Belonging – created to be connected

Belonging – created to be connected

This Sunday is the beginning of the Narrative Lectionary cycle and we are diving into the Old Testament all the way up to Advent. Over the next 6 weeks we will be looking at some different characteristics of what it means to be part of a family – and in particular the family of God. This Sunday we will be exploring what it means to belong.

The best place to start is the beginning and we will be ponding the creation stories in Genesis and in particular how the 2nd creation story talks about a God who is passionate and committed to being part of our lives.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The Old Testament starts with two creation stories – Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. 

Just on the side, do you know that the Bible is not against including two different versions of the same story in the Biblical text? That some stories are repeated and don’t necessarily have the same details.  It happens numerous times in the O.T history stories from Genesis to Chronicles, but we also find it the New Testament … we have two Christmas stories, two versions of the cleansing of the temple.

My Biblical lecturer at Bible college explained that when the Biblical text was being collated under the guidance of the Holy Spirit … and they had slightly different versions of the same story – if both versions of the narrative were helpful and gave insight into faith and life, then they would just include both.  For them it wasn’t “which one is true, and which one isn’t” but rather, both are spiritually helpful so why not have both. 

Which is how we have two versions of the creation story – which have at their core the same message (God created the heavens and the earth) but in the detail, they are not the same. 

So, as we begin this Narrative Lectionary journey into the Old Testament, I want to start by pondering what the differences between the two creations stories are and how our Bible reading from Genesis 2 can encourage us in our relationship with God and how we belong together as community.

The First creation story from Genesis 1 is probably the more well known version of creation.  It is the Grand Narrative … in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  In this narrative God is clearly in control. 

God has a plan for the seven days and goes about executing the plan with short, clear commands –  “Let there be light”  “Let their be waters teem with living Creatures and let birds fly above the earth”  “Let us make people in our image”  and it was good … or very good.  

But the second version of the creation narrative has a very

different feel.  As one commentary I read said, “Here we find God portrayed as much more hands-on than in the previous

account. This is a God who does not simply command the

different elements of creation but who breathes life into

creation and seeks to form a relationship with what is created.”

The narrative starts with God creating the heaven and the earth but in this version, it is just dirty … or wet dirt.  And instead of God speaking words of creation from on high, in Genesis 2:7, we see that God is intimately involved in forming the first human and breathing life into them. 

Let’s just dwell on this image for a moment.  Let me read this verse again and I invite you to use your imagination and form a picture of what this might be like…

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.

Let me pause … what is that looking like … the world without plants or trees but has streams coming up from the earth.  Are you picturing that…  keep imagining…

 Then the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.

What is the image that came to your mind…

I had the image of God on hands and knees and hands in the dirt.  Then a bit like a potter or artisan shaping and making this beautiful creation … the first person.  And then God who is the God of life, breathing life into the first person so that they come alive.

I just need to have an aside before coming back to focus on this imagery but a few of you might have noticed that I resisted the NIV language of “God formed a man” and instead said “God formed the first human”.  Many Old Testament scholars believe that the first English translators of the bible might have done us a disservice in translating the Hebrew word “Adamah (aw-dawn-ah)” to “man”.  The Hebrew word for man is “ʼîysh” (eesh) but it is not used here, but rather Adam-ah which means the one formed from the dust. What’s more … Adamah is a non-gendered term.  So … maybe it is a better way to understand this is that God formed not a man but formed a person or human and breathed life into it.

And then later in the Bible reading we have the narrative that God took part of this person … or separated this person and created (ishshâh) which is the Hebrew word for woman.   From this point forward the narrative switches.  Instead of referring to the first person as Adamah, it uses the Hebrew word “ʼîysh” – which is the Hebrew word for man. 

I am not sure if you find this interesting but this was something that I didn’t know until researching this sermon.  I always knew that in the first creation narrative, God created man and woman at the same time but was taught that in the second narrative, it was man first then woman second.  I just found this Hebrew interpretation really engaging – that maybe it was God creating people first and then in response to a need for companionship, God adapted and created man and woman.

Anyway … I am getting ahead of myself.  Let refocus on the imagery being used in this passage.  The imagery of God being totally involved in creation, literally getting dirty hands in forming and breathing life into us.

It is very intimate and personal and quite different from the approach in Genesis 1.  As I mentioned before, in Genesis 1 God is speaking creation into life … in Genesis 2, God is hands in the dirt involved.

And as we continue in the narrative, we continue to see this idea of God wanting to be passionately involved with creation.  God really wants to engage with the first person, to be in relationship with the first person. 

God creates a garden for the human to be in with plants and trees which are not only a food source but also a source of beauty – they were pleasing to the eye.  Are you hearing this … God created trees not only to meet our practical needs but as something that will bring us joy and pleasure.  This is a God who is focused on us.  The system of the ground being watered by streams seeping up through the dirt was working, but God thinks – I know what these people would enjoy more … Rivers!

God continues to look for ways in which to be close to Adamah, invites the first person to work and take care of the garden, and to eat of the fruits of the work … even asks for help naming the animals.  This is a God who just wants Adamah to feel part of the family … wants Adamah to be involved in everything.

Now I could go off on another tangent here and explore the whole concept of the two trees … the tree of life and the tree of good and evil but that is a whole sermon in itself … and unless we embrace the whole 45 minute sermon idea, I think I might just leave this to the side for another time.  Happy to chat over morning tea if people are interested in the two trees but I think that there is something powerful in this imagery of the characteristics of God in Genesis 2.

Genesis 2 does not match with Bette Milders song … God is not watching us from a distance but rather Genesis 2 shows how God is deeply involved.  God goal was not just to create, but to create a place of belonging.

If found another interesting angle of Genesis 2.  One commentator said, “There is, in this creation account, more than a hint of a God who was prepared to experiment with creation and to patiently persevere until a human relationship was established and until human community was formed.”

A) that is a good quote just as it is, but B) I find this idea of an experimenting God just fascinating.  In Genesis 1 it seems that God has a plan for creation, the 6 days then rest and God follows that plans and it was good.  But in this second creation narrative, it does seem that God is taking a more “adapt and refine” approach to creation.  I know this might sound funny but it is what happened in our bible reading. 

We read how God’s own hands formed Adam and then formed the plants and water and the relationship between the three. It was good … but God is noticing something in this creation co-relationship is missing. 

In verses 18 and 19 we hear God explain “It is not good for Adam to be alone. I will make a suitable helper/companion.” and then God gets his hands dirty again by forming all the animals and birds out of the dirt, just like God did with Adam.

When I was writing this sermon, I was reflecting … was this God’s plan all along, or did God respond to Adam loneliness and adapt or refine the creation?  What came first … the chicken or the egg.  Well verse 19 implies the chicken … but in the other question … Did God look at creation and see something missing and adapt by creating animals in the hope of refining or helping Adam’s feeling of belonging.

It happens again in verse 20 and 21.  When God can’t find a suitable companion with the animals, God seems to change the approach again and separates Adam in to ʼîysh and ishshâh; man and woman.  Again … is this God experimenting or refining things as part of the creation process?

I know this raises some tricky theological questions – such as the all-knowingness of God, and doesn’t God create things perfect in the first place – but on the other side, I kind of like this image of God who so much wants the best for us that God keeps trying and experimenting and refining things to make things better for us.  (And as my friends Stuart last night pondered … is this process of creation still happening)

So God separates Adamah in to ʼîysh (eesh) and ishshâh;  … and this idea works, the need for companionship and help is met. 

We now find that God’s creation is not just one person Adam … but people who can find connection and companionship and help with each other. 

Before the bible reading, I mentioned that in this Old Testament section of the narrative lectionary we are going to be looking at a whole bunch of Old Testament readings and be highlighting some different characteristics of what it means to be part of a family.  I hope this has been a good start to this journey as we see from this creation narrative that a key characteristic of God’s family is a sense of belonging.

Let us be affirmed that God has been, continues to be, and will always be a God who is passionately involved in our lives, and because God is there with us – in the dirt, so to speak – God can see what is really going on and is willing to creatively work with us to change or adapt or refine things to make us and our situation better.

So may we all see and embrace God’s gift to us – God’s gift to all people is our ability to enjoy relationships with one another, with creation and with our creator God.  It is in this sweet spot that we find our place of belonging.  Amen.