Sunday’s sermon: A Perfect Helper

community circle 2

Text used – Genesis 2:4b-25

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • [READ “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson]
  • Creation … the beginning. The beginning of the world. The beginning of time and space. The beginning of light and life. The beginning of Story. “And in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”[1] So here we are … at the beginning.
    • Beginning of the school year → even when I’m not in school anymore (even before we had kids in school and before Peter was teaching), fall still feels like a beginning to me
    • Beginning of a new voyage through Scripture together → Narrative Lectionary
      • Explain lectionary
        • Catholic lectionary
        • Revised common lectionary
        • Narrative lectionary
      • Developed by professors at Luther Seminary in St. Paul
      • 4-yr. cycle (1 yr. for each Gospel)
      • Purpose: to follow the grand sweep of the Biblical story from Creation to the early Church within a 9-month period (Sept.-May) → focuses on the following the story of God and God’s people so that we can better grasp the overarching story of our faith and better understand where we might fit into that story ourselves
      • General phases
        • Starts with OT stories
        • Shifts into writing of prophets at Advent (the ones who heralded the birth of the Messiah)
        • Moves to Gospels after Christmas à continues throughout Lent and Easter
        • Finally transitions into writings of the Early Church after Easter
      • Cycle through the same phases but with different Scriptures when the lectionary year starts over again in Sept.
  • And so here we are at the beginning of the Bible as well – the Creation Story, Take 2. Wait … Take 2?
    • Basics of the Biblical Historical Documentary Hypothesis
      • Long-passed-down tradition states first 5 books of the Bible were written by Moses → scholars began questioning this belief as early as the late 16th and early 17th
        • Scholar: By the early eighteenth century, evidence for the use of sources was becoming more and more apparent. Repetitions, parallel versions of the same event, and notable differences in language and point of view seemed to render this conclusion inevitable.[2]
      • A few centuries of discussion and debate later = Documentary Hypothesis → proposed and expanded upon by a number of different scholars in the late 19th and early 20th
      • Basic idea = 4 different sources that make up the whole of the first 5 books of the Bible
        • J source
        • E source
        • D source
        • P source
    • REMINDER: OT Scripture started off as oral history – stories and poetry and cultural mythology that was passed down from family to family, from priest to priest, from generation to generation, told and retold in worship, at the family table, around campfires and bonfires → The stories upon stories and verses upon verses that make up the Old Testament as we know and read it today started off as stories that were only told and remembered and embodied for more than a thousand years before anything was written down. So today’s version of the creation story that we find in Genesis 2 is the creation story as remembered and recorded by one particular ancient Hebrew scribe. The creation story that we read in Genesis 1 – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth … and God said, ‘Let there be light’”[3] and so on and so on – that version of creation is another story.
      • Major difference:
        • Genesis 1 creation story emphasizes divine action and power and intention → human beings are merely a footnote at the end of that saga (part of Day 6 when God creates every kind of living thing: “livestock, crawling things, and wildlife”[4] … and humans in God’s own image)
        • Genesis 2 creation story emphasizes human interaction and relationship with God → humans created first, then God creates every other creature in an attempt to create the “perfect helper” for the human
  • Okay … so let’s talk about this “perfect helper” for a bit.
    • Beauty of this text and challenge of this text all wrapped up in two little words
      • CHALLENGE = history of this text
        • Used to subjugate and suppress and silence women for centuries → used to attempt to make women believe they weren’t as good, as useful, as valuable, as worthy as men because Eve was created from a part of Adam
        • Roger Nam (Assoc. Prof. of Biblical Studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Oregon): This phrase has been particularly destructive in constructing gender roles in both the household and church leadership. I recognize that one part of the problem is the of the common English translation of “helper” for the Hebrew carries unwarranted baggage of weakness and inferiority, as in “Daddy’s little helper.”[5]
      • So let’s consider the actual Hebrew here – the words that make up that tricky phrase “perfect helper.” When we do, we see that the intention in the Hebrew is nowhere near this dominant, superior interpretation.
        • 2 Heb. words “helper/support” + “opposite/counterpart” → So when the text talks about God creating Eve to be a helper for Adam, the text speaks of an equal helper, a supportive counterpart, someone to be beside Adam in his work and his life and his relationship with God; someone created to be matched with Adam, not mitigated by Adam.
        • Nam highlights an important point: It is important to remember that the Bible [calls God “helper” using the exact same Hebrew word] (Psalm 54:4).[6]
    • This reveals the beauty of this “perfect helper” phrase in our text this morning because it shows us that we were literally created to be in community with one another. We were created to be in relationship with God together. We were created to seek after and encounter and experience God together. We were created to inhabit this earth and this life together.
  • It’s beautiful in and of itself, but it’s also beautiful in the context of this being the beginning of creation. God created the world. God created a human being from the literal stuff of that world – from the topsoil, from the mud and God’s own breath.
    • From “The Creation”: Then God walked around, / And God looked around / On all that He had made. / He looked at His sun, / And He looked at His moon, / And He looked at His little stars; / He looked on His world / With all its living things, / And God said, “I’m lonely still.” / Then God sat down / On the side of a hill where He could think; / By a deep, wide river He sat down; / With His head in His hands, / God thought and thought, / Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man!” / Up from the bed of the river / God scooped the clay; / And by the bank of the river / He kneeled Him down; / And there the great God Almighty / Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, / Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night, / Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand; / This Great God, / Like a mammy bending over her baby, / Kneeled down in the dust / Toiling over a lump of clay / Till He shaped it in His own image; / Then into it He blew the breath of life, / And man became a living soul. / Amen. Amen.
    • REMINDER: “breath” in Heb. can also be translated as Spirit à not just stale air that God blew into that molded chunk of mud but God’s own Spirit
      • Holy Spirit
      • Divine Spark
      • Breath of Heaven
      • Especially linked to our creation story this morning in 2 ways
        • 1) one of the names for the Holy Spirit used throughout the Scriptures is the “helper”
        • 2) Heb. word for “Spirit” is a distinctly feminine word
  • Friends, this is where our Grand Story of faith starts – together with God and together with one another.
    • Sacred togetherness = element of our faith that extends far beyond OT → Jesus was in constant togetherness with his disciples, with the crowds, with those seeking teaching and healing, with sinners, with the unclean, with people on the margins, even with the Pharisees – those who would ultimately betray and kill him. Jesus was the physical embodiment of that sacred togetherness. He was Emmanuel, God With Us.
      • Meme from the Synod FB page this week (shared from The Center for Prophetic Imagination) = quote from Clarence Jordan (early 20th New Testament scholar and farmer; author of “Cotton Patch Gospel”; founder of Koinonia Farm, a small of influential religious community in SW Georgia): The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.
    • Crucial question for us today = What are we going to do with that?
      • How are we going to remain together, especially in difficult times?
      • How are we going to look out for one another, especially in difficult times?
      • How are we going to live lives of faith and hope, forgiveness and mercy, truth and steadfast love together, especially in difficult times?
      • None of those are questions I can answer for you. They’re questions you have to ask yourself every moment of every day – questions you have to ask yourself in the throes of every encounter, every disagreement, every struggle, every frustration. They’re questions you have to answer for yourself with every word you say and every thing you do. They’re questions you have to wrestle with in the face of all the hurt … all the need … all the desperation … all the hopelessness … all the darkness … all the injustice … all the fear … all the brokenness of this world. How can you embody that sacred togetherness? How can you bring that Divine Spirit? How can you be an equal member, a supportive counterpart, an perfect helper? Amen.

[1] Jn 1:1.

[2] Joseph Blenkinsopp. “Introduction to the Pentateuch” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol.  1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 309.

[3] Gen 1:1, 3 (NRSV).

[4] Gen 1:24.

[5] Roger Nam. “Commentary on Genesis 2:4b-25” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2553. Posted for Sept. 13, 2015, accessed Sept. 8, 2019.

[6] Roger Nam. “Commentary on Genesis 2:4b-25” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2553. Posted for Sept. 13, 2015, accessed Sept. 8, 2019.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: A Perfect Helper

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Big Love | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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