s139o97 Somerton Park 5/10/97 Sunday 27
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." Genesis 2:18
I must admit sometimes I get very distressed how the words of Holy Scripture are hijacked by some people to pedal their own barrows. By taking passages out of context it is quite possible to prove anything and everything. The stories of the accounts of creation are a prime example of this. If you listen to the debate which has raged concerning "creation" and "evolution", one gets the distinct impression that those who don't believe in the literal words of the Bible about creation in six days are not Christians, don't trust God, neglectful of God's word and are therefore quite assuredly going to hell. It seems as if the people who believe this also think that just as God created the world in six days, it can be done away in a twinkling of an eye, and quite without warning, so everyone better believe and better believe now! You can't say we didn't warn you! So Christian evangelism and love is reduced to warning people of impending doom and of everyone else's absolutely necessity to completely turn their lives upside down.
Within the confines of a 10 minute sermon, I want to explain how far from the message of the words in Genesis this interpretation is.
I start with the passage from Gen 2.18: "It is not good that the man should be alone." What happens in the subsequent verses is all about God's care for humanity, not about how a proverbial "sword of Damocles" hangs over humanity's existence.
There are in fact two stories of the creation - which are essentially historically irreconcilable. The first story (probably composed later than the second) describes creation as a series of actions over six days. Humanity (male and female simultaneously) is created on the final day in the image of God, before God rested on the seventh day. God looks at the work of the final day and pronounces the special blessing reserved for that day - that it was very good.
So in these words we have humanity as lords over all in the heavens and on the earth, male and female are created equal, and we are blessed by our creator. No "sword of Damocles" here. Nothing is beyond us, we are unfettered and free. But this does not describe humanity's situation in totality. And so a second story is given.
In chapter two we see man as the first of God's creation. Man is so important in this story that the creation of the earth, the stars, and all the other inanimate objects are completely ignored. Man is created from the dust of the earth, but still in an intimate way by God who does the fashioning, and breathing into the creature the breath of life. That intimate caring continues with the finding of a solution for the being's loneliness, and eventually woman is created by a special act of the creator. Some have argued, and I personally believe very persuasively, that it is only with the creation of the woman that that which was left (from which the woman was made) can truly be called "man" or "Adam". So again it is not man created first then woman, but man and woman together simultaneously as a corporate being, until the divine operation which forms our reading from the Old Testament this morning, separates man and woman from each other.
So in these words we have the other side of humanity's existence, our relationship to the soil, the special nature of being animated by God, and our relationship one with another, particularly between men and women. We are tied to the earth, and we find our fulfilment in relationship with another rather than gazing into the heavens. Again no "sword of Damocles" here.
These stories are essentially historically irreconcilable. The first says that the trees and animals were created before humanity, the second says afterwards. To say God created everything in six days because the Bible says so, is to completely ignore that the Bible itself gives two different versions of creation which chronologically different. The chronology of what came first and what came after, or just what period of time, is therefore most assuredly NOT the message of these two passages.
Do not these two stories, essentially quite irreconcilable, speak of the reality of our human existence? Each speaks in its own way of our relationship to the rest of creation, our relationship with the creator, and our relationship with those around us, particularly those of the opposite gender, and in the most positive of terms.
Throughout each of these stories, the power and intimate care of God shines through, blessing us as we reach for the stars in our prayers and aspirations, as well as when we muddle along in the humdrum of daily life and relationships.
One really doesn't need a PhD in Theology to see that these stories are about God blessing rather than intimidating us; more about our relationship with creation, humanity and God, than causing us to fear. The stories are about encouraging us to see our worth in God's eyes - not about making us believe some things about God, lest God be miffed and angry and be moved to eradicate all of creation in a fit of pique.
This theme is continued in both of the other readings for today.
The reading from Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honour, subjecting all things under their feet." Hebrews 2:6-8. Again the positive and encouraging words about the honour with which we stand in the eyes of God, over and above the rest of the animate and inanimate creation.
And the second part of the gospel reading stresses that even little children have their place in God's kingdom, by their very nature.
So "getting us to believe" is actually not on God's agenda. We can choose to believe that God created in six days if we choose, or over aeons of years as modern science seems to suggest. These things are not central to the good news message of the first two chapters of Genesis - indeed I suspect they militate against that message. They militate against that message because they deny the universal blessing of God on the whole of creation, most eloquently there described, and restricted it (on what grounds I have yet to determine) only to those who believe that one particular account of creation in the Bible is historically and factually true, when historically and factually it is irreconcilable with another account also in the Bible.
The issue of misusing scripture is of course not new, and Jesus speaks of the dignity of humanity and our "hardness of heart" in trying to get our own way, when it come to divorce. The permissibility or denial of the possibility of divorce and remarriage can be tackled in a number of ways. We can take the path of making laws to force people into acting respectfully, just as some seem to want to threaten with eternal damnation to make people believe. Each of these is to use a more powerful external force to cajole others to change their ways. But this is to replace one form of disrespect with another, one form of violence with another. In the end we are called to respect other people, which will never come about using either socially unacceptable or socially acceptable violence.
I want to finish this sermon with the observation that we are attracted to someone when we see something of ourselves in them. So too in our significant partners in life - we see - as Adam saw something of himself in Eve - "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh". God is in this sense no different - God has made us, male and female in his image, and so God sees something of the divine in us - in the times of great hopes and aspirations and in the humdrum and mundane times of our life - whoever we are, whatever we believe or don't believe, which ever particular sins we have succumbed to, or not.
This is what true Christian evangelism and love is all about. Not reduced to warning people of impending doom and of everyone else's absolutely necessity to completely turn their lives upside down - but like God, seeing something of God in ourselves and in others.
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