Out of the Dust

Here’s the video of one of the songs we sang in worship tonight.

A Sabbath sermon from Southminster Presbyterian in Boise, Idaho

September 12, 2015

Gen 2:4b-9, 15-25

Today we are beginning a year of scripture readings from the Narrative Lectionary. I have historically preached from the 3 year Revised Common Lectionary readings, which were put together in 1992 by a number of different Christian denominations. I like preaching the lectionary because it keeps me from using scripture to make whatever point I want to make. Some people can do sermon series well, but I think if I were to try to come up with a topic and then seek scripture passages to support the topic, it wouldn’t end well.

I like the discipline of sitting down each week to the assigned texts and seeing the way God speaks through them to enlighten our current situation.

The downside of the Revised Common Lectionary is that it includes only  6% of the Old Testament, not including the psalms, and 41% of the New Testament.

The Narrative Lectionary is a four year cycle of readings that cover the broad sweep of the story of scripture. The story of scripture will be emphasized, helping us connect our lives to the broad sweep of the biblical narrative.

Some of these stories may be new to you. Some will feel very familiar. I invite you to listen to each story as if you were hearing it for the first time. Don’t let what you thought you knew about it keep you from hearing what God may be saying to you today.

And so tonight, we start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, as Julie Andrews taught us.

Or almost the very beginning.

The creation story from Genesis which we heard is a continuation of the story begun in chapter 1. In the first part, God speaks and the world comes into being. Here, in this story, God shows us the act of creation, shows us what creation means, and shows us why it matters.

The creation stories in Genesis were never intended to be a historical reporting of the first day of creation. The creation stories are about helping us understand our place in the world and our reason for being in the world.  Walter Brueggeman, one of my professors says it is about human’s destiny as God’s creations, to live in God’s creation, with God’s other creatures, on God’s terms.

And the story of us begins in a garden. Humans, we’re told, are put in the garden to till it and keep it. Work is not punishment. Work is part of who we are.

And the work to which we are called is not unlike the work that God does. It isn’t exactly the same, but it is similar. In our very creation, God shows us how to work. In order to make Adam, the first human, God got down on his divine knees, knelt in the dirt, and formed Adam out of the dust.

Similarly, when woman was created, God put Adam into a deep sleep, opened him up, pulled out a rib, and then formed the woman into being too.

The work of creation is messy. God’s hands surely got messy in the dust and mud and open rib cages and blood and guts. In the creation of humanity, God was involved, not sitting at a remove. The work God showed us how to do is creative, and full of love and hope. It was tilling a garden in order to bring life.

Many of you are wonderful gardeners. I know because I am the grateful beneficiary of your extra cucumbers, raspberries, and corn. Gardening is messy work. It requires bending down into the garden bed to weed, pulling the bugs off leaves, and then scrubbing the dirt out from under your nails. The tilling and keeping of a garden is work, and God showed us how to work by making us.

Humans aren’t the same as tomato plants, obviously.

Justin and I saw the Fantasticks at Idaho Shakespeare this week. It was wonderful. Well worth seeing. And there’s a song sung by the fathers of two young people who are in love. The dads point out that they love gardening because they know what will happen, which is unlike parenting, when you have no idea what will happen.

Here are a few of the lyrics:

Plant a radish.
Get a radish.
Never any doubt.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know what you’re about!

Plant a turnip.
Get a turnip.
Maybe you’ll get two.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know that they’ll come through!

They’re dependable!
They’re befriendable!
They’re the best pal a parent’s ever known!
While with children,
It’s bewilderin’.
You don’t know until the seed is nearly grown
Just what you’ve sown.

And I thought of God in the garden when I heard that song. I wondered if God knew what God was sowing when God was busy creating us out of the dirt
and mud
and ribs
and bailing wire
and duct tape.

Because humanity is not as predictable as zucchini plants. When I read the news, one minute, we are doing horrible things to each other—war, gun violence, callous disregard for the plights of our fellow humans—and the next minute, I read stories of such surprising compassion and love toward the stranger—so many contradictions we are.

But we never know how another will respond. In the dust of war torn countries, places where we would expect nothing good to grow, compassion and love may be the dominant trait in people.

In clean neighborhoods, where dust is meticulously banished, and where every opportunity is provided, people may exhibit nothing but violence and depravity.

The growing of humans is clearly complicated work. And so the creation story in Genesis calls us to attend to that. It reminds us how important and how complicated it is to live together. God instructs the Human that he may freely eat of any tree in the garden. God is generous with permission. An entire garden for the human to enjoy and work and care for.

AND

There is a tree from which he could not eat.

The freedom we have in God’s creation is immense. But not complete.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil often gets lots of attention in this story. And your guess is as good as mine as to what the tree was, or why God put it smack dab in the middle of the garden. Perhaps we wouldn’t plant a tree right in the middle of our garden if we didn’t want people to mess with it—but that just serves to remind us that it isn’t our garden. It is God’s. And ours is not to wonder why.

But to emphasize the forbidden-ness of that tree and to ignore the provision of the entire rest of the garden seems to be mis-characterizing the intention of God.

God gives humanity a lot of permission, a lot of freedom, in the garden. An entire garden, minus one tree, is ours to enjoy and from which to be fed. And yet it remains God’s garden and our relationship to God remains what it was at the beginning. We are the creatures in the garden made with love out of the dust. God makes beautiful things out of the dust.

Do we see God primarily as a God who prohibits?
Or as a God who gives permission?

I think this is a fundamental question.

If we see God setting humanity loose in a garden that, with some labor and care, will provide for them—then we have permission to see our lives in a way that allows for us to be creative in our own working and tilling of the garden. We can trust that God has provided and will continue to provide. We can set aside anxiety and fears of scarcity. There is enough for all.

If we see God setting humanity loose in a garden that is full of snares and traps and the punishment of work—then we worry about getting it right and pleasing a God who is trying to trick us into getting it wrong. We work only for ourselves. We separate ourselves from others and worry there won’t be enough because we don’t trust in God’s provision, only in God’s prohibition.

We hear stories on the news of people who I’m sure are well meaning and doing the best they can, just as you and I are. Yet they have been taught that God will be displeased with them if they get it wrong, or if they allow someone else to get it wrong.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky is a case in point. She has been taught by her church that there is only one right way to be. And so she won’t allow any same gender marriage licenses to be issued in her office. I totally support her decision not to marry a woman in her personal life.

But when denying a license, she told a couple that she is acting in preparation for her “time for judgment”:  She said, “I’m willing to face my consequences as you all will face your consequences when it comes time for judgment.” –

There are a million other things wrong with this story, but at its root, if you were to ask her the point of the story of the Garden of Eden, I suspect Ms. Davis would say it is primarily about prohibition from that one tree, and our  sin. In her comments, you can hear her fear of God’s judgment.

I really don’t mean to pick on this woman. I think she’s being used as a pawn for bigger political purposes. And I think she’s just repeating back what she heard in church. And I know we all have our days of bad theology. Thankfully, mine don’t take place on the nightly news.

But the way we understand the garden story informs how we live our lives—and how we treat the rest of the people in the garden.

God says it is not good for the human to be alone. And that’s why we have dogs and cats, and the hedgehog, and the deer and the antelope. God puts all of these animals in the garden and the human names them. They are given as helpers and companions.

And they’re great. But they weren’t enough. And so the woman is made from the man’s rib and it is only once another human is there that man speaks. Language is a product of community. The community we have with other humans is a gift of God from the very beginning.

There’s a sentence at the end of the passage about a man leaving his mother and father and joining his wife. Which is odd at this point in the narrative because Adam didn’t have a mother and father. So it is fine to think of marriage when you read this passage. But don’t stop there because of that editorial insertion. It is about so much more than that.

The community we have with each other, with the other beautiful things God made out of the dust, does not require marriage. We are already connected to each other because God made us from and for each other. A rib that was in Adam’s body became the rib that was in the woman’s. From the very beginning, we are connected.

It is not good for the human to be alone.

I’m a strong extrovert, which means I am happiest with other people and I get my energy from being with people. So I would cross stitch that quote about not being alone and put it on a pillow.  But my introverted friends tell me that it is okay, occasionally at least, to be alone. sometimes. This passage is not against being an introvert. It is just fine to be alone for parts of the rhythms of our days.

It is not good for the human to be alone is instead a reminder, as the poet said, that no one is an island, entire of itself. We are connected, one to the other by the God who formed us out of the dust.

We have a tendency, though, to think that the concerns and problems of other people are not our problems.  For example, in addition to the 300,000 Syrians that have died since the civil war began in 2011, 4.1 million Syrians are now registered as refugees—meaning they are seeking safety in other countries. An additional 6.5 million Syrians are displaced within the country—meaning they are not in their homes, but are still in Syria.

You may not know any Syrians. I know a few. One of them has found shelter in Sweden and his family is in the process of joining him there. I don’t know where my other friends are. Yet the story of the Garden reminds us to care and to respond to the plight of 10 million people we don’t know. Not because we share their politics or their religion. But because God formed them from the dust of the earth and put them with us in the Garden too.

As you go through your week, I invite you to think about the ways we choose to be in community with others and the ways we pretend we are separate from others.

Our story as people of faith begins in a Garden, where we were made out of the dust. It’s a great story. Glad to be a part of it with you, in this corner of God’s Garden.

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