Sermons

Helper; Rev. Dee Ledger; October 3, 2021

I can think of a lot of objections to this particular passage…and maybe you can also.  For instance, the man gets to name all of the animals and birds.  So, if you are irritated by the name of an “aye-aye,” that is, a nocturnal lemur that lives in Madagascar; or the blobfish, that lives in the deep waters around Australia and New Zealand, you might mistakenly be tempted to blame the male gender for their awkward, clunky names.  But you’d be wrong because the blobfish was discovered and named by a female, scientist Kerryn Parkinson, who named it Mr. Blobby because it reminded her of a British t.v. show.[1]  As to who named the aye-aye, we don’t really know, it was sometime in 1788, the bulgy-eyed aye-aye is actually distantly related to humans.  But I digress.

The Genesis story is actually one of two, yes, two creation stories in the Hebrew scriptures, though there are many other creation stories around the world and some which are very similar to our own.  Scholars have spent countless dissertations trying to account for several prominent differences among the two shown in Genesis.  For instance, in the first Creation story, humankind are created on the 6th day, both male and female…God creates them.  However, in the second story, creation starts off with the creation of Adam, the human, the plants, then the animals, and then Eve.  Perhaps our God was saving the best for last, as the saying goes, but as a template for who gets to decide the rules for society—i.e. the men being first—it is a poisonous snakebite given to the women for sure.

Furthermore, God has a different name in each story: in the 1st account of creation, it is Elohim (the Hebrew name for God) who creates; in the 2nd, it is Yahweh, the personal name for the Israelite God, or “He Who Brings the Hosts into Existence.”

In any case, God creates human beings and this business about Adam being the first to be the “up from the earth” is clearly disputable as well.  Not to mention Eve being shaped out of a rib, which would make us a bit less likely to throw ribs of any kind to dogs if it were factual, which we can just say that it isn’t.

However, just because a story isn’t factual doesn’t mean that it isn’t true—or meaningful—which is where we shall pick up today.  Because it really doesn’t matter who preceded whom, but rather the why of creation, the why of having any humans at all, the why of you and me, and the why of our existence, which we can agree, does matter quite a bit, and preoccupies some of us, more than others.  And actually, the second story shows just how self-centered humans can be if they are given the opportunity—by centering ourselves as first in creation, we’ve misinterpreted that to mean that we might use creation and our planet however we wish, as we might argue that we were here first and can do golly well as we please.  NOT.

So—why are we talking about this story today?  For one thing, both creation stories have been used, as you know already, to reinforce dangerous perspectives, throughout time, about men and women and our relationship to each other and the earth.  We do not need to recount those perspectives in detail today.  But it might be helpful to look at these stories again, in particular this one from Genesis 2.  The bit about God trying to find a suitable partner for the human Adam and, after trying the animals, decides to try again with designing a woman.  Of course, we now thankfully know that human gender is a spectrum—but the important point is not the particular binary genders of male and female, but that God did not think it well and good to call it a day after creating any one gender, one male type if you will.

Furthermore, God, importantly, did not think it good for the human being to be alone.  This is not to say that everyone is made for the particular relationship we know as marriage, or even for a particular kind of partnership or union, but that we are made for relationship with each other.  Human beings, while they can find companionship and spirituality in nature among flora and fauna, are also made to connect with others, to “partner” with each other, if you will.

Who among us have not needed someone at some point in our lives?  Perhaps not romantically, no.  Perhaps just to have coffee, or a chat, or just to look out on the same horizon and share how we see things uniquely and differently. Perhaps to have a verifiable “witness” to our lives, to our stories, and to the intricate details that make us who we uniquely are.  In addition, who has not, in a time of trouble, needed to rely on another’s strength, resources, or perspective just to get our bearings, our grip, on this transient thing called, “life”?  While we may fear that we are burdens to our kids or our parents or our friends, the truth is that we are clearly opportunities waiting to be discovered.  Living in community, even for the most introverted among us, teaches us many things that living isolated in a cabin in the woods doesn’t.

And don’t you know that Henry David Thoreau, even as he tried to live by himself, and who went to the woods to live “deliberately” as he wrote, still had guests in his cabin and socialized there on the edge of civilization in Concord and on the banks of Walden Pond.  Robert Thorson wryly comments that “Thoreau had more company at Walden than in town, and hoed a bean field daily as social theater in full view of passersby on the road.”[2]

“It is not good for man to be alone,” God says, “I will make him a helper as his partner.”  I find myself wanting to add to God’s statement: “It is not good for man to be alone too much (my stress) or even too little,” a bit like a theological Goldilocks.  For we all know some who spend too much alone time to their detriment—making decisions that can be costly for themselves and others in community, and we are also very aware of those who spend too little time alone, flitting about their social networks and never really learning who they are in solitude or discovering the rich interior landscape within their very souls, which might be cultivated in quieter days and nights.

We are part of each other—that seems to be more to the point and a timeless piece of wisdom that stands true to science.  That bit about Adam’s rib, the “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”—it is a poetic, descriptive way to say that we are part of each other, not just the male and female gendered humans, but all human beings.  We belong to each other; we are part of each other; we are intimately and divinely connected.

Of course, this passage about becoming “one flesh” has been used for time immemorial to talk about what happens when two human beings marry or make a religious and/or formal commitment to support each other.  It has also been used, arguably, to condemn other partnerships that may have the same degree of intimacy, but which do not fall within cisgender, heteronormative relationships.  We are the poorer for that narrow interpretation.

We know enough about science and the human psyche to challenge the ancient writers of Genesis on these points, but that may not have been their original intent.   They were likely saying something more fundamental about our need for human relationships, about God’s well-spring of creative activity within us, and about our need to see one another as part of our very flesh.  We are, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, part of each other, part of a human network of relationships—indeed, kin to creation.  Much of our discord is a human failure to see this as true: that even when we choose not to love or cherish each other, we are still indisputably connected and kin.

There is a Nguni (Zulu and Xhosa) word, “Ubuntu,” that also describes this way of being.  “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu” or “I am, because you are” describes the meaning of Ubuntu. It highlights that we are all connected and a human being can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others.[3]  How have you grown due to the progression and growth of others?

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996, also spoke about the meaning of Ubuntu and how it defines South African society, saying, “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world,” he said. “When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” [4]

Our lectionary reading of Genesis today is often paired with a passage from Mark 10 that has Jesus seemingly condemning those who commit adultery.  This passage, also, has been misunderstood as being overly critical of those who divorce for any reason, even and especially for those for whom marriage has been soul-destroying or less than life-giving.  When the partnership is no longer a partnership, what do you do?  When it is abusive or worse, does Jesus condemn the one who seeks reprieve?  Too often, the church has not explained this passage in the context of Jesus’ time and place.

The Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  To which Jesus responds, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.[5]  We should understand that men could divorce women as they wanted; women were seen as property of fathers and then husbands, and it was just a matter of paperwork if a husband wanted to partner with another.  Jesus knows this and knows that these leaders are looking for permission to divorce for such trivial  reasons as a woman could no longer satisfy the man or bring him what he wanted.

Instead, Jesus goes one further with the leaders and says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Furthermore, Jesus adds that bit about adultery, which in a more careful reading, shows that Jesus is telling the leaders that sin comes in different forms—like casting aside your wife and leaving her to fend for herself in a world that would easily see her as “damaged goods” once she is no longer seen as virginal, or because she must resort to prostitution to feed herself, or because she must return to live with relatives past child-bearing age because there is no social security besides having a male relative.  So, actually, Jesus was condemning men who chose to divorce for reasons that had less to do with compatibility and well-being, less concerned with a life-giving mutual partnership, and more to do with personal convenience and callousness.

However, pared with this Genesis passage, we might instead consider how we are part of each other and how my welfare depends upon yours and vice versa.  I know very few divorced couples who are still not a part of each other, if no longer proximal to one another in the community, they are often connected through children or family connections.  And even as that may be no longer the case, what was done or wasn’t done in the marriage, whether healthy or not, leaves an indelible impression on the history, story, and real-estate of the brain for both partners, for better or worse.

We are lousy at talking about what makes for healthy relationships in this country—political, economic, social, parental, generational, and sexual-—especially the sexual kind.  We choose not to tell our children that sexuality is a God-given gift and that it often imparts relationship, sometimes when we do not want one or suppose there to be mutuality where there isn’t.  We can better show our loved ones and children how sexuality may be used responsibly—whether one marries or not—and how, because we are truly one flesh, we must never treat someone as a “thing,” as simply disposable, or existing primarily to fulfil our needs, wants, or desires.

Roger Wosley, a campus minister at the University of Colorado, recently stated, “Today’s people are seeking religious and spiritual paths that help them to be the best, most conscious and evolved human beings they can be and the forms of spirituality that are most evolved on these issues are the ones they are flocking to…What people are yearning for and needing is help with learning how to self-individuate; to evolve; to learn about their personality and attachments styles; how to own, vent, integrate own shadows; how to have good, deep, penetrating (real intimacy)sacred sex; how to develop and balance our divine masculine and feminine sides; and how to communicate effectively and non-violently with our lovers; how to end relationships with grace and sensitivity—and learn lessons from the gifts they were.”[6]

Let us aspire to that kind of Genesis…the one that reinforces that we are kin to each other, of one flesh with our Creator, and with those beings with which we share this planet, and help foster the understanding on an intimate level that what I do to you, I do to myself.  So let us be helper and partner to each other, and seek each other’s well-being in every relationship, intimate or public.  Amen.

 

 

[1] See australian.museum/learn/animals/fishes/fathead-psychrolutes-aka-mr-blobby/ https://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/43462/20200311/blobfish-really-ugliest-sea-creature.htm

[2] Robert M. Thorson, “What Walden can tell us about social distancing and focusing on life’s essentials,” March 26, 2020.  https://theconversation.com/what-walden-can-tell-us-about-social-distancing-and-focusing-on-lifes-essentials-134524

[3] https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/ubuntu-south-africa-together-nelson-mandela/

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Mark 10:2-16

[6] Roger Wosley, “It’s Time for the Church to Grow Up About Sex,” June 14, 2018. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2018/06/its-time-for-the-church-to-grow-up-about-sex/