River at Dawn

Scripture can be found here

Working Preacher commentary by Roger Nam can be found here

Welcome to Year 2 of the Narrative Lectionary! (Frequently Asked Questions can be found here…)

If someone asked you to sit down and tell them the story of God’s relationship to this world and the people in it, hitting all the highlights, how would you tell that story? The Narrative Lectionary is an attempt to help us to do just that. It gives us the story of God and God’s people as we find it set forth in scripture, and seeks to focus on the people and stories most foundational to the Christian faith.

And so, each fall we begin with creation. This year’s passage focuses on the second creation story. The first story, contained in Genesis 1:1-2:4a, has been described as a great liturgy of the seven days of creation, complete with repetitious phrasing of God speaking all that exists into being. It is cosmic in scope, beginning with the creation of light itself, turning to the heavens and earth, and all that is in them.

Our passage is very different. While the first story provides a picture in broad and sweeping strokes, Genesis 2:4b and following zooms in– after a very long parenthetical statement situating the act in the larger story– on the creation of the “man” (NRSV). In fact, the creature is not initially gendered; the Hebrew (adam) indicates “human,” or, more accurately, “earth-creature” (adamah = “dust from the ground”). God “forms” the human, strongly implying that God does this with God’s own hands. God forms adam from the adamah, and then breathes the breath-of-life into the man, making him a “living being” (nephesh– also translated “soul”).  Fun fact: According to scripture, animals also have nephesh— see Genesis 2:19, “living creature.” Following the creation of the man, God plants a garden in Eden, and places the man there.

In discussing the structure of good writing, Anton Chekhov famously said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, appearing in Genesis 2:9, is the proverbial “rifle.” Following a description of the creation of four rivers that watered the Near/ Middle East, the narrative returns to the tree with a pronouncement from God:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”~Genesis 2:16-17

We are assured that this detail will be relevant to the story as it unfolds.

The narrative concerning the creation of the woman follows. God seeks to make the earth-creature a “helper” (ezer) to be his “partner.” It is good to remember that the word for helper occurs most frequently in the Old Testament in reference to God; for example, But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. ~Psalm 54:4. The Hebrew word ezer is thus suffused with dignity, and the role of “helper” does not imply inferiority. 

God does not get it right, not at first. God makes lots of animals and birds in an attempt to provide a helper before settling on the one who is later described as “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).  In fact, God as represented in this story is very human-like– the already-mentioned playing with mud pies in terms of the hands-on creation of the human, the planting of gardens, the conversations with the human, the making-the-right-helper situation. Later God will walk in the evening breezes to enjoy the garden. This second creation story gives us a glimpse at a conception of God that feels earlier than the first creation story’s cosmic genius. Taken together, the two narratives reveal something to us about the understanding of God scripture, though it’s not simply stated or defined. We might say that the understanding of God evolves. It changes. Or perhaps we get to hear different understandings of God, a multiplicity of voices or views. In either case, enjoy the specificity of this God, doing this exact act of creation, in this story.

A word from Phyllis Trible on Genesis 2:24. In a continuing education class at Union Theological Seminary (NYC) in October 2009, Prof. Trible was asked: Does this verse tell us that God does not approve of homosexuality? She paused a moment before answering. Her reply: “In order for this verse to say something to us about homosexuality, it would have to have…?”… and here, she paused, waiting for the class to fill in the blank, which, after a few seconds, we did. “Another man, or another woman.” In her opinion, this passage is silent on that particular topic.

The last verse of our passage deserves mention as well: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” ~Genesis 2:25. (The word translated “wife” can also mean, simply, “woman.”) This verse raises the matter of nakedness and shame. More exactly, it juxtaposes them in a way that is at least mildly surprising to a modern reader. “Just wait,” we think. And we are not wrong.

Sermon seeds: I’m drawn to several aspects of this passage.

  1. The matter of two creation stories (which may be a surprise to congregations). Why two? What is the significance for the faithful, that we have two fairly different versions of what probably only happened once? I love the nearness of God, the anthropomorphic presentation of a God who makes us from mud, and even does a little surgery.
  2. The Hebrew reveals something profound about connection of the man/ human to the earth (adam/ adamah). They are, in essence, one substance. What if we understood ourselves to be so connected to the earth it was reflected in what we called ourselves?
  3. The verses about the creation of the rivers (Genesis 2:10-14) speak to the riches that are present in creation. God creates a masterpiece, to the last detail. The verses are visually evocative… we can see the gleaming golden land of Havilah, circled around by the Pishon.
  4. The final portion of the passage, of course, is of great interest. And the stakes are high. It matters how we understand the creation of the woman, and that this author (humorously? whimsically?) states the exact opposite of what most of us understand to be true: woman is not, in fact, “taken out of man.” It matters that, in popular Christian imagination, Genesis 2:24 gives rise to the punchline “…not Adam and Steve.” If we read it aloud, we should probably speak to it in the sermon.

Tell me your thoughts! What draws you in this very familiar section of Genesis? I look forward to our conversation in the comments.
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19 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Creation- Again!- Edition

  1. Pat, this is lovely, and will be helpful to so many different congregations using the NL. I love that you set the context for both the start of the NL year, if people are jumping in for the first time, and for the creation stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My thoughts after my text study last week (we’ll see how they translate into a sermon)….
    Gen 1 God speaks creation. Gen 2–God shows us creation.

    God gets God’s hands dirty (literally) in creation. God is not at a remove, but kneeling down in the dirt, digging in our rib cage. It is messy.

    My friend Ken pointed out that perhaps if Adam had not been put in such a deep sleep when his rib was removed, then perhaps we’d better remember our connectedness to each other. So many problems in the world today seem to stem from our forgetting that we’re related–we share ribs, we are built from the same pieces.

    And Adam’s first words weren’t recorded until there was another human for him to speak with. Language requires community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marci, I love all these sermon seeds! I forgot one myself: the whole “Soul/ Living Being”-Nephesh thing regarding animals. I know there are folks with whom that would really connect, including in my congregation!

      And my sermon last Sunday was built around the whole “Is God close at hand, or impossibly far away?” It seems a sermon could use both creation stories to play with that question.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m going to use the nephesh, too, about the animals, as kind of an introduction! We adore our animals, but we are made from the same “clay” as other people; we belong to each other.


  3. I have always found a nice parallelism in the fact that the Scripture story begins and ends in a garden where the tree of life grows. And so I am also having Revelation 22:1-5 read and talking about gardens and paradise. Yesterday afternoon, after I wrote my early thoughts, it also occurred that there is another significant garden in the Scripture story, so Easter may make an appearance on Sunday as well. My early thoughts are here:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I too am using Revelation 22… great minds! 🙂

      Though…I am using it because of the river, not the garden. I never caught that connection, being more focused on the city Jerusalem (probably because one of my seminary profs was known for the statement, “The bible begins in a garden and ends in a city.”)

      And, yes, that other garden. For sure!


  4. I never posted this on my blog so can’t link you to it, but for what it’s worth (and please, please pardon the length of the posting) here’s a sermon preached on the themes you are discussing above (Pat Raube and Revgord)–

    Once In A Garden

    The first gift God gave humans was to make us from clay, to give us kinship with dirt. God named the first earthling adam, meaning ‘human,’ from the root word, adama, meaning ‘soil.’ To be human is to be grounded, in the earth. And when we remember that we’re dust, when we know our place, we become wise. And that’s a great gift.

    The second gift God gave humans was breath, kinship with God, a sharing in God’s own life. The adam is related to God by breath, and every breath the human draws is full of God’s own desires. We humans resemble God in this way, we’re drawn to beauty and full of appetites.

    Which is one reason God gives the earthlings another gift, The Garden, “beautiful to look at and good for food.” In the Garden, they could satisfy their desires, especially their desire for God. For God lived in the Garden too, strolling in the cool of the evening among rocks and plants and streams, with kitties, kangaroos, earthlings, earthworms, bunnies and bears.

    And that was the way it was, once in a Garden—shared life, companions and kin, creatures all, made-in-the-shade of the Tree of Life that grew in a Garden near Eden, in the East of God’s new and wonderful world.

    Now, it wasn’t all play and no work for the humans. The world outside the Garden was perfect, but unfinished. Help was wanted: an on-site tiller of soil, someone who would care for the earth. God made the world with room in it for involvement and participation, for evolution and improvement. That’s why God made Adam, the first gardener.

    You’ve probably heard that God commanded Adam and Eve to ‘fill the earth and subdue it.’ To multiply and have dominion. And God does say that, but not in this story. The Bible has two creation stories, and in this one, God doesn’t say fill and subdue, but till and care. The first story leads to possession and mastery. The second leads to belonging and participation.

    So, in our story, Adam has work to do, but it’s joyful work, because when he cares for the earth, earth cares for him too.

    Then the story takes a sad turn. We didn’t read this part, but you know it. A smooth talking serpent appears and plants seeds of mistrust in the human heart. And that mistrust becomes a wedge. It splits things.

    Humans had never felt shame in being naked; now they do. Their relationship with their own bodies is broken.

    Once they’d walked with God; now they’re afraid of God and try to hide. Their relationship to God is broken.

    Once they called each other ‘my flesh and blood’; now they turn on each other in accusation and blame. Their relationship to other humans is broken.

    God closes the Garden and sends the humans into the world outside. There they discover that their relationship to nature is damaged too. Participation in the world now brings suffering as well as joy. The story says that’s a punishment, but it’s not really. It’s just that we’re so deeply connected to the world that when things aren’t right with us, they’re wrong in nature too. And nature won’t be right again until we are.

    But even with all its hardships, the world was still wondrous. Yet it never fully satisfied us like the Garden did. We planted garden after garden ourselves, hoping to sense God’s footfalls in the grass, to see flowers that don’t fade, to hear God speak to the heart. But nothing we made was like what we lost.

    The story goes in many directions from here. For Christians, it goes to Jesus, God’s Child. The story says he came to find and stay with us who’d become so lost and lonely. He left his own Eden with God and took an earthy body, just like ours.

    But by then, we were so practiced in ignoring our kinship with creatures and God that when he came to us in human flesh, breathing the divine breath, we did to him what we were doing to each other.

    We treated him like a foreigner, even though he stirred a deep memory when he told stories of gardens and seeds, trees and birds, lilies, and harvests gathered into barns.

    We said we didn’t know him, even though he ate, drank, sang, and danced with the happy abandon of one who knew what life was like in the Garden.

    We regarded him as a stranger, even though we heard the accent of Eden in the way he talked and felt its cool breezes in the way he lived.

    In a cruel twist, when we seized him, it was in a garden. And when killed him, we buried him in one too.

    The ancient creeds say that as soon as he died, he descended to a gloomy place where for eons long-dead ancestors were waiting for the Messiah. Jesus “harrowed” them. That’s an old word for raking. Like a harvester, he raked them up and gathered them into his new life. Later, back at the garden tomb on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene saw him, but she thought he was a gardener. She wasn’t really wrong.

    Genesis is the Bible’s first book. It recounts the first creation. Revelation is the Bible’s last book. It promises a new creation when time ends. The new earth, it says, will be like a jeweled city with walls and towers, but in its center God will plant a Tree of Life, just as God did once in a Garden.

    The Tree will yield a different fruit each month, and its leaves will be medicinal for the nations—for all people, no matter who. A Tree of diversity and healing, a Garden undefiled. It’s hard to imagine. We amass guns in our gardens. We bulldoze thousand-year olives. We believe we can demean, ignore, oppress, unhouse, and kill each other, and exploit water, earth, air, and animals, and suffer no lasting harm.

    But now, as we witness the effects of our self-delusion, the truth scripture teaches is stark. In disappearing ice caps and disappearing bees and very sick children we see plainly that there’s no separation between human beings and nature, between this nation and that nation, between this continent and that island, between our own generation and those to follow. We’re in this together. For better, and for worse.

    Some people say it’s too late for the earth, too late for us. But although earth has been entrusted to our care, it’s still God’s earth, not ours. We can either believe that, or we can despair. It’s still God’s creation. We can either trust God, or we can despair.

    I think we won’t despair. I think we will read and study and pray the Garden story, over and over. I think we’ll speak to each other about Eden and earth, about creatures and God and divine breath, about Adam the gardener and Eve the mother and Jesus, our brother, the new Adam, the harvester of life. I think we won’t despair because we have this great green story and in it, a mission and a calling.
    I think we won’t despair. I think we’ll install new windows in the parish house. I think we’ll light the sanctuary with LEDs. I think we’ll ponder how to invest our money and reduce our footprint.

    And it won’t seem like much against the odds. But each small thing we do will be a kind of remembering, a reconnection of broken kinship, an act of love. Small thing by small thing, we will become ourselves a Garden, an oasis, a taste of Eden, at play and at rest as God intended for us and every creature under heaven.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’m also a Revelation girl!

    This is my second Sunday at my new interim/transitional pastor position. I’m going to talk about how humans get to participate with God in the creating process (I’m just going to work the naming thing here and try and remember between now and then brilliant things other people have said about our creating with God). I’ll also use some modified asset mapping – folks will write down different gifts they have that God has/is/might be calling them use and put that in the offering plate – which I’ll show them next week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooohhhh… Amy Fetterman I may be stealing your asset mapping idea. I’ve done that with several congregations, but never during worship. I like it!


  6. We are starting our third year of the NL, and I am SO looking forward to getting back to it after a summer off.
    The theme we have set for the first five weeks is “Names and Faces” (or something like that–names to faces? faces to names? we can’t agree on which way the saying goes, LOL). The sermon title for this week is “putting a name to a face”…I’ll be talking about how language creates reality–God brings the animals to the man to see what he will call them, and whatever he calls them, that is what they are. So this God who speaks things into being gave us that gift as well, and didn’t just leave Adam to do it, but brought the animals to him and asked him to do it…and so it was.

    I will probably do something with the partner business as well, because I don’t feel like I can just leave the whole woman-out-of-man thing there without mentioning it at all.

    We have communion this week too, so I will both need to a) be concise and b) come up with some liturgy that incorporates similar themes.

    I haven’t decided fully on hymns, other than our season theme hymn (“Source and Sovereign, Rock and Cloud”) and “All Creatures of Our God and King”…I still need 2 more. There are so many creation hymns to choose from I’m not sure how to narrow it down when I only get the one week!


  7. Teri, we also have communion, so I’m facing some of the same challenges with the service. The hymns we’re singing are “Shall We Gather at the River,” “Many and Great”, and “I Love to Tell the Story.” I love your seasonal themes!

    I’m doing a breath theme through September and for World Communion: Breath of Life, Breath of Laughter, Breath of Forgiveness, and Breath of Freedom.

    Looking forward to hearing how it goes for everyone!


  8. I plan on focusing on the first half of verse 18, “Then the Lord said that ‘It is not good that the man should be alone…” I’ll talk about how God is opposed to isolation. The focus will then be on identity, specifically how where we come from plays into our identity, with the sermon title, From Dust. Where we come from may root us, but it may also be limiting. I’ll bring in the rejection of Jesus in Mark and Luke.


    1. Martin, thanks for this. Seriously, connection is all over the place. God is connected to the man in creating him by hand, the animals too– and they and the man are connected by being made from the same dust of the earth. And then the woman, bone of bone, flesh of flesh. Really goes to the heart of the story. Thanks for stopping by!


  9. Just found this on a site called Biblical Hermeneutics, in an entry by one Jack Douglas:

    “Adam is a triune creature: Genesis 1 portrays him as physical, Genesis 2 as social and Genesis 3 as ethical.”

    I feel that this is important. Needed to share.


  10. I thought I’d share my sermon here. I was pleased to be able to articulate something I only discovered while writing this sermon: First, my conviction that it is a misreading to think of the passage about the creation of woman to be focused on the femaleness of the woman. I think it’s clear that the setup– God creating all the animals in hopes THEY would be good partner/ helpers– tells us that it is the humanness of the woman that matters, that makes her bone of bone and flesh of flesh. (This is not unlike the misreading of the incarnation that focuses on the maleness of Jesus, rather than the humanity.)

    Second, the male human is afforded the dignity of acceptance or refusal. God listens respectfully to the human’s no, and yes.

    This all feels like a breakthrough to me.


    I can’t help feeling that we are at the beginning of a great adventure!

    I know, I know. An adventure only a bible nerd would love, right?

    But… I really believe this is an adventure, and one for all of us. We are opening our bibles, as we do every Sunday morning, with the expectation that God will speak a word to us. And because it is the beginning of our program year here at UPC, and because we are beginning another cycle of the Narrative Lectionary, we are opening our bibles to the beginning of the story that has been passed down to us for thousands of years.

    This is our story. This is the story of God, and God’s relationship with people. From the beginning. (Almost.) And this story is important. It’s important if you are, say, a high school student who’s being asked to read great English literature, because everyone from Shakespeare to Steinbeck has tried to explain what it is to be human by dipping into this deep well of memory and history and poetry. It’s important if you are interested in what’s going on in the world, because some of the rivalries and family feuds found in this book are still playing themselves out 5000 years later. It’s important if you are interested in things like why families and coworkers drive each other crazy, because the dynamics described in the relationships in this book are timeless. People have been people for a long, long time.

    And, of course, if you are here on a Sunday morning in September, this story is important because it is the foundational story of our faith. This is our story. And whether you believe in a creation that happened in seven days, or that something like the Big Bang set things rolling, you are here because you have a conviction or a hunch that some greater being, higher power, ultimate authority was behind it all. That’s why I’m here, too.

    We are starting almost at the beginning… The great seven-day liturgy of creation is described in chapter 1, and we come in on chapter 2. Here, we zoom in for a close-up of God creating the human beings.

    What shall we say about a Creator who makes mud pies? That God was feeling playful? That God was an artist, working with clay, striving to make perfect a dream God had about the human? One thing we can say for sure is that God gets close—intimate—with this creature, molded by the very hands of God. Did God have hands? God does not stay at a remove. God is in the mud, in the mess… and then, oh most holy and magical moment, almost unimaginable, God blows into this creature the breath of life. God shares God’s own life with us. At the beginning of the story of God and people, we learn that God is connected with us. Intimately connected.

    Someone once noticed that in chapter 1 of Genesis we find out that human beings are physical. In chapter 2 we find out that they are social….[i] Can you guess what chapter 3 will tell us? A very large clue appears in the text.

    And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” ~Genesis 2:16-17

    Once upon a time, Anton Chekhov was talking about good writing, and he said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the proverbial “rifle.” It “goes off” in chapter 3, when the humans struggle with what it means to be ethical.[ii]

    One of the most poignant sentences in scripture must be, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’” God, who created the human, and breathed the breath of life into him, is already connected to the human. Of course God recognizes the human’s need for connection, too.

    And then we have a part of the story that would have the ancient people rolling around laughing by the campfire the first time they heard it. God goes about trying to make the human just the right partner. I want to point out, without being too hard on the Creator, that it takes God a little time to get it right. And I want to point out that there are plenty of people who think that God wasn’t entirely wrong in the first attempts… that sometimes, a wonderful canine or feline companion really can be your best friend. God keeps going away, playing in the mud, and coming back to the human and saying, “How about this?” as a little sparrow flaps about in the divine hand, or a cow sways nearby patiently, chewing. And the human shakes his head. No. Not that one.

    It takes God a while. But eventually God decides to try a more invasive procedure, sends the human off for a nap, and removes his rib, to be fashioned into just the right partner, helper, and companion. And… it seems to me, God is successful because it occurred to God that what was needed was another human, in this case a woman. I know this passage is often put forth as an argument against same-sex relationships, but I would like to offer this: A seminary professor once told her class that this passage doesn’t really address that issue, because what would we need to have in this passage? That’s right. Another man. Or another woman.[iii]

    The right companion, helper, and partner for a human is another human. And the recognition is instant: the one we will call “Adam” exclaims in wonder, “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!” Finally, after a lot of swings and misses, God has hit a home run. This time the human, whom God gives the dignity to accept or refuse, says, “Yes.”

    That does not mean the two humans are in for a smooth ride. They will obtain knowledge of good and evil, and it will mean a kind of death… but not in this chapter. Here, and now, they live in Eden. There is no fear or shame in them, only innocence and joy and that connection that God so wisely devised.

    God created us for connection, and just because this story highlights what we see as a marriage, let’s not forget: that’s not the only kind. There are friendships, and partnerships, and parents and children and extended families. There are co-workers, and mentor relationships, and doctor-patient relationships. There are people with whom we come together on a Sunday morning to share our story, and the story of what it means to be God’s people. God breathed the breath of life into us, creating us for all these connections. Our Big Adventure is just beginning. Thanks be to God. Amen.


    [i] Mike Bull, answering the question, “Is Breath of Life the same as Spirit?” Biblical Hermeneutics, http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2739/is-breath-of-life-in-genesis-27-is-the-same-as-spirit.

    [ii] Ibid.

    [iii] Phyllis Trible, Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Bible, Union Theological Seminary, At “Union Days,” October 2009.


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