Genesis 2: 4-25
It is so good to be together in this sanctuary, so good to see you all, so good to be heading into another year! Over the past many weeks Amy and I and the ministry teams of the church have been planning and lining up all sorts of programs and opportunities for us. We have been populating the church calendar with all sorts of interesting things that we will be doing together this year. I am quite sure it is going to be a terrific year.
But as much as I am looking forward to all that this year is going to bring, I want to begin this morning by looking backwards. I want to begin by looking back into where we came from. Back into our origin story and consider what it has to say to us about how we might live today.
But before we go any further, let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Our scripture this morning that Jim so adroitly read for us today, is believed to have been written sometime in the 6th century Before Common Era. It is believed to have been written down in the time after the fall of Jerusalem when the Super Power of the region, the Babylonians that would be, had swept onto the stage and sent the Hebrew people into exile. It is in the strange and foreign land of Babylon that it is believed that the biblical authors wrote down their origin story, the story that we read for today
It is a beautiful story, right? In it the divine, the Lord God creates and generously gives life. God lovingly creates a beautiful garden and then brings humans into it so that they can join God with the joy of tending, tilling and keeping this gorgeous garden. It is a world of freedom, but also restraint, where boundaries are set not to not to diminish but instead to ensure the flourishing of the garden and all who live within it. These ancient people who had just gone through the trauma and dislocation of being a conquered people, none-the-less tell a story of their origin that speaks of harmony of place and purpose, a generative story of hope and promise.
It is particularly fascinating because this origin story from our ancestors of faith is in sharp contrast to the prevailing origin story of the time. At the time our ancestors of faith were articulating this tender relationship of being gardeners together as the arch type of who we are and how we are to be, the Babylonians had their own origin story. A story our ancestors of faith would have been very familiar with.
The Babylonian origin story, however, is not set in a garden but instead on a battle field. The divine is not planting trees and making rivers to flow, but is instead in the Babylonian origin story, at war with itself. There is bloodshed, dismemberment and human are created not to be co-creative partners, but instead are slaves whose job is to tend to the capricious demands of the divine beings.
The origin story that has been passed down to us by our ancestors of faith is in sharp counter to the prevailing narrative of domination, exploitation and violence that had been assumed to be just how things were. The domination, exploitation and violence that existed in the world were believed to be there because that is just the natural state of the world, that is where we came from. By contrast, the Hebrew people said ‘no!”, actually that is not how things were created to be. Peace, harmony, and a generative and creative outpouring of energy is where we come from and what is intended for us.
This countervailing origin story is not just here in the book of Genesis of course but is also pulled forward in the New Testament as the early followers of Jesus created what went on to become the Genesis of the early church. I find it fascinating that in the Gospel of John on that first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ she mistakes him for what the gardener. The genesis of what will go on to be Christianity is born in a garden with God once again showing up with dirt under her finger nails.
And it goes on in the book of Acts, there is a wonderful passage that says that all the people were in awe of the signs and wonders that this group of followers of Jesus were doing. That they were living in a way that was not common to the time, that they shared everything they had with each other and had the goodwill of all in mind.
This was at the time remember when Rome was the superpower of the day and where the domination and exploitation that had been present during the time of the Babylonians was still very much the lived reality. And yet, this origin story of the garden and what it means to tend to its welfare was being given new form and imaginings in the life of the early church.
But it does not stop there does it? This origin story of ours continues. It picks up again about a hundred years ago when a group of people right here decided to planted this interdenominational church as a countervailing alternative to what was the denominational divisiveness of the day. Apparently the story goes, at that time, people so identified with their particular denomination (which of course each and every one believed, was vastly superior to any other) the consequence of which was that Presbyterians would not be seen eating with Methodist, who would not consider having tea with Congregationalists who looked down on the Baptists who would not go near the Presbyterians and so it went.
It was in such a time of rivalry and division that founders of this church reached deep into our faith’s origin story and created this community that would be defined not by denominational loyalty but instead by a desire to co-create with our Gardener God and practice an inclusive way of Love.
So that bring us to today. September 8, 2019. Today we gather in as a community of faith seeking to live in continuity with this origin story that has spoken a countervailing alterative of peace, dignity and love across the millennia.
Today, like our ancestors of faith in times past, we live in a time of challenge. We live in a time when many of our society’s origin stories are starting to fray and fall apart. We are living in a time when the origin story of this country as being a place of liberty and justice for all has worn thin as we are finally facing the horror that this country was very much build upon the incredibly cruelty of the forced labor of enslaved people and the lie of white supremacy. We are living in a time where the story that Patriarchy is to be the organizing principle for society is being dismantled. And we are living in a time when the idea that the world is ours to do with as we wish is being seriously critiqued. We are living in a time when many of the origin stories that have explained “who we are” and “how we are to be” are now starting to fall away.
As they do, I believe there is a need for the origin story in which we are rooted to be shared and to be lived with all the courage and hope that filled our ancestors of faith so long ago. There is a need for the old story to be made new in or sharing in it. There is good news in this old story, Good News that I believe our world desperately needs right now.
So, as we move into this year, despite all of the amazing things we have planned, what I see as the most important work we will do together this year is to continue to live out and embody this origin story of ours and to invite all who are weary, worn, frightened and despairing at this broken world of ours to join us in it. For it is a story rooted in the generative grace of a God that invites us to join in the good work of tending to the flourishing of life through the lived practice of inclusive love.
And so as we begin this year, may the genesis of all that is to come be rooted in the love that was in the beginning and now and ever shall be. Thanks be to God. Amen.