Sermon: 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 2:18-24
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

When we were very young, I made a list once of the 110 Things that were wrong with my little brother Steve.  Alas, I don’t think there is a complete copy anymore (though my sister-in-law might be able to provide an updated one!), but I know that one of the items on it was that he did not know how to tell a story.  If someone asked him, for example, “What was the movie about?” my brother Steve could go on for hours.  He couldn’t just say, “It was about a mad scientist who created a monster and brought it to life.  Chaos ensued.”  No, no, he had to give you every little detail, including not only the plot of the movie, but sometimes whole chunks of dialogue and descriptions of the set and costumes and all kinds of other colorful details. You’d hear all about it, but not necessarily in chronological order, or order of importance, or really any order anyone could figure out.

I share that with you in order to talk about today’s reading from Genesis.  It might surprise some of you to know that there are two complete creations stories in the Bible, back to back, and sometimes quite different from each other.  If we were people who read the Bible literally this might pose a problem for us, as they can be contradictory.  But since Biblical literalists would have us all cut off arms and legs and put out our eyes after last week’s Gospel reading, we can be grateful again that we are free to read the Bible as a book of faith, and not a history book or science book or rule book.

The first creation story, in Genesis 1, depicts God as distant and almighty, bringing order out of chaos in a well-planned, carefully structured progression of six days of creation. After each day’s work, God repeatedly pronounces the results “good,” and at the end of Genesis 1, announces that the whole creation is “very good.”  In Genesis 1, humans are the grand finale, and are created simultaneously, male and female, already in community, both fully in the image and likeness of God.

But Genesis 2 offers us quite a different story.  Here God is not distant and orderly, but gets “down and dirty” with creation, literally!  At the very start, God forms a human (adam) from the land or clay (adamah).  Then God performs CPR on the newly formed “mud creature,” breathing into its nostrils “the breath of life.” The rest of Genesis 2 continues in the way that my brother might tell the story, detailed, but imprecise.  In this version of creation, the Garden of Eden is a laboratory, and God is the chief scientist engaging in trial-and-error experiments with life.  In this version of the creation story, nothing is systematic or orderly.  Here, God encounters unexpected challenges and tries new solutions in a give and-take interaction with creation and its creatures.

In Genesis 1, God repeatedly described everything as “good.”  In Genesis 2, when God surveys the emerging horticultural experiment in Eden, God senses something is “not good.”  God observes: “It’s not good that mud-creature, the adamah should be alone” (2:18).  In Genesis 2, God discovers what is fundamental to human nature and human flourishing: humans are social creatures who thrive in close and intimate relationships with others.  For that reason, God resolves to make for the single human “a helper” as his partner.”  A “helper” in the Old Testament doesn’t necessarily mean a subordinate; it can mean an equal (or even superior!) to the one who is being helped.  A case in point would be that in the Psalms, for example, God is often called a “helper” to humans in need.

In any event, God’s first attempt to resolve the deficit of community for the human is to create an array of wild animals, birds, and domestic animals, as possible soul mates for the human. God marches the colorful parade of diverse wild life before the human and invites Adam to give names to the various creatures (2:18-20).  Elephant, condor, skunk, cat, kangaroo, what have you.  In the ancient world, names were a big deal.  Naming something or someone was a way of defining and shaping the character and essence of the one named. By naming the animals, the human participates with God as a co-creator in ordering the universe.  Sadly, this first experiment in companionship does not work. The animals are interesting, but none fully resolves the ache and void of human loneliness.

So God embarks on another experiment. This time God assumes the role of chief surgeon and anesthetizes the man into a deep sleep.  This new strategy of finding a “helper as his partner” doesn’t involve human co-creation.  This time it will all be God’s doing, a gift to creation from God alone.  God surgically removes a rib from the man’s side and lovingly shapes the rib into a second mud creature who is “like” the man but also “opposite” him—kind of like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together.  The animal-as-full-partner experiment had been a bust, but this time God gets it oh-so-right!  The man awakes and instantly recognizes the fulfillment of his deep longing in the eyes of the new “other,” the woman.

For the first time in Scripture, the human being speaks.  And when he does, it is in the elevated language of poetry, a sign of the ecstasy and joy that accompanies this momentous occasion:  “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman [ishshah] for out of Man [ish] this one was taken.”

You can almost hear the strains of that most perfect of love songs:  “At last, my love has come along/my lonely search is over/and love is like a song….”  The imagery of being “bone of my bones” and “flesh of my flesh” speaks of a bond so strong that to sever it would be like physically ripping out a part of one’s own body.  This bond is so intimate that the two “become one flesh”—naked, open to one another, vulnerable, trusting, passionate, loving, and “not ashamed.”  This union of two lonely human beings yearning for community and finding it in one another is the great climax of the second creation story.

Both Genesis 1 and 2  are wonderful stories about God’s relationship with humans, and you might have noticed that Jesus quotes Gen. 1 in today’s Gospel reading from Mark.  Whichever version of the creation story you prefer, Genesis 1 or 2, the sad truth is that by the middle of Genesis 3, the whole thing goes terribly, terribly wrong.  There we find the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and the general descent into brokenness.  Mutual trust, partnership, support, freedom from shame, and equality of relationship are all threatened by human disobedience.

You don’t need me to tell you that the mystery and reality of human love is that sometimes it endures, and sometimes it doesn’t.  You know that.  But you may need reminding that God’s dream, in both versions of the creation story, is a world in which every part, every creature, is healed and whole.  God wants every person and living being to be loved and accepted to such an extent that we never feel alone.

But that isn’t the world we live in, is it?  The Garden of Eden is not where we negotiate relationships.  That may be why our Gospel reading for today is a narrative of Jesus talking about divorce.  The different religious communities of the ancient world disagreed on matters like whether a divorce was an option in cases other than infidelity, or whether people who had been divorced could marry again.  Each group wanted to trap Jesus into taking a side.  But Jesus avoids the petty argument and takes the conversation to a higher level.  He reminds people on all sides of the argument that divorce is never God’s dream.  It may be the best of several unpleasant options sometimes (and believe me, I speak from experience so I KNOW this is true!), but it is never God’s first choice.  God’s dream is never for brokenness.  And divorce is, in its essence, a product and creator of brokenness.

One of the wounds that shows up a lot in our society is that children, who have no voice in their parents’ relationships, often suffer.  Maybe that is why Jesus makes such a point, right after the discussion of divorce, to hug a child, and to remind the disciples to cherish children.  I wonder if he was reminding them that the vulnerable and fragile are often wounded by circumstances not in their control.  And how does that translate to our situation today?  Who is that threatened or hurt by families that succumb to brokenness?  Who pays the price for things done and left undone by others? Whoever that is, we need to pay attention.

Jesus was careful, over and over, to remind the disciples of their critical need to care for children and women on their own.  Today we live in a city where one in three children grows up in poverty.  I wish I were making up that statistic, but I’m not.  One in three.  And women who go through a divorce are often reduced in social and economic standing.  Many live paycheck to paycheck—if they can even obtain a paycheck.   Jesus wants the disciples to make sure that people who live in that sort of dangerous condition are treated with special care by the church.  How is Trinity heeding that call?

I think our partnership with the Canopy Center is certainly one way we are tending to families in crisis.  It addresses both the prevention of child abuse and treats the aftermath of those who have suffered from it.  But what else might we do to provide for those who are damaged by broken families, broken promises?  How might we bring healing to a hurting community?

We have the blessing of God—who is both almighty and willing to mess around in the muck and clay with us—to fumble our way toward healing.  We were made by God and endowed with imaginations and intellects that permit us to co-create our realities.  We each probably have 110 faults or more, just as I catalogued for my brother many decades ago, but that is not of interest to God.  The same Jesus who dismisses the finer points of divorce law in order to talk about the big picture issues of damaged hearts overlooks our lists and calls us to come right into his arms, where we are held and cherished and honored.

From that place of safety and blessing, we are sent to invite others into God’s embrace as well, esp. those who are hurting.  Let us together tell the messy but amazing story of God’s enduring presence with us, no matter how convoluted the story gets.  Let us remember that, no matter what else happens on the way, the story always ends with God calling all of creation into oneness with God and each other again.   Thanks be to God!

~Pastor Sue

About Trinity Lutheran Church

A congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) located in Madison, Wisconsin.
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