September 13, 2020/Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25
Beginning this Sunday, our sermon texts will be drawn from the Narrative Lectionary. This lectionary offers a four-year cycle of readings that follow the sweep of the biblical story, from creation through the early Christian church. The stories tell of hope and disappointment, suffering and redemption. As an introduction to this lectionary, this summer I preached a series of sermons on the “old, old stories.”
Today, we begin at the beginning, with a look at the second story of creation, found in Genesis 2.
The man stooped low over the wheel, his foot steadily pressing the pedal that kept the wheel turning. His hands, gnarled and worn, danced over the lump of clay, pulling and stretching and shaping it into a utilitarian jar – a piece of art. When the shape pleased him, he glazed it and carefully etched initials and the year into the side. Thinking, he bent to etch again – adding a simple couplet – and set it in the oven to dry.
Dave was born a slave. He became an artist out of tragedy and circumstance. A slave who was missing a leg was no good in the fields, but his hands worked just fine. Under his skillful molding, formless clay became jars and pitchers and jugs. Functional objects made beautiful as well.
The second chapter of Genesis differs greatly from the first chapter’s poetic account of God speaking the world into existence. This story tells us of a time – in the day the Lord made heaven and earth – when God’s attention turned to the creation of a living being. “God as potter shapes the man according to the divine design and forms every animal and every bird from the dust of the ground.” Like an artist spinning a unique bowl on a potter’s wheel, turning it and shaping it, “God focuses closely on the object to be created and takes painstaking care to shape each one into something useful and beautiful.”
Poet James Weldon Johnson captures the creation of humankind in these words:
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
In this story, creation does not climax with the advent of man. With man, creation begins to move toward its true intention. It is a story that reveals a God who creates with intention, a God who creates creatures who relate to each other and to God. In this telling, man comes before the beauty of a garden – a garden planned and planted by God. Man comes before animal life – creatures formed to serve as helper and partner to man.
Placed in a beautiful garden, ha-adam receives the Creator’s permission to enjoy everything around him. Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is denied him; all else is there for his enjoyment. But the created one is lonely. Beauty is not enough to fill the spirit. The Creator crafts a being with the same care and attention of a parent raising up a child. Solicitous of the man’s needs, aware of the man’s loneliness, God brings animals and birds and cattle before the man. But none of these creatures fills the empty space in the man’s heart. “For the man there was not found a helper as his partner.”
And so God caused ha-adam to fall into a deep sleep, and drawing from his side a rib, God fashioned woman. This creature, brought before the man, receives his acclamation – “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Not born of man, drawing on the man’s creative power, but created through the activity of God, the result of a divine act.
The Creator brought the creation into being, but also provided space for the human creature to act in creation. It was Adam who named the animals brought to him by God. It was Adam who named the Woman, and Adam who finally affirmed that the Creator’s creation was good.
This story of creation, then, allows us a glimpse of God’s initiative in forming the human creature “to live in God’s world. The human creation is to live with God’s other creatures, some of which are dangerous, but all of which are to be ruled and cared for. The destiny of the human creation is to live in God’s world, with God’s other creatures, on God’s terms.” In this story of creation we encounter “the summons of this calling God for us to be his creatures, to live in his world on his terms.”
We might wonder why a garden overflowing with delight and beauty might include a forbidden tree. We might wonder why God would place a forbidden object there in easy reach of his creation. Already, God is creating space for the creature to act independently, providing for a relationship of mutual respect and trust. This story discerns “that there is something about life which remains hidden and inscrutable and which will not be trampled upon by human power or knowledge. There are secrets about the human heart and the human community which must be honored, bowed before, and not exposed. That is because the gift of life in the human heart and in the human community is a mystery retained by God for God’s self. … What is urged [instead of knowledge is] trust.” And gratitude. “Gratitude [that reminds us] that we are creatures of God and that we belong to God and that we are part of something bigger than ourselves in this world.”
How will the creature – ha-adam; Man and Woman; ish and isha – live with the Creator? That is the story the rest of the Bible will tell.
[The Hebrew word ha-adam literally means earth; Adam is named for the substance from which God created him. Ish is the Hebrew word for man; isha is the feminine form and means woman.]
 Terence E. Fretheim, NIB Vol. 1, 347
 James Weldon Johnson, “The Creation”
 Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: Genesis, 40
 Ibid., 44
 Ibid., 52
 Chris Currie, “Now Thank We All Our God,” In the Meantime, 122