We All Come from the Same Place…So Let’s Act Like it!

Genesis 2:4-25:  Children of Eden

 EVE: Like this brief day
My light is nearly gone
But through the night
My children you will go on
You will know heartache
Prayers that don’t work
And times of bitter circumstances
But I still believe in second chances
Children of Eden
Where have we left you
Born to uncertainty
Destined for pain
Sins of your parents
Haunt you and test you
This your inheritance
Fire and rain

Children of Eden
Try not to blame us
We were just human too error prone
Children of Eden will you reclaim us
You and your children to come
Someday you’ll come home

STORYTELLERS: Children of Eden
Where is our garden
Where is the innocence
We can’t reclaim
Once eyes are opened
Must those eyes harden
Lost in the wilderness
Must we remain

EVE: Oh my precious children
If you think of us try not to blame us
We were just human too error prone

Children of Eden you will reclaim us
You and your children to come
Someday you’ll come home

You just listened to the original cast of Children of Eden [Eve’s Last Song] from the Steven Schwartz musical Children of Eden. In this song, the character Eve addresses the people around her [humanity] who she considers her children. She speaks to the idea of our common ancestry, expressing regret, sorrow over mistakes, scars from painful circumstances, the loss of innocence, the desire for forgiveness, and second chances.

The last few weeks we have focused on the first creation story of the book of Genesis. Yes, that’s right—creation story number one. In Genesis, part of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Torah, there are two creation stories. The first one is in Genesis 1 and ends right at the beginning of Genesis chapter 2. Most modern scholars believe that Story #1 was written by an unknown author (called “P”) of the priestly tradition sometime in the 6th century BCE. This story tells us a tale of seven ages [or days] that make up the creative Elohim’s making of all that we see—sun, moon, plant, trees, animals, waters, and humans. People are created in Elohim’s image as both male and female. Story #1 is ambiguous for a reason—poetic, grand, so big in its scope that our own imaginations can create even as Elohim did. For six ages Elohim created. Age seven was the ending; the rest; the Sabbath. We explored this story not as a literal telling of how the world came to be, but rather a creation myth not unlike the Mayan story from the Americas called the Popol Vuh. Finally, in creation story #1 of Genesis we explored the word adam, [lowercase a] that means humanity from the earth and not an actual person named Adam.

And so today we look at the 2nd Genesis creation story, found in Genesis 2:4 to 2:25. This story is very different from the first. It is more specific, more human in its perspective. Many Bible scholars attribute this 2nd story to “J,” a writer who lived in the 9th century BCE [or perhaps the 10th century].[1] The tale tells us that at first, there were no plants or grain present on the earth, because Elohim had not yet sent rain. But there was a stream of water that rose from the earth and irrigated everything, and from that very ground Elohim formed adam [literally: human, non-gender specific] from the ground. And that’s not all—Elohim breathed into this human’s nostrils, giving life. So intimate; so wonderfully personal. Water, earth, and wind. Life from Elohim creates life in humans. And the whole earth is described as a beautiful garden. The human made from the ground now sees trees spring forth from the same ground. Food, oxygen, birds, and  much more for the human to enjoy. The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The garden world is named Eden. It’s beautiful–lush with plants, life, and fullness. A river flows out of it and the river’s branches have actual names. The river’s branches flow into lands that also have names and contain specific mineral resources.

Then Elohim actually talks! Eat freely of every tree in the garden, but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you do, you will die. Two trees in the great garden: #1: the tree of life; #2: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There is an order to creation. God created all things good. There was great harmony and love displayed in God’s creative act. Eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil was a metaphor for disruption of that lovingly created order and of that special relationship between humans and God. People were images of God. This understanding led to blessed relationship with all of creation. The caution was in not forgetting about this special identity—that humans were made to be in harmony with creation. Brokenness, destruction of creation, and separation from the Creator were possibilities. Thus the regretful words and notes of the song Children of Ede, expressing the great sorrow of broken relationships in creation.

In the story, however, things are still going well and are in harmony. But surprisingly, Elohim, for the first time, says that something is NOT good. A human should not be alone. So again, out of the ground, Elohim made animals for the human to name and interact with. And it was good. They were connected. They had a special relationship. But Elohim didn’t seem satisfied. Humankind needed a partner. So in another intimate act of creation, Elohim caused sleep in the human, took one rib and then formed another human. The word is not woman, but eve, meaning life. So thus far, we have adam [human from the earth] + eve [life] = living earth people. As I mentioned last week, both adam and eve are words in the lower case. They do not refer to actual names of a man and a woman. Actually, the story itself does not refer to one man or one woman at any point.

Though I do enjoy the Brick Testament’s depiction of God’s lightning bolt zapping a rib to make a female.

We laugh, but sometimes our attitude about this story, and namely our misinterpretation of it, can lead to sadness, too. People still say about this passage: See! I told you! It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Of course, I’m referring to the institution of marriage, and how some still use this passage to claim that marriage is only between a man and a woman, therefore disapproving of same sex marriages and unions. What a leap, don’t you think? How did we get to marriage from the plush garden, trees, animals, humans, and God? Again, part of it is in our ignorance of the Hebrew language. The word for helper in this case is ‘ezer and kenegdo in Hebrew. You can find ‘ezer in Psalm 121:2, referring to God as our helper. Kenedgdo literally means one next to him.[2]  But in the English language, this word helper has often been interpreted as someone inferior. Ah, so the “helper” created for adam [people insert a capital A, making him an actual man] is his servant. Man is superior to woman. But that is not true to the text. The 2nd creation story emphasizes mutuality and equality. The humans together mean no more loneliness, no more emptiness and isolation. They are connected.

Really, this story isn’t about marriage at all. Let’s be frank. It is about who God is and what it means to be God’s creation. The maleness and femaleness of the human characters come together to create full humanity. They become one flesh. Their intimate relationship is valued by the Creator, though we’re not talking babies. Companionship, harmony with each other—is the aim. God facilitates this relationship. Being male and female is part of God’s good plan. The maleness and femaleness of humanity are responsible for caring for creation together.[3]

But honestly, I often hear people exhibit quite the opposite attitude towards our common humanity. Sadly, society and the church have gone to the well too many times. Genesis has become a weapon for some to use against others—a way to push down some and promote agendas. Individuals use Genesis to fix norms for gender roles and relationships. Though it is painful to admit our brokenness, we must. We have, at one time, contributed to what we see as harmless thoughts—that women should be subordinate to men and marriage [committed relationship] is reserved for only a few people who follow our rules. This kind of interpretation of a creation myth is more than just opinion, for it can lead to even more destructive behavior and even violence against others. A woman is stoned to death without a trial. A man makes double the salary of a female doing the same job. A committed gay couple is denied the ability to marry. A woman cannot visit her female spouse in the hospital. A young girl is violated and someone mutters, “She asked for it.” A woman’s reproductive system is looked at as a political agenda and nothing more. We are broken. Creation is in disharmony. We’ve forgotten who we are. Children of Eden. We come from that place of creative love and care. What happened?

Friends, truth be told, our way of life in this society disconnects us from our creation, our identity, and each other! We are meant to be connected. We are meant to believe that God’s goodness is present in all creation and in all of us.

I experienced connection this week while I was in Princeton for the Institute for Faith and Public Life.

Religious leaders from various countries and U.S. states gathered to hear speakers, attend workshops, and engage in dialogue. The theme of the institute dealt with how our theology [the ways we think about God] inform and inspire our public life—including politics, society, home, work, and school. In some of my workshops there were arguments—for some of us couldn’t have been more different from each other. We didn’t agree on things like how our worship spaces display social levels, political opinions, and social perspectives. We did not see eye to eye about preaching on certain hot button issues like sexuality, immigration, and yes, politics.

In the end, though, on the last day of our time together, we realized that in spite of our differing opinions, perspectives, social ideas, political viewpoints, theologies, backgrounds, languages, and cultures—we shared something incredibly important and wonderful: our connection to each other as good creations of God. We were connected, eating lunch around a table and sharing about our lives; we were fully human as we prayed together, some of us crying, laughing, and learning in the process; our differences became secondary when we shared our struggles, joys, and honest doubts about faith, church, and life in general. Our theological stances, denominational ties, and political affiliations faded when we touched each other via a handshake, a hug, a pat on the shoulder, a clasp of a hand. At the close of the institute, each distinguished panelist was asked to offer closing words from his/her presentation. We expected summaries, theological statements, or socio-political challenges. Instead, Luke Torian expressed what we all felt. Luke is the pastor of First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Virginia, close to Washington DC. But Luke is also a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 52nd district. He could not get many words out. He leaned forward to the microphone with tears in his eyes.

I’m glad that came here, he said. It was good for me to be with all of you. I’m glad that I came.

Friends, we belong to the earth. We belong to the trees, the plants, the waters, the skies, the animals, and all living creatures. The good creation is part of us. And we are part of good creation—you and me. Different, unique, and wonderfully made are we—made to be connected to creation and to each other. Don’t forget this. Live this. Remind others that they are connected to you and you to them. Show them with your love and care; show them with your healing touch; show them with acts of justice; show them mercy and compassion; connect to them. And connect to your good God who isn’t finished creating connections and calling them good. Amen.

[1]Kee, H.C., et al, The Cambridge Companion to the Bible, New York, (1997).

[2] Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978, p. 89.

[3] Patrick D. Miller, “What the Scriptures Principally Teach,” in Homosexuality and Christian Community, edited by Choon-Leong Seow. Copyright 1996 Westminster John Knox Press.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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