then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being -Genesis 2:7
Let’s start by acknowledging what we find in Genesis 2 and 3. We all know that Genesis 1 tells us a story of creation, but Genesis 2 also reveals to us a second story on creation, one that is a bit different than our first story of creation.
Looking back quickly at last week. In the beginning there was chaos, and God shaped our universe out of that chaos, kind of like a gray milky substrate, like the ink of a 3D printer. In a world that we can so clearly see tend towards decay and destruction, God is active and present, providing order, or rather growth, or life, a true miracle.
And what is interesting is the order of events in Genesis One matches up with our basic understanding of our universe today, that things took shape out of a kind of chaos that followed the big bang, and that the earth and the water were here before life and that plants came first, and then animals and then people, which I would risk to say aligns, to a certain degree, with our basic understanding of the order of creation and evolution. The time frame is obviously pretty different, but the similarities can still be striking.
It also proclaims that we, as humans, are made in the image of God to be in control of all the earth, the words used by the writer of this part of Genesis are actually quite harsh, that we are to subdue and have dominion over the earth, implying to some degree, that the earth needs us to keep things in order.
We talked a little bit too about how the lines of verse seem to almost repeat themselves, only slightly different. This is something very very common in genesis, called redaction, where multiple sources were actually brought together to create one story, it happens all over the place. The different threads have been given names by biblical scholars, the priestly writer, the yahwist source, the elohim source, the deutoromic source, along with a few smaller voices. A great deal of biblical scholarship actually has been an attempt to gently pull apart the narratives using grammar and linguistic styles along with themes and the names used for God in Hebrew.
So now onto the second creation story. There are a few clear contrasts to Genesis One. First, in our second story, plants and animals appear to be created after Man was created, contrasting our first creation narrative.
Another contrast is that the Garden of Eden is created, to a certain extent, for the pleasure of Humans, and Man is meant to till it and keep it. A much different understanding of our relationship to the natural world.
The two stories certainly imply a different relationship the world around us, and also a slightly different relationship between us and God. The differences are subtle though to say the least.
We can discuss the contrasts and the differences and the similarities, but we would be missing the point, we would be getting caught up in focusing on the map for itself instead of the destination it leads us to. I point out the differences between to two stories to remind us of the diversity of the bible, that it is a starting point, but we need to engage in it, and meditate on it, and listen to it, and build a relationship with it, that we need to read it carefully. We need to pay attention for the moments that transcend, the moments of beauty.
And Genesis 2 has one moment of beauty in particular. The moment where Adam, or Ha Adam, translated to The Man, is created out of Adama translated as Dust or rather soil, earth, humus. That God breathed life into such an element substance. In this story, God is the giver of Life. Dust is the foundation for the universe, it is all made out of Dust. Again we are struck with an incredibly profound truth about the universe, that we are all dust, an irrevocable truth, embraced here by our science and our theology.
I love this image, particularly for our gardeners out there, who have observed and stewarded the growth of plants, who have paid attention to the soil, who have seen the first shoots of a plant break through. Who have watched life breathed into the soil. And at the end of a season, as we have watched life return to the soil, enriching the soil for the next season, and more life. We are, quite literally, all made of the very same stuff, everything, the same molecules, that make up the universe, our molecules our atoms, are the same atoms that have existed since the beginning. We are made of the dust, the humus, the soil, we emerge from that. And those that would have heard this in Hebrew, with Adam as human, and Adama as dust, the connection would have been clear. The very names tell the story.
I would like to pause for a moment, and acknowledge something important about our bible. Genesis one and Genesis two are two contrasting stories, they are in conflict about particular aspects of creation, yet both offer us profound truths. Two stories in conflict on the details, but still offering us truths. Sometimes the details are secondary.
So looking again at this idea of us being made of dust, it creates a kind of humility, when we can acknowledge that we are dust, and that when we die, we will return to dust, again, quite literally. It reminds us that we are a creation of God, born of dirt. We are dirt, in English it sounds a little harsh, but it is an absolute truth, one I can proclaim confidently from the pulpit, and one that I could proclaim confidently in a science classroom.
So what does this mean, this being made of dust, the humility we encounter when we realize that we are of the same stuff as everything else? This is where I step firmly and confidently into my role as Pastor, this is where our narrative diverges from the one science tells us.
So being made of dust, well on the upside it means that our life, it is the breath of God and without that breath, we would be nothing. We are in other words entirely dependent on God. On the down side, we do return to the dust of the earth at our death, at least the part of us that is dust to begin with. It implies our mortality, being made of dust implies our tendency towards sin. It reminds us that although we are made in the image of God, we are not God, we are just human.
And the second half of this story, the story of the temptation, highlights this fact as well.
Now, to be clear, I don’t believe this story is talking about women as being more susceptible to temptation than men, or that women are somehow less than men, For Eve is a partner of Adam, not a servant, and Eve is of the same flesh as Adam, meaning her tendency towards temptation is his tendency towards temptation. Adam and Eve are both equally culpable in being deceived by the snake. If we get caught up in that narrative, then we miss a richer part of the story.
When we end chapter 2 of Genesis, all is good, Adam and Eve are happy in the garden of eden. It tells us something about human nature.
I want to jump to a part of the gospel of Matthew, where Matthew reports that Jesus proclaims: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants”. Jesus is speaking specifically about the truths of God. Jesus is telling us, through Matthew, that Infants, not just children, infants know something that is hidden from the wise and the intelligent.
I think we can agree, infants are at a state of innocence that rivals that of Adam and Eve before they took a bite of the apple. So what is it that infants know that the wise and the intelligent do not know?
Spend some time with a mother and her child, and there is one truth that is particularly evident. There is an intimacy between the two, they are practically one, they know each other so deeply, without words, only by looking at one another. That kind of intimacy, that kind of vulnerability (the mother knows everything about that infant), where everything is known, and everything is good, that is what an infant knows. That is what Adam and Eve know with God and with each other before we begin Genesis 3.
In God, God already knows us, that intimacy is still available to us, but just like Adam and Eve, at some point we lose that innocence, we lose that level of intimacy with God, with others, even with ourselves. Through a specific action, or maybe a series of subtler actions, we are like Adam and Eve, suddenly aware of our nakedness, suddenly ashamed in a way we never were before, and we can acknowledge that once we cross that threshold, it seems impossible to go back, as though our innocence is guarded by a flaming sword at its gate.
This story of the temptation, it is our story. It highlights our longing to go back, to be with God, to regain that trust and intimacy we once knew. But the bible, the entirety of our Christian cannon, the old and new testaments, the bible gives us some clues as how to approach this.
There is a way that leads out of the garden of eden, a road that’s terminus is a gate that is guarded, and that gate, we will never be able to enter it, just like we will never be able to regain the intimacy and vulnerability of infancy.
But that way, that road, it wanders throughout the bible. It wanders through the stories of genesis, Abram’s call to the promised land, Jacob’s family meeting Esau at Penial, where he wrestled with God, it leads through Joseph going to Egypt, and then with Moses going through the red sea and the wilderness and then with Joshua entering the promised land. It leads through the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles and back to the reconstructed temple.
It leads through to Bethlehem, and the birth of our King in a manger, in a barn, with farm animals, it leads to Nazareth and to the land beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist spent his time, and it leads across the sea of Galilee and to a field where 5000 where fed on just a few loaves and fishes, it leads towards Jerusalem, past the Samaritan women at the well, and the blind beggar Bartimeaus, and past the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector, as he climbed a tree to get a look at the Lord passing by. It leads through the back gates of Jerusalem and into the temple where the money changer tables got flipped, and into the upper room where the disciples shared there last meal with Christ, and into the place of Jesus’ arrest, and in front of Pilate and up towards Golgotha, or the place of the skull, also know as Calvary. It leads to the Cross, and our Lord’s death there, and then to the resurrection, and the beloved disciple running to the tomb a head of Peter, and where Mary encountered Jesus and on the road to Damascus where the disciples were fleeing yet also encountered Christ. And it leads through the roads and paths of Paul, as he spread the Word to the gentiles, and it leads through the book of Revelation. There it ends the Christian bible with a vision, at another garden of sorts, a garden where a tree offers 12 different fruit, one for each month, with the river of life flowing through the middle and it is beautiful.
This promise of the bible, it tells us that we can’t go back, trying to return to what we were is impossible, but we can strive on towards a new future, a new creation, that we can still gain intimacy with God. Christ offers us this intimacy. Today, as we partake in the Lord’s Supper, we are offered the opportunity to embrace the intimacy God already has for us. In the same way a mother never forgets the intimacy they had with a child, God never forgets, and is always ready to embrace us, as we are, as it is exemplified in Jesus Christ. As it is exemplified in the Lord’s Table, with the Lord’s Supper.
We have been led out of the garden, we already exist in a world of suffering. Yet we are invited, we are invited to be one with God, we are invited into a great intimacy with God. This is harder than it sounds, we become vulnerable, we still risk suffering, we still face death, we will still return to dust. But In God we find a oneness that transcends death, that is the resurrection in action, that is the kingdom of God. It can start with the bread and the wine.