The Rev. Bart Smith
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (August 19, 2018)
Genesis 1:26-31, 2:18-25
Before we explore Adam and Eve’s story, let me share a little bit about something we’re going to try. At St. Mark’s for a while now, the practice has been for the preachers to select a passage from the Lectionary, the calendar of pre-selected readings that many different denominations use. Since I’ve been here we’ve used both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary. Each have their strengths, and we’ll probably return to the Revised Common Lectionary some other time, but for the fall season I wanted to try something different.
For those of you who were here back in January of 2017, do you remember Lisle Gwynn Garrity? Lisle is with a ministry called “A Sanctified Art” and she visited us that January to do a workshop with the Sanctuary Arts Team. She painted the gospel lesson live; it was the story of Jesus calling the disciples. Lisle and her brilliant, creative group came up with a series called “Faces of Our Faith.” It’s a combo pack of Scripture readings, visual images, coloring sheets, and a journal. We have 25 copies of the journal on the table at the back of the Sanctuary, so pick one up if you’re interested.
The introduction to the journal describes the aim of the series really well:
There are many heroes of the faith, people we admire and wish to be. However, there are even more ordinary people of faith—those doing what they can with what they have to make a difference. We’ve selected 16 bold stories of those often overlooked in our biblical narratives. Using visual art and prompts for reflection, we hope to dig deep into the worlds of these characters, entering their stories with curiosity and openness to what they might teach us.
We have arranged the stories so that they have a narrative arc beginning with Genesis and the Hebrew stories, moving to the minor characters in the backdrop of Jesus’ birth and death, and concluding with the apostles and Christians who emerged in the years after the resurrection…
As we journey with these characters, may they remind us that we all play a role in shaping God’s story of redemption and grace. May they awaken us to the faces of faith in our world today.
In addition to hearing these stories from Scripture, what we’re going to do is invite a different member of the congregation to share a personal testimony (in five minutes or less) about a person who was pivotal in their faith journey. Consider it our own, local “Faces of Faith” series. We’ll be doing this from Welcome Back Sunday on September 9 up until the season of Advent. So… I’ll be taking volunteers. If you’re interested or want more details, please let me know.
But for today, Adam and Eve. Let’s listen for God’s Wisdom and Word in Genesis…
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”
God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.
Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” So the Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found.
So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. The human said,
“This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
because from a man she was taken.”
This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren’t embarrassed.
Out of all the characters that the folks at A Sanctified Art chose, I think Adam and Eve are probably the least “overlooked.” Their faces are very familiar to us from the arts, if not from the Bible, from visual arts—everything from Renaissance paintings to The Far Side cartoons. I found a cartoon on Pintrest this week that depicted a semi-clothed Adam and Eve behind shrubs in the Garden of Eden. The menacing snake, coiled around a branch, is holding out an iPhone to Eve. You know its an iPhone because it has the Apple logo on the back. Adam says to her, “Careful, Eve, you might spend all your time on it.”
Maybe Adam and Eve’s faces are too familiar to us. Even if we didn’t grow up in church, we probably have heard or seen some version of this story and already have pre-formed impressions of its meaning. It’s hard to hear afresh. We might be missing some key details. And I’ll confess that I was a little reluctant to prepare a sermon on Adam and Eve (not them again!) because their story has been over-interpreted or poorly interpreted to the point of being rung dry. How much troubling or down-right dangerous theology has been extracted from this story?
Those little Hebrew words in verse 28, translated into English as “master” and “take charge of,” in the Common English Bible version, or “subdue” and “have dominion over” in the NRSV, have been warped to support the idea that humans are to plunder the earth, take whatever we need from it because “we’re in charge” which adds theological fuel to the fire of our current global ecological crisis.
Then there’s the idea that sin is something biologically inherited, passed down from our first, literal parents down through the generations. Throughout Christian history that’s led to some odd and unhealthy attitudes about bodies and sex. And of course we could be here all day naming the damage that bad interpretations of Genesis 2 have done to our constructs of gender roles, like the idea that women were created to be subservient to men. I think I saw some eyes roll when we read the part about the rib!
To that point, a classmate of mine in seminary gave a pretty clever interpretation of the rib extraction. We were in a weddings and funerals class (word of the need for practical courses finally reached the gates of heaven). The assignment went like this: the professor gave us a Scripture passage and a case study and asked to prepare a bulletin and write a homily on it. The day that Mike went we were a little on edge because he came from a more conservative, Baptist tradition that didn’t ordain women pastors and that had some not-so-egalitarian views on marriage. We weren’t sure how he was going to spin the Adam and Eve story. But to our surprise, Mike put it this way: “If God had wanted Eve be subordinate to Adam, God would have taken a bone from Adam’s foot or his back. But God took a rib, a bone from the side. They were meant to be equals, side by side.”
“Nice!” I thought, “write that one down and remember to use it in a sermon when you’re out in the field.”
Side-by-side. I think that’s what a life-giving reading of Eve and Adam’s story reminds us. It’s about partnership, not subordination. It’s about cooperation, not domination. It’s about stewardship, not exploitation.
What does Adam say when he sees Eve? Not “get to work” but “at last, this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”
Sarah Are, the writer and artist of the first journal entry in Faces of Our Faith, puts it this way:
“For generations people have abused this story, trying to imply that women are less than men because Eve came second, but that’s not the point of this story. The power of this story is in a God that saw how humans need one another… God sees Adam’s [“the human”] isolation and responds. God transforms that deep human loneliness into deep human belonging through creation… instead of focusing on their differences, Adam immediately celebrates their connection. It’s as if Adam says “At last!” I have been waiting for someone to belong to, and even though we look different, we are made from the same God, so you and I, we belong together.”
Have any of you watched that show on NBC, “This Is Us”? Elizabeth and I watched it for a while. It’s a show about a family in Pittsburgh in which the main characters start out as a young couple who later grow into a larger family. It covers so many topics of family life and life in general—marriage, adoption, alcoholism, race, you name it. I got fed up by season 3 (so much navel-gazing!) but when I was into the show, at the end of the tear-jerker episodes we’d look at each other and cry, “It’s all about belonging!” It really is all about belonging, this story of Adam and Eve. It’s about their belonging to God, their belonging to one another, their belonging to the clay from which they were shaped, all in bonds of nurture and care.
We humans were made for partnership—not just in romantic sense, even though it’s very easy to reduce this rich, complex, ancient story to be a universal prescription for marriage, but partnership with God and with one another. We were made to live together, to work together in this “garden,” this good earth God has given us. We were created to be co-creators with God: creators of life, of beauty, of peace. Yes, we step away from that responsibility all the time.
Yes, we diminish and warp our God-given roles into sinful, self-serving ones, but we need to remember that, originally, we were made for holy partnership with God and others. We weren’t meant to go at this project of life alone. We were made to help and be helped. We were made to love and be loved.
As we consider these first Faces of Our Faith, let’s think about what viewing people through the lens of partnership might look like. What would it look like if we approached other people with Adam’s same wonder: “At last this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”?
In our day-to-day comings and goings, looking past the structures that calcify how we perceive one another—visions of hierarchy and competition and difference and “usefulness,” or some other version of the normal pecking order of things—how does viewing others as potential partners in tending the “garden” of God’s world change things?
Featured image: Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity, A Sanctified Art LLC. Used with permission.