Sunday, July 2, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 33:6-22 & Genesis 2:4b-9
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Many of you have been asking, so I want to give you an update date on my family’s transition to Grand Haven. It has felt never ending, but the good news is that it is almost over. Finally! Early this week I was back in Detroit for the final time in our old home. Jess and the kids left on Saturday to spend a week at Montreat, North Carolina, both to catch up with old friends, and, frankly, to keep from having to be here during the move. Lucky them! On Tuesday and Wednesday our stuff finally made it to our home in Grand Haven, so we are officially residents of this fine area. I’m going to meet my family in Chicago today to celebrate some birthdays and the Fourth of July. They’ll all be coming up after the Fourth to our new home among you. Almost there! And very glad to be here with you!
Today we begin our next sermon series. Knowing that summer takes all of us in and out of town, we wanted each sermon to stand well on its own, but we also wanted something that would build up the church both in knowledge and in application. So, we decided to start at the beginning – Genesis. This new series we’re calling, “Living History,” because we believe that these ancient texts are both worth studying as a church and because they actually speak into how we live our lives today. Through the rest of the summer, we’ll be in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
I encourage you to read Genesis this summer. We’re certainly not going to cover everything in this amazing book, but there are few books in the Bible with so many interesting stories that are so broadly known in our culture. Reading them, I think they’ll surprise you, both in what you assume they say and what they actually say. In the future we’ll return to other “Living History” series, where we take on other books or people from the Bible.
Also, one more word of introduction – this Fall the whole church is going to be spending time in the Sermon on the Mount, which is Matthew 5-7. We’ll be working our way through a fabulous book called The Divine Conspiracy, written by Dallas Willard. In a few weeks there will be more information about ways you can engage this book and the Sermon on the Mount throughout the Fall. I am very excited to see how a church changes by wrestling with Jesus’ sermon, so stay tuned.
Now to the actual sermon. Today we are starting at the beginning, the creation of all things. You’ll notice that this creation account in Genesis 2 is remarkably different in tone and character than Genesis 1. The Bible begins with the words “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” and then continues along through a rhythm of days and nights. Not so in Genesis 2, which begins, “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,” shifting our focus from the cosmic to the local. There are many ways of describing something as majestic as the creation that words really cannot fully describe it.
For example, if we went down to Lake Michigan right now, and I asked you all to write me an account of what you see at the Lake, we would have accounts describing the same thing but that would be 100% unique to the individual. I think this is some of the beauty found in trying to put into words that which is indescribable. Nevertheless, there is much we can learn from these writings about the creation, so let’s dive in.
Our passage describes creation as incomplete. The earth and the heavens are there, but there aren’t plants or animals. What is missing? Someone to till the ground, which in Hebrew literally reads “there was no one to serve the ground,” so this creation account begins with things in process but not done yet. So, like a potter with clay, God “formed man from the dust of the ground” (2:6), so that this man might till the ground.
I’ve put the Hebrew words for “man,” which is “adam,” and for “land,” which “adamah” on the screen for you. In Hebrew it is very clear that there is an intimate relationship between the people and the land itself, and this doesn’t come through as clearly in English for a couple of reasons. First, the words “man” and “land” in English aren’t related in the least. Second, some of the earlier English translations of the Bible, notably the King James Version, which many of us grew up on, treat Adam as a proper name, which does finally happen clearly in the Hebrew of Genesis 4, but the Hebrew construction here reads as “adam,” a word that interestingly has its roots in the meaning “red clay” and “blood” in the Hebrew, two major components of life in this story. I think it’s very worthwhile for us to remember that humanity and the earth, even the earliest of biblical descriptions are tightly tied to each other, whether this is “adam” or “Adam,” doesn’t ultimately matter. People come from the dust of the earth, and the earth needs people to till the ground. God created the land and us in this symbiotic relationship with each other, and we must honor that relationship.
So God breathes life into this human, and he goes about his work, for the earth needs to be tilled, which is to say that the creation is meant to be constantly re-created through the activity of humans. We aren’t just random visitors here. God has a purpose for each of us in making more of the earth than it is on its own. God needs to us “serve the ground,” or cultivate it so that it would continue to produce more and more.
Now that God has someone to till the ground, God plants a bountiful garden. It’s a beautiful place, and it is a place where God provides food for the man. God also plants two special trees in the garden, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
In the midst of all this beauty and provision, God sees that the creation is still not complete. Yes, there is someone to till the ground. Yes, the garden provides. But there needs to be more. Man needs a “helper.”
So, God begins by bringing all the animals to the man, to let him name them and to see if they might be the right fit for him. I was wondering this week what that must have looked like. I mean, have you ever thought about how weird the names we have for animals are? Ostrich? Salamander? Cheetah? Maybe the man saw these animals and began with names like these…
I actually found myself wishing that these were the actual names of the animals, but I guess we live with what our forebears passed along to us, don’t we? The point is this, when we “serve the land,” we live into our role as God’s co-creators. So, what you do with the stuff of your life actually is part of what God created you do. Matter matters. You have a God-given calling to take the land and to make something of it – whether it is naming, studying, painting, legislating, teaching, parenting, or alpaca farming. We are part of God’s ongoing work of creation – of making even more of this good world.
Also, as scholar Phyllis Trible points out, God recedes into the background, “not as the authoritarian controller of events but as the generous delegator of power who even forfeits the right to reverse human decisions.” In this instance, man does not accept any of these other animals as suitable, so God goes back to the drawing board to create a human partner.
Which brings me back to the tree. Why would God put a tree that they weren’t supposed to touch in the midst of the garden? Isn’t this a little bit like putting a self-destruct button in an evil lair like they do in the movies?
One commentary answers the question like this, “The tree and the command together define the limits of creatureliness; to transgress these limits entails deciding about one’s own best interests, to become autonomous, independent of the will of God for one’s life. To refrain from eating recognizes creaturely limitations and the decisiveness of the will of God for true human life.” “To be truly a creature entails limits; to honor limits becomes necessary if the creation will develop as God intends.”
To be created means that we are not infinite the way God is. Even when everything is right, there must be the possibility (or temptation) that we can make of that thing something else. It’s about freedom. It’s also about obedience. Why the command? It doesn’t seem to be about God being vindictive. Rather, it seems to be a natural outcome of disobedience – our own death. It’s like cooking on a stovetop. It won’t burn you if you use it right. It can seriously hurt you if you don’t.
So, we have a calling to cultivate this good creation in a way that leads to more flourishing for all of us. We have partners to make our good work here even better. God also gives us the freedom to make of this earth what we will – for good or for evil. Genesis 2 urges us to tend to this earth, to care for each other, to work with each other, and to be grateful to God for this beautiful universe. From the beginning of history until this very moment, the call is for all of us to live fully into God’s creative will for the creation. That’s always been the point, and it always will be.
 The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1, p. 351.