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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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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