Companions: With Bread

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on Sunday, October 7. 2018.

Genesis 2:18-23

I know some of you are hurting, depressed, angry, maybe scared this morning following the Senate vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court justice. I also know there are others present who are feeling some combination of relief, satisfaction, even hope, in response to that same vote. Whatever you are feeling this morning, I think it is fair to say that the hearing leading up to the vote, with its accusations of sexual assault, and bitter and angry personal attacks has been a uniquely painful experience for most of us, and leaves many raw, and even traumatized.

I experience a particular challenge as your Pastor. I have strongly held beliefs of my own regarding what is right and wrong in all that has transpired. I like to think that these are more than personal opinions, that my beliefs are grounded in our faith as informed by scripture, in particular the teachings of Jesus. I do not believe that it is a minister’s responsibility to represent “both sides” of issues, because it stands to reason that both sides are not equally consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus took sides, and I believe the church should aim to take Jesus’ side. When this church became Open and Affirming, we took a side, we sought to follow in the way of Jesus.

So make no mistake, at such a time as this, the church needs to stand alongside survivors of sexual assault. To see you. Hear you. Believe you. And communicate that what happened to you is not your fault.

And, I recognize that I have a responsibility to all of you as your Pastor, regardless of where you stand on a particular issue, a responsibility to listen to you and hear you, and see you as God sees you, created in God’s own image and beloved. And I do. I do. And I also have a responsibility to lead this church in a way that we continue to love one another despite our differences, and that we live together as one body of Christ.

As your pastor, I have found two practices particularly helpful in times such as these, confession, and studying the Bible.

Confession reminds me that I have my own issues, even as I seek to offer a reasoned and faithful critique of others. I recognize that confession will not be helpful to everyone right now. If you are a survivor of sexual assault whose memories have been triggered by events of the past couple weeks, confessing is the last thing you need to be doing right not. But for me, as a man, it is helpful to be reminded that I too act in ways that are sexist and perpetuate harm.

I offer this seemingly harm-less example. My wife Lourdes can tell you that I have this infuriating habit of offering an opinion, she might say critique, about even the most benign comments she makes. She might say, “I’m going to get new blue curtains for the living room.” Note, she isn’t asking my opinion, but simply making a statement. Yet I jump right in. Why, these curtains are fine. Why this room? Why now? Wouldn’t yellow be better? Shouldn’t we replace the curtains in the bedroom first? Understand, I have little real interest and no expertise in replacing curtains. What could have simply been “What a great idea!” becomes a meaningless and maddening back and forth about curtains. Make no mistake, I am speaking from my assumption that as a man I have something important to say about everything, and I believe my perspective, as careless and ill-informed as it might be, is somehow better than the one being put forth by Lourdes, the curtain queen. This is crazy, it is sexist, and I can’t seem to stop myself! And, it is not harmless after all, it comes between Lourdes and me and is damaging to our relationship. When I do things like this I am sending a message that she is less-than or subordinate to me.

I assure you, this is just the tip of my sexist iceberg!

Returning to scripture is the other practice that has been helpful to me in these times. Some of you were here last Sunday when 80% of my sermon (I counted the words) was simply telling the biblical story of Esther. The story seemed to serve its purpose well, inspiring some and challenging others. But regardless of each individual’s experience of that sermon, most people seemed to resonate with the biblical content.

This morning’s reading from Genesis is the ancient story of the creation of humanity, of man and woman. Many of us think we know the story pretty well. After having formed man from the dust of the earth and breathing life into him, God puts the man to sleep, and takes one of his ribs to create woman.

Tradition holds that because woman was created from man, and man then names woman, that women are to be subservient to men. But it turns out that there is a whole lot more to this story than meets the eye. I draw extensively here from the scholarship of respected Bible scholar Phyllis Trible.

Not everyone knows that there are two separate accounts of creation in Genesis, one in Chapter 1, the other in Chapter 2. In Chapter 1, God makes humankind, male and female, in the God’s own image on the sixth day of creation. In this account, humans, man and woman at once, are the climax of the week-long creation story.

Chapter 2 has a very different account of creation in which God creates earth and the heavens and all that is in them in a day! This is the story that includes the formation of a human from the dust of the earth, and this is where it gets really interesting.

The Hebrew word used here for the being created by God is adham, a-d-h-a-m, not the proper name Adam, but a word meaning simply humankind. Adham is derived from the word adhama, meaning earth. In Hebrew, the word adham is not gendered male of female; there were no sexes at creation but one androgynous creature.

After creating the Garden of Eden for adham, in verse 18, where this morning’s passage begins, God notes that it is not good for this human to be alone, so God decides to create for adham a helper.

Here the word helper has also been used to justify women’s subservience to men. But the Hebrew word for helper, ezer, does not suggest subservience. Elsewhere in the Bible God is described as a helper (ezer) to Israel, which clearly does not indicate that God is subservient to Israel. Rather, ezer is a relational term, designating a beneficial relationship. In verse 18, ezer is coupled with the word neged, connoting equality; together these words describe a helper who is a counterpart.

Trible’s own translation of this passage reads, “God is the helper superior to man; the animals are helpers inferior to man; woman is the helper equal to man.”

Gender is introduced to the story at the very end, after God makes the garden, the trees, and the animals. As I said when I introduced this story, the placement of woman at the end has led some to allege female subordination. But Trible shows that woman was not an afterthought but a culmination of creation. Just as in the first creation account in Chapter 1 where humans are the crown on all creation, here in Chapter 2, the creation of woman is the climax of the story.

That woman is created from the rib of adham communicates solidarity and equality, not subordination.

Adham then recites this poem:

This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.

She shall be called woman (the Hebrew word ishshah).

Because she was taken out of man (the Hebrew word ish).

What had been a gender-neutral term for human, adham, now becomes specific terms for male and female, ish and ishshah

The creation of sexuality is simultaneous for men and women, Sexes are interrelated and interdependent

Man does not precede woman but happens concurrently with her. The first act in the second chapter of Genesis is creation of an androgynous being, the final act is creation of gender.

The human is no longer a passive creature, ish comes alive in meeting ishshah

Some say man’s power is evidenced in naming woman, but this is not in the text. Ishshah (woman) is a common noun, not a name; adham simply recognizes her sexuality, he doesn’t name her to assert his power.

All of this is to say that God creates us to be in mutual relationships.

Men, women, and non-binary. Gay, straight and bisexual. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic and atheists. Young and old. People of every nation. And yes, Democrats and Republicans, have been created by God to be in mutual relationships.

But just as I felt the need to assert myself in the choice of living room curtains, so also men have tried to bend this story of gender to our will. Seeing how easy it is to again and again assert our power over one another, we cannot take the mutual relationships God intends for us for granted. Embracing mutuality requires continued commitment and hard work. Along with prayer, mutuality requires confessing the ways, large and small, that we assert our power creating separation, and returning together to the Bible.

Restoring and nurturing mutual relationships is the answer to our pain. And a little later at the communion table we will be reminded that through Jesus, God is made known to us in these relationships.

 

 

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