Creating and Following

Creating and Following
Genesis 2:4b-25 and Mark 1:16-20
September 8, 2019
Rev. Elizabeth Mangham Lott
St. Charles Ave. Baptist Church

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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.

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

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 to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 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. 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.’ 
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

My daughter’s school is one of many post-Katrina charters, and launched just down the Avenue from us in 2013. Borrowing a multi-dimensional word rooted in the French “bricoler” meaning “to tinker,” the innovation school, Bricolage, was formed with a creative intention to apply the name to everything that goes into making a school. Bricolage in art means to make something out of all different kinds of materials. They applied this concept to gathering all kinds of students together in one place to make a new whole who would then, in turn, be tinkers and creators, gathering materials and supplies in Innovation Workshop to make their own creations, and then innovating within the traditional subjects as well. 

It’s a risky thing to believe in the idea of something before it’s fully formed, and the experiment of Bricolage is not just investing in another charter school but one that is tinkering as it goes. It’s a wild concept we’re applying in our working group for the St. Charles Center for Faith + Action. We have this concept, and we know we’re onto something. We have a handful of board members who have signed on and about as many founders who have committed over $50,000 so far. Articles of Incorporation have been filed, an EIN has been obtained to receive donations, and the Bylaws will be finished soon. But there are still parts that need tinkering, and some of it we won’t know how it’s going to work until we actually do the thing—gather the people, have the conversations, consider the outcomes—then we tinker again and make it stronger and better for next time. This can be a deeply uncomfortable way to work for some folks who want to hold and know a fully formed thing, and yet it seems very much to be the way that God works. And if that isn’t enough, it also seems to be the way God is inviting us to play and co-create and tinker in the world, too.

We usually turn to the first creation story, the one that’s an ancient poem, but today we consider the second, told in true story form. And in this story, God is absolutely tinkering. Streams come up and water the surface of the earth, God forms an earth creature from dust, but no shrub has yet appeared and no plant has yet sprung up because there is no one to work the ground. Already in creation, God needs a partner to come play in the dirt. So the earth creature comes to life and immediately joins God in creating as he works the soil, God focusing on waters and earth creature focusing on land. God makes the animals, the earth creature names them. What is this thing? I dunno. Long neck, lots of spots, super weird tongue. Giraffe! It’s a lovely and comical scene. Livestock and birds and wild animals. They do this for hours? days? Long enough for God to tinker again—it isn’t working for this earth creature to be alone. God needed a partner to work the land, and the created one needs a partner, too.

Now we can get side-tracked here with the problematic implications of woman coming from the rib of man and being the helper. We know that ancient text has been abused to endorse patriarchy, heteronormativity, and the repression of all kinds of folks. I get it. Believe me. But today, we’re going to name that abusive reading and then set it aside because we recognize that this text is old, and the story it was telling was about partnership and not hierarchy, about an evolving creation and not a fixed, all-at-once world. For our purposes today, what’s fascinating to me about this story is that there are “not good” realities emerging as God tinkers. While the text doesn’t call it “not good,” there certainly is a lack in creation even before an earth creature is made—it seems God cannot work the soil and create the rivers at the same time. And then leaving all of that land and all of those animals to just one person is also asking too much. We need a collaborative, tinkering team of co-creators working on this endeavor. And so God makes a partner for God’s-self and a partner for the earth creature. They’re all in this together. And together, they make a whole world.

I love reading this story alongside the Jesus story in Mark 1. Jesus is setting out to do work in the world—loving, feeding, welcoming, blessing, challenging, pushing, stretching. And Jesus can’t do this alone because this thing he is building, this way he is creating, is a movement. And there is no such thing as a one person movement. Jesus needs partners. He needs a team. He needs co-creators and co-table-flippers and co-feeders and co-empire-challengers. 

In Mark’s gospel, the call of Jesus to Simon and Andrew and James and John is simply, “Come and follow me.” Like reaching down into the dirt to make a partner-creature, Jesus issues an invitation that forms a team. And the invitation implies that something is not good in the same “not good” way of Genesis 2. This isn’t the language of sin. This is the language of something being off. Not quite right. That way of knowing you have in your gut when everything seems to be alright on the surface but something is just missing. The invitation Jesus extends allows these would-be-partners to change direction, and it requires walking away from old life; leaving nets and boats. To say “yes” to the invitation, they must relinquish certainty and ritual, habits of comfort. The men are doing what they know, and it’s a fine life. But it’s not good. Something is lacking in this life of routine and rut, and they know it even if they can’t name it. When Jesus gives them an offer they didn’t know they’d been waiting for, they leave everything, all of it, immediately to join a movement.

It seems the men on the boat are somehow not living into the fullness of their humanity. They are invited into a better way and into a collective movement. They’re fishing together, so the alone-ness of life isn’t the problem. The problem is they aren’t going anywhere. Day after day they wake up, they make the coffee, they pull on their gear and tie their boots, they head off to the boats and the nets, they bring the haul in, they clean it all up, they go home to eat yet another meal of grilled fish, they pass out with aching muscles only to wake up and do it all again. Jesus is inviting them to tinker, to create, to make real and lasting change that will exist beyond their own lifetimes. Maybe they sense all of this is wrapped up in the invitation because they immediately drop their nets and run.

These stories invite us to participate in a movement—to join in the collaborative, creative work of God. In this time of feeling so disconnected and psychologists naming a loneliness epidemic, we understand the not-good-ness of Genesis 2. It’s not just that it’s no good to live and work alone, it’s also no fun. Surely there is a lightness and playfulness to God and the earth creature shaping and naming animals. What is this one? What will it’s spiky body do? Who could love such an adorable yet utterly un-snuggly creature? We’ll call it hedgehog! This is delight. This is belly laughs until you can barely breathe and it starts to hurt and you’re sort of crying but the laughter is still shaking every part of your body.

In the Jesus story, it’s like he’s waking people from a deep sleep. Get in the boat, throw out the net, bring in the fish, repeat. Nothing bad is happening in this scene, but nothing really good is happening, either. Wake up! Question the mundane! Push back against the order of things! Cross the arbitrary, invisible boundaries! Eat dinner with the wrong people! Be alive! Fully and truly and deeply alive! And wake everyone else up who’s sleepwalking alongside you!

We lost the plot when we turned this whole religion thing into dos and don’ts and who is in and who is out. We completely went off the rails when we went heavy in the direction of the language of sin and hell and unworthiness and lostness. From the very beginning of scripture, God is inviting participants to play! Dig in the dirt, watch the plants grow, delight in the beauty and ridiculousness of animals! Savor the work together, in partnership and connection. Take on an empire. Question authority. Stand up for the oppressed and the ignored. Own your own brokenness and do something about it. Wake up to it all and give a little thanks. You do not have to be perfect and flawless and without error. That is a ridiculous thing to ask of someone made out of dirt. But be awake to your life. Say “yes” to the radical movement of love in this world. Be a co-creator and a disciple. Give yourself to the vastness of the universe. And do it immediately! As Mary Oliver wrote, “Don’t Hesitate.”

“Don’t Hesitate” by Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.

Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

My friends, hear the invitation today and say “yes” with your life. Create with me, God says. “Yes!” Follow me and walk with me, Christ says. “Yes!” Feel joy. Give in to it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t hesitate.

Elizabeth Lott