September 9, 2012

September 9, 2012

September 9, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

Title: “Good, Gracious, God”
Texts: Genesis 2:4-10, 15-17; 2:18-25; 3:1-7; 3:8-24

Today we start our 9-month journey with the “Narrative Lectionary”. A big change for FBC Edmonton as we often use the Revised Common Lectionary.

Here’s the scoop: The RCL is great in that it moves you, over the course of 3 years, through a majority of the Bible. And thus you get a pretty “full meal deal” of teaching from this preaching pulpit from year to year. But this year, we’re going on a “narrative” journey. . . so that we might better be able to understand how the sermons/Christian teachings that you learn in this place fit in with the “big arching story” of who God is and how we, as the people of God, might dwell in the world of this story and then live “OUT” of this story.

So, our “adventure”(?) with the Narrative Lectionary is a 9-month jaunt through the story of God. Starting in Genesis, moving through the first testament and then continuing with the life of Jesus and the life of the early church. Of course we’ll be taking big leaps through the Bible to keep it within the boundaries of 40 Sundays, but the hope is that this journey with our Bibles will help us get a bigger picture of how God’s BIG story is interwoven into the lives of our stories. . . us as community of faith, and us as individuals who are living out chapters of the God story every day of our lives!

[Some Bible scholars, such as Eugene Peterson, lay out this story in several “acts”.
For Peterson, it’s 5 acts (see handout).
STORY OF THE BIBLE IN 5 ACTS: creation/fall/Israel/Jesus/New People of God]

  • It’s interesting to note that in Genesis 1-3 (1 sermon), we cover the first 2 acts! Then we’ll be spending 14 Sundays in the “Israel” ACT, then 18 Sundays in the “Jesus” ACT, and finally 7 Sunday’s in the “NPoG” Act. [40 Sundays]

( * pause * )

And so today, we start at the beginning of the story. . . Gen. 1:1 “In the beginning God.”

God is the one who was, who is, who is to come.

And Genesis actually has 2 creation stories! Thus, this is why it is STORY and not science textbook!

The Genesis 1 creation account is called the “priestly creation account”. . . it’s focused on the entire universe and the sequential creation which happens in 7 days…

The Genesis 2 creation account (where we will start today) is called the “yahwehist” or “J” creation account. It focuses on the first human beings, their relationship to God & the creatures who surrounded them in the garden.

So, let’s take a look at what’s happening in Genesis 2 & 3:

i) The placement of “adam” (2:4b-10, 15-17)

If anyone tries to tell you that “paradise” is just a “vacation on the beach of Kuwaii” into eternity. . . then you might want to point them to the beginning of time in Genesis 2. Why was humanity created? To have this blissful, white-light, glow-fest with Yahweh? ? NO! See v. 5: “There was no one to WORK the ground.” Yes, the word “work” is right there from the get-go. . . part of our human destiny is to work (to be in a vocation). That is part of our who-we-are-ness. . . more on that in a minute – – but I simply find it amazing and intriguing that one of the first things humanity is handed in this new creation is a shovel and not a harp. Hmmmmm.

I like the phrasing the “placement” of adam. In v. 7 we read “The Lord God formed ‘adom’ form the ‘adama’ and breathed ‘ruach’ into the ‘adom’. The Hebrew phrasing here is ‘adam’ (human) from ‘adamah’ (earth). The focus is not to be “oh, man came first before woman!” The focus is the connection between humanity and earth. We have been formed from the dust and wind of God’s creation. . . there’s a beauty and a awesome-ness to this but there is also a simplicity and a humility to this. . . it might help us make that better connection with Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent that we remember just before Easter: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).

This fearfully and wonderfully made “dirt being” is placed in the garden of creation to. . . we see it again in v. 15 . . . WORK IT! And TAKE CARE of it! Working and Caring is an integral part of our destiny as human beings. . . there are lots of implications for that aren’t there? That’s why we are called to “live simply so that others may live” and that’s why we are called to creation-care rather than saying “this old earth is gonna burn up anyway so who cares how big our environmental footprint is!”

So we work & care, but it doesn’t stop there. . . in the midst of a world of “vocation” and “permission” we also meet up with a “prohibition” in v. 17. There is a way that we ought NOT to go. . . the way of choosing to play God ourselves and deciding what it good and evil. . . and for the earliest “dirt-beings” they were warned that if they went the way of entitlement and playing God, they would surely die. More on this in part 3 of today’s lesson!

ii) Formation of a “companion” (2:18-25)

Verses 18-25 bring out a few key ideas in the midst of the story of our beginnings. One is that God was in some ways, “making things up as he went along.” I say that in the most positive sense. . . can we imagine God as an “experimenting God”? As we go through this year of the narrative lectionary, one of the themes that comes out in the God story is that God does not always know what is going to happen next. Now I know that sounds a bit like crazy talk. . . but there are stories in our sacred scriptures where God changes a decision. . . in essence, God’s mind changes! And there are even stories in the gospels, where Jesus doesn’t know everything and it can be said that he changes his mind too! So if YHWH can change a decision, then could not YHWH also be able to experiment? It seems that’s what God is up to in these verses – – God has done all this good work in creation. . . and then God forms all these animals but in v. 20b we read “But for adom no suitable helper was found.” God hit a “not good” point in the creation journey. . . and thus he went “back to the lab” and created a companion for ‘adom’ and named her ‘eve’ (see 3:20) This helper is to be seen as equal to ‘adom’ not a lesser or a subservient human, an equal! And here again is a place where many a church or church denominations would beg to differ about who came first, who leads who, who submits to who, . . . but the point is not authoritative mandates for men and women here! The point is that God created us to be in community with one another. . . men & women. . . and that a God who lives in community (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) desires that we as men & women would dwell together in community. . . showing radical reverence for one another and honoring each other so that we are without shame.

iii) Disruption/temptation (3:1-7)

Speaking of shame. . . where did that come from?!? In Genesis chapter 3 we read of how a serpent spoils the garden party. It’s interesting to note here that this is not about “original sin” because there’s no mention of the word sin here. And the serpent is NOT the devil. . . there’s no mention in the story that the devil somehow cloaked his self into the form of a snake. So. . . what gives here?
If we continue to think/imagine in story-ing language VS “let’s try to find a Christian doctrine” language, we recognize that in the midst of God’s good creation, the endgoal is not perfection here. God hovers over the waters and darkness of chaos and creates a new realm of relationship. . . but as God does this, God does not magically make chaos go away . . . God pushes back the darkness, but the darkness continues to exist. The beauty of this new creation and new reality, is that God is with. . . God is with the world. . . God cares for the world. . . and God cares for humanity.
And thus in Genesis 3, the voices of chaos show up in the voice of a serpent who disrupts and tempts the man and the woman. Note: this is not the woman’s fault! The man was there WITH the woman and ate of the fruit with her. They were a community. . . and they followed the voice of the serpent together. And though they play the “blame game” in vv. 12-13, they have fallen for the voice of the tempter together and they will face the consequences together.

iv) Judgment/grace/expulsion (3:8-24)

Perhaps in vv. 8-24 you’ve been pre-conditioned to look at these verses as a “glass half empty” kind of garden. Poor adam. Poor eve. Getting the boot from the garden of eden because they blew it!
Well, I’d like to suggest that we look for glimpses of God’s grace in the midst of these verse that are often used for judgment and condemnation.
For instance, v. 8: “the man & his wife HEARD the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Is not this reminiscent of that cherished hymn “In the Garden”. . . “And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me and I am his own. . .”
YHWH wants to walk with his creation! And what do God’s “dirt beings” do? They hide!

Yet more grace comes. . .

v. 9: “But the Lord called to the man, “WHERE ARE YOU?”

And the man and the woman respond with words of shame and blame.

And the LORD God, then responds with words of judgment:
Judgment for the serpent!
Judgment for the woman!
Judgment for the man!

But in v. 21, there are signs of mercy. . .

Rather than bringing justice as promised in v. 17 (“if you eat from the tree. . . you will certainly die”), God changes his mind. . . God shows mercy. And instead of death, it is the LORD GOD who makes garments of skin for adom & Eve. . . and God clothes them. . . and rather than send them to death, God sends them out of the garden with hope for a future.

WOWZA! There’s a hundred questions that probably sprout up for us in the midst of these 2 chapters of Genesis. . . I hope you’ll continue to talk and wrestle with these in the next few days!

And I hope you will be able to pull out some broad themes of “WHO God is”. . . will you pause for a moment and embrace some big God themes?

What might they be?

Ie: God creates Good. God has created me! I am good!
God is with us. . . in every circumstance. . . we are not alone.
God shows mercy instead of judgment. God is not a white-bearded tyrant, looking for us to make a wrong move and holding a whip, cocked and ready to strike us.
God loves us. God loves creation. God loves humankind.

And with these revelations of who God is, who might we BE & how might we LIVE as the people of God?

In the weeks ahead, as we learn and live out the God story, you’ll hear me repeating a focus on 3 words: PROVIDENCE / TRANSFORMATION / RESTORATION. I’m borrowing these from one of my favourite OT teachers Walter Brueggemann. When Brueggemann talks of the story of God, he says that we (the people of God) are always “departing the lethal grip of the ordinarily possible” (see “practice of prophetic imagination” p. 148). In other words, we are always trying to move away from a world (he calls it “ the empire”) that’s always feeding us with scarcity/fear VS providence/faith.
And the power of the story of God is that it should cultivate in us a holy imagination that “out imagines” the reality presented to us by the north American “empire”.
Brueggemann goes on to say that “we do not readily depart from the ways of the world”. . . “ We do, nonetheless, yearn and trust for more than the empire can offer. WE yearn for providence, and transformation and restoration. We yearn beyond the possible.”

So as we continue to hear the story of God, through this Narrative Lectionary in the next 9 months, I urge us to dream/imagine these themes of providence/transformation/restoration as we learn of who God is from the God story and then in the midst of that ENCOUNTER, we learn of how we might live as the New People of God, here, now, 21st century Edmontonian’s, following Jesus for the good of the world. . .

May these stories of scripture be ORIENT US ANEW in these days. . . setting our hearts, bodies, minds and souls on course so that we might joyfully take up our vocation of being “co-restorers” with a God who reigns. . . a God who has placed us here for a such a time as this, a God who created us to live and serve from a place of companionship/community, a God who always seek to show us mercy before he seeks to pronounce judgment on us.

How then might we live this week?

(questions? And then silent prayer/reflection)

How poorly we repay you, my Lord, for all the good things you have given us!
In your majesty you seek all kinds of ways and means by which to show us the love you have for us.
Yet we hold this in low esteem because we are so inexperienced in loving you.
Because we haven’t practiced loving you as we should, our thoughts follow their usual pattern
and we do not bother to ponder the great mystery of the ways the Holy Spirit speaks to us.
Majestic King, forever wise, you melt my heart, which once was cold,
and when your beauty fills my eyes, it makes them young, which once were old.

Christ, my Creator, hear my cry; I am yours, you can I hear,
my Savior, Master, yours am I; my heart to yours be ever near.
Whether in life or death’s last hour, if sickness, pain or health you give,
or shame, or honor, weakness, power – thankful is the life I live.
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)