Genesis 2:4b–22 “Born of Earth and the Spirit”
Psalm 139:13–16 “Born from the womb of Earth”
Acts 17:22–28 ‘Born to search for God”
John 3:1–16 “Born of water and the Spirit”
Because We Depend On It, sermon by Rev. Fred Kinsey
Only recently, during our lifetimes I’d say, have we as Christians been recovering God’s understanding of this awesome world we live in. As Western Christianity became a servant to politics under Constantine, and until the Renaissance, our biblical literacy became more and more divorced from its Hebrew roots. There is one focus, especially relevant to our message this morning, that has been twisted out of all proportion to God intentions, that I think we should be aware of.
Namely, that in this era of scientific discovery and technological mastery, the interpretation of the creation story from Genesis, in our 1st Reading, has been used to further the narrative that humans were made to dominate the earth, treat it as a commodity – instead of, care for God’s good creation, as if our lives depended on it – because they do!
First of all, I just love this translation by Robert Alter. Most biblical scholars agree, that even in our relatively new translation, the New Revised Standard Version, or NRSV, that we use in our Lutheran worship, there are, maybe not a lot, but some crucial, inaccurate, word choices in this passage.
In our reading today, this second account of creation, written in a very different style than the first account – which we know for its very orderly and poetic story of everything God made in 6 days, and a 7th Sabbath day of rest – Robert Alter comments, that: “In this [2nd] more vividly anthropomorphic account, God,… does not summon things into being from a lofty distance through the mere agency of divine speech, but works as a craftsman, fashioning [instead of creating], blowing life-breath into nostrils, building a woman from a rib…” transitioning from “a harmonious cosmic overview of creation [in the 1st] and then plunging] into the technological nitty-gritty and moral ambiguities of human origins [in the 2nd].”
And so, in our reading today, God is like an experienced farmer, carpenter, or shepherd; a logger, a gardener, or a botanist. God, who has already gotten Her hands dirty and figured out how things grow and live, from the life-giving rivers to all the forests in between, is speaking from nitty-gritty experience.
God was there from the beginning, when in this 2nd account, there was only, ‘wetness that would well up from the earth to water all the surface of the soil.’ And it was then, that God fashioned out that swampiness, the ‘shrubs of the field,’ and ‘the plants to sprout up,’ to give root and dimension to the soil of the ground; and then also, the rains to water them. God was local and invested.
For God already had the intention that people were needed to work with, and take care of, all this stuff that was sprouting and growing up. So, God gets down on hands and knees, and digs his hands in the ‘humus,’ the fertile soil, and fashions the human; God molds the first earth-creature from earth, and then blows into a’dam’s nostrils,’ like a paramedic reviving the unconscious, ‘and blows in the breath of life. And [then! says Genesis] the human became a living creature.’ That’s what this fashioning, craftsperson, does!
And God wanted to do more, as Genesis 2:8 says: “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, and He placed there the human He had fashioned.” Now God is really getting excited! And from the same soil, or humus God fashioned the human from, God causes “to sprout from the soil, every tree lovely to look at and good for food, and the tree of life…”
St. Paul calls this God, our potter, who fashioned us from clay, or mud. God’s hands are dirty, but delighted, in God’s digging in the beautiful earth, God is fashioning.
And so we are made of the stuff of the earth. This land is our land. And in every way, we are co-dependent on each other. God creates everything, with a value of “good.” But we are also given the knowledge of what is good and evil, and so have the responsibility to care for it, as if our lives depended on it – because they do.
In our 2nd Reading, where Paul has traveled to the heart of pagan religion, to the Areopagus in Athens, he finds “an altar to and unknown god.” And Paul uses that to describe YHWH, the One God. “The God who made the world and everything in it…” the God who “gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. …For in him we live and move and have our being… for we too are [God’s] offspring.”
When our Book Discussion read The Overstory, an American saga of trees, the cast of nine main characters found their lives interconnected, by their discovery of, the interconnectedness of the trees and their ecosystems they thrived in. Two young 20 somethings, Olivia and Nickolas, not having anything else in common, connected up in their mission to save the last mighty redwoods in California that were being clear-cut by multi-national corporate interests. They felt so connected to the Forest, they lived in a tall redwood tree for months, so it wouldn’t be cut-down, killed, and hauled away.
Another, famed botanist, Patricia was lauded by the Redwood activists for her book, The Secret Forest, in which she argued scientifically, for what she had felt deep in her humus-fashioned self, since she was a little girl. That trees communicated with each other, and were helpers – ‘sustainers alongside,’ as Robert Alter says – alongside each other, in their Forest villages.
This theses is no longer just a fiction of a novel writer, but verified by science: That under the soil, the root systems of trees connect to each other, like our brain’s neurons, and share their nutrients with those trees who need it, aided by the soils’ fungi, God’s humus. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSGPNm3bFmQ) As St. Paul says, ‘When one member hurts, every other member is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.’ (1 Cor. 12; The Message translation)
The Garden that God fashions for the first humans, is not the garden we usually think of, a mid-western garden, with rows of seedlings – of lettuce, beans and corn. “The Lord God [in Genesis 2:9] caused to sprout from the soil every tree lovely to look at and good for food…” This was a Forest, a garden of trees, sprouting from the humus, for the humans. And it was aesthetically pleasing, full of fruit trees, from olives to avocado’s, mangoes to figs. The people, plants, and trees, are intertwined and dependent on each other for their life. The Garden of Eden was an ecosystem, thriving, because of God’s fashioning of all living things, in this harmonious and awesome way.
And so, clear-cutting whole Forests, instead of selective cutting, not only leads to mudslides, but reveals our sinfulness, a separation from God, in the eyes of the Creator, the fashioner of our humus-soil. We have not acted as if our lives depended on the earth, the soil from which we are fashioned. For example, we have extracted far too much oil from beneath the earth, and consumed it far too fast, for the air of our ecosystem to in-turn, continue to care for us, much longer, as carbon build-up in the atmosphere, changes our climate, breaking down the systems that naturally work together. Trees, we know, which helpfully consume CO2, are working overtime, doing their best to help, even as we cut them down.
And so, I believe our sacred scriptures, this chapter 2 of Genesis, has much to teach us about our lives today. In it, we find the desire and will of our Gardener-God, still speaking to us: We are made to connect with the trees, and are made to live as fellow travelers with the redwoods, and the maples, and apple orchards. Live with them, as if our lives depended on it – because they do.
And, without them, we have a more difficult time connecting up with our God, ‘in whom we live and move and have our being.’ Let us dig-in to our task; let us humans, dig into God’s humus, our life-blood, the stuff of who we are, fashioned by our God.