First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
March 24, 2019
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Genesis 2:4b-7 (CEB)
On the day the LORD God made earth and sky—5before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the LORD God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, 6though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land—7the LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.
It started with a holy fist full of clay… dirt… the stuff in which worms abide and from which mushrooms sprout. Stuff that, in our eyes belongs outside and underfoot. But in the divine hand becomes … us. Humans. Mortals. From the grit of the ground, God shapes a person. Into a clump of loamy, slimy, leaf-decaying humus, God blows a puff of sacred breath and gives life to the fleshy, error-prone, vulnerable, witty, inventive, imperfect species known as human.
Our holy scriptures gift us with two versions of how we and all of creation came to be. One is the very ordered, day by day list of light and darkness, water and land, creatures of all kinds and finally, finally, humans. It is declared good and finished and then everyone takes a nap.
The other account is not so ordered but full of abundance and blessings. There’s dirt and a garden and animals and partnership and trees and fruit and choices. There’s no word of it being all wrapped up neat and tidy. In fact, it’s kind of messy because we really don’t know where creation begins or where it ends. It just is.
Of the two, I am drawn to this second one. I like it’s earthiness. I like that it’s open ended at both the beginning and it’s conclusion. It’s poetic and incomplete. There’s a lot more to the story that the ancients are not telling us. It leaves creation full of possibility and wonder. It depicts the Creator literally getting down and dirty into the holy work of making humanity. It reveals the maker of humanity as the first to up-cycle the elements of the earth into something that is “more than” the sum of our parts. It reveals humanity that is also dependent upon that from which we have been brought forth.
There is not clear-cut order about how this all came to be as there is the the other creation account. No stepping through the days where there could have been an instruction sheet that said something like:
Step one: separate what you have – light from light, dark from dark, water from water
Step two: insert land into water and attach plants.
No, this is more of a free-form version of creation. One where time doesn’t matter, orderliness is not the point and the final product is not certain. God seems to make things up as they move along. This is the account of creation where free will, although not named, plays a major roll. We often think of it as the free will with which God gifts humanity, but, let’s not forget God’s free will as well.
If we read further in the account, we’d run head-on into this divine free will. Remember how the rest of the story goes? After God has placed humanity in the luscious garden and said, it’s all yours, every bit of it to use and take care of. That tree. That bush. Those rocks. That stream. That ocean…All of it. Except this one tree. That’s a hands off place. And, there’s consequences…. You will die.
Now, any parent worth their subscription to Parent magazine will tell you that if you tell a kid not to do something, what are they going to do? The very thing you tell them not to. So the kids go forth and eat the fruit from the out-of-bounds tree. Do they die? No. They don’t. Even though God said they would.
This won’t be the last time God’s divine mind will be changed. Free will. It’s part of who God is. It’s also part of that divine breath the blew across the early expressions of creation and landed smack dab in the middle of the human soul.
Free to choose. Free to grow. Free to invent. Free to destroy, to be faithful or otherwise.
I once heard someone explain that we are given free will so that God will test us. It’s the idea that God gave us the ability to make good and bad choices to see if what we would do. And then, God would reward those who made the good choices. And those who made the bad choices? Well, I guess as long as God wants, they’ll keep getting the opportunity to make the good choices. The idea isn’t that God is gracious. It’s that God is always testing us.
You know what? That just seems a bit manipulative to me and not at all like the God I’ve come to know through Jesus of Nazareth who extends grace regardless which box we mark on the pop quiz of life.
What if God gives us free will because God sees within us amazing potential? The potential to live justly and honorably and respectfully and graciously with one another and all of creation. What if God is just absolutely filled with joy every time someone uses that holy gift of free will to re-create a little bit of Eden in new places? A place and way of life where everyone has what they need for life? A place of sustenance for all. A place of harmony and joy and beauty and peace. I think free will is about God wanting us to live into our potential as divinely created and breathed into imperfect, earthy, vulnerable, capable of more than we can imagine creatures.
I believe that when God grabbed that first fistful of slimy, gritty, wormy, earthy clay and blew the holy breath into it, and created humanity, that breath, that ex-piration included the potential to live into that abundant creation. God breathes out that potential and we breathe it in. We in-spire it. God in-spires into us the potential to continue to live into that which God created: a creation of abundance for all and justice across the face of the earth and peacefulness in every valley and across every hilltop. And not only does God plant us in the midst of all of that, God intends that we continue that un-ended story, using the potential that God has breathed into us to continue to create that world.
When we look at the world today, however, we might get overwhelmed at how our free will has impacted what God first created. Pollution. Violence. Famine. Prejudice. Fear. Jealousy. Greed. There are those that have given up and simply plead for Christ to come again, wipe out this whole earth as we know it and bring on the new creation.
I think that’s a cop-out and we are short-changing God’s hope in our potential. We don’t need to be overwhelmed. We just need to step up to the plate and be the in-spired creatures God has gifted us to be. It calls for some bravery and a little bit of boldness. It means we might need to take some chances and be vulnerable. We’ll make some mistakes and that’s okay. Remember back to that first garden and the mistakes the humans made. They got more and more chances and so will we.
If the resurrection of Jesus teaches us one thing, it’s that God doesn’t give up on us very easily.
So, be this day and all the days to come, the God in-spired earthy, vulnerable creatures of God. Go this day and all the days to come to create that which God inspires in you.