St. Philip Lutheran Church
3 Oct. 2021 + Lect. 27b (St. Francis)
Rev. Josh Evans
We almost know the story by heart:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Over the course of the six days of creation, God speaks something into existence, and so it appears:
Let there be light. And there was light.
Let there be sky and waters and sun and moon and stars and animals on the ground and birds of the air and fish in the seas. And so they are.
And at the end of each day, God saw that it was good. All was good and, by the sixth day, when creation was nearly finished, indeed, it was very good.
And then, all of a sudden, it is not good. What is “not good”? What about creation has gone awry?
While today’s story is another creation story entirely, distinct from the first, I can’t help but wonder if the writer of Genesis, in putting quill to parchment in the final manuscript as we have it today, used these phrases as a literary technique to grab our attention.
Even if it is pure speculation, the repetitive nature of “it was good,” “it was good,” “it was good,” on and on for six whole days, and then all of sudden “it is not good” is jarring. The stark departure from the pattern jumps off the page and beckons us to pay attention.
Something is not good. Something is wrong.
It is not good that the man(?) should be alone.
As solid as many of our English translations are, this is where it helps to know a bit of Hebrew: It is not good that the adam should be alone. A being without gender, from which we do get the name Adam, who is by tradition the first human who is genetically male.
But adam by itself is a being without a distinct gender … a creature formed from the dust of the earth, the adamah, the ground … an earth creature, or “earthling,” if you will.
It is not good that this creature of the earth is alone.
It’s almost humorous that even God doesn’t seem to know at first what other creature might be found as a suitable helper. The cattle? The birds?
No. Another adam. Another creature formed from this first one, from the same earth. From its rib? Or more generically, from its side. This is another creature like adam, formed from adam, a creature equal to and finally suitable as a helper and partner for adam.
Do you know who else gets the designation of “helper” in the Bible? We heard it two weeks ago: God is my helper, the psalmist writes.
This is not a diminutive, subservient helper who serves another. This is a partner on equal footing, perhaps one who is even stronger or more powerful, as some scholars have suggested.
Here, at last, is a suitable companion for adam. A co-caretaker of creation, one like adam, made in the image of God. Here, at last, is community.
It is not good to be alone. From the very beginning, we are created to be in community with one another. The isolation of the past year and a half has been hard on many of us because we are not wired to live that way. We crave connection and relationship with one another.
In the early days of the pandemic, I remember feeling that isolation intensely, as someone who lives alone with no spouse or children or even a roommate. For me, my pets became my lifeline … other breathing creatures with heartbeats in my home, with personalities all their own, perhaps even just as complex as human personalities … and often more entertaining.
Those of us who have pets have long considered them parts of our family, but for me, that fact was underscored over the last year and a half. And I’ve come to appreciate my own little menagerie more and more, even when I spot their dusty little pawprints on my stovetop or am cleaning up the most recent thing they’ve found to indiscriminately knock over.
As we celebrate the feast day of St. Francis with today’s Blessing of the Animals, we recognize that these animals are an inextricable part of our lives. They are a part of our community, and they make us feel less alone.
Even if you don’t have pets, think about the birds that sing their song in our yards and in our neighborhoods, or the squirrels that scurry across the lawn and up the trees. You can even download apps that lull you to sleep with the sound of crickets chirping. These too are a part of our community.
We are not meant to be alone. God knows that too. God knew that from the very beginning. God didn’t want the first human to be alone, so God made a helper and a partner, someone like them, someone that they could talk to and share their life with, someone to make them feel loved and important and someone they could love and care for in return.
Even in the moments we feel alone, even if we’re the only other human around, we can remember, too, that we are a part of the community of all creation. A community that Francis celebrated and cared for. A community entrusted to our care as co-creators with God and with each other. A community that we celebrate and bless this day.
God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.
Thanks be to God.