In The Beginning…(September 8, 2019)
Genesis 2: 4b-25
In the Beginning…
Most times what happens in church is the pastor picks a passage and then will preach on that passage. Usually is not a very long passage, or maybe a couple of passages, but usually no more than 10 to 20 versus; maybe 30 if the story really has a lot. Usually my readings will fit on one page up here. And that’s good for a sense of trying to stay focused and learning a key lesson being taught by the Biblical passage. One of the things that can be lost however is how this passage effects and is affected by other passages. Context is, of course, important; and not just the context of what comes immediately before what comes immediately after such as what question is Jesus answering in this passage or something like that, but also like what happened 100 years ago that maybe God is remembering and wanting to avoid happening again? What is God doing now that is setting something up in the future? We very rarely look at the overarching story of Scripture.
But nothing exist in a vacuum and that includes each and everyone of these biblical stories that we know so well. There is a story that goes into each passage, a story that is involved in each book, and then there is a story of God’s interaction with the world that covers the entirety of the Bible. And so for the next several months what we’re going to do is we’re going to try and experience that story. We’re going to go from beginning to at least Pentecost, maybe all the way to Revelation but it least to Pentecost, over the course of the next several months. In order to do that we’re going to be following something called the narrative lectionary, which is similar to the lectionary that’s on the back of your bullens in the very, very fine print, but this one seeks to put everything in order; beginning in the beginning and ending at the climax of the story of the Bible. And we’re going to be following this. So for the fall we’re going to be focusing mostly on what happens in the Old Testament, in the spring we’re gonna be focusing mostly on what happens in the New Testament. Obviously the New Testament will seep into the fall and the Old Testament will show up in the spring, but for the most part this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to look at what story is the Bible telling. Let’s begin.
All stories have a beginning. And the Bible gets two. This is the second beginning; the second story of creation. The first story of creation is the one that involves the days; “there was morning and evening, and it was all good.” But this is the second story of creation. From a larger biblical perspective it’s worth noting that this is the story that is referenced the most. I don’t think that’s the case currently in modern discussion. I hear a lot more about the first creation story with the six days and the timeline and all of that. But in terms of the Bible, it is often Eden; it is Eve and Adam; it is often the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; including the end when Revelation 21 shows up. It is a new Eden that is being created in that new Jerusalem with the tree of life, and the river flowing from God; it is a new Adam that Paul talks about Jesus being. This is the story that is the creation story for the rest of the biblical authors.
It’s also worth noting that this is the story of the creation of the world. That implies something about what the Bible actually is, and implies something about what God actually is. The Old Testament is the story of God‘s work within the people of Israel for the most part, but if that’s what it was designed to really be then it would begin with the birth of Abraham not the creation of the world. The fact that it begins with the creation of the world tells us the Bible is not the story of God working with the people of Israel, it’s not the story of this chosen few, it is the story of God’s workings and God’s interaction with the world. It tells us that the Bible is not about the chosen few ,and God is not a God of a chosen few, but rather the God of many.
Within the story we see that God takes the ground that was there and God molds from clay this new being called “man.” The word is “adema,” it means “earth.” Because this being, Adam, is named earth as a reminder or descriptor of what it is. It is dust. And as we say in our funerals and in Ash Wednesday, “from dust we come, to dust we will return.” We are reminded that in the story, and Adam is reminded of that by his very name.
Names are important in this story. In the book of Genesis particularly, we’re gonna look heavily at names over the next four weeks as we go through the book of Genesis. Names, I believe, have power. That’s why someone can “look like a Susan,” or a “look like a Charlie.” That doesn’t make sense really. Think about it. All of these different Susans, all of these different Charlies, they all come from different families in different locations, they have different beliefs, and yet there’s a look to it. And I think it’s because when you get called something, and names have meanings, when you get called something routinely, it seeps into you and you begin to act that out. You begin to act “like a Susan.”
Names in the book of Genesis are given to people and to things as descriptors, like Adam being described as dust. They are descriptors. That is similar to how names work today. I mean, who names you? There’s this prevailing thought that you can’t give yourself a nickname. It doesn’t work. If you’ve ever tried doing that, you know it doesn’t work. You can’t give yourself a nickname, people have to name you. Your parents name you at birth. Sometimes your parents also give you a nickname after they know you a little bit longer. Your friends will give you a nickname sometimes (sometimes those nicknames could be said from the pulpit, sometimes they can’t). But you were given names. These names describe you or something about you, maybe something that you did for instance. And guess what: God has given your name as well. And God calls you by that name. Listen to that name for it describes your purpose.
So in this story, names come up most with Adam naming the things that God creates to be a helper to Adam. And a couple things about this. First off, God sees that Adam is lonely, that he doesn’t have a companion, and God declares that is not good. Which is the first time that phrase is used in the Scriptures. Prior to this, every day was seen that it was good (and then it was morning and evening). But here God sees that something is not good, and he goes about trying to fix it. Thus he creates, in the same way he created Adam, a bunch of creatures. And God brings each of these creatures before Adam to describe. Now, the name that God is hoping that Adam names one of them is “companion” or something similar to it. And yet Adam never does. He names them dog, or goat, or sheep, or bird, or chicken, or penguin, or whatever else, but never companion. God gets through all the animals and Adam has not found a helper.
Which is interesting because a lot of those animals help us. Society wouldn’t exist without oxen and horses and dogs. Animals things like that have helped throughout the centuries. So why does Adam not find a helper, if so many animals help us? One reason is that “helper” doesn’t actually mean “one who helps” here. The word here actually gets used to describe God as a helper of humanity several times throughout the Scriptures. So clearly what the word means in the Bible is not synonymous with servant. And that’s important to remember when you realize that when Adam does finally find a helper, it’s a woman. Adam doesn’t find a servant in the woman, Adam finds a companion; someone who is like him and someone who can go on a journey with him.
Ultimately, that’s exactly what happens. God puts the man to sleep, and he grabs a rib, or the side, of him (depends on your translation). And God takes that and God forms man at 2.0, the new and improved version. And God brings it to Adam. And Adam names it “woman,” saying, “this is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” This is a companion for his journey. He names this thing “companion.” Eventually it would be Adam who describes the woman as the mother of all that is living by naming her Eve, which means living.
What we see in the story is that God creates a paradise that is dynamic and God creates a paradise that can surprise God. There is something that is not good about it. All of the creatures that God brings before the man don’t serve the purpose for which they were ultimately created which was to be the companion for the man. This is a paradise, but it is dynamic. And ultimately God grants freedom to the creatures, including the freedom to do things that are not in the will of God, as we see in the next chapter.
And here we see the methodology by which God works in the world, and by which God takes something that is not good and makes it something that is good. He uses the humans. He uses the purpose for which each human is created. This will continue throughout the stories. God doesn’t just take over Pharoah, he uses Moses. God doesn’t just take over the kings and queens of Israel, God uses prophets throughout the story. God even uses Mary, he doesn’t just show up just show up outside the walls of Nazareth one day. God uses ordinary people in the stores. And that still happens today. God is calling you by a name He has described you with, a name that shows your purpose in the plan. Listen for it and seek to live into what God has named you. Amen.