September 13, 2020
Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8
Back in my seminary days, one of the pastors who instructed me in a congregational-setting was from Hawaii.
Every now and then, there would be an event at the church where she would share Hawaiian culture with congregation members. Sometimes it was dance … sometimes it was cultural attire … a lot of times it was food. Being Lutherans, you can guess which event garnered the most attendance.
She would begin each event with the word, “aloha.”
It is a greeting that means love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy. But for native Hawaiians, it carries a deeper meaning. Aloha is a word defines a force that holds existence together.
Love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy hold existence together.
All of these are positive aspects of relationships and help bring balance to the world.
In Hebrew, a comparative word is “Shalom” … a word that is used both as a greeting and as a parting message … as a hello and a good-bye.
On the surface, it simply means “peace.”
You can offer it as a blessing … as someone goes out into the world or simply as a welcome when someone enters your sphere.
But in the truest sense, in the Jewish tradition, Shalom means a different kind of peace. It is a peace that goes beyond simply meaning the absence of violence or conflict. It is a peace where the heart is untroubled and unburdened.
It is a peace that comes when everything is in balance … when there are no barriers … when your heart is open … when there are no hindrances to loving those around you.
Today’s passage from Genesis retells the story of creation and of Adam’s creation from the dust of the earth … of God breathing life into Adam’s form. And then it segues into Adam’s and Eve’s time in the garden … the instructions they received from God and their ultimate decision to take the snake’s advice and eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The reading ends with the pair hiding from God’s approaching presence.
For some, the focus of this passage is what is known as “The Fall” … the result of the pair’s decision to eat the fruit despite the warning from God … their eventual exit from the Garden and the effect the decision has had on humankind ever since.
It’s a cautionary tale.
To those, we’re being punished for something that happened in a garden in the far recesses of time. So, we continually have to work to re-earn God’s trust … love … and salvation.
I guess that’s one way to look at it.
Another way, is to view the Garden as grace in its physical form … the physical presence of God’s love for the couple … and by extension … of humankind. This view shows that grace does come with expectations.
In this passage, we see how Adam and Eve respond to this grace and to the responsibilities that God and this gift places upon them.
Before they ate the fruit, there was balance in their lives and within in the world of the Garden. God’s love was felt and the pair was called to tend, protect and nurture that love.
The Garden is described in the verses interwoven with today’s reading.
God’s creation of the animals and the birds is described, as is the creation of Eve … after all, there is little balance if someone is left in isolation … as Adam would have been … and the addition of food sources for the pair is described.
And God instructs them in how to care for the Garden and to the animals and birds within it.
They are to till and keep the Garden. They have a vocation … they are instructed in what they are permitted to do … and they are told what they are prohibited from doing.
It is a framework for living a faith-filled life.
While some see these instructions as God giving dominion over creation, another way … a more-accurate way … is to see it as God telling the pair that they are to serve creation by tending to its needs and watching over it to ensure that everything remains in balance.
While there is balance there is peace in the Garden … a balance that comes with living within limits … not living out on the extremes. It comes with the realization that our desires … our wants … can throw things out of whack and foster an imbalance in the world.
When Adam and Eve eat from the tree, they are exceeding the limits that God has placed to foster a balanced life … a life in grace.
Today’s passage in Genesis is about living a life that is a faithful response to our call to serve … to live a life of grace … to live a life in balance.
Adam and Eve place themselves … their desires … their values … at the centre of life and cease being partners with the rest of creation. They cease serving … preserving … protecting as they were called to do.
With the pair at the centre of life, the balance that had been created is gone … the relationship with God is damaged. Creation’s harmony is off-key.
During the past few months, since the pandemic made its presence known, life has been off-key.
We have been isolated … disconnected from the communities we previously functioned within. Such a state creates a vacuum and a variety of things seek to fill it.
We have been fearful … afraid of the stranger … afraid of something we cannot see or fully understand. Some have been angry … mad that their normal is just a memory.
The uncertainty the pandemic bred, in turn, fostered a sense of self within us.
We have been not been able to serve others as effectively as we normally would have because our connection to one another has been diminished or severed.
With balance gone from our lives, finding a sense of peace … finding Shalom … is difficult, if not impossible.
So, perhaps, we need to remember the expansive grace … the certainty of God’s abundant love … recognizing the limits it places upon us … and the responsibilities it calls us to accept. The call to share the love we’ve received … to bring the marginalized and ostracized into community … to stand for the oppressed … and work for social justice … aren’t put on pause by Covid-19. And when we tend to the community and to one another … balance is brought into life and … in the truest sense … in the purest sense … shalom becomes more than a word or a concept … it becomes a reality.