Scripture can be found here...
I can’t help feeling that we are at the beginning of a great adventure!
I know, I know. An adventure only a bible nerd would love, right?
But… I really believe this is an adventure, and one for all of us. We are opening our bibles, as we do every Sunday morning, with the expectation that God will speak a word to us. And because it is the beginning of our program year here at UPC, and because we are beginning another cycle of the Narrative Lectionary, we are opening our bibles to the beginning of the story that has been passed down to us for thousands of years.
This is our story. This is the story of God, and God’s relationship with people. From the beginning. (Almost.) And this story is important. It’s important if you are, say, a high school student who’s being asked to read great English literature, because everyone from Shakespeare to Steinbeck has tried to explain what it is to be human by dipping into this deep well of memory and history and poetry. It’s important if you are interested in what’s going on in the world, because some of the rivalries and family feuds found in this book are still playing themselves out 5000 years later. It’s important if you are interested in things like why families and coworkers drive each other crazy, because the dynamics described in the relationships in this book are timeless. People have been people for a long, long time.
And, of course, if you are here on a Sunday morning in September, this story is important because it is the foundational story of our faith. This is our story. And whether you believe in a creation that happened in seven days, or that something like the Big Bang set things rolling, you are here because you have a conviction or a hunch that some greater being, higher power, ultimate authority was behind it all. That’s why I’m here, too.
We are starting almost at the beginning… The great seven-day liturgy of creation is described in chapter 1, and we come in on chapter 2. Here, we zoom in for a close-up of God creating the human beings.
What shall we say about a Creator who makes mud pies? That God was feeling playful? That God was an artist, working with clay, striving to make perfect a dream God had about the human? One thing we can say for sure is that God gets close—intimate—with this creature, molded by the very hands of God. Did God have hands? God does not stay at a remove. God is in the mud, in the mess… and then, oh most holy and magical moment, almost unimaginable, God blows into this creature the breath of life. God shares God’s own life with us. At the beginning of the story of God and people, we learn that God is connected with us. Intimately connected.
Someone once noticed that in chapter 1 of Genesis we find out that human beings are physical. In chapter 2 we find out that they are social….[i] Can you guess what chapter 3 will tell us? A very large clue appears in the text.
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.” ~Genesis 2:16-17
Once upon a time, Anton Chekhov was talking about good writing, and he 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 tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the proverbial “rifle.” It “goes off” in chapter 3, when the humans struggle with what it means to be ethical.[ii]
One of the most poignant sentences in scripture must be, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’” God, who created the human, and breathed the breath of life into him, is already connected to the human. Of course God recognizes the human’s need for connection, too.
And then we have a part of the story that would have the ancient people rolling around laughing by the campfire the first time they heard it. God goes about trying to make the human just the right partner. I want to point out, without being too hard on the Creator, that it takes God a little time to get it right. And I want to point out that there are plenty of people who think that God wasn’t entirely wrong in the first attempts… that sometimes, a wonderful canine or feline companion really can be your best friend. God keeps going away, playing in the mud, and coming back to the human and saying, “How about this?” as a little sparrow flaps about in the divine hand, or a cow sways nearby patiently, chewing. And the human shakes his head. No. Not that one.
It takes God a while. But eventually God decides to try a more invasive procedure, sends the human off for a nap, and removes his rib, to be fashioned into just the right partner, helper, and companion. And… it seems to me, God is successful because it occurred to God that what was needed was another human, in this case a woman. I know this passage is often put forth as an argument against same-sex relationships, but I would like to offer this: A seminary professor once told her class that this passage doesn’t really address that issue, because what would we need to have in this passage? That’s right. Another man. Or another woman.[iii]
The right companion, helper, and partner for a human is another human. And the recognition is instant: the one we will call “Adam” exclaims in wonder, “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!” Finally, after a lot of swings and misses, God has hit a home run. This time the human, whom God gives the dignity to accept or refuse, says, “Yes.”
That does not mean the two humans are in for a smooth ride. They will obtain knowledge of good and evil, and it will mean a kind of death… but not in this chapter. Here, and now, they live in Eden. There is no fear or shame in them, only innocence and joy and that connection that God so wisely devised.
God created us for connection, and just because this story highlights what we see as a marriage, let’s not forget: that’s not the only kind. There are friendships, and partnerships, and parents and children and extended families. There are co-workers, and mentor relationships, and doctor-patient relationships. There are people with whom we come together on a Sunday morning to share our story, and the story of what it means to be God’s people. God breathed the breath of life into us, creating us for all these connections. Our Big Adventure is just beginning. Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Mike Bull, answering the question, “Is Breath of Life the same as Spirit?” Biblical Hermeneutics, http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2739/is-breath-of-life-in-genesis-27-is-the-same-as-spirit.
[iii] Phyllis Trible, Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Bible, Union Theological Seminary, At “Union Days,” October 2009.