It’s a new year for the Narrative Lectionary, and so we begin at the beginning once again. The Gospel of the year is Mark, but we will not study it in earnest until the end of December on through Easter. On a personal note, last year I used the New Living Translation as my preaching text. I found much of it very interesting and helpful, some of it kind of over-wordy reaching for clarity. This year I will be preaching from the Christian Standard Bible (a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible). In the translating and revising of the Biblical text there is no end. It is also true that in the opinions on the translations there is no end. But when you read my notes and sermons here this NL year, the translation will be CSB. Now the NL points us to Genesis 2:4-25 as the main text for this Sunday, September 8.
As I read through this text I’m continually drawn to the idyllic setting and the simple descriptions of the actions being taken. These actions are anything but simple, of course. This is the act of Creation – a Divine action declaring sovereignty, strength, and intense interest. No human can replicate what we read in Genesis 2. Scientists and Theologians debate one another about what actually happened and how it happened. I’ll leave that to others to sort through. To me, we are watching an elaborate work of art being revealed to us piece by piece until we reach the crescendo!
This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.Genesis 2:24-25
I don’t know that we are meant to take this account apart like a jigsaw puzzle and try to put it together in a way that makes sense to our limited human perceptions. I think we are to view it as a revered painting in a gallery and be amazed by the complexity and simplicity, the grandness of scope and the brush strokes of genius. But even then, it is more. What impressions does this scene leave with us about the Creator and the Created?
We can be impressed with the value of life. “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Into the dusty unfinished landscape comes a being that is made of a combination of earth and spirit. Initially, life on our planet found its origins in the Lord God. At this point in creation, everything has significance. There’s nothing frivolous or capricious about the creation. This impresses upon me that human beings are significant to God because He gives them the breath of life.
We can be impressed with the value of environment. God placed a man into the perfect environment in which he could thrive. There were trees that bore fruit that looked appealing to eat. There was a river for water that is so necessary for life. One river flowed out of Eden, perhaps a clue that the story of man was going to take place beyond Eden. Those rivers provided what was needed for other lands to flourish. Precious metals and stones tell us that the Earth is a rich source of wealth as well as health. There is a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The God who gave life planted a tree whose fruit bestowed life. This ecosystem was very good, as God observed. But not yet complete.
God didn’t give Adam a hammock in which to rest, but a workplace in which to thrive.
We can be impressed with the value of work. The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it (Genesis 2:15). God didn’t give Adam a hammock in which to rest, but a workplace in which to thrive. He gave him duty and responsibility. We often think we find the greatest pleasure in leisure, but actually it is in accomplishing something for which we worked hard.
We can be impressed with the value of boundaries. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17). You wouldn’t think that Adam would have any boundaries. There are no other humans to get him into trouble. How would he get into any trouble at this point? There was that one thing. God told him not to eat of a certain tree. So simple even humans couldn’t mess it up. Right. (By the way, I’ve mentioned the name Adam here, but the CSB doesn’t mention it until chapter 4. Other translations begin calling him Adam near the end of this chapter.) Since even Adam had some boundaries, I’m sure that all humans need them.
We can be impressed with the value of companionship. We are not meant to live alone. Adam first had the task of naming the animals. I would like some insight into his process here, but we will have to wait until we gather in the heavenlies to find out how that went. The animals were nice, but not alike. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man (Genesis 2:21-22). Adam had named all the animals, but he saw Eve, all he could say was Whoa-Man! (How many preachers are going to utter that old joke? I think most of them!).
Then we get to what seems to me to be the point of the chapter. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame (Genesis 2:24-25). God has created the perfect environment for his Creatures whom he loves. They have the ability to bare little humans and raise them and fill this creation with love and family. They have work, warmth, and each other. Who doesn’t want to go there? And they felt no shame. There was no regret. No bad choices had been made. No decisions that brought pain and sorrow to each other.
There was no regret. No bad choices had been made. No decisions that brought pain and sorrow to each other.
If that were the end of the Bible it would sound like a fairy tale. But it’s not. Shame was about to make its way into the story. Remember that one tree with the one rule? Sin would make its way into this simplistic idyllic setting and the human race would never be the same. Neither would the earth. Out of Eden came two humans who would pioneer bereavement, childbirth, difficult crops, a son on the run, and … lots of shame to go around.
Outside of our text, in the next chapter, we begin to see the Father dealing with his rebellious children. The Lord God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them (Genesis 3:21). Yes, there was sin and there were consequences (deadly ones), but there was also grace. He met them in their sin and covered their shame. He does no less for us today.
So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove the man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life.Genesis 3:23-24
We remain out of Eden, but we also live in the promise that one day Jesus will reverse all the wrongs. Until then, we value life, environment, work, boundaries, and companionship.
The preacher has a lot to work within this text. It’s hard to look at familiar texts and present a fresh sermon, but we’ll all try. I’m excited to be starting again in Genesis, the beginning of us all.
You’re invited to my Facebook page NARRATIVE LECTIONARIANS for further resources and discussion of the text each week.