Rev. Danielle K Bartz March 6, 2022
Genesis 2:7-9, 15-25 “Beloved Is Where We Begin”
As we settle in for the season of Lent, we return to our most ancestral story, to remind us that we are all earthlings, creatures of earth, of the soil we till, the soil to which we shall return. There is both dignity and humility in our creation at the hands of God, breathed into living by the Spirit of God. This is a time of the church year set aside to reflect on our humanness – the ways we lack and the places we still have to go. It is a time to remember we are not God, but rather we need God. That is the gift of this season, not a punishment. As we explore this text and move through the season of Lent, we begin with a reminder that we are crafted as by an artist pouring into their artistry imagination, possibility, hope, beauty, and wonder. That is where we begin and that is where we can and will ground ourselves as we consider our place in this troubled world, our finitude, and the miracle of life God has given us. We begin Lent by remembering we are beloved.
To help us remember that, I want to start with a poem by poet Jan Richardson entitled ‘Beloved is Where we Begin’: “If you would enter into the wilderness, do not begin without a blessing. Do not leave without hearing who you are: Beloved, named by the One who has traveled this path before you. Do not go without letting it echo in your ears, and if you find it is hard to let it into your heart, do not despair. That is what this journey is for. I cannot promise this blessing will free you from danger, from fear, from hunger or thirst, from the scorching of sun or the fall of the night. But I can tell you that on this path there will be help. I can tell you that on this way there will be rest. I can tell you that you will know the strange graces that come to our aid only on a road such as this, that fly to meet us bearing comfort and strength, that come alongside us for no other cause than to lean themselves toward our ear and with their curious insistence whisper our name: Beloved, Beloved, Beloved.”
Beloved is indeed where we begin – and our ancestral creation story is a way to remember that. There are, arguably, three separate creation stories in the book of Genesis that include the creation of humanity. But the one we read today and will be using as our touchstone throughout Lent, is my favorite. It reminds us we are a part of the whole of God’s creation – not something set apart. We are formed from the very earth, or as Rev. Dr. Gafnery translates it – the humus of God’s creation. Humus is that dark, rich, fertile soil from which life grows and thrives. It was the base from which the Garden of Eden grows – that beautiful image of a sustaining paradise that is our earthly home. As this creation story describes it, we are formed by the same soil which grows the paradise of Eden.
But, Genesis does not suggest we were planted and tended like gardener to their garden. Rather, we were formed by an artist – created something beautiful out of the ordinary stuff of life. The word that is used in the Bible is crafted, which is the same word used to describe what a potter does with clay – formed and shaped with patience and attention by the hands of the Divine. Another way of thinking about it is humanity is the artwork brought to Eden to make it just that much more beautiful of a place.
But God did not fashion humanity to simply be pieces of precious and delicate artwork to be looked at and admired. Rather God fashioned humanity to tend to the Garden where we were formed. The Garden was created not just to sustain humanity, but to be stewarded by humanity. To be tended and tilled and nurtured and harvested. And by living in harmony with that gift, God has given humanity all we need to survive – the food and drink and shelter and beauty we need to make our lives just as rich and fertile as the humus of life we share with this creation.
And if that wasn’t miraculous enough – not only are we the artwork of God placed in a garden of paradise that has given us all we need to survive and thrive – but we are not placed here alone. We are given companions, help-mates, people who come alongside us in equality and support. The story of how the companion for the first human was created has been told, retold, and interpreted throughout the millennia. Each interpretation serves a context, and as we trace those various ways of understanding this new creation, we can see how they have changed – thereby giving us permission to look at the story anew once again. The thing that has always been remarkable to me is that the story describes an equal halving of the first human.
Traditionally, we read that the first human, ha‘adam was placed in a deep sleep and a rib was removed to use to form ha‘adam’s companion, ha‘adamah (the names Adam and Eve aren’t used at all in this creation story until much later). But the text does not say ha‘adamah was formed by the rib of ha’adam, rather by the ‘side’ of the first human. An equal side. It is the same word used to describe an equal side of the ark and tabernacle in Exodus, a side of the Temple in 1 Kings and Ezekial, and even a hillside in 2 Samuel. It is only in this one verse has that word traditionally been translated as rib, but that translation does not hold up. This story does not suggest a small piece of the first human was removed to create the second human – this story says the first human was halved and an equal partner was created. Ha’adam and ha’adamah are equal halves of God’s creation of humanity – because God realized humans cannot thrive on their own. Humans need companionship and partnership and support and care and encouragement. Humans need an equal to walk alongside them, and to help tend to the garden of paradise God created.
Do I believe that the creation story of Genesis 2 is scientific fact – no, of course not. This is a creation story, a spiritual story or myth that is meant to help us understand who we are in the midst of God’s creation. And what I love about this story is it helps us to understand just how beloved humanity is. It helps us to understand that beloved is where our story begins and where our story will end. And I do believe humanity – all of us – are beloved creations of God. And I think this story describes it perfectly. We are formed from the very substance of God’s creation of paradise, connected in our very cores to this planet and the life it gives. We are formed by a Divine artist that has shaped us with care and patience and wonder and love. We are the artwork of creation and given the extraordinary task of tending to this paradise, this paradise that we share our very substance with. And here in this vast garden we are given all we need to survive and thrive, if we can steward it carefully and prayerfully. And on top of all that, we are given equal companions to partner with in this life. Not just one person, but the entirety of humanity – because God knows we simply cannot do this alone.
Beloved is where we begin. It is the gift God has given us and a promise that is always waiting to be reclaimed. As we move through Lent – we will continue the story of ha’adam and ha’adamah. We will remember how they together were convinced by trickery and deceit that they didn’t need God, and moved away from paradise into trial. Lent is the time to reflect on that, but we begin with a reminder that we are beloved and that paradise of promise isn’t closed to us, but rather waiting to be re-claimed and re-formed with the help of God. But, we begin from this place – this place to remember we are beloved, our earthly home is beloved, our partners throughout humanity are beloved. Beloved is where we begin and beloved is where we will end. Amen.
Creator God, you formed us from the fertile soil of life and breathed your Spirit into us. You look upon us as an artist, reveling in the beauty of creation formed by your Divine hands. You formed us a beloved, and claim us as beloved throughout our lives. For this we are humbled and grateful.
As we claim the name of beloved you have given us, help us to remember that name is not shared by a select few, but rather by all of us. We are all beloved creations, we are all your artwork. When we look into the face of another, even those whom we have chosen to hate or fear, let us see them as beloved as well. For it is only by sharing this common name that we can fully claim it for ourselves.
God, so much of your beloved creation is under attack. Our earthly home is suffering because far too many of us have forgotten we are to be stewards, not dominators of this land from which we share our creation. Help us to not only repent of the destruction we have caused, but to heal those wounds of our neglect. We know this will be hard, but not impossible – for with you all things are possible.
And, not only is our earth suffering, but our neighbors are as well. Far too many are suffering from poverty and disease and hunger – because we have forgotten that there is enough for all if we are willing to share it. And so many of our neighbors find themselves in the way of bullets and bombs, fleeing from all that is familiar, or being used as tools of combat, expendable by those claiming to be leaders. For the people of Ukraine, for the soldiers of war, for the children, for those attempting for forge peace – we pray.
God, we know beloved is where we begin and beloved is where we will end. Help us to find our way to that beloved-ness always, espeically when we stray too far. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, your beloved creation who was given to us a guide and teacher. And we pray in the way he taught by saying…Our Father…