Beginning to Take Shape

Sermon Preached on September 15, 2019 – Creation I
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Genesis 2:4b- 9, 15-17
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Genesis 2:18-25
Gospel: Luke 15:1-10 (assigned for this Sunday)

Beginning to Take Shape

This morning we begin at the beginning of everything, as our readings from Genesis bring us the second story of Creation. And in our Gospel text we hear two of the short parables about searching for what is lost – as Jesus uses everyday scenarios to help people understand the nature of God. The lost and found parables are always about the finder, the one who searches and finds the coin, the sheep… which is precious and important to them. What will the finder do, how far are they willing to go, in order to reclaim what is lost? And in each case, upon discovering the lost one, the finder responds, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the one that I had lost.’ Jesus paints an image of a God who searches and finds, who rejoices when reunited with those who are lost. This is the God we meet in Genesis 2 – the ‘Lord God’ of our story this morning. Not a God who is aloof and far off, effortlessly speaking all things into being. But a God who is up close and interactive. This is a God whom we can picture, as God forms from clay, interacts and responds with Creation, and walks about the Garden. This is a God with whom we can be in relationship – this story of Creation is more about the nature of God, and the nature of our relationship with God and with one another, than it is about how things came to be.

God forms the human (adam) from the land or clay (adamah).¹ God gets God’s hands dirty, and pinches and pulls, shapes and molds a being into form. The Lord God as Potter. And then God breathes into this clay shape, giving it life. From God’s own life to this newly created being. God is up close and hands on, God is personally involved from the very beginning. God then plants the Garden of Eden for the human, the Lord God as Gardener. And then God causes the tree of life to come from the ground and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – (more on that next week!).

In this creation story God is responding to things as they happen, rather than following a carefully scripted plan. Here, God is acting and reacting to and with the creation God is making. So rather than seeing all the things that God had made and declaring them ‘good,’ in this story the opposite happens. God sees the human in the garden and realizes that it is not good.² It is not good for a human to be alone. So God addresses this need, creating animals of every kind, and God allows adam, the human, to name them. The act of naming in the ancient world is a means of defining and shaping the character and essence of the one named. Aardvark, elephant, meerkat, mouse: by naming them adam is participating in God’s creation. Human as co-creator. And while this parade of newly crafted creatures was surely wondrous to behold, none were adam’s soul mate, none resolves the ache and void of human loneliness. God sees that it’s still not quite right. So God sets out to do something different. This attempt to find a helper as partner will not involve man as co-creator, this time it will be all God’s doing. This will be a gift from God alone.

God puts the human into a deep sleep (God as anesthetist?) God removes the rib from the man’s side and lovingly shapes the rib into a second human being, who is like the man but also opposite him. God as surgeon. And the man awakens and speaks for the first time in Scripture, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman [Hebrew ishshah] for out of Man [Hebrewish] this one was taken.”³ It gets pretty complicated soon thereafter, which we’ll hear about next week. But this portion of our story offers us several core truths, among them: God wants to be in relationship with humankind, actively, responsively, and from the beginning we were created to be in community.

This is a very different account of the first beings and creation than the story of Genesis 1. This is more interactive and more tangible. God acting: as potter, and gardener and surgeon – which is not at all the same as a God who speaks all things into being from afar.

Yet this story sits side by side with the first creation story. Our ancestors in the faith who collected these stories included these two very different accounts of Creation in the Hebrew scriptures. They weren’t concerned about causing confusion because they knew then what we, post scientific revolution people, may have forgotten. Fact and truth are not the same thing.⁴ Fact is something that can be tested and proven. The cat is on the mat. Either it is or it isn’t. Fact. But truth is more difficult and can’t always be proven. How can I prove my lover loves me? I can’t, but I believe it to be true, and I build my life around the truths of relationship, most of which I cannot prove.

The stories of Genesis contain truths about our creation – not scientific fact about the way the earth came about. So these two stories can sit side by side, complementing each other without our worrying about contradictions.

There are gifts of truth in these stories, if we are willing to receive them. God’s original intention and desire is for humans to find in at least one other person a bond of love that runs so deeply⁵ that we never feel alone. Because it’s not good for us to be alone, we were meant to be connected to one another, to be bound by relationship into community.

Those truths are underscored by the way these stories themselves came together.⁶ These two accounts of creation were crafted in different times and different places. The second creation story, that of Adam and Eve, is ancient, part of one of the most ancient texts we have – it is believed to have been written in Judah in the tenth century BCE. It’s written in the style of the folklore of its time, primarily addressing our relationship with God and one another.

The first creation story in our Bible, in which God speaks creation into being, originated from an independently crafted set of texts written in the northern kingdom of Israel in the ninth century BCE. It’s a poetic, carefully constructed literary design, more abstract, and reflects the cosmology of the 9th century BCE.

(Keep in mind, when we talk about time Before the Common Era, we are counting down, so the 10 century is older than the 9th.) These two texts were combined in the middle of the eighth century BCE, when the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians and the refugees flooded Judah, bringing their very different texts with them.

Here our texts share another profound truth. Our scriptures as we have now them were shaped and formed in the midst of this history of violence and exile. It’s part of who we are, deep in the programming of our souls – we are a people of conflict, displacement and exile. From this self-awareness we reclaim compassion, empathy, and concern for the well-being of all who have been displaced by violence and find themselves in exile. It seems appropriate that we recognize in their experience our own, and we respond as the finder might – searching out those who are lost and rejoicing when we are reunited with them. As the Creator has modeled for us, we provide shelter, food, care, sanctuary and
community. In doing so we honor our God and walk in God’s ways. We can’t make excuses about it somehow being more complicated now, because it’s always been complicated.

Our search for ways to be responsive and compassionate begins with awareness and prayer. We pray for all those who suffer: For those who are victims of climate change: those whose lands are barren dust from years of drought, those who are in desperate need of clean drinking water. For those who are being overtaken by water, whose islands are flooding. For those suffering from the extremes of weather caused by changing temperature; for all communities plagued by disease as these conditions worsen; and for those who suffer from violence and conflict as they are caught in the battle for resources and power.

We pray for those who make decisions and those who implement them. That the truths articulated in the creation of these ancient texts whisper from the deep past and remind us of what it means to be human and connected to one another from our very beginning.

We were created to be in community, to live together in a place of sanctuary and plenty – for us and for all of God’s creatures; we are meant to live in harmony and community, reflecting the very nature of God’s Self.

A prayer⁷: Creator of the fruitful earth, you formed us with your very hands, to nurture and care for the earth and creatures of your making. Give us grateful hearts for all your goodness, and steadfast wills to heal your Creation, that the whole human family, today and in generations to come, may live in peace and harmony, giving thanks for your abundant gifts, and rejoicing with you in the restoration of Creation, Amen.

1 Commentary on Genesis 2:18-24, by Dennis Olson, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ.
2 Commentary on Genesis 2:18-24, by Dennis Olson, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ.
3 Commentary on Genesis 2:18-24, by Dennis Olson, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ.
4 This discussion and the examples come from my course in Christian Ethics, taught by Joseph Monty, The University of the South: Sewanee, School of Theology, Fall 2001.
5 Commentary on Genesis 2:18-24, by Dennis Olson, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ.
6 The discussion of the origins of the material are drawn from the Chapters on Genesis in The Old Testament; a Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, by Michael D. Coogan. Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.
7 Prayer was heavily adapted from Prayers for the Environment Anglican Church of Canada, Occasional Celebrations of the Anglican Church of Canada.