Sunday, October 12, 2014

Never Alone

(A sermon based on Genesis 2:18-25 and preached on October 12, 2014)

We sometimes refer to ourselves as “people of the Book.” That is a misleading term; it is misleading because it is often taken as a description of our primary allegiance. Our primary allegiance is not to a book; our primary allegiance is to a person, to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the one to whom Scripture points; Jesus is the one by whose light Scripture is read. We are Christians, not Biblians. We follow Jesus; the Bible helps us find our way. Jesus is Lord; the Bible is a help to us in following our Lord.

It matters how we come to the Bible; it matters what we are looking for when we come to it. If we come to it looking for proof texts to undergird our preconceived notions, we will find them—but someone of a differing perspective will find proof texts to undergird theirs, too. If we come to it looking for rules to guide our every action, we will find them—but we will soon be hopelessly confused since the rules are not always the same in every part of the Bible. If we come to it looking for discrepancies so that we can be excused from taking it seriously, we will find them—but what an experience we will miss.

I want to suggest that the best way to approach the Bible is as a story, but not just any story—it is the story of what God has done and is doing to bring about the kingdom of God, to bring about what God has always intended there to be. Now, while it is true that the Bible is made up of thirty-nine Old Testament books and twenty-seven New Testament books and that most of those books are made up of many parts that were written, edited, and collected over long periods of time, it is also true—and in some ways more true—that the Bible is a book with a beginning and an ending. Everything that occurs between that beginning and that ending is the working out of the plot. Like any good story—and this is the best story—we readers get caught up in it and find ourselves living within it. Indeed, this story invites us to find our place in it and to be alive in it.

The plot of the book begins with “Once upon a time,” with “In the beginning.” We read that in the beginning God created and what God created was deemed by God to be “good.” In the picture painted in Genesis 1, God creates humankind; God creates humankind in God’s image—“male and female” does God create them. Whereas Genesis 1 is interested in the creation of humanity, Genesis two is interested in the fact that humanity is made up of individuals. In the picture painted in Genesis 2, God creates a man from the dust of the ground; for the first time, we are told that something in God’s creation is “not good”—“It is not good that the man should be alone,” God says. So God sets out to rectify this “not good” situation; God sets out to find a companion for the man, someone to complement him. God creates the animals and brings them before the man to see what he would name them, but (thankfully) none of them is deemed suitable as a companion. Then God reaches into the man, fetches a rib, and fashions a woman out of the rib. When the man awakens and sees her, he declares “This one—she is it!” And they lived happily ever after.

Only they didn’t, did they? No, they thought that in crossing the only line that God had established—in eating of the only tree that had been prohibited to them—they could have a better life. Under the best of circumstances their life was going to be a sojourn, a journey, a pilgrimage—but now their journey was transformed into an exile. They were exiled from the garden; they were barred from the tree of life.

But there is a happy ending; you just have to wait for the end of the book to find it. In the very last chapter of the very last book of the Bible, we find a picture painted of the New Jerusalem that is at the center of the new heaven and new earth. It is portrayed as a garden that has within it the tree of life. There and then Adam and Eve—who are, after all, all of us—will finally find themselves at the end of their exile, their journey over, being who they were always meant to be.

And do any of us have any doubt that when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, when God’s will is done completely everywhere and all the time, that our relationships will be what God intended for them to be in the beginning—relationships of equality based on mutual respect, trust, and love? Do we have any doubt that God’s goal is to restore us to the kind of relationships that God always intended for us to have?

You see, the picture of human relationships that Genesis 1-2 paints for us is one of mutual respect, vulnerability, and trust; it is a picture of equality. And that is the way that it will be between us—and it will be that perfectly—when God’s kingdom is fully in place.

Now, some of you are thinking that in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, God sentenced Eve to be subordinate. Here’s how that works: because of our brokenness and our sinfulness, because we refuse to live and to love like God intends for us to live and to love, God makes accommodations. Thus in certain times and in certain situations (in some of the situations addressed by Paul, for example), accommodations were made so that the will of God could be lived out as fully as possible in light of the social and cultural realities of the time.

But here’s the thing: we are the Church; we are the people of God; we have the Holy Spirit in us and we are being formed in the image of Christ. We pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Why then would we—why do we—settle for less than the best? Shouldn’t we move as fully toward God’s perfect will as we can? And that means that in all of our relationships and in all of our structures—be they in the home or in the church—we strive for the equality that God means for us to have. That has to do with the relationship between men and women but it also has to do with all of our human relationships.

It is not good for us to be alone. And so God made it so that we are never alone; there are always other people. It is not good, either, for us to settle for less than what God intended for us and for less than what God is moving us toward. Yes, as long as we are here it will be struggle. Yes, as long as we are here we will make accommodations in order to make the best of an imperfect situation. But by the grace and Spirit of God we can move toward being the fellowship of full equality that God intends us to be and that we will one day and for all eternity be …

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