Biblical gift giving comes in two varieties: Our gifts to God and God’s gifts to us. Today, the lectionary focuses on the latter: God’s way of gifting to us.
The stories of Genesis were handed down from generation to generation orally. Over time, different groups began recording their inherited stories into writing. Genesis chapter 1 is the familiar creation story attributed to the Priestly writers. Genesis chapter 2, today’s reading, is the creation story attributed to the Old Epic tradition. This understanding of God is one of the most beautiful gifts we inherit in Scripture.
Here, God creates the earth and the sky, but nothing is growing. The Lord had not yet made rain to water the earth, and there was no human to care for the ground. So, the Lord God created a human, to partner with God in the stewardship of Creation. In today’s text, the Lord sees the first human and says, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper who is right for the human”.
God gets busy imagining a helper, or partner, for the human. The text tells us that God then formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the human to see what the human would call them.
Still, God sees that the human is incomplete. None of these creatures are the right helper for the human. And so God causes a deep sleep to fall upon the first human; God divides the first human into two humans.
This Creation story offers us key insights about God’s way of gifting.
First, Calling as Gift: God is the Creator. God does not need a partner to steward Creation. God desires a partner—a relationship–with humans. We are invited to participate with the Creator in the nurture of the earth, air, water, animals, birds…all of it. This is our shared, fundamental calling.
Second, Naming as Gift: Naming is the Creator’s privilege. When God interrupts the life of Abram and Sarai (Sấri) to establish a new covenant with them, God gives them new names: Abraham and Sarah. When Jacob wrestles with the angel through the night, Jacob is changed by the experience. And God acknowledges that change by giving Jacob a new name: Israel.
In this creation story, God creates animals and birds, but God does not name the creatures. Instead, God brings them to the human and gifts the human with the privilege of naming.
Naming is a powerful conveyor of meaning.
Third, Relationship as Gift: The first human has no self-awareness that he is alone. He is created in God’s image, to be in relationship with God. Yet God sees that the human needs more…he needs relationship with humans. And, so God creates human relationship.
At 6 O’Clock this evening, we will gather in St. Martin’s fields to bless the animals who share our lives. The service is a nod to the memory of St. Francis of Assisi and his abiding love for nature. Horses, dogs, cats, …these creatures come into our lives and show us unconditional love. Well…cat love sometimes feels a bit conditional.
St. Francis immersed himself in nature because, for him, nature was filled with signs of God’s love. He understood stewardship of Creation to be the calling of every human. By caring for animals and the world in which live, we grow in our relationship with God.
This afternoon, we will baptize a baby and welcome a new member into God’s Holy Church. As Fr. Alan receives the baby, he will ask the parents to, “name this child”. It is a recollection that God has gifted us with the privilege of naming. And the Sacrament of Baptism is the child’s initiation into the Body of Christ. We are immersed in Gift from the Creator.
Human relationship is imperfect. In Genesis Chapter 4, Cain kills Abel after becoming brothers for only two paragraphs. And we’re only in the 4th chapter of the first book of the Bible. Human relationship is imperfect. This reality is not hidden in Scripture…in our evening news…or our daily lives.
Yet, I am struck by the wording in our text: “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper (a partner) who is right for the human”.
The COVID pandemic has highlighted the importance of human relationship. For long periods of time, we were unable to gather safely. Gathering is a big part of our lives. We gather at workplaces, at recreational venues, at restaurants, and we gather to worship.
We understand ourselves, and we grow, through relationship: I am my mother’s daughter; to Sylvia, I am a sister; to Brennan and Tori, the world’s most amazing aunt; to others, I am a friend; and I have been a wife. Every meaningful relationship contributes to who we are, to the process of living into the fullness of who God imagined us to be. Or, said another way, it is through human relationship that we move toward human flourishing.
Sitting on the floor, in front of the Mirror of Erised, Harry Potter stared at the reflection for hours. He was looking at his parents, whom he had never known. They were smiling and waving at him. Harry couldn’t bear to leave the mirror. He kept coming back to it; to see one more time.
Dumbledore interrupts the pattern. He says to Harry, “the mirror shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts”. Dumbledore will move the mirror beyond Harry’s reach because, he says, “It gives us neither knowledge nor truth”. The mirror cannot yield real relationship.
As I thought Harry’s dilemma, I wondered what we would see in the Mirror of Erised. What is the deepest desire of our hearts? There have been chapters in my life where the image would have shown things or places. But, I believe, it is God’s desire for us to see God.
God creates humans because God desires real relationship with us. We are called to participate as stewards of creation…with a God knows our names, remembers our Baptism, and welcomes us to this Table. It is here that God sanctifies our offering of bread and wine, and presents to us, again, the Gifts of God, for the People of God.