October 3, 2021
We’re doing a double reading from the Old Testament this morning. Our second reading comes from the second creation story in Genesis. Listen as God continues speaking to you.
READ Genesis 2:18-24
I think I need to say at the outset that I am acutely aware of how fraught this passage in Genesis is with all manner of cultural and social landmines. I know that for some of you out there there may be this little voice asking “What’s this fool preacher going to say today? Is he going to be all sexist talking about women? Is there going to some gender complementary social norms foolishness disguising themselves as Biblical mandates?” Trust me when I tell you, the lectionary was going to be a bit dangerous this week no matter what. Job’s wife is tough to take as in her grief she tells Job to just get it over with and curse God and die. I doubt Job’s response calling her a foolish woman was said in love. If I had gone with the gospel reading today from Mark, Jesus is telling his disciples that “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery!”
So… I think the first thing we need to be honest about this morning is that scripture ain’t easy. It’s not always going to say what we want it to say. How could it? Why should it? I mean, outside of the whole different time different culture conflicts… if there was nothing in scripture where we didn’t find ourselves or our lives in contradiction… or if there was nothing in scripture that challenged our perception of things… or even reflected back to us the parts of ourselves we’re not proud of… then one, we would be suffering under a delusion of personal perfection according to some standard that doesn’t exist… and two, what would be the point of reading scripture. Reading from scripture… engaging with scripture is a full contact experience of body, ego, spirit, principles, past, present, future. If you’re not running into obstacles, or asking questions, or wrestling and wondering… then you’re bypassing the wisdom that imbues these writings. It may sound strange to say… but we have to step on those landmines and test them out… see what happens instead of simply presuming we already know the answers. Hopefully in my teaching and preaching, I’ve modelled some of that.
To explore this passage from Genesis I want to go ahead and change my analogy from stepping on landmines and go instead with wine tasting as our analogy. If you’ve ever been to a real wine tasting or watched someone who knows how to savor and appreciate wine… you know they do all this stuff, right. Swirl the wine around in the glass to view the legs. They breathe deep the aroma of the wine. When they do finally take a sip they swirl it around in their mouth and do this gargling like thing. Now compare that approach to wine tasting to someone who takes the glass and throws it back… downing the wine in one gulp. Nuance. Discernment. Not really their style.
But here’s the thing about this Genesis passage… to borrow from an old song lyric… there’s a black fly in your chardonnay. Now we could just throw it back… black fly and all. Or… we can examine the wine… and maybe remove that black fly first… so that we can appreciate the wine that has been poured for us. This is one of those famous clobber passages that has been used again and again. It’s been used as an argument against homosexuality. It’s been used as an argument in favor of a male hierarchy in relationships. It’s been used as a way to enforce submission to certain cultural gender roles. And all these battles… as an effort to control others through the quoting of a scripture passage… has made it so that it can be hard now to tell the black fly from the chardonnay. We become so sure that this passage says this or that… when maybe… maybe not. Quick rule of thumb… if you find yourself using scripture as a weapon… it’s the wrong spirit that’s guiding you.
As Meg can now attest since she’s studied this passage this week in her Old Testament class, there’s a reason why we Presbyterians still insist on teaching the original languages of the Bible… and why all Presbyterian minsters… whatever their skill level with the languages… good or bad… need to appreciate the art of translation. Being able to look at a passage and going back to the original language is akin to us learning how to gargle the wine and experience the different notes and shades of flavor. We’re educating our palate, so to speak. Today… because my skill with Hebrew is weak… I’m relying on the work of Dr. Lisa Wolfe who is the Professor of Hebrew Bible at Oklahoma City University, and the work she presented at workingpreacher.com... one of my favorite places go to for online reformed commentaries.
So… in looking at this second creation story in Genesis, this is the one that’s usually described as folksy. It’s got some nice poetic storytelling in the language where not everything has to make strict logical sense, but it makes artistic sense. God is creating and he has made a human being from the dust of the ground… mixed with a little water. God breathes the breath of life into human being… making it come alive. In Hebrew, there’s some nice wordplay going on. Ha-adam is made out of ha-adamah. The human being is made out of the earth or the dirt. Dr. Wolfe gives the nice phrase, “the earthling is made out of the earth”… as a way to get to the fun meaning behind this Hebrew phrase.
God… after making this human being… begins to create for this human. Trees and plants… pleasant to the sight and good for food. Rivers begin to flow bringing life to the dusty ground… both the literal dusty ground… but also here is the idea of these great rivers giving life and rise to the civilizations of ha-adam… the human being… the dusty ground. Poetic. The main idea here being the goodness of God’s creation flowing out from the goodness of God… goodness directed toward this human being. The story is meant to create a response of gratitude in us for the creation around us… how all this is being woven together for the benefit of the human being.
But God sees it is not enough. All this makes the human being alive, but it does not give life to the human. It is not good that ha-adam should be alone. To be alone is not good. There’s the wine of the story. To be alone is not good. God makes the animals… populates the earth so the human being won’t be technically by themselves. Look, there’s all these other living things around. But that’s not it either. The human being is still alone. And that’s not good. The human being needs a helper as a partner. Now this is a good time to look again at the Hebrew and Dr. Wolfe’s work. She makes an interesting point that the phrase that is translated “helper as a partner”… ezer kenegdo… that word “ezer” meaning “help” is usually applied toward God. So could there be here an indication of the quality… of what is truly needed so that the human being wouldn’t be alone? God has provided all that the human being needs to survive. God has been the helper to this point. But even God recognizes that there is something missing here. Even with all that God has done… there is something still missing.
So why not just reach down and scoop up another handful of ha-adamah… or dust of the ground… mix in a little water and breath life into another ha-adam… another human being? Why not simply do what was done before? Unless… unless there was something in that which was not enough. Maybe what this folksy, poetic story is trying to capture… is what love truly is. The creation of the partner reflects God’s heart for the ha-adam… the human being… this human being who God has given everything… and now gives perhaps the greatest gift… the gift of love between two… a love so deep that the two feel as though they are one. It’s more than romantic love… it is a deep commitment. An abiding love. A love that is hard to describe without a little poetic artistry.
If we pull out all those black flies and what they are trying to enforce or justify… what we find is that this is really a sweet little story. It’s not good that the human being shouldn’t know love… a love like God loves. It’s not enough to just make two. So the second human being is made out of… not necessarily the rib… the Hebrew isn’t that specific… but the side of the first human being. Let that image play around in your imaginations. With the rib image… you’ve got something that is taken away from the first human being. The first human being is made less than so that the second human being can come into being. There are hints of debt in that imagery… right… a debt is owed to the first being. A piece of myself was taken so you could be here. You owe me. Maybe a note of resentment, right? I know “you complete me” was a popular line from a romantic movie… but I can’t help but hear a bit of selfishness in it. It’s not about the first human being… being made whole again. Whole the first human being was alone… being alone was not good. However, coming from the side of the human being… to me… that says how that relationship is… what love is… two sides coming together to be one… a new one… a one that was more than the original. The original human being has been expanded upon and made better… and is no longer alone. Bone of my bone. Flesh of my flesh. That’s a oneness that’s a sin to tear asunder… this gift of God’s love that now abides in us… a gift that we often treat no better than the gift of the trees and the animals… and the lovingly created world around us. Take it for granted. Treat it selfishly. Use it for our own ends. Recreate being alone and disconnected. Don’t fully appreciate it until it’s gone and we realize what we’ve lost… what we’ve squandered.
Love connects us so that we are more than ourselves alone. Job and his wife were at a low point. But they were still connected and going through their pain together… if differently. They had shared the good. They now shared the bad. To not be alone in life is a gift… whether that is a spouse, or a deep friendship, or family… someone who makes us more than what we could be alone… that is the best wine to share… and savor. Amen.