World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2018
© the Rev. Dr. James Campbell
2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."
2:19 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 every living creature, that was its name.
2:20 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.
2:21 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.
2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
2:23 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."
2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
This summer I took a trip out to the Midwest, the place I came from all those years ago. I saw old friends and visited old haunts. I drove by the houses of people I had loved but who have since died. I ate some of the old foods and heard the familiar accents. And it was nurturing in a way I did not expect.
I had forgotten the stunning beauty of Indiana farmland that stretches to the horizon on a flat plane. I had forgotten the charm of the rolling hills of central Ohio. I had forgotten how good a fried pork tenderloin sandwich really is. I had forgotten the easy smiles that greeted me almost everywhere.
But going back also conjured up some unpleasant ghosts. I was driving across the Ohio Turnpike, getting ready to cross the border into Indiana when I saw an enormous sign looming on the side of the highway. As I got closer, it proclaimed in giant bold letters: “Thou shalt not kill.” The next one likewise proclaimed: “Thou shalt not steal.” In all, there were ten of these signs containing all of the Ten Commandments, those laws I learned as a child, and those laws that were the building block of ancient Israelite society. There is a lot of goodness in the Ten Commandments, a lot of fairness and justice and even mercy. But those signs also aggressive to me. Those giant bolded letters felt like screaming; like a line in the sand; like an ultimatum. And it gave me pause. But it was the next sign that sort of stopped me in my tracks. It simply read: “One Man. One Woman. God’s Way.” And that felt like a declaration of who was in and who was out; acceptable and unacceptable. Signs like that can be painful for any of us whose relationships have ended in acrimony or who love someone of the same gender or who either by choice or circumstance are a family of one. We don’t fit. And that is definitely a line in the sand
In these horrible so-called culture wars that have ripped our society into pieces, people use the Bible to bolster their points of view, on all sides. And for those folks who are convinced that there is only one kind of legitimate family relationship, the passage we read today from the book of Genesis is a building block for them. They see in the story of Adam and Eve the prototype for all human relationships and all human families. But this wonderful and rich tale cannot be boiled down into a prooftext for the culture wars. It’s far too rich and far too profound for that.
I once heard a rabbi say that the story of the Garden of Eden is not about how God made the world. It is not, in any way, a scientific description of how the universe came to be. Instead, he said, this story tells us why God made the world. And why God made the world is so that God would be in relationship with us, and we with one another. Additionally, this primordial tale seeks to frame the reality that already existed. We call that an etiology. It seeks to answer basic questions like who are we, how we live together, why life is sometimes painful. So, with that in mind, try to hear this story again.
Once upon a time, when the earth was new, and one solitary human walked upon the face of the earth, the Lord God saw that despite all the beauty of the world, the human was lonely. So, the Lord God decided to make the human some helpers. And God dipped his finger into the rich soil of the fresh earth and formed from that glorious mud every creature that we know: camels and cows, snakes and seals, butterflies and bees. And the Lord God took these magnificent creatures to the human and presented them to him as a gift. And God said to the human: “Whatever you name these creatures that will be their name.” And this naming process was wildly entertaining. And for awhile, the human seemed happy. But no matter how magnificent these creatures were, none of them was like him. None of them could really be his partner, as an equal. None could speak his language. So the Lord God put the human into a deep sleep. And from this one human, God took a rib and made another human. And once the first human woke from this divine anesthesia, the Lord God presented him with her, Adam and Eve, man and woman. And in a moment of wonder that shook the heavens and rejoiced the heart of God, the man exclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” In other words, “I see me in someone else.”
“Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” My relationship with my paternal grandmother was one big love affair. I was her first grandchild and we were mad about each other. I remember the trips to the amusement parks and the lavish gifts and the delicious meals and the summer visits and the tearful goodbyes. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother in my life until I was 42. And I still have moments when I miss her so deeply that it hurts. My dear grandmother was very affectionate. She should kiss my cheek and rub my head and hold me tight. And sometimes, when she was overcome with her love for me, she would stroke my cheek, look deeply into my eyes and say these words from Genesis: “You are flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.”
And in that expression of love and connection, my grandmother was on to something. She understood, on some level, that this verse need not be so narrowly applied to only one kind of love. And in remembering her this week, it struck me that maybe that broad application is really the point of this ancient tale; this story of our race. Maybe what we learn in Genesis is that all humans are intimately connected to one another: bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh; that in you I see me; that we are actually and truly our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.
But we seem to regularly forget that. And maybe that is the root of every kind of sin. And it exacts a punishing price. The story of our race is littered with the carnage that is the natural result of forgetting Eden and our essential connectedness.
We are at a frightening impasse as a society and as a world. We are so deeply divided, so dug in, so invested in being right, so angry, so sure of our own truth, that those who don’t see it like we do have become something less than in our eyes. We do not see ourselves in them. And by our words and actions and silence and complicity, we act as if they are no longer flesh of our flesh or bone of our bone.
But the call of the church of Jesus Christ has always been the restoration of Eden. Week after week we pray: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on EARTH.” Does that sound like too much? Then how about “thy will be done in Cheshire”? Or “thy will be done” in this church? Or “thy will be done” in our families? -- For that to happen, we’re going to need to learn to listen again. We’re going to need to look one another in the eye and see something far more precious than our opinions. And if we as the church of Jesus cannot do that as a model to the rest of society, then we are lost.
Today is World Communion Sunday. It’s one day each year that Christians all over the world eat the Lord’s Supper together, despite every difference that separates us. This table is many things to many people. But today, perhaps more than anything else, this table is a bold and prophetic act – a living into that which we do not yet see but long for: a table of peace big enough for all the people to sit and dine.
That’s the thing about sitting down at table together. It puts you at eye level with everyone else. And in the sharing of food and laughter and conversation, you see the essential humanity of the other. You see yourself in another’s eyes. And you likewise suddenly and joyfully proclaim: “This is at last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.