This is the third sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Before we continue telling the story of the Bible, I want to say about how I think of story. Stories do not have to be literally true to be profoundly true. Stories do not have to be factual to tell us the truth about the human condition and our relationship to the Sacred. When I approach Bible stories, I often think of a saying that has been attributed to a Native American storyteller: “Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.” We listen to these stories again and again to try to find the truth in them and to orient our lives by that truth.
And so… We started our series on the story of the Bible two Sundays ago with — creation! It was good, very good. A beautiful garden abundantly filled with life! Humans created in the image of God! And then, last Sunday: the fall. Humans — desiring to be like God — go beyond God-given limits and broken relationships result, with God, ourselves, each other and creation.
This is the second sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17; 3:1-24
We are going to do a Bible Study much like I remember preachers doing when I was growing up. Like those “olden times,” this will be easier if you have the text in front of you. So: Did you bring your Bible like I told you to? If not, do you want a hard copy? Joanna can pass them out. Or, you can go to biblegateway.com and type in the scripture reference exactly as it appears in the order of worship.
While you’re doing that, I’m going to give a bit of introduction to our story for today. Last Sunday, we began the story of the Bible with the story of the creation of the world. In that story, we learned of a world created not from an act of horrific violence — as in the Babylonian creation story — but through the intentional creativity of God. Our world was created good; it is not intrinsically violent or evil. The God who created this world is both transcendent — that is, independent of the creation — but also immanent, a deity who desires relationship with us and who is very present in this world. And, last, we said that we are created in the image of this Creator, which means that we, too, are powerful, creative and made for mutual relationship.
This is the first sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Imagine you are an ancient Babylonian. You’re going about your daily business of whatever it is that ancient Babylonians did — harvesting crops, carving stones for the ziggurats. Imagine the kind of world you live in if this is your creation story?
The world was born from the freshwater god Apsu and the saltwater goddess Tiamat. From their union, other gods are born. But these god children are noisy, and their parents are not getting any sleep. This enrages the father Apsu, who decides to kill his children. But before he can carry out his plan, his children discover his plot and kill him instead. Their mother, Tiamat, is furious that her children have killed her husband, and she declares war against them. Terrified of their murderous parent, the divine children choose a young warrior god, Marduk, to lead them against Tiamat and her few loyal offspring. He agrees, but only if he can be named king of the gods if he succeeds. A bloody battle ensues, and Marduk kills Tiamat, dismembers her body and fashions the heavens from her body parts.
In a moment of whimsy, Marduk then decides to form a human being out of the blood of another god he had killed. These lowly creatures are created for one purpose only: to be slaves to the gods so that the gods may enjoy lives of leisure. (This summary of the Enuma Elish comes from Linda MacCammon’s book Liberating the Bible: A Guide for the Curious and the Perplexed.)
Before we even begin to talk about our story for today, I want to provide some context because there are anti-Semitic land mines in this text. I asked Andrew Ramer to comment, and here are his eloquent words:
The first thing to bear in mind when hearing these verses is that all of the characters in them, every single one of them, are people who today are labeled Jews. These verses explore an internal conversation between two groups of Jews in one community, who disagree about how to observe the Sabbath.
This is our second annual “Throwback Sunday,” where we look at a theological concept that many of us might have grown up with and where we also engage in gastronomic rituals that many of us may have grown up with. This year, we’re having a jello salad extravaganza! And I’ll be talking about eternal life. I also have to say that this passage from John is written in a context where the Jews who follow Jesus and the Jews who don’t are starting to have much more conflict and hostility between them, and you can hear that antagonism in much of John and certainly in the passage we just heard. Let’s remember these words from John are not justification for anti-Semitism today; how could they be? They are recording an intra-Jewish conflict, for the most part.
So, for many of us who grew up in church, that last verse we heard read— John 3:16 — was the most important verse in the Bible. It summarized the essence of our faith: that we are sinners who should be condemned to death because of our sin. But God, out of love for us, decided to send a substitute — his Son, Jesus, who was sacrificed on our behalf. And now, if we believe in Jesus – believe that Jesus is God’s son and believe in his saving work on the Cross – then we can avoid the fiery pits of hell and go to heaven after we die and be there with our beloveds in the faith who have died before us. We can have eternal life. Sound about right?
The other day, I walked the dog in my neighborhood on a morning that was just right. It wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too cold. It was just right. The sun was warm on my skin, the birds were singing, flowers were blooming. And then, I saw him: a thin man in his early 20s, standing in the middle of the street on this just right morning, barefoot, tattered, talking to himself, arms waving above his head like he was fending off a swarm of bees. As I walked near him, he turned an eye to me, and the look he gave me was wild. I had no idea what he was going to do next, what vision he was seeing as he looked at me. I found myself glad that my little guard dog DeeDee with me. As I turned the corner onto another street, I looked back and saw that he was taking off his clothes, still standing in the middle of the street. I wanted to help him — he was some mother’s son, not much older than my own — but I was afraid to and didn’t know how.
By Karen Kreider Yoder
FMCSF’s Green Team gave this “Earth Moment” on June 2, 2019.
If we cannot acknowledge the problem and mourn, we cannot change our actions and heal the Earth.
When I was a young girl in the 1960s, humans began producing plastic. Since then, our plastic use has grown steadily.
From 2000 to 2010, humans produced more plastic than ALL the plastic produced until then.
Plastics are so durable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, “Every bit of plastic ever made still exists.”
I’m reading a book in which the author, Cheryl Strayed, talks about working with poor, white middle school girls who were deemed not just “high risk” but “highest risk” by the school they attended. These girls had had the roughest of lives before they were even technically teenagers. Poverty, incarceration, missing or drugged-out or abusive parents. They girls told her, as Strayed put it, “ghastly, horrible, shocking, sad, merciless things. Things that would compel me to squint my eyes as I listened, as if by squinting I could protect myself by hearing it less distinctly… Endless stories of abuse and betrayal and absence and devastation,” many of which were still happening. She told the girls that what was happening to them was not okay. It was unacceptable. It was illegal. And that she would call someone and that someone would intervene and this would stop. It never did. Not once did a police officer or a child protective service worker ever come and help any of the girls during the year that Strayed worked with them. Finally, Strayed asked a child protective services worker why no one came, and she explained that there wasn’t enough money to go around and so they had to do triage. They would intervene quickly with a child under the age of 12, but for those over that age, they put their name on a long list of children whom they hoped they could check up on someday when there was enough money to do so. The woman told Strayed that it would be better if the girls ran away from home, because there was more funding for runaways.
By Jim Musselman
FMCSF’s “Green Team” gave this “Earth Moment” on Sunday, May 19.
Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old high school student who lives in Sweden. She is a climate activist who has organized an international school strike to fight climate change. Greta gave a speech about climate in London on April 23rd. Here are a few things she said:
We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing. Now we probably don’t even have a future any more… You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to… Around the year 2030 … we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50%.
And please note that these calculations are depending on inventions that have not yet been invented at scale, inventions that are supposed to clear the atmosphere of astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide.
By Sheri Hostetler
Psalm 23, Acts 9:36-43
Our story from Acts takes place in Joppa, a coastal town about 35 miles west of Jerusalem. It is now a suburb of Tel Aviv. Dorcas, or Tabitha (the Hebrew version of her name) — actually, I’m going to call her Tabitha because I can’t get this middl-school snicker out of my mind whenever I hear the name Dorcas. Tabitha is one of the main disciples of a small community of Jewish followers of Jesus that has formed in Joppa. Tabitha was devoted to good works and acts of charity, the text says; she was a beloved person in this community, caring for the most vulnerable by making garments for them. Today, in our world of fast fashion, we might not realize what a big deal this was. Clothing back then was major expense — one cloak might cost more than half of the annual wages of a poor person. Tabitha was seriously into the redistribution of wealth by giving widows and poor people clothing.
By Kinari Webb
FMCSF’s “Green Team” gave this “Earth Moment” on Sunday, May 5, 2019.
If we cannot mourn, we cannot heal.
Since a human walked on the moon only 50 years ago, earth has lost 60% of the animals it had then. For a moment think about your favorite animal.
Now mourn with me so many fewer elephants, praying mantises, warblers, butterflies, orangutans, sharks, and fish.
Here are some small things you can do:
1) Help rebuild the food chain and be healthier yourself by eating organic.
2) Help reduce climate change and promote more sensible use of land by eating less meat.
3) Support a carbon tax.
4) Partner with rainforest communities so that they have their needs met and can protect massive biodiversity and the lungs of the earth.
5) Fight for justice because we will need everyone’s wisdom and strength to bring about the great turning towards living more sustainably with our earth.
May it be so….
This is how our story begins: “On the first day of the week, when it was still dark, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” When it was still dark, the women who loved Jesus set off to do the equivalent of a first-century embalming — taking spices and oils to put on Jesus’ body to slow down the decay. So, clearly, they were expecting to find a dead body. Clearly, they were not expecting resurrection. They thought they knew what had happened and what was going to happen. Jesus had died, and he would remain dead. He would not save them; his movement would not overthrow the Roman Occupation and inaugurate the kingdom of God, that place of peace and justice and liberation and enough for all. That hope was over. Dead, just as Jesus was, killed by the very forces of injustice they thought he would overthrow. At his death, says the Gospel of Matthew, darkness fell upon the whole land.