In the Beginning

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
June 19, 2016

Genesis 2: 4-10, 15-25 (CEB)
On the day the LORD God made earth and sky— 5before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the LORD God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, 6though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— 7the LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 8The LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. 9In the fertile land, the LORD God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10A river flows from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides into four headwaters.

15The LORD God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16The LORD God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; 17but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” 18Then the LORD God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” 19So the LORD God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. 20The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found.

21So the LORD God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22With the rib taken from the human, the LORD God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23The human said,
“This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
because from a man she was taken.”

24This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. 25The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren’t embarrassed.

Before Owen was born, someone gave us a children’s book called, I Love My Mommy Because…You might be familiar with the book, there is also one called, I Love My Daddy Because…but we didn’t get one of those books until more recently. In any case, on one page of the “Mommy” book, it reads, “I love my Mommy because she lets me play in the dirt.” And sure enough, when we are outside, Owen heads to the planters and sticks his fingers right into the soft soil. Or he goes to a plant bed, grabs a handful of mulch, and drops it over his head. It seems many of us humans have some sort of innate desire to “play in the dirt.” Of course, when we look at the description of our Creator in this morning’s passage, we can begin to understand where this desire originated.

We often view Genesis 2 as some sort of “lesser” creation story. It doesn’t have quite the grandeur of the opening creation narrative, and it’s missing some important details like how the light and water came to be. Yet at the same time, it provides greater details on certain aspects of creation. So, it is only natural that as we begin our new sermon series, “Gardening with God,” we start at the beginning, in the Garden of Eden. A few months ago, we planted a vegetable garden here, on the property of this church. And as our church and community works to tend that garden and provide fresh produce to people who often have trouble obtaining such, I think its right for us to spend a few weeks looking at the significance of gardens and gardening in our spiritual heritage. We’ll start today at the beginning of our faith story, a journey with God that began in a garden in Eden. In the next couple of weeks, we will explore in depth some of Jesus’ parables that use gardening metaphors. Then, we will end with John’s revelation of the New Jerusalem, which interestingly enough parallels in many ways the Garden of Eden that begins our story.

So let’s look at what’s happening in the Garden of Eden, as God is busy creating. Near the start of this second chapter of Genesis, it says this: “On the day the Lord God made earth and sky…” If we take that reference and move backwards, what we find is that the following story could fill in the details of day 2 of creation (when the sky was created), or day 3 (when the earth and seas were formed). But as we read this second creation account, what we quickly see is that the creation of the birds, animals, sea creatures, and even humans corresponds with day 5 of the first creation story. We could spend a lot of time trying to reconcile these two creation accounts, or trying to explain them in some sort of logical way, but I think the most important thing to realize is that Genesis 1 very poetically tells us how the universe was created, while Genesis 2 tells the story of how human beings came into relationship with their Creator, and that’s where the Garden of Eden becomes such a central part of our faith history.

Listen again to the progression of events in this story. There is nothing but earth and sky—no rain, only a stream that bubbles from the earth. There are no plants, no animals; just dirt, and sky, and some water. And the first thing God does is dig into the dirt and form a human being, adam, from the word adamah, which means ground.” God literally digs into the soil and gets dirty hands. The “first fruit” of the Garden of Eden is humanity. I want you to think about the significance of that for a minute. We talk about the graciousness of God revealed in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. But look at the grace of God at work from the very beginning of creation; digging into the dirt, molding and forming and shaping us into his image, and then breathing into us the literal breath of life. Even the human beings walking around naked in the garden without shame is a sign of God’s gracious love for creation. It’s absolutely beautiful!

Then, after the human is created, God “plants a garden,” filling it plants and trees, making it fertile. Then, Genesis says, God “took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and take care of it.” Now, I want to spend a minute with this sentence, because this is where the gardening really comes into play, and that’s what we’re focusing on in this sermon series. Over time, I think we humans have gotten this idea that we were, or are, the “crown of creation.” God created us to master the world, to take God’s creation to the destiny God has in mind, even to the point that we believe that creation exists solely for our benefit. That idea is somewhat consistent with the creation story as it is told in the first chapter of Genesis, but the “hierarchy of creation” (if you want to look at it that way) here in Genesis 2 is a little different.
In Genesis 2, God creates humanity to farm and take care of the land. Do you see the difference? Humans are made to serve the ground, and it’s such a job that one man can’t do it on his own—he needs not only animals, but another human to help him. That is when the woman is made. But even as the ground needs the care of humans, we need the fruit the ground produces. It is a relationship of mutual dependence. We cannot do without nature. Nature cannot do without us. We are gardeners, molded from the soil and shaped in the image of God, and charged with the care of God’s garden, God’s earth, the whole creation.

Unfortunately, our mission to serve God’s creation has become politicized. Our various readings of the two creation stories have gotten caught up in political rhetoric, and the meaning has been lost in lobbying and power plays. But we need to see in this passage about the Garden of Eden, that our responsibility to serve and care for God’s creation is not a political matter. It is purely spiritual. We humans have a God-given purpose, breathed into us with the very breath of life. We were not created for ourselves; we were created in order to till and keep the garden. We are responsible for this garden, this earth, now and into the future, so we must preserve and protect it. Living as servants of creation fulfills God’s intention for us and lives up to the reasons why we were created in the first place. Caring for creation means doing God’s work in the world. This is no pastime; nor is it a way for us to feel good about ourselves. God sends us into the garden because the garden needs service and preservation, and we are God’s instruments for caring for creation.

Now, here’s the thing that’s really fascinating about this whole idea. Think about the process of gardening. First, we turn the soil, right? Then, we pull the weeds or other unwanted growth. Next, we plant seeds, or saplings. Finally, we water. And over days and weeks, we water and weed some more, again and again. Ultimately, if all goes well, we will have a healthy tree, or bush, or flower, or a plentiful harvest of fruits or vegetables. In other words, when we garden, new life grows. We become co-creators with God. God has provided the light, God has created the soil and the water, and God has placed us here to keep and to care for the land. When we follow this charge from God, creation grows, God’s creative work continues.

I realize that we don’t all have a “green thumb.” Not every one of us has a desire or a passion to garden. Unlike Owen, we don’t like the feel of soil in our hair, or even under our fingernails for that matter. We could really care less whether our yard is filled with flowers or whether our vegetables come from the backyard or the grocery store. But that doesn’t mean that this story of the Garden of Eden doesn’t have significance for our lives. Genesis 2 tells reminds us of the graciousness by which God gives us life. We often focus on the new life made possible by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but we do well to remember that God has molded and shaped our very being, and breathed into us the breath of life. But God has also created us with a mission and a purpose. We do not exist for our own edification, but to serve God’s creation, to be co-creators with God. We can do that in a garden, but we can also serve God’s creation and be co-creators with God in other ways. Certainly, there are things we can do for the earth, like trying to recycle more or seeking to reduce our carbon footprint, but we can serve and co-create with God by serving others as well. Think about a teacher who gives new life to students by offering them an education. Or consider the impact of inviting someone to church to find a community of love and support in relationship with Christ and with others. We can be co-creators with God by condemning not only acts of rage and violence, but also words of anger and hatred. And the best way for us to serve God’s creation is by loving others in the same gracious, unconditional way that God loves us.

“Eden” is a word that means luxury or delight. Certainly, the luscious growth in the first garden was that, but the true delight grows from something more significant, the gracious love of God present in that place. Unfortunately, we humans quickly got distracted and lost sight of that gracious, luxurious love. But Christ has made restoration possible, and serving creation with God is inherent in all who are created in God’s image—which is all of us. We should be working every day to make the Garden of Eden a reality in this world again.

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