Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘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.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Dr. Wil Gafney calls the book of Genesis an origin story. She says it explains “how things came to be the way they are.” And, I’d argue, that Genesis tells us something about what God hopes for the world. Because, sometimes the beginning of the story tells us something about the end of the story. And, Genesis, the beginning of humanity’s relationship with God, shows us humans being in loving, responsive relationships with God and loving, equitable relationship with each other. If our foundation is loving responsiveness and equity, perhaps our future lies in relearning to live as a connected, beloved part of creation. If we are a people rooted in love, how do we live out that love in the world?
The first creation story, Genesis 1, is a story where God made a world that was good and humanity was the crowning creation in this good work. The second creation story, part of which is our reading today, is slightly different. God still creates, but in a different order. And, in this case, order of creation matters. First, God creates heaven and earth. There is some water, though not rain, yet. But there is mud. In part of chapter 2, just before today’s reading, God takes up a pile of dirt or mud and, like a potter with clay, forms a human shape. In his commentary on this text, Dr. Dennis Olsen notes that the word for dust or dirt in Hebrew is adamah. The human-shaped mud creature is call a-dam. Now, you might be more familiar with this word not as a thing, but as a name, Adam, given to the first man. And, there is eventually a man in this story called Adam. But, this first being is not yet that man.
I remember hearing Dr. Phylis Trible call this first being a “mud creature.” Dr. Wil Gafney calls them an “earthling,” that is, a being made of earth. You see, there is a Hebrew word for “man.” In her commentary on the text, Dr. Sara Koenig says that it is the word ish. She points out that the mud creature is not called an ish. They are simply called a-dam. And, God and the a-dam are very close. They spend a lot of time together while God is creating a garden in a place called Eden. Just plants at the beginning. God only creates animals when God realizes that the earthling might get lonely. Plants, while lovely, aren’t always good companions.
In her commentary, Dr. Gafney notes that God here seems to be experimenting with creation, trying out all manner of animals to see if they work as a companion for the mud creature. Eventually, though, God sees that the mud creature will most need a creature like itself. So, God sets about to make a second one. It is likely that you, like me, learned that God was making a subordinate helper for the first human. After all, in modern English, the word “helper” often means a subordinate. But, Dr. Gafney notes that God is called a helper to humanity in the Psalms. The idea of “help” is connected with the Divine. Dr. Gafney argues that the helper is more like a co-worker... an equal. Dr. Koenig does, too. And, God realizes that in order to be equal, the co-worker must share something foundational with the first being. It makes sense, then, that God would return to the first being in order to create the second. God puts the earthling to sleep, and removes part of its side to fashion a second human.
It is only at this point in the story that the Hebrew words for man and woman, ish and ishah, are actually used in the text. When there was only one creature, only one word was necessary- a-dam. Now that there are two, we need two new words, ish and ishah in order to differentiate one from another. The newer being would become known as a woman named Eve. The part of the creature who remembered what it was to be alone, who would come to be called a man, would also be called the named Adam. Remembering that time alone, with no part of creation that seemed like them, the new man, Adam, cried out, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." It is hard to be the only one. To have a partner, a co-worker in whom you recognize yourself, is a gift.
God created two humans so that one human would not be alone. God created two humans so that they could help one another and they could be partners. God created these two out of the same stuff. Eventually, all of the rest of humankind is said to have been created through the relationship between these two. If we are looking to the beginning of the story to tell us something about how the story might end, we must start with the idea that God sees humanity and sees that we are not meant to be alone. It seems like scripture is saying that our very nature calls us into relationship. Now, when I say that we are created to be in relationship, I don't mean that everyone has to be married to feel complete. Getting married because you feel another person will fix something you are missing in your heart can cause its own set of issues. Instead, what I think this story can tell us is that our existence, all of our existence as humanity, relies on our ability to nurture relationship with other people and with God.
This reading of the Creation story demonstrates that communication, intimacy, and co-operation are just as much a part of God's creation as the Sun, Moon, and stars. It shows a compassionate God who wants to help humanity and acts on our behalf, providing us with mutuality, community, and partnerships for our journey. As we live in the midst of a pandemic that has reminded us of both the difficulty of living in isolation as well as the utter necessity of each other’s competency, compassion, and care for our very survival, it is good to be reminded that we are, in fact, made for each other. Our dependence on one another isn’t a weakness or a mistake or something to be overcome. According to the book of Genesis, our very presence in the world is evidence of God’s care and concern for humanity. We can be a gift to each other, if only we can remember that our foundation, our roots, are in love. Genesis shows us that God knows we need each other. The question becomes, then, how do we craft a life where we live like we are made for each other?
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Wil Gafney- https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2537
Sara Koenig: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1359
Dennis Olson: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=400
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.