When the woman opened her closet door, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Definitely not what I saw on the full shelves. Serving as a hospice chaplain, I was always interested in what people did to prepare for the death they knew was coming. Family visits, long-delayed trips, going to the beach and sitting outside soaking up the sunshine were all familiar preparations for death. This woman, though, had chosen a different kind of solace. “When I die,” she said, pointing to the shelves in her closet, “each of my three children will receive nine bound volumes of my genealogical research.”
Read the scripture here.
Read the Working Preacher commentary by Dr. Jacq Lapsley.
For her, the best way to prepare for an uncertain future was to examine the past, and to know her roots. As we begin a new program year, and an uncertain school year, the lectionary takes us back to the beginning to tell us who we are. We begin again with a reminder of our creation, straight from the muddy hands of God. I love that the Bible compilers kept both creation stories, and set them next to each other, different as they are. In this version of creation, humankind comes first, and then the other creatures, made from the same material. We share our essential nature with the other creatures in the world.
In this version, there are conflicting desires from the very beginning. If we think disagreement is unsettling, here’s the story to remind us that it’s baked into human life from the start. In that setting, humankind promptly strives for more.
When I would go out with friends as a teenager, my mother would always caution “remember who you are.” At that time, her words zipped by my ears as I rushed out. Now, as I’m older, the reminder feels poignant. The sermon might consider who we are, especially as the pandemic has changed our work habits and school schedules. Now, the outer signs of our identity are missing. Who cares if we have a fancy office if we’re working at the dining room table? An impressive title doesn’t translate on Zoom. Is it still fifth grade if the teacher is on a screen and there are no rule-the-school recess privileges? This is a good time to ponder who we are, rooted in our creation by the divine hands, when we don’t have so many external distractions.
Or, the sermon might examine how we learn. In this story, the unexpected (a snake) and the challenging (a question) are prods toward learning. The early human beings become wiser the same way we do, through mistakes and growth. The sermon might explore the richness in these difficult lessons.
Or the sermon might explore what kind of relationship God wants with humankind. Apparently, it’s not unthinking obedience. God promises death if the humans eat from the tree, and instead gives them a different kind of life. The God who shapes humanity from the dust, and breathes in the breath of life, is also the God who seeks human companionship in the garden, and who offers a different path for the humans.
Where are your thoughts taking you this Sunday? We would love to hear, and to continue the conversation, in the comments section below.
Mary Austin is the Senior Pastor of Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, where the members come from over 30 countries. While she’s working at home, the family screened porch is her temporary office, and she’s grateful to be surrounded by birds and trees during Zoom calls. The image above is from Pexels, by Rahul Pandit.
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