So. Here we are. Right at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
Right out of the gate we learn a lot, more than we can really see as English readers, actually, about what God is creating and how what is created is all related to each other and to God. Listen to me read the same opening words Shelley read, but with a couple of Hebrew words throw in for the English
“In that day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – then the Lord God formed ‘adam from the dust of the ‘adamah and breathed into his nostrils the ruach of life; and the ‘adam become a living being.”
I only replaced three different words, but boy are they important words. Adam wasn’t originally a proper name in Hebrew. It was a just a word, a word that meant “human being.” But along with meaning “human being” it is also intimately related to a word that closely followed it in the verse – ‘adamah – translated in our English reading “the ground.” ‘Adam, a human being, came from the ‘adamah, the ground. This isn't semantics; this is theology.
And THIS is a story. Other mythological creation stories have the first people who populate the earth pop out of the heads of gods, born from the gods, or are gods who are thrown out of the heavens. Our story of who we are starts out very different. We are not gods. We do not have the substance of gods. We are ‘adam and we are made of ‘adamah. We are people and our substance is the same substance that makes the earth. Like the earth, we have been formed and created in the hands of God, NOT as little gods, but as really, stuff of the earth. We are creatures, not the creator.
This has huge implications in a number of ways, but we’ll just look at one this morning. What does it mean about our relationship with the earth, with the streams the rise from the earth that water the whole ground, with the dirt on which we walk, the trees under which we find shade, and even the later in the story, with the creatures with which we share the planet? What does it mean? It means we are no better than they are. We are no more important. We are no more godly and divine. We are made of the same stuff of the earth and when we hurt the earth, we hurt ourselves. When we abuse the earth, we are placing ourselves in a higher position than God our creator intended. We are intimately connected to the earth. We are ‘adam that come from ‘adamah. When Stew, a member of our church, brings up sustainability in the church, at the Planning Commission, and all over Hudson, it’s not an environmental issue; it’s a theological issue. It’s a faith issue. Thank you, Stew, for reminding us of our intimate, God-designed connection with all of creation.
The ‘adam that was created from the ‘adamah, was also given the ruach of God, breathed right in the very nose on his face. The people created from creation, the people of fully mortal substance, were given the very Spirit of God to invigorate them, to bring them to life.
Let’s just sit with that a minute. We aren’t even 4 verses into the story and this is huge! What’s fun for me in this story is what I gather might be new to many people. The myth in Christianity is that the Old Testament is full of wrath and anger and punishment and death, and the New Testament brings of stories of God loving on people and caring for people and having compassion us. It’s not the case, is it? This is a story of very loving and tender care and creation. Out of the dust of the ground the holy and divine God crafted human beings. Using materials created in love, God tenderly and carefully created in love humankind. And then when the beings were just right, God stooped in to put mouth to nose and breath in the very Spirit of God for life. If this isn’t loving and caring and showing compassion, then I don’t know what is.
We know the next part right? God realizes this one person is going to be lonely, because as nice as intimate connection with the earth really is, it’s just not the same. Am I right? And as overwhelmingly AWESOME as being brought to life with the Spirit of God is, even that is not the complete human experience.
As intimately related as humankind is with the earth, all of humanity is that intimately related to each other. A woman came from a man, and women and men will come from women for evermore. Human life is connected in form and in substance, in source and in the Spirit that fills its lungs. People, men and women, have been created to live and work and laugh and cry and rest and move together.
And together they did EVERYTHING, right from the start. Bear with me, as I need to try to move quickly or we'll never make it to the end. In comes the serpent, the craftiest creature of all. The serpent talks to the woman about eating an apple, right? Who then goes to find the man who’s off in the garage or something and she somehow bats her eyelashes, and gets all coy and everything, and makes him lose control and also eat the apple, right? That’s how the story goes?
So, we sort of know this story. We know the general plot although the details may have been tweaked for other purposes over time. People eat fruit, God gets upset, bad stuff happens for the rest of time including death which in popular readings never would have happened: the people are punished by an angry God. Right? The reading Shelley shared ended with shame. The man and woman realized they had done what they should not. They had tried to become what they could not. They had tried to become like God, and now they were ashamed, or scared, or both and they tried to hide themselves, because what they knew was that eating this fruit would end their life.
The day they would eat of it they would die, God clearly said to them. This isn’t as story about how immortal human beings turned mortal. The promise, or the threat, I guess I should say isn’t that the human beings would otherwise live forever, and that eating from the tree would bring an end to their lives someday. The warning was if you eat from this tree THAT DAY you will die (Gen. 2:17). Of course they were scared. Of course they were hiding. They knew God was looking for them, and it wasn’t for a good thing.
So, if this story fits our usual understanding of Old Testament vengeful God/New Testament graceful God, how should this story end? The man and woman would be squashed like pesky bugs in the garden! But that’s not what happened! Yes, there were consequences for their actions. Yes, life from humankind was not quite the same from thereafter. But did the man and the woman die THAT DAY? No. They messed up. They marred two out of three of their most important God-given connections, the one between them and God, the one between themselves and their relationships were damaged because of it. God had every reason to follow through on the divine end of the deal now that they were all in this mess.
But God didn’t. Yes, the relationship changed. What relationship doesn't change when it experiences brokenness? Yes, the plan for life in Eden has to be adjusted. What plans aren't adjusted when one party doesn't stick with the agreement.
But instead of cutting the whole thing off, with love, with compassion, with grace before the word is ever introduced this is what happens - -
Right here, right from the very beginning of the story, God fixes the relationships we human beings mess up. Right here, right from the very beginning we get the whole point of the whole rest of this book, the whole rest of faith. We people just keep messing things up. We mess up our relationships with earth by thinking we’re somehow above it all. We mess up our relationship with each other by trying to pass on blame, give others the responsibility for our own actions. We mess up our relationship with God by thinking the breath of the Spirit gave us the authority of the divine to know it all, judge it all, and rule it all. We mess things up.
But God doesn’t let it stay that way. God improvises on what we do. God is willing to with our imperfections, our persistence in changing the plan that was designed to move toward perfection, in order to keep bringing us make into right relationships - - right relationships with earth, where we struggle to work together instead of take advantage of a perceived superiority in the created order, relationship with other human beings, where we depend on each other for the whole of human gifts, right relationships with God, where we are constantly reminded that the Spirit of God is given to us, but does not begin with us, where we are constantly reinvigorated with life and with freedom and with grace.
What better story could we write for ourselves?
What better and more liberating good news is there than the news that the one who created us is the one who loves us enough to save us from ourselves? Who picks us back up, dusts us off, and sets us right back in our relationship to keep at it again and again. And the one who saves us from ourselves is the one who breathes into us that same spirit of salvation - - that same spirit of freedom from all the shoulds and didn’ts and can’ts and haven’ts we force on ourselves and others.
What better story could we write for ourselves?
None that I can think of and none that I’d rather be a part of. Not one.
First picture is created by Amy Livingstone of the Sacred Art Studio, Portland, OR. Also on Facebook at Sacred Art Studio page. Used with permission.
Other art in the public domain.