Imperfect in Paradise
September 8, 2019
Reverend Sarah Brouwer
The text for tonight is from Genesis chapter two- the story of God creating human beings. This isn’t a sermon about feminism, but fun fact, Feminist theologian Phyllis Trible says that the human being God creates in this chapter isn’t male or female until the very end, when the other human is formed and they are differentiated. A more faithful way to read the story is to use gender neutral pronouns, so that’s what we’re going to do until we get to the end. These two humans aren’t called Adam and Even until the following chapter, but we assume this is them. Listen for God’s word.
In the day that the Lord made the earth and the heavens,
when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—
for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground;
but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—
then the Lord God formed human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life;
and the human became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east;
and there God put the man whom God had formed.
Out of the ground the Lord made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,
the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches…
The Lord took the human and put them in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
And the Lord commanded the human,
“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,
for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Then the Lord said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make them a helper as their partner.”
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air,
and brought them to the human to see what they would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature,
that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field;
but for the human there was not found a helper as their partner.
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the human, and they slept;
then God took one of their ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
And the rib that the Lord had taken from the human God made into a helper and brought them to the man.
Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman (the other, man)
for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Imperfect in Paradise
I remember going to Disney World when I was in third grade. Just to give you a visual of me in third grade, without subjecting myself to the horror of showing you an actual photo, picture this, it’s 1992 and I am: tall, like awkwardly tall; chubby, like awkwardly chubby; I had round, dark tortoiseshell glasses; an all-pink oversized outfit with t-shirt knotted at the side and matching shorts with a stretchy waistband; and to top it all off, short hair with a perm. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t peak in my school years.
Beyond what I looked like I also have a vivid memory of Epcot Center- that’s the part of Disney World with the giant golf ball. If you’ve never been before, you can actually go inside the golf ball. Like it was yesterday, I remember sitting next to my dad in a two-person seat. The little seat we were in took us on a ride around inside, very slowly through dark tunnels, looking at images of the night sky as we learned from the pre-recorded soundtrack about the theories around the creation of the world, like the big bang theory and evolution. It was informative and a welcome break from Thunder Mountain and the spinning tea cups at Alice in Wonderland. At some point near the end of the ride my dad leaned down to me and said, “you know we believe something else about creation. We believe God created everything, including us, because God loves us.”
Maybe it sounds silly, or like I came from an evangelical family that didn’t believe in evolution, but it was a sacred moment. Not just because it was my dad, but because I understood, maybe for the first time, how multiple stories could be held in the balance. That God’s work in the world was nuanced, and that beginnings were important. In the first chapter of Genesis it says that God created out of nothing. Ex nihilo is the fancy theological word for this, and it’s deserving, I think. Because, as any creative person will tell you, creating is difficult. And beginnings can be hard. Whether it’s atoms crashing together and the universe expanding, or moving to a new city, or starting a job search after being laid off, or picking up the pieces after a divorce, creating out of nothing, and starting over is work.
But, beginnings are where God tends to be. Chapter two in Genesis is also evidence of this. God creates a paradise, a beautiful world that needs to be tended and adored. So God breathes life into dust, generating a complex form out of the ground. God’s love pours over this person, so much so that God decides there shouldn’t be just one, and they shouldn’t be alone.
My friend Jenny likes to say that the creation story is an affirmation that we all come from a good beginning. Sometimes it feels like I need this reminder day-to-day, when things seem rough. Like my dad said, we believe God created, because God loves us. And, so you, too, come from a good beginning,
an intentional one. You were born from a great effort of love. The world needed one of you, uniquely and wonderfully made, you. I often think if I need to hear that, then you must, too.
The point of all this, that we were created good, out of love, to love each other and the world, and it’s enchanting, isn’t it? A welcome reminder. And, the more I hear the story, the more I realize it’s the garden of Eden we all desire to come back to. We yearn to go back to the very beginning, or at least some moment in time where we were, as Genesis says, not ashamed. If only we could just reverse and rewind, we could go back. For me it’s third grade at Disney World with my dad, rocking a perm and so deeply assured of my beginning and my belonging.
This dreamy vision may seem unreasonable. Maybe that’s why the story says the first human slept through most of it. But as Christians, we are part of an even bigger narrative that promises new beginnings. The resurrection of Jesus is an affirmation that not even death can keep us from the grace of getting a second chance. In Christ, the Apostle Paul said, we are a brand-new creation, the old life has gone away, and look, a new life has begun. God creates us again and again, and calls us good, over and over. But, some Christians like to think this offer of new life means total and complete transformation. You become a new person. Re-baptized, dunked in the water, night and day different. Broken then whole. Lost then found. Out of nothing, something. It sounds good, but be wary of it, because this kind of change is often synonymous with perfection- an issue I know I struggle with, if I’m being honest.
I remember when we moved from Indianapolis to St. Louis, in 2011. I had just finished up a two-year gig at a church and was on my way to my first official job, which I was super nervous about. We had packed up our house in Indy, loaded the moving truck, and Ben had stayed behind to clean while I took the dog and got on the road. I arrived at our new house in St. Louis in the evening. It was empty, in the middle of the city, and in an unfamiliar neighborhood. I went to the grocery store to get a few things and felt very out of place. When I got home I put our camping pad on the floor with a sleeping bag and laid down. It was then, when I had nothing to do, that a huge wave of anxiety washed over me. This was absolutely the wrong choice, I thought. I’m going to be terrible at my job, and what were we doing so far away from anyone we knew, anyway? My mind spiraled, but then I did the most natural thing in the world- I prayed. I remember I actually pulled out my phone and started typing one out so I could think through exactly what I wanted to say.
I don’t have that prayer anymore- trust me, I looked- but I know what it said. This beginning is hard, but it is born out of love. You are a new creation, not perfect, but good enough. Sometimes a prayer is a way of talking yourself into what God already knows about you. That you too are a good creation, and the intent was never perfection, anyway.
The theme of this September, for Gathered at Five, is come as you are. It seemed like a good place to start, along with creation, and Genesis. In Genesis Chapter 3, in fact, the story goes on, and it’s the part you’ve probably heard before, where Adam and Eve eat the infamous fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and realize what they’ve done. Some have called it the fall or the first sin. Neither fall nor sin are mentioned in the story, but what it does say is this: once they knew what they had done, and were ashamed of their nakedness, God covered them. God covered their shame. And they moved on. Paradise wasn’t the same anymore, but maybe it was never perfect the way we always imagine it to be. Maybe it was good. And maybe good is what God intended, anyway.
So, come as you are. Come as you are to gathered at five this month, this year. Come as you are, before God, and begin again. Come as you are, a new creation, intended and so very good. Come as you are. These beginnings aren’t easy, but grace abounds. Come as you are and, as Voltaire said, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Come as you are, just like Adam and Eve, imperfect in paradise. Come as you are, because you come from a good beginning. Amen.