(sermon note: 09-10 sermon note)
In the day that the Lord God 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 man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. fAnd the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God 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 name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘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 God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his 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 man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each 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 man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her 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,
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.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about Adam who was moping around in the Garden of Eden one day. Suddenly a light flashed and there was God. “What’s the matter, Adam?” He asked. Adam replied, “I’m lonely. There’s nobody to talk to around here except that slimy serpent who keeps on wanting me to get into trouble. And since you won’t let me go near the Tree of Knowledge, I don’t know how to cook, and meals of raw berries and nuts are not very good. And I keep on having these ‘urges’ that leave me very frustrated and I don’t know what to do about them.” God thought about this for a few minutes and then said, “I have it! I will create WOMAN for you!” Adam was intrigued, and asked, “What is WOMAN?” God explained, “She will bear and raise your children with no complaint. She will cook you delicious meals that satisfy you and will never ask you to help with the preparation or with the cleaning up afterwards. She will satisfy those ‘urges’ you have. And, should there ever be any cause for misunderstanding or dispute between you and her, she will address the issue directly and work with you towards resolving it, never resorting to sulking or artificial silence, hinting or any other form of subterfuge. She will be the perfect helpmate for you.” Adam reflected on this. “Sounds great! But…what is this all going to cost me?” God responded, “Only an arm and a leg.” Adam thought about this for a while and finally said, “Err…what can I get for a rib?”
I like that one because it reveals the utter absurdity of the expectations men place on women, not to mention the limited state of existence men are in without women. Poor Adam, moping around the garden, lonely and partially starved…such a sad state of existence. And to have such absurd expectations of a companion?! That’s not a companion, that’s an inhuman slave! That’s someone who has no free will of her own, no joy or self esteem or ability to grow in life. Man would find similar companionship in a doll or robot or any number of inanimate objects. That most certainly isn’t the cure for loneliness and to think it is is just plain absurd and that joke does a good job of revealing this. Now then, what I don’t like about that joke is that it presumes that a rib has less value than an arm and a leg. That Adam is unwilling to pay a steep price for an unrealistic pseudo-companion. But the thing is, that’s just a presumption. Adam did pay a rib and look what he got…an actual companion! An actual helper! Someone who complains about raising the kids so that a man will actually engage in raising the kids with her. Someone who might cook a variety of meals, some more satisfying than others, OR someone who inspires a man to learn how to cook a variety of meals and share them with her and even be bold enough to offer criticism of those meals. Someone who satisfies man’s “urges” but also has “urges” of her own that are just as enjoyable in satisfying. Someone who works through misunderstandings or disputes in a way that engages emotions and heart, not just the mind. No, Adam paid a rib and got a far better companion than the one that cost only an arm and a leg! So I guess a rib has higher value than an arm and a leg after all…
This week we’re starting back in with the regular narrative lectionary and what better place is there to begin the biblical story than the creation stories of Genesis. And as we know there are two creation stories in the opening chapters: one retelling God’s creation of everything from light to the skies and land and seas to all the creatures living therein and one retelling God’s specific creation of humans. Of course one of the stories focuses on mankind because we are distinctly different from the rest of God’s creation. Unlike the rest of creation, we were tasked with “tilling and keeping” God’s creation. In other words, with caring for and ordering God’s creation. First, we gave every living thing names and then we cared for them. No other creature was tasked with caring for anything other than themselves. Besides giving us such responsibility, God also gave us helpers or companions to share in the responsibility. God realized “it is not good that man should be alone” so he gave man companionship in the form of women. Poor translation substitutes “helper” for “companion” and all sorts of madness has arisen from it, the same type of madness found in that opening joke. That’s because for too long men have misunderstood that term, “helper,” to mean someone who is inferior, even to the point of being inhuman. But God certainly doesn’t consider women inferior to men so men should just grow up and be grateful for their companionship. That and for sharing the responsibility of caring for God’s creation. Heaven knows it’s a big enough job for all of humanity, men and women combined!
Yes, we ought to consider men and women as helpmates for each other much the same way as God considers himself as our helpmate. We hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will HELP you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (41:10) God is by no means inferior to us, nor are women inferior to men. God graciously gives us everything we need. We can boldly cry out as Paul did in his letter to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:13) God’s help enables us to do great things. Even in times of struggle, when life threatens to consume us, we can call on him and He will help us. Hebrews tells us, “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16) Men and women, each with their own unique strengths and gifts, can be similarly good helpmates.
As we set out on this new lectionary year together, let us also be good helpmates for each other. Let us strengthen and encourage each other along the way. Let us share the responsibility of caring for each other and the rest of God’s creation. Let us be confident that God will be with us in the year ahead and for that we give thanks. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.