In and Of the World

Genesis 2:4-9, 15-25

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ 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…but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 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. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 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.’
…And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

You have heard it said, we are in this world, but not of this world?

It’s like a political slogan, quick, easy, to the point. In the world. Not of the world. It’s popular theology, a simple talking point to describe the life of faith. In the world, because we all need a place to lay our heads, a place to live our lives and raise our children, a place to adventure and explore, a land to till and keep so we earn our bread, a place to pitch our homes and pave our roads, a patch of land to laugh and sing and love and find beauty.  God wants us to thrive and do well, to enjoy life as a gift. We live our lives in the world.

But not of the world.  Because the world is a scary, messy place, am I right? Jesus himself prayed in John’s Gospel that we may not belong to the world just as he did not belong to the world. There are evil things and things to stay away from. Bad decisions that we ought not make. In this world things happen that no one deserves. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. We often hold out hope for a better world, a different world. We spend our lives preparing to leave this place for a better place. So we say we live in this world, but not of this world.

I’m not sure if the bible would agree.

God created us to be in the world, to live fully and love fully. It’s true. But if we take our bible seriously, we ought confess that God also created us of the world. From the dust. In truth, a biblical way of being is to be in the world and of the world.

Hear me out.

God formed man – adam – from the dust – the adamah. Adam’s not a name in the beginning, it’s a description: adam comes from the adamah. If Adam had a business card, his job title would be “mud man” because he came from the dirt. Adam’s name is literally dirt.

Being “in the world but not of the world” denies the biblical story of creation and cuts short what it means to belong to God. There is a connectedness at the root of our creation, one that binds us to the world, one that binds us to one another, one that binds us to our Creator.

In Genesis 1 we hear a voice that creates from far away and then rests because creation is good–not perfect–but good. This creation gets focused in Genesis 2. We hear not a voice, but we see God in human form, coming so close to us that God gets dirt under his fingernails (Fretheim). God walks among creation and kneels down on the earth to scoop dirt, molding it into human shape. God hunches over to breathe life into creation. “Something of the divine self comes to reside in the human in an ongoing way”–as ongoing as your very breath, the presence of God (Fretheim). Genesis 1 and 2 are made to be read together. God doesn’t just create from far away. God is powerful enough to do that. But God chooses to come near. God chooses to come close. God chooses to get his hands dirty. God breathes the breath of life into adam, and adam, the mud man, becomes a living being, Adam.

But it’s just poetry, right? It’s not really scientific. Of course it is poetry; we are made up of millions of molecules and centuries of cells that have evolved into the current species known as human.

Truth be told, it’s more than poetry; Genesis 2 uses the science of its day to confess faith in God who is at the center of our existence. This God is so close and near, because we are so dear to God’s heart. This story bears truth that we rely on the earth on which we stand as if it was our own body. Our lives depend not only on our environment but also on our communities, other dust-formed bodies and God-breathed souls, for sustenance, for growth, for companionship. We are all in this together.

It would be nice if it was just poetry, if we could enjoy the nostalgia of our creation. Because we know too well that life is messy–and we know it’s not just us.

Let’s keep reading…turn to Genesis 3.

–> Genesis 3:1-8

Not too long after being formed by God’s hand and breathed into by God’s breath things headed south, went astray, got messy. What we know from the end of Genesis 2 is that the man and the woman clung together and were never separated. What we glean from the original Hebrew text in Genesis 3 is that the man was with the woman when the serpent entered the picture. They knew what God said, about not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they did. Whether this is a word for word account or fable told to explain how things are so broken, we recognize the man and the woman in ourselves, not trusting God’s words, not relying on God’s gifts.

So the man and the woman hide and separate themselves from God’s presence. But God calls to them, searches them out and calls to them.

Do you see how sin separates us from God and one another. There was no shame, and then, there was shame. There was no hiding, and then, there was hiding. What is it that causes you shame? What is it that forces you into hiding. God calls you to come out, speak the truth of your existence, face the light.

Like the man and the woman we are want to blame others for our brokenness. But in the aftermath of tragedy, in the wake of poor decisions, blame has no power. Blame can’t fix what’s been broken.

What’s a good Creator to do with his wayward creation? We turn again to Genesis 3…

–> Genesis 3:21-24

Adam and Eve do not die, but the options that Adam and Eve have are limited. Their future is limited by their choices. But they do have a future. God clothes them so they are no longer ashamed.

There are consequences for our actions. Judgment isn’t easy, but it is a real thing, and, if we’re honest with ourselves, a good thing. There is no room in the garden of God for war or waste, hatred or hunger, bullying or beating, abuse or addiction, tumors or temptation, suicide or sin. All of those things have their end. It’s only love that never ends. Because God’s love never ends. And God has a future for us beyond our sin, beyond our mistakes, beyond what is put upon us. This future is marked with the cross of Christ.

God creates a future for Adam and Eve, God creates a future for us out of our present and past circumstances. Now it’s not always fair, but God works to make it right. God works through us and through other dust-formed bodies with God-breathed souls to repair the brokenness and reconcile the past and present with God’s future.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in the world and of the world. We can’t escape it.  We belong to God, our Creator, who made our bodies from the world and put our bodies in the world to till and keep it. The purpose of the church, the body of Christ, planted in this world, is to stand in the midst of suffering and brokenness, joy and awe to be a part of God’s work to restore and renew all that is in and of the world. The body of Christ is called to love the world that God so loved and enter into it so fully that when we return to the dust we return to ourselves, knowing that the very God who formed us from the dust will call us up from the dust.

So again I tell you, on account of Christ, our Beautiful Savior, your sins, your separation, your shame has been forgiven, come to an end, been covered. You are free, free to live your lives in God’s great world.

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