Reverend Caitlan Gartland
September 8, 2019 at PCC Chestertown
Before God created anything else, God created human beings. At least that’s what this version of the creation story tells us. A field of rich, abundant soil stretches out as far as the eye can see. From the best soil of the earth, God gently forms a human being and then lovingly breathes life into its body.
After that, God creates the garden of Eden, a place for the human to live and tend to. Everything the human needed could be found in the garden – good food to eat and meaningful work to do.
What I love about each of the creation stories, and especially this one, is the intentionality and love with which God creates human beings. You get the sense that we were created on purpose, with a purpose. We get the impression that we are a priority for God.
Now, within the garden of Eden, the human has both permissions and prohibitions; there are things the human is welcome to do and experience and there are things the human must avoid or refrain from, primarily eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
People have always wondered why God would even put this tree in the garden if it held such danger and disaster for humankind, which we learn of in the verses that follow this passage. Despite the plethora of explanations for the existence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the reason it is there and its function are not revealed to us.
Together though, these two trees in the garden of Eden, of life and knowledge of good and evil, represent God’s intentions for humankind to exist and to live on God’s terms. Is God, who provides for our every need, asking too much of us? The human has permission to eat anything else, to name the creatures, and to care for all that God has created. The human being has permission to participate with God in the creation of the world, to share in God’s work.
And yet there are prohibitions, limitations on what the human can do within the garden. Walter Brueggemann writes: “The garden is an act of utter graciousness. But the trees disclose the character of that graciousness. There is no cheap grace here.”
God has created humanity and given it a purpose for being and existing. In order for us to honor that purpose, that vocation, which God has called us to, there must be boundaries. This is true for all of life. There are things we can and cannot do within our jobs, meant to ensure that our work is completed properly. Laws exist on highways, with permission to pass in marked areas and limitations on how fast we can drive, intended to keep everyone safe. If we play a sport, we have various rules which dictate what we can and cannot do. And though often unspoken, we have permissions and prohibitions within our relationships, determining how we will relate to one another.
In the garden of Eden and beyond, the human lives on God’s terms when we honor the vocation we have been called to, explore the freedom we’ve been given, and respect the prohibitions put in place (Brueggemann).
We often focus on the prohibitions that are enforced or placed upon us. This happens in the story of Eden, as we focus on that pesky tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This prohibition though, continues to be outweighed by permissions.
God wants the human to experience happiness, love, life, and companionship. God imagines creating a “helper that is perfect” for the human. The first attempt is the creation of the animals; though they are wonderful and likely fill some void for the human, they don’t quite fit the need God is seeking after. So, God creates another human, the perfect helper, of equal being and value. Here lies the perfect companion for the human – another human.
As God creates, it becomes clear that humans need other humans. We need permission to experience relationships, love, and mutuality. We experience this most often in our closest relationships. Whether the bond between a father and daughter, the love shared between partners, or the deep trust of a dear friend – we know that part of being human is to be in intimate relationship with one another. This is a gift, a permission, from God. And it is what God desires for us.
I believe that the garden of Eden represents all of God’s intentions for us – to have all that we need, to be in community with God and with one another, and to live on God’s terms.
The garden represents all that we need to flourish, which God provides for us – sustenance, relationship, and calling. Our physical needs are provided for, our emotional and spiritual holes are filled, and our gifts and abilities are utilized for the good of all.
And yet we know that creation has struggled to exist within the garden, that we have taken advantage of the permissions and ignored the prohibitions. We know that these two humans God has created were doing fine until they acted as though creation was theirs alone, as if God’s intentions didn’t matter.
We know what happens next in this story. We know how it has gone awry in our world since then and until today. Yet God has not given up on us. God still creates each and every one of us in love. God continues to provide for our every need. Is it always easy to live on God’s terms? No, not always.
But we do. Or at least, we try to live on God’s terms. We exist as God’s creation, alongside of God’s creation. We have been created to explore the permissions and respect the prohibitions. And we are called to cultivate this garden of love, of community, of solidarity, of trust and of well-being. These are God’s intentions for us, hopes for us, reasons for creating us. May it always be so. Amen.