and even doing a little surgery.

These two accounts come from two different traditions.  The language used is different; the Hebrew word for God in chapter 1 is Elohim throughout and in chapter 2 it is Yahweh.  Scholars believe that the second creation story is from an older tradition, but both were passed on orally for generations before being written down in what we know as the Book of Genesis.

So they are different, and both are helpful and important.  I think it is a good thing that we have two different creation accounts.  They speak to us in different ways, they remind us that there are multiple voices in scripture, and together they reinforce the fact that this is not about science.  Taking the Genesis story as a scientific account is a fairly recent idea.  Those who would like the Biblical account of creation to be taught as science are not taking the Bible seriously enough, or maybe they haven’t actually read the Bible.  Now, this doesn’t mean that these stories are not true.  Different as they are, these stories are absolutely the truth.  The Biblical accounts of creation tell us the deepest truths: the truth about God and the truth about the world and the truth about ourselves.

As far as the story itself: God stoops down and creates a human from the earth, from the ground.  God gets out the Play-Doh as it were and creates a human being.  What happens is a play on words in Hebrew.  God took the adamah (or the dust of the ground) and from it made adam.  The word here means human or more literally, earth-creature – creature made from the earth.  We actually have this same thing going on in English, with human having the same root as humus – a human is a creature of the soil, or of the earth.

God places this human, the adam, in a garden, the garden of Eden, with a responsibility to till and keep it.  The garden is filled with beautiful trees and all kinds of fruit.  The human may eat from any of the trees of the garden, save for one. 

In discussing the structure of good writing, Anton Chekhov famously said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.”  The forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the rifle, and it goes off in the next chapter, but we will save that part of the story for another time.

God said, it is not good for the human to be alone.  In Genesis chapter 1, everything is good.  The light and the darkness, the heavens and the earth, the trees and the plants, the birds and the animals.  God keeps saying, “It is good.”  But now, for the first time, God says, “It is not good.  It is not good that the human should be alone.  I will make a helper, a partner.”

It is easy to read this and to think of a helper as an assistant, a subordinate, like Santa’s Little Helper or a Mother’s Helper or maybe Hamburger Helper.  But that’s not the case.  The Hebrew word is ezer, and it is used most often in reference to God.  For example, in Psalm 54 we read, “Surely, God is my helper.”  Or in Psalm 30: “Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!  O Lord, be my helper!” 

In the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” we sing this obscure phrase, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.”  It comes from 1 Samuel 7, where Samuel raises a monument to God, who has helped Israel.  Ebenezer literally is a “stone of help.”  This is all to say, the word in no way implies inferiority, and this is important, because in the history of interpretation of Genesis 2, there are those who used this story to argue for male superiority – to say that men are supposed to be in charge.

In search of a helper and partner, God makes out of the earth all of the animals, and whatever the human called the animals, that was its name.  We heard Bob Dylan reflecting a bit on what that was like in a kind of playful way.  But none of the animals was quite right for the human.  The human creature is still alone.  (John, I suspect that the Bernese Mountain Dog came close to being a suitable helper and partner, but not quite.)
So God gets creative – well, God had been nothing but creative, but God gets even more creative, and takes a rib from the human.  And from that rib, God makes the woman, presumably building the rib up using the same ground God had used to make all of the other creatures.  And the man said, “This at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”  Which in todays’ language would be, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

The text continues, ”Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  Family becomes part of the human community, although it does not go so well for this first family.     

As scholar Phyllis Trible points out, at this point, when the humans are called man and woman, there are different words used, ish and ishah, man and woman, and it is the first time the humans are referred to by gender.  The chapter ends with this interesting comment that the man and the woman were naked and not ashamed.

There is a great deal to be found in this passage, but I think the overriding theme is connections -- community.  We are created for community.

We are created for community with God.  The care and love that God has for humanity is so evident.  God stoops down and painstakingly creates from the earth and then breathes life into the human.  We are dependent on God for our very breath.  Each time we breathe in and out, we can remember that we are created by God.  God provides a wonderful garden.  And when we read on in chapter 3, God would stroll through the garden at the time of the evening breeze.  The connection between God and God’s creatures is very close and personal and intimate.  This is not a faraway God but a God as close as our breath.

We are also created to live in community with the earth, with nature, with God’s creation.  I love the way that the rivers are described.  God is concerned about every detail, and you can just imagine the golden, shining land of Havilah, with the Pishon flowing all around it.  We are to live in community with the earth and all its creatures, and in fact, that is the vocation that the human is given: to till and keep the garden.  To care for and further God’s creation. 

We don’t always do that very well, of course, but living in community with the earth means that there is a mutual relationship -  as we take care of the earth, the earth takes care of us.  On the other hand, when the earth is suffering, we too will suffer.  This is unfortunately something that we see and experience as we live with the consequences of clear-cutting forests, polluting waterways, dumping pollutants into the atmosphere, and exhausting natural resources.  When we do not care for the earth, the earth cannot care for us and we suffer from acid rain, ozone depletion, melting ocean ice, groundwater depletion and water shortages and global climate change. 

Theologically speaking, it is not that we are to care for the earth for what we can get out of it, though that is certainly a massive benefit.  But we are to care for the earth and all of creation because that is what God has called us to do.

And then we were created to live in community with one another.  God said, “It is not good for the human to be alone.”  It is not good for any of us to be alone.  And I’m not just talking about finding a spouse or significant other, important as that may be.  Life in general is not meant to be lived alone.  And so we have families and friendships and we live in communities.  This is one reason we have the church.  We can all try to follow Jesus individually, but it works a lot better when we gather together, when we support and encourage and challenge and teach one another.   We are meant to live in community.

Part of what it means to live in community is this matter of names.  Names are important.  In our scripture, the rivers have names, the animals have names, and the man and woman have names as well – adam, which means human or man in a general sense, becomes the man’s name, which we call Adam, and the woman is named Eve in chapter 3.

I think it is important that we have this detail about the human naming the animals.  By doing that, the human was involved in creation with God, and because God created and cares about every creature, so should we.  But even more than that, when we know a name, we are more attuned to reality, more in touch with the world around us.

You can talk about a random tree, or you can talk about the maple out by the street or the ash in the back yard.  It is different.  In Yellowstone this summer, we saw some pronghorn just up the hill.  Pronghorn are native to North America and have no close relatives anywhere in the world.  They are the second-fastest land animal, second only to the cheetah.  It was cool to see them and to know they were pronghorn.  It meant more than if we had just seen some sort of critter with horns sticking out of its head.

Names are important.  You can call an animal a dog, but it means more to call it a poodle or dachshund, and even more to call him Fritz.

Names are important to relationships, important to human community.  There is a reason we have name tags.  It makes it easier to learn each other’s names, but the reason it is important to know one another’s names is that being known as a unique person is important.  Being known is part of being in community.

If you are like me, you have had the experience of meeting someone a couple of times and then seeing them again and not being able to come up with their name.  It is awkward, and you don’t feel like you can ask because you feel like you probably should remember it.  You might recall where they live, where they work, what their major is, but there is something powerful about knowing each other’s names.

At the end of the chapter, we read that the man and woman were naked and not ashamed.  There is more to it, of course, but part of what this means is that they are not hiding anything and are known to one another and to God at a deep level.

We are to live in community with God, with nature, and with one another.  And these are all connected.  In rising ocean levels and disappearing bees and sick children and senseless violence all over the world, in hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn lands, we see plainly that there’s no separation between human beings and nature, between men and women, between this nation and that nation, between this continent and that island, between our generation and those to follow.  We are all in this together.

More than ever, we need to till and keep the garden, to live in relationship with one another and all creation, to live life connected to our Creator.  May it be so.  Amen.

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