Parish Eucharist 24th February 2019
Creation and the Glory of God
2 before Lent Year C 2019
Gen 2 Adam & Eve; Rev 4 Glory of God; Luke 8.22-23 Stilling the storm
Adam and Eve! What springs to mind when you hear those names? The story of creation? The eating of that apple? Sin? Sex? Original sin as promulgated by St Augustine at the end of the fourth century: the story of how sin, and its penalty death, came into the world?
Today our OT reading is the story not only of creation, but also of the most precious gift of God to humanity, the potential for deep connection with another. At the same time: overwhelmingly powerful, full of joy - and terrifying! Realities reflected in our other readings this morning, perhaps at first sight, rather incongruous with the story of man and woman in Genesis chapter 2.
The indescribable glory of God the writer of the Book of Revelation struggles to picture for us - and, the terror of Jesus’ disciples caught in the storm on the lake, in dire need of Jesus’ help and support as he apparently, slumbers oblivious.
So, the story of God's creation of human beings, the story of the relationship between God and humanity, of human being with human being. Our human story begins with a powerful recognition:
God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone." Loneliness is said to be increasing in society, and at times, all of us will feel lonely. When we cry out to God for companionship, this is something God is already waiting and wanting to help us find.
This story of man and woman is the story of intimacy - something much more than sex - though sex may be part of it. The man and God together keep looking for that suitable companion, the companion who can meet the man in all that he is. The animals are exotic and wonderful, and God gives to the man the powerful role of naming them, naming them which in some mysterious way
gives Adam ownership over them. And yet, and yet, no animal or bird is sufficient to meet the man's clamouring need for companionship. God finally recognises that the man's companion can only meet him in his deepest being if the companion is of man himself: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Equality and mutuality are the name of the game. The joy of mutual delight in one another - alongside recognition, respect, for one another's unalienable dignity.
This second creation account is not logically laid out. Order out of watery chaos is the same as in the first story which so dramatically opens the Bible: In the beginning God created ..... But we may be sure this is allegory and not a history when we hear that a stream watered the whole face of the ground, and, paradoxically, God created man from the dust of the earth. In this second story neither is man the final pinnacle of creation, rather, he is the first being of God’s creation - and, precious friend of God. Man, created before even the creation of vegetation: ‘every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food’. Now, the man is made the gift of work in tending the Garden, the gift of sharing in God’s creative venture.
A few weeks ago when our young people met together and, at their request, we discussed issues around sexuality - one of them said that she had no idea what our church’s thinking is
on matters of sex. Within our congregation there may well be differing views, though as a church, and in our Mission Statement - Have you read it? You’ll find leaflets at the back- our church is ‘inclusive’ in outlook, welcoming of everyone regardless of personal identity.
Desire is God’s gift to human beings. It makes the world go round. It is what converted the writer and atheist CS Lewis to Christianity. The man and the woman are naked - and not ashamed. Key to their profound relationship is their ‘sameness’ to each other, ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’.
Samesness and not ‘difference’ - or different gender. Also essential to note, this gift of intimacy is not for the purpose of procreation - children are born to Adam and Eve only after the so-called, Fall. Physical intimacy is for the delight of committed partners, strengthening relationship. Children may be a further treasured gift. But they are not the primary purpose of ‘becoming one flesh’. And neither does sexual congress which creates the child, taint the child - and all humanity, with ‘original - mortal - sin’ passed on from generation to generation. A thinking which has blighted lives from generation to generation.Of course such a potent force as sex carries enormous potential for misuse, exploitation and abuse without intimacy and commitment. Serious sin - which we do urgently need to address in society.
There are two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Very shortly, in fact in the very next verse, not part of our reading this morning, the serpent, more crafty than any other animal, will tempt the woman to eat of the forbidden tree, that Tree of Knowledge. She will succumb and lead her husband to eat also. With their new knowledge, the man and his wife are no longer innocent. And recognise their nakedness.
Of course any new experience is to lose your innocence - your ignorance, but is this story of the Fall referencing sex per se? That doesn’t seem obvious to me. Modern scholars suggest that the taking of that fruit, the consequence of which the man and the woman have not understood, the taking of that fruit renders them responsible. Knowledge makes us responsible for the well-being of our neighbour, makes us responsible to live with justice and care for one another. Here is the essence of Covenant with Yahweh, the essence of the Law, and the repeated call of the prophets - including Jesus. A call to justice and mercy, compassion, kindness which takes up far more space in the biblical text than any other topic or issue, and certainly far more space than anything said about rules for intimate relationships.If God does not hold sex between committed loving partners a mortal sin, intimacy is yet, surely an arena where most of us will at some point, have struggled, struggle. Would wish that Jesus wake up from that slumber - and help us. How to build lasting intimacy is a skill and an art we need help to learn. For this is no easy task. It takes huge courage, time and effort, to know ourselves before we are able to be honest with another, meet with that other in a space where each may freely exchange fears and hopes. Share with each other without sitting in judgement. For nothing will kill intimacy faster than holding judgmental attitudes.
Clergy have the privilege of preparing couples for marriage. There are many good books out there, 0offering help in negotiating and building deep relationships. As some of you know, I am a firm believer in everyone reading such books. Especially young adults. Do ask me if you would like some suggestions.
Human beings are social creatures - we need one another - in a range of relationships. This is how God has made us. And yes, at times, this need will cause us deep pain. The loss of one to whom we were very close is deeply distressing. There will come times when life calls us to live with grief.
In such circumstances we can choose to hold onto, reflect, on the other side of loss: gratitude for memories of the profound gift we did enjoy. Forgiveness for what is most often, not a deliberate slighting of the other.
We can choose the thinking we foreground. Choose self-respect and generosity of spirit. Remembering it is never God’s intention we should be alone. Intimacy comes in all shapes and sizes.
And God, God in this extended story, God remains close - even after their transgression and expulsion from the Garden, God remains, the intimate friend of Adam and Eve - and their children.
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