September 8, 2019

“Created to Live Together”

Genesis 2:15-25

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

September 8, 2019 (Pentecost +13)

 

Today we begin the Year 2 cycle of readings from the Narrative Lectionary.  A lectionary is a prescribed schedule of readings from the Bible, intended to help churches read a variety of Scripture passages and not just focus on favorites all the time.  Lectionaries help us to receive the whole wisdom of the Scriptures.  And when we follow a lectionary, it is encouraging and unifying to know that others who are worshipping that day are reading the same Scriptures.  

 

The Narrative Lectionary, which we’ve followed for the past four years is a relatively new one.  It is a four-year cycle, each year based on one gospel.  This is how it is described on the Narrative Lectionary website:  “On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church.  The texts show the breadth and variety of voices within Scripture. They invite people to hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets, Jesus, and Paul.  Listening to the many different voices within Scripture enriches preaching and the life of faith.”  (http://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_faqs.aspx  Accessed 09-06-2019)

 

When we read through the Bible, we get a sense of the overarching narrative, the story of God’s presence and relationship with God’s people.  This story invites us to reflect on our own connection with and our place in it as members of the Body of Christ.  

 

Today we begin with the Creation story, and this fall we will work our way through the stories of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, and some of the prophets.  By the time we reach Advent, the readings will have us anticipating the coming of the Messiah and we will be ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas.

 

We had a good start this morning when the Intergenerational Activities group read our Scripture reading from Genesis 2. You are all invited to come every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. to hear, learn and discuss the story of the day. It’s a good way to prepare for worship. It’s also a good opportunity to get to know each other across generations and to help each other grow in our faith and understanding of the Scripture.  

 

Today’s story of Creation is the second account of Creation in Genesis.  In previous years we’ve read the creation story from chapter 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” Scholars have noted the two different creation stories and understand them to have originated in different contexts in response to different experiences of God in Israel’s history. Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a is thought to be a product of the Babylonian exile, while Genesis 2:4b – 25, is from 10thcentury (B.C.E.) Judah.  Each story portrays the Creator God differently.  The first story is of an omnipotent, holy God who simply speaks creation into existence.  There is a rhythm in the days of creation where God speaks, something new appears, God declares it to be good, and the day comes to an end.  The second creation story reveals God as hands-on, playing with the humus, creating the first human from the dust of the ground and speaking directly to him.  This is the God who gets down on his knees to relate to creation.

 

Like the four gospels that describe Jesus’ life from different perspectives, the two creation stories give us different views of our incomprehensible, multi-faceted God: how God created, and how and why humans were created.  These stories do not contradict each other, but rather complement each other as they tell the story of creation from different perspectives.

 

The thing that struck me as I read Genesis 2 this time around is how God created humans and animals to be in relationship. After creating the first human and placing the human in the Garden of Eden, God noted, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him” (v. 18).  This is notable because in the previous chapter, whatever God created was declared “good.”  This is the first instance when something God created was not “good.”  It was not good for the human to be alone.

 

Dave Daubert, a pastor in Illinois, connected this with the image of God in which humans were created.  He wrote, “God sees that just as God contains a relationship with God’s self (the Trinity), so humankind is essentially relational. Without relationships with others, each person is in a ‘not good’ place.”  (www.zionelginil.org, accessed 9-4-2019).

 

So God tried to help the human find this relationship with the animals God had created.  God brought all the wild animals and birds to the human, to see what name he would give them. “…(A)nd whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals”(v. 19b).  God gave the human the responsibility to name all the animals, with the hope that that would be a connection, a relationship that would make everything “good.”

 

Names are powerful.  That’s why parents deliberate, fret and consult others before naming their newborn babies.  What we name someone shapes them.  When someone calls you by name, you feel acknowledged and recognized, don’t you?  

 

Two weeks ago Lee Cataluna, who writes a regular column for the Honolulu Star Advertisercalled out the ESPN broadcasters for not trying hard enough to correctly pronounce the names of the boys from Maui who were playing in the Little League World Series.  She wrote:

“The National Education Association warns that minimizing the significance of getting a student’s name right is a kind of microagression, an everyday act of discrimination.

 

“So what does it mean when a group of network announcers, people who are professional speakers, are paid to call a baseball game on live national television but can’t be bothered to correctly pronounce the names of the players?

 

“I’m looking at you, ESPN. You need to know that all of Hawaii is watching when island teams go up to the Little League World Series year after year, and at this point no one is giving you a pass on the kids’ names. It’s been too many times already. Get some coaching.

 

“Not only did Karl Ravech, David Ross and Kyle Peterson fumble the names on air, their disregard spilled over to the kid broadcasters who were calling the game on ESPN2. You guys, it’s not enough to joke about your inability to learn to say a kid’s name correctly. You need to get it right. According to Ravech, all of you have children of your own. How would you feel if, on national television with cameras focused right on your brave and brilliant child, some sloppy announcer messed up his or her name?  (Honolulu Star Advertiser, August 28, 2019)

 

One of the boys’ parents even made a big sign showing her son’s name phonetically, which the cameras focused on, and the broadcasters still didn’t bother to learn to say it correctly.

 

Paying attention to names is a big deal in a relationship.  The parents of those boys chose their names with care at their births.  Including the naming of the animals by the human was an indication of the connection God wanted them to have.  You will be called rabbit.  Your name is platypus.  You will be called porcupine.  You are hippopotamus.  The giving of a name recognized each animal as distinct from all the other animals.  The giving of a name conveys value.  A relationship was formed between the one naming and the animal being named.  In naming each animal, the human was saying to them, “You are different from all the others and I will recognize you by this name.”

 

But even after naming all the livestock, birds of the air and all the beasts of the field, the human was still lonely.  There was a connection with all the animals, but not one deep enough that would join with the man in his responsibility of tending the garden.  It still wasn’t “good.”  There was still no suitable helper for the human.  

 

It is important to note that the "suitable helper" God was seeking for the human was not a subordinate.  The Hebrew word ezer, translated “helper,” has the sense of a complementary partner, not a person of inferior rank or skill.  The Hebrew word has none of the subordinate connotation that our English has.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word is used more often to describe God, as in Psalm 54:4, "Surely God is my help (ezer); the Lord is the one who sustains me."

 

So in one more effort to find a suitable helper, God crafted the woman from a rib from the man.  And when Yahweh brought the woman to the man, there was a joyous recognition of one like himself:  "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man"(v. 25a).  Creation was good again.  Until humanity was made in relationship to itself, in the image and likeness of the relationship within the Trinity, humans were not complete.

 

Last week we reflected on the fact that we are sojourners together.  We do not walk the journey of faith alone, but with a community, with each other. Way back at the beginning of humanity, at creation, humans were made to be in relationship with each other and with the animals, with all creation.  They were created to live together.

 

We are challenged by this story to pay attention to all these relationships, to speak the names of all of God’s creatures and give them all due respect.  We are challenged to love and care for each other, especially the least among us—the most vulnerable, the hurting, the outcast, the poor, those who have no power. We are challenged to nurture all the relationships that God has given to us.

 

It is not easy.  People have a way of messing up each other’s names, of hurting each other, whether intentionally or not.  It’s easier to ignore those in need rather than give up our many comforts to reach out to them.  Maybe we sometimes feel compassion fatigue, with all the needs in the world.  There are so many refugees around the world. There are so many people whose homes and livelihoods have been impacted by Hurricane Dorian, just one of many natural disasters around the world.  Then there are the human-made disasters that have resulted in so many deaths and injuries. And those are just the needs humans are facing.  Many animals are facing the challenge of extinction.  We are called by God to pay attention to all these people and animals and parts of creation that all have names.

 

The hope we have is that while God has given us the responsibility of caring for each other and for creation, God continues to be with us and strengthens us to live faithfully.  The story that continues in Genesis chapter 3 is what is known as “The Fall,” when sin enters the story and humans disobey God.  The good news is that even though humanity is alienated from God, the relationship is never irreparably broken.  God continues to reach out to care for humanity and is persistent in inviting us to return to fellowship with God.  That is the story that continues to unfold in the Scriptures.  It is the story that we read in the life of Jesus, and in the rest of the Bible. This is the great narrative in which we, as people of faith, take part and live.

 

As we read through the Old Testament over the next few months, I encourage you to pay attention to the relationships that are built and deepened in the giving and receiving of names.  The narrative we will be reading together, the narrative that we are a part of is about God, who is constantly seeking to connect with us, to build and strengthen relationships.  God is all about building relationships with us, and building relationships between humans and all living creatures.  We were created to live with God, with each other and all of humanity, with all creatures and creation.  We were created to live together.  Thanks be to God!