Delivered at Ames UCC
on September 11, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship
at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.
IN THE BEGINING
In the beginning two female girls were born. There was land, but no one knows how long it was there or where it came from. The girls were born underground, in darkness, and so they took a long time to grow and only knew each other through touch. As adults a spirit came and fed them and they learned to think for themselves. The spirit also explained that when they were ready, the women would get to go into the light.
Much time passed and the women learned their language. They also found baskets filled with seeds and images of animals. The spirit said they were gifts of their father that they would take into the light by planting four seeds and climbing the trees out of darkness.
The spirit taught the women prayers and after a very long time out they climbed. The sisters were named Life and More. After praying and singing the creation song they asked the spirit why they were made. “Your father made the world but was not yet satisfied. So you he made in his own image and gave these baskets to bring more life.”
Initially scared by the dusk, Life and More understood that above ground had cycles of days and nights. They learned how to plant and watch food grow. They learned to cook corn and eat it and now they were dependent on food to live. They created animals and food for the animals, mountains and the trees that cover mountains.
Life and More were competitive. They became selfish. Through the spirit, their father told them not to even think about having kids, that other humans would be born at the right time. But a snake told More if she had a child of her own she would be happy. The snake sent her to a rainbow and she became pregnant and had two boys.
Her sister, Life, asked why More had disobeyed the father. “For your sin, he is taking me away. You are alone now.”1
MEAN GOD, DUMB PEOPLE
This story comes from the Acoma people of the American southwest. It is part of their creation story. It is very different than our near eastern creation story, but it has some interesting parallels: darkness into light, the cycle of days, the slow unfolding of plants and animals, being created in the image of the creator, off-limit actions, devious snakes, and fighting humans.
It is easy to read both and get a pretty negative view of both the divine and us. In both accounts God has made a world in which we may desire something that we cannot have, a world in which another part of that same creation will lure us into betraying God.
That’s mean of God to create situations and antagonists that give us the chance to be stupid and selfish.
And we are stupid and selfish, by these accounts. Life and More, Eve and Adam, they have been given everything. They have been given life. But, no, they were too dumb to see that, too greedy to resist grabbing at just a little more.
Then there is the issue of how these stories of God and humans get used.
I don’t know about that of the Acoma, but in the Christian tradition, this particular story has resulted in terrible doctrines of abuse. Although Adam doesn’t look so bright, what with his silent acquiescence to eating the fruit, Eve is blamed. Eve, and as a result, all women, are blamed for the pains humanity endures. Which has not often gone well for women.
A story of a mean God and dumb people that results in the oppressing women as an act of faith. So why do we continue to tell it?
WHY TELL IT?
If you’re newer to Ames UCC, it is good to know that this church is a hotbed of social scientists and critical thinkers. We have a strong “hermeneutic of suspicion.” That means that part of the culture of this congregation, and our larger denomination, is to really poke at our scripture and our religion. We poke it to see what might crumble and fall away, to see if it might elicit a giggle from God.
At Bible study last Wednesday, though, my friend Bill Y. sounded like he was about to give up on the whole endeavor. He said it just seemed like the Bible is a bunch of stories made up by men in order to control other men and women. Which I have certainly said up here more than a few times. And which made me sad.
Because despite how easily we can read meanness and stupidity into the Bible, despite the ways it can be used to further agendas that seem to take us even farther from Eden, it is still a powerful tool for solving some of our most pressing problems.
Take the end of today’s portion for example.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
What is happening here? Did they really not know they were nude? Could they really hide from God in God’s own garden?
RASHI AND GENESIS RABBA
Sticking with the interfaith theme, I looked to our Jewish cousins for answers. Rashi, from the medieval era,2 writes,
Even a blind man knows when he is naked! So what does it mean, they knew that they were naked? They had only one commandment from God to perform and they stripped themselves of it.
The figs leaves were compensation for a spiritual nudity, not a literal one. A feeble acknowledgement of what had been lost to them.
Genesis Rabba, a commentary from the time that Christianity was on the rise, explores what it can mean that God was audible in the distance as if unaware of what had just happened. The Rabba explains that with each act of brokenness described in the Bible–eating the fruit, Cain killing Abel, and so on–the presence of God is pushed further and further away. It isn’t that God was unaware, but that in their disobedience, God felt far away from Eve and Adam.
What the story of the apple says is that we want to be close to God because we know how cold and vulnerable-making the world is without the feeling that comes from the intimate cloak of relationship with the holy.
We have made a lot of problems with our creation story, but the problem our creation story is trying to solve is us. It is trying to resolve and explain how we can feel so vulnerable and screw up good things so badly. It is trying to make sense of how we can be touched by God and yet swayed by adversarial forces.
By naming what is wrong we can try to make it right. I think that’s true for all cultures and religions, be they Native American, or Jewish, or Christian.
Today we have seven new members joining the church and we are giving away more of our treasure to help people through Project Iowa. If that is any evidence, it shows that at Ames UCC we are successfully creating opportunities to close the gaps between God and each other.
Yes, humans can be dumb but God is never mean. When we recognize that we are always clothed in the life-giving presence of God there is no problem we can’t solve, even the problem of us.
1Based on a legend reported by C. Daryll Forde in 1930, and on various oral accounts. http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/CHEROKEE/2010-09/1285628803. Also appearing in American Indian Myths and Legends, edited by Richard Erodes and Alfonso Ortiz. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984, pp. 97–105.
2Holtz, Barry W., ed. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1984, p. 139.