July 1st 2018 sermon
“Faces of Faith” series
Texts: Genesis 2:4b-25; John 8:1-11
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Is there anyone out there who has never seen an image from the Hubble Space Telescope? Well, after this, YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO SAY THAT.
This a Hubble image of the Lagoon Nebula, which is located in the southern summer sky, and is barely visible to the naked eye under good conditions. It’s about 5000 light years away from us.
“Nebula” is a fancy word for a giant gas cloud. Like, really giant in this case—the Lagoon Nebula is about 110 light-years across. But it’s not just a great big gas cloud: it’s also a star nursery. In those giant clouds, dust is accreting and collapsing and forming dense bodies that become stars and planets.
Now, most of that isn’t visible to us, not only because this nebula is so far away, but also because our eyes can’t see through those clouds of dust. But you know what? The Hubble space telescope can. Here is that same nebula seen from the infrared light spectrum:
Many of the points of light you can see now are stars behind the Lagoon Nebula, but several of them are new stars being born inside of it.
As they’re born and as they die, these stars blow off fresh, brand-new elements formed in the heat of fusion. Scientists believe that all atoms at one point had their origin in these stellar births and deaths. All atoms. Including the ones that make up you and me.
This is the scientific creation story: that we’re all made of stardust. Our births here in these bodies on earth are intimately tied to the births of those stars in nebulae thousands of light-years away.
Now, as beautiful as that it, this isn’t the only creation story that has formed us. We heard another one in our first reading today: a Biblical creation myth.
I’m using the word “myth” very intentionally here, and here’s how I define it: a “myth” is a story that is willing to transcend what is factually true to get at what’s actually true.
The Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, is often more concerned with this kind of truth. Which is why it can put two stories that contradict one another right alongside each other. And that is exactly what happens in the first two chapters of Genesis.
Quiz time! I have three true-or-false questions for you about the story of creation as told in Genesis. None of these are tricks questions. You may work together. You may phone a friend. Here we go:
- True or false: It took God seven days to create the world.
- True or false: Adam was one of God’s first creations, and helped name all the animals as God made them.
- True or false: Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs.
Very good! I have great news for you: you are all correct!
I also have bad news for you: you are all incorrect.
Because it depends on which creation story you’re reading:
Genesis tells two separate stories of how creation happened. There’s a lot of overlap, but there are some pretty big differences as well. And that’s because the people who wrote these stories down weren’t as concerned with factual truth as they were about actual truth.
For example: it didn’t matter as much to them whether God literally took seven days to create everything…
….as it did to know and acknowledge and praise God for creating order out of chaos. Which is why Genesis 1 is written as an ordered, epic poem of praise, a literary mirror of what happened during creation itself.
Now, why am I telling you all this before we really dig into Genesis 2?
It’s because we can come at this story thinking that we already know it. It can be difficult to see what’s really happening because our preconceptions create clouds around them. We end up letting our interpretation inform our reading, instead of the other way around.
For example: Genesis 2 has been used for generations as a way to silence women and shame them into submission to their fathers and husbands.
These are words from an early and very influential church father, and although they’re over a thousand years old, chances are that at least the ideas behind them are familiar to you. They have been used both inside the church and outside of it, for everything from arguing against the ordination of women to arguing against giving women the right to vote.
More recently, feminist scholars have been returning to Genesis 2 and looking at it with fresh eyes. They point out that both Adam and Eve are made in God’s image. They point out that woman is not an afterthought, but the culmination of God’s creation. They point out that according to the text, Adam wasn’t duped by Eve, he was with Eve when the serpent approached.
They look again at this word in verse 18:
This is the same word the psalmist uses when he says, “My help is in the name of the Lord.” This is not an inferior strength or incidental asset. This “help” that the earth-creature receives is his salvation from loneliness. God’s presence was too powerful to live with day in and day out, and the animals were not enough. Then she is created, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and she is his equal: with the same mind, rationality, soul, spirit, and connection with God.
And this is not a male/female thing—this is a human thing. What Adam says when he sees Eve is what every one of us can say to every other one of us. We are beautiful and broken and strangers to one another, but we were, each of us, lovingly created and ordered out of the same star-born dust, the same bone, the same flesh. We are created to belong to one another.
Oh church, how we’ve obscured that! So that a thousand years after this story was written down…there’s Jesus, and there’s the woman caught in the act of adultery, and there’s the crowd who’s ready to stone her for it.
In this moment, this woman’s belonging, her humanity, is obscured like stars behind huge clouds of dust: her own brokenness and sinfulness, yes, but also the crowd’s hatred, prejudice, and love of power, and for me, these are the bigger problems, and I say this to you, church, because the crowds who brought this woman caught two people in the act of adultery…
…and only one of them is here.
How often do our implicit biases let us execute a warped sense of justice on the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Now, Jesus sees all this. He sees the woman’s sin…but he sees the crowd’s too. And as they gather around him, one big Brownian circle with he and this woman standing in the center…
…he bends down and starts writing in the dust.
And when they continue to question him, he straightens up and says, “Let anyone who is among you without sin throw the first stone at her.”
And then he bends down again.
And all the people can see…
Jesus traps them in place not by simply tricking them into a rhetorical corner, but by inviting them to see one another’s full humanity:
We are very broken, and we are very good.
We are created in God’s image.
We do not perfectly reflect it.
The piece of the Genesis story that we heard this morning doesn’t tell the story of the fall, but it doesn’t have to for you and I to know that something now is different than it was then. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed, and we no longer are. But we carry within us the same longing that Adam had and Eve answered: the deep yearning for vulnerability and mutual love.
And yet we ourselves still fall for the same stuff that brought that mob out to Jesus, gripping their stones and the nameless woman’s arms.
Beloved people: this is the truth that burns bright as stars behind obscuring clouds: God sees us, all of us, in our wholeness and in our brokenness, in our longings and in our brittle certainties, and God loves us, so much that God the Son died for us.
Nebula comes from the Latin word for mist—a cloud which obscures. God sees through the obscuring forces to the point of light within us, the light that reflects the Light in whose image we are created. And all it takes for us to be able to see it too is to look within a different spectrum of light.
This is the spectrum we are given as a gift of our faith: you are bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. And we are, each of us, so deeply beloved that God took on this bone, and took on this flesh, so that we might be part of God’s own body too.
This is the vision of the reign of God that Jesus offers in that simple act of bending down and tracing one finger in that star-created dust:
The chance, and the choice, to see one another as God sees us, and say: at last.
4 Replies to “Sermon: On seeing the stars behind the dust”
I love this so much. On so many levels. I often tell people to read your blog because you’re one of the most incredible writers I know, and you keep proving me right, over and over.
I am using your sermons to enrich my EFM classes this year. Thank you for sharing