June 29, 2014 – In the garden

Revelation 22:1-2

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

John 20:20-22

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit….”

Genesis 2:4-25

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

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Pentecost 3   June 29, 2014 (Ps 19, Rev 22:1-2, John 20:20-22) Genesis 2:4-25  

In the garden

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When we were little, my younger sister, one-or-two years-old at the time, would often take off her clothes as she walked down the street. Our parents could always find Annie by following the trail of clothes she would leave on the way to the big sandbox at the end of our block. My sister had the art of being naked and unashamed down pat. She came into the world knowing how to live in the garden.  The place we lived was like a garden – a safe place in which a young child could even walk around naked and not be in much danger, because our street was blocked off by chains on both ends during the day, so no cars could come in, and there were parents always sitting on porches, all up and down the way, any time kids were outside, in this small, protected, student housing project…where we children could walk and run and play all day, roaming from house to house, welcomed and fed wherever we went… And the main rule, as I remember, was for us to never go walking outside the long block we lived on, or down in the basement. Thou shalt not go down-street outside the block, and thou shalt not go down in the basement without thine parent. (The janitor had his office down there, with pictures of not-quite-naked women on the wall, and who knows what all else might be there.) But anywhere in the upstairs zone within the borders of our territory we might go… And we might eat freely of all the fruits of our neighborhood, except for any expressly forbidden by parents. (My sister grew up to be a professional gardener and garden writer….She still talks about working in the garden bringing “knock-me-to-my-knees joys”… in the delight of God’s beauty all around…)

And maybe most of us have known – something of what it means to be in the garden. By God’s grace we know Garden places where it’s safe, with proper supervision, for small children to run around naked and unashamed, as we saw last week at a beach… Closely watched by parents…Gulls, plovers, terns, dancing with delight…Seals splashing and people doing the same, playing in the water, looking relaxed… not an angry word to be heard… Like in the garden…

Sometimes when I’m out fishing I can’t help singing…I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses….I can’t help noticing… wild roses blooming… all by themselves… And my garden work at times is just to see what God is doing… and appreciate…

But often, our delight is greatest when we get to help…We’re born wired to want to help God with cultivating garden space… as God says to do in the beginning… Our neighbor across-the-street, Pam, has roses blooming from early spring, all through summer, late into the fall… Maybe she’s planted varieties that keep blooming… But the bloom stays on, also, I bet because she’s out there pruning, clipping, and tending in all seasons. And she always seems to enjoy the gardening…It never looks like work, the way she does it….

We’re born with an intuition to want to help take care of the garden…Last week, visiting the Brian clan, here comes almost-six-year-old Jack, saying, “Mom, can I please water the plants? Please?” And never mind that he and his two year old sister Haley both get soaking wet… They have so much fun helping with the garden that nobody minds… Jack was also cheerfully picking up lightning bugs and caterpillars, commenting on how interesting each one was… And like my sister, it was as if he was born appreciating the garden. Born knowing we don’t need to make a pilgrimage to the Tigris-Euphrates-Pishon-Gihon headwaters… We can help God with taking care of the garden – any little oasis of peace and beauty we can find and cultivate – right in our own backyard…

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Last week we overheard God speak, in the beginning… And each time God speaks, creation happens, day by day, starting with let there be light, day one… all the way through that first working week of creation, to day six, when God says let us make human beings in the image of God, male and female, in the image of God

In the first telling of creation’s story in Genesis chapter one, God makes heaven and earth in seven days – days which might be aeons in length – time is relative – (God made it that way)…

Now in the second telling of creation, Genesis chapter two, we’re in the story from another angle. Not looking at creation from on-high, from a God’s eye view like in chapter one. Now we’re down in the dusty dirt and mud in the garden-with God-breathing-breath-of-life into Adam (adam means man, plural, in Hebrew) – and God is planting this first human in a fertile garden full of trees – (the word adam in Hebrew is closely related to the word adamah, earth – humans are made from humus – and God plants Adam in the garden, like a walking, talking rose bush. And in this garden there is only one tree we are not to eat from – the tree-of-the-knowledge-of-good-and-evil, located right in the middle of the garden. God doesn’t explain why we must not eat of that one tree… And right there next to it, we’re told – is the Tree of Life – a tree we’re not told not to eat… Though we actually never hear of anyone eating from that tree… (Go and figure…)

And just as soon as God says don’t eat of that one tree… Probably we already know what will happen next… But let’s not rush to get there…

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On the one hand, our hearing of this story may suffer from over-familiarity…

The symbols we find here – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – the tree of life – the river of life – the garden itself – primal loneliness, with God seeing for the first time something that is not good in the first man, already lonely and singing the blues – Adam’s rib resulting – all these ancient and familiar images – all connected with Great Grand Mother Eve and Great Grandfather Adam… all this can be so familiar, sometimes, that we somehow miss the mystery…

Today we’re into Creation, part two. In the garden. A garden full of images and symbols that have profoundly shaped and molded life on earth for the past several thousand years… Images still clothed in primal mystery.

At the center of the garden are two trees – the Tree of Life – and the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil… And in the center of the story there is man and there is woman – ish and ishah in the Hebrew, meaning man and woman, singular, in the Hebrew… And from one alone, which God sees now is not good – now comes two… Yet now these two are ever yearning to be made one again…

A mystery that still makes the world go round…(and makes the world spin wildly out of control also, sometimes…) A mystery that inspires songs, poetry, novels and movies good, bad and ugly (and God knows which is which)… A mystery that’s been corruptly used to sell virtually every product imaginable, from Eve’s passionflower perfumes to (I am not making this one up) Adam’s barbequed baby-back ribs… A mystery holy in it’s origins that nonetheless has contributed to all sorts of unfortunate tragedies…

Yet a mystery that still brings lasting love and joy to many…

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In the beginning God makes human beings, in the image of God, male and female, and God blesses and commissions us to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over all the other species, even over all the earth itself. All this on Day Six of the creation story told in Genesis chapter one.

Now in Genesis chapter two, the story continues… As God clarifies what God means by ruling over the rest of creation – as we’re told, now – it’s all about tending and taking care of God’s garden earth… God’s good creation…

And when we read the scriptures carefully we also learn –

Our assignment was never about building tall sky scrapers extending into the heavens, like that famous tower of Babel…

Our assignment was never about building worship palaces, like that famous Crystal Cathedral, that finally put it’s builders into bankruptcy…

Our assignment was never about ploughing up thousands of acres to be mechanically planted and harvested… with many low wage workers and a few very high salaried CEO’s…

Our assignment was never about building up ourselves, our careers, our personal or family legacies. Our calling from God was never about man-made honors and accomplishments…

In the beginning God assigns us to be faithful in just one thing…

To be thankful for all God has made and shared with us…

To be thankful for all the garden-grace God has given…

To notice what God has done and be very grateful…

Not second-guessing God… But joining in God’s work humbly…

Tending the garden… Caring for what God has made.

 

And maybe the temptation is still, as in the beginning…

To think we can be like God in our knowledge, without knowing God in our hearts.

To imagine we can know right and wrong better than God…

To judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves…

To think more highly of ourselves than we ought…

Any of which leads to ignoring what God has told us to do…

Which leads to imagining there are no consequences for transgressing God’s law of love… And trying to apply God’s law of love selectively, just for ourselves… (and maybe a few chosen others…) Missing the whole point of love…

And never mind what somebody said once-upon-a-time on-the-way-to- Woodstock. We’re not star-dust, we’re not golden. There’s no way we’ll ever get ourselves back to the garden.

Yet, thanks be to God, There is a way back…Though the way goes forward from here, not backwards…

And the way is Jesus… Who breathes new life into us…

Jesus, who calls us to come, eat of his Tree of Life that grows on both sides of the river of live…

And we can get there from here… Anytime we’re willing to keep walking with him and talking with him… Telling him we want to be his own… Together in his garden grace. Thanks be to God. Amen. Let’s sing –

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