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Belonging without Shame

Updated: Jan 20

Sermon preached by Jack Cabaness

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Sermon Text: Genesis 2:4b-25

Adam and Eve in an illuminated manuscript, 10th century C.E.

There’s a recurring dream that many of us have. You probably know the dream I’m thinking about.

It’s not the dream where you open your mouth and all your teeth fall out.

It’s not the dream where you flap your arms and all of a sudden you’re flying directly over the Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s that other dream.

It’s that dream where you are suddenly and unexpectedly quite vulnerable. You know, that one.

Well, keep thinking about it, and we’ll come back to it.

While you’re trying to remember that dream, let’s imagine that we have been invited to a wedding.

It’s a traditional wedding. So most of the bride’s family and friends are all seated over here on this side of the sanctuary

[motions to preacher’s left]

And most of the groom’s family and friends are all seated over here on this side of the sanctuary

[motions to preacher’s right]

And then the bride and the bridesmaids come up to the front and line up along here.

[motion to preacher’s left]

And then the groomsmen start walking down the aisle one by one.

And then the congregation stands, the organist plays the wedding march, and the mother of the groom and the groom walk down the aisle together.

And then the groom takes his place next to the bride, and the preacher asks, who gives this man in marriage?

And the mother answers, his father and I do.

And then the preacher quotes Genesis 2:24, “Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife.”

And, thus, it’s because of Genesis 2:24 that in a traditional wedding the groom stands with his parents, and then leaves them to stand next to his bride.

Now, of course, what I just described is a complete reversal of the roles usually played by the bride and groom.

But isn’t it interesting that in a very patriarchal society in which men were the heads of families the verse would talk about the man leaving his family of origin to cling to his wife.

This speaks to the power and significance of this new relationship in which the couple cling to each other.

That Hebrew word that was translated cleave in the King James Version and cling in more modern translations is the basis for the modern Hebrew word for glue.

So, if you say to your spouse or partner I’m stuck on you, then you’re using biblical language.

In truth, embrace or link up with are probably better and less codependent sounding translations of the term.

Have you thought of that dream, yet?

You know, the one where you are suddenly and unexpectedly quite vulnerable? Well, keep thinking, and we’ll come back to it.

The scene where the man and the woman cling to each other is the final scene in the passage we read this morning.

In the very first scene in Genesis chapter 2, God creates the Adam, the human, out of the dust of the ground, Adamah, and breathes into that Adam, or human, the breath of life.

In the first story of creation, in Genesis chapter 1, as God creates the heavens and the earth and all living creatures over the course of seven days, every time that God creates something new, the text says, “and God saw that it was good.”

But unlike the first story, in this second story of Creation in Genesis, chapter 2, there is something that it is not good.

It was not good for the human, the earth creature, the earthling, to be alone.

So God brought forth other creatures in order to see what the human would call them, and whatever the human called each creature, that was its name.

But among all the names given to the creatures, there are names that are missing.

No creature is called a partner.

No creature is called a sustainer.

In the King James Version of the text, it says that no help meet was found.

And what worlds we create when we utter certain words or phrases.

That English translation help meet can too easily imply that women are auxillary, which unfortunately was precisely how the church interpreted this passage for centuries, but that’s not what the Hebrew says.

Robert Alter, in his translation of the Hebrew scriptures, chose the word sustainer because the Hebrew ezer kenegdo suggests a much more active relationship, a partner alongside this first human.

A partner alongside, ezer kenegdo, a sustainer.

So God cast a deep sleep upon the human, the Adam.

And when the human woke up, there was another human.

The first human, the Adam, not only names the new human but speaks a naming poem:

This one at last, bone of my bones,

and flesh of my flesh,

This one shall be called Woman,

for from man was this one taken.

And again, what worlds we create when we use certain words and phrases. Many interpreters through the years have used these verses to privilege heterosexual relationships. They’ll say, It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. But this story is about something deeper than sexual orientation or gender.

One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard on this text was given by Barbara Lundblad, a now-retired Lutheran pastor and scholar who taught preaching at Union Seminary in New York City.

(Full disclosure—it was from her sermon that I got the idea for the reversed roles for the bride and groom in a traditional wedding.)

In that sermon she told how she had recently married a woman, the love of her life, and she said that when the two of them found each other, they spoke the very same words that the first human had spoken,

This one at last, bone of my bones,

and flesh of my flesh.

Here is someone who gets me.

Here is someone who reciprocates my love and passion.

For those of us who have formed romantic bonds, we are sure to recognize the passion expressed in the words bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. And for those who are not partnered or married, you may well hear the passion of those words when you find a friend or group of friends who really get you, who give you the freedom to be yourself.

And for the Christian, whenever we look at Jesus, we exclaim, “here is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh,” because in Jesus God became incarnate and lived our human life and knew our joys and sorrows.

Have you thought of that dream yet?

The one in which you are suddenly and unexpectedly quite vulnerable?

It’s the dream where you are in a public place and you suddenly realize that you’re naked and you start scurrying around for a place to hide or a way to cover yourself.

That’s the dream.

That dream is the opposite scenario from Genesis 2:25, which says that the man and the woman were naked and not ashamed.

I think of the nakedness as being stripped of our defenses and pretenses, of shedding what Richard Rohr calls the false self, which is the self that we present to the world and the self that we want people to see when they look at us.

But if we are suddenly naked, then we are stripped of that false self and our usual masks and personas, and all that is left is just ourselves, warts and all.

Our shadow, our destructive habits and addictions, our less than glamorous sides of ourselves are suddenly exposed.

But everyone else is equally vulnerable.

In that passage from Mark’s Gospel that Kathy read, Jesus meets the future disciples who are in their fishing boats, and he asks them to follow him.

In so doing, Jesus took utterly vulnerable and flawed people and transformed then into a community of disciples.

The good news of the Gospel is that we are welcomed just as we are, and we can become a part of a community that fosters spiritual growth so that we don’t have to remain as we were.

We help each other grow in the faith.

We help each other live out our commitment to being disciples of Jesus.

But everything we do in this sacred community called church is not for the church itself, it is always for the good of the world God created.

Genesis chapter 2 paints a picture of humans living alongside all living creatures and partnering with God in the ongoing activity of creating and recreating the world.

Ever since I was ordained, I have spoken these words as a charge at the end of the service.

Go out into the world in peace.

Have courage.

Hold onto what is good, return no one evil for evil.

Honor all people.

Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago a woman who had attended our worship services three or four times, approached me at the end of the service, and she said I noticed in your charge that you said honor all people.

But why do you stop there?

Why not encourage everyone to honor all living creatures and all of God’s creation?

And what she said made such good sense that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it or even why had the editors of the Book of Common Worship not yet made that change themselves.

And ever since that conversation, when I say honor all people, I also say, honor all God’s creatures and all of God’s creation.

Because all of us, together, are part of God’s family tree.

All glory and praise be to our God. Amen.

Please Note: Each week I try to write a complete sermon manuscript in advance, but in the preaching moment I often rely on an outline or sparse notes. Accordingly, this blog post will likely differ slightly from the sermon as actually preached.

Sources: In addition to the sources directly quoted, I have drawn from comments by Sib Towner in this Genesis commentary in the Interpretation Series. I am in debt to my friend and mentor, the late Rev. Roland Perdue, for the gimmick of asking people to remember a certain dream before finally revealing that the dream he was thinking of was the suddenly naked dream. He used that illustration to great effect in a sermon on the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).


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