Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 2:1-13 (14-18)
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them.
There was a time when the world was perfect. It lasted about five minutes and then the serpent convinced Adam and Eve that they could be like God. Until that moment, God ruled their hearts, life was forever; Adam and Eve were innocent and happy. Then sin became part of their lives. Instead of being the people God created them to be, they were corrupted, changed in a way that would separate them from the Father who loved them.
First they were created good. I love the imagery in this second account of the creation. There are some who have suggested that the appearance of two different, supposedly conflicting accounts mean that the text had to be written by two different authors. However, it is far more likely that the different accounts simply served a different purpose. The first account, which addresses God with the name "Elohim" (which means "strength") is given so that we will see God as the Creator of all things. The second account calls Him "Yahweh" which denotes the spiritual, moral authority of God. It shows God in relationship with His creation. That is certainly true when we read this story.
Have you ever thought about the names you hear and wonder, "How did someone come up with that?" Anyone who has had a pet or a child knows how difficult it is to come up with a name. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was absolutely certain that I was carrying a boy, and so I made Bruce think of a name and I didn't bother. One night, just a week or so before she was born, Bruce said, "It could be a girl, you know." I said, "I know. If it is a girl we will name her Victoria." Since my firstborn is named Victoria, you can see that he was right. As I tell this story, it might seem as though I put no thought to her name. I didn't, at that moment, but I'd been through the baby name books, considered family names, wondered about the person that child would grow up to be. Though I had never voiced the name before that moment, I think it had always been on the tip of my tongue.
Those of us who name animals and people today have a long history of names from which to choose. While we have to choose, we don't have to come up with a name out of the blue. Of course, there are some people who do. They pick random letters from names or put together syllables in new ways, but most people use a word or name that already exists.
Adam had no names from which to choose. I'm not even sure where the creation of language falls chronologically in the history that underlays the biblical account, except that maybe naming the animals is a simplistic account of that aspect of human development. It doesn't matter, really. What matters is that we look at this story from the point of view that this is an account of the way God calls His people to work with Him in the world. He called Adam to be a co-creator with Him, just as He continues to call us to be like Him in this way. While we will never be able to make something out of nothing, God has invited us to make many things from that which we have been given.
After God and Adam created and named all the animals, God realized that there was no other creature truly compatible for Adam. He needed a helpmate, someone like him, a part of him, of the same flesh and blood. Now, there are those who are bothered by this story because the scientific truth is that men do not have one less rib than women. Though there are always exceptions to the rule, every human being has twelve pairs of ribs. So, we dismiss the story as just a story because our human logic demands it. However, there's something about the word used in the Hebrew that might tell more of the story. Apparently it can also be translated "side." Perhaps it was not just a rib that was used to create Eve, but Adam's whole side? This is strengthened by Adam's statement that she was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. This particular story of Adam and Eve shows us that they were created as one flesh, equal and complimentary, standing side by side together in God's kingdom.
Historically there have always been those who suggest that this creation story makes Eve inferior to Adam, but there reality is that God created Adam and Eve to live and work together with the Father in this perfect world He created. The relationship between Adam and Eve, the marriage relationship, is a vital relationship, the foundation of community. From marriage comes children, the future. God's intention was for people to join together and work together. No man, or woman, can stand on their own. We need to be part of the larger community. The plan for God's people begins with the family. But God did not intend for it to stop there. Families are part of the larger world and we join our families to work together for a common purpose, together we can accomplish God's work in the world.
This is why God used marriage as a parallel to His relationship with the Church. He marries us, binds us with Him in a way that can't be separated and that is eternal. We are His bride and will be forever. Sadly, we try to define our relationship with God in other ways. We call Him friend, teacher, Father. And while we can use these words to define our relationship with Him, they are relationships that in life are temporary. Friends can be separated. Teachers go away and students often surpass the teacher's knowledge. Even the father/child relationship is temporary. Eventually every child must leave home to follow their own life. But the relationship as husband and wife has been defined from the beginning as one that will never end.
The book of Mark compares and contrasts the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the world. Mark begins to show the conflict between Jesus and the leaders very early, within the first couple chapters. They begin plotting in chapter three. So, here we have the Pharisees coming to Jesus with a question. "What about divorce?" they ask. Still on the minds of so many people was the recent beheading of John the Baptist. John was beheaded not because he preached, but because the wife of Herod was offended by his preaching. Herod actually liked John and listened to him. Herod, however, was living with his brother's wife; he divorced his own wife and stole Herodias to be his own. There was so much wrong with this relationship that it is no wonder that John the Baptist accused Herod of doing wrong.
So the question about divorce was not simply to question Jesus about His theological stance on relationships, but to get Him to say something that would make Herod and his wife angry enough to demand another head.
Jesus answered with a question, "What does the law say?" They answered that Moses allowed them to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her. In the Torah, Moses gave the people a law that said it was ok for a man to divorce his wife if she became displeasing to him. Divorce was legal, but the theologians in Jesus' day disagreed about what that meant. What did it mean to displease the husband, what was considered indecent? Some thought it meant only marital unfaithfulness. Others interpreted this passage to mean anything that displeased the man. He could even divorce her if she just burned the toast.
Jesus answered the question through the prism of the creation story. The laws defined women as being inferior, as having no power or control, but God created man and woman to stand with one another. Jesus says that both the man and the woman have a responsibility to uphold the covenantal relationship of marriage and if they don't, then they cause the spouse to sin. This, perhaps, took John's admonition a step further. John told Herod that he should not be married to his brother's wife. Jesus said that both the man and the woman who divorce their spouses cause the other to commit adultery. Herod and Herodias were equal partners in their own marriage, both sinfully breaking relationships for something new.
Adam and Eve were created and they lived in the garden with God. They were innocent and pure, loving the Father who loved them. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of eternity, it took only a brief moment for Man and Woman to destroy the relationship they had with God. They fell for the lies of the adversary and turned from their God. Once the relationship with God was broken, all the others became vulnerable. As we look around the world today, we see so much suffering because sin builds walls and hardens hearts against those whom God has made for one another. Most of all, we suffer because we are not in fellowship with our Creator. The broken marriage mirrors the very consequence of the sin that became part of us, our broken relationship with God.
How it must have pained Jesus to see how broken His children had become, so broken that they even needed laws to ensure that their brokenness would be handled in an orderly manner. But even the law could not restore relationships, particularly the one between God and His people. Jesus told the Pharisees that while they had the right, and perhaps even good reason, to divorce their wives, they were sinning against God by breaking the relationship. Jesus made it even clearer for the disciples: anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery because they have broken what God has put together.
But that's exactly why Jesus came to live amongst His people. He came to restore relationships by providing a means for forgiveness: first with God and then with each other. He came to make it possible for people to live in harmony with their Creator, with the creation, and with each other. We live in a broken world, and even after the cross we still have hard hearts against one another because we have not yet been made perfect. The sin that became part of our lives in Eden still plagues us today. We will still sin against God and one another, divorce will still happen. But while Jesus encourages us to do everything possible to maintain the relationships which God has given us, He has provided the forgiveness we need when we fail. He died on the cross to establish a new relationship with His people, a relationship based on faith rather than law.
God created us to be in relationship with Him, with His creation and with each other. Throughout our lives we sometimes fail to maintain those relationships that God has given to us. When we break the connections that link us to others and to all of God's creation, we not only sin against our brothers and sisters, but we sin against God. There is nothing we can do to fix the brokenness of this world, but Jesus can and did. He restored our relationship with God through forgiveness of our sins on the cross.
The psalmist shows us what life is like when our relationships are strong. "For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine, in the innermost parts of thy house; thy children like olive plants, Round about thy table." This blessed life begins with loving God. "Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth Jehovah." Life lived in faith in the kingdom of the world mirrors the life God intends for us in kingdom of heaven.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that God spoke first through the prophets and then through the Son. The Son was not simply a man, but He was the One through whom everything was created. ďHe is the reflection of Godís glory and the exact imprint of Godís very being. Man is the image of God, but Jesus was more. He is the Word of God. This passage does not just define Jesusí divinity; it also defines His humanity. Jesus was fully divine and He was fully human. He was not only one with God, but He came to be in relationship with man as the Son of Man. He came to form a bond that cannot be broken.
"What are human beings that you are mindful of them?" This is a great question. After all, when you consider the entire creation, human beings aren't much. There are nearly seven billion people living on earth at this moment. Best estimates say that there are probably about two hundred billion stars just in our galaxy, the Milky Way. There isn't even a word to describe the number of stars in the entire universe. Someone has guessed that there are probably about a hundred trillion mosquitoes living on the earth at any one moment. There are about sixty-four million house cats living in the United States, but there is no estimate of how many cats (domestic and wild) might live on the earth. In other words, we are pretty rare in the whole scheme of creation. We are not the largest or the smallest. We aren't the strongest, fastest or prettiest. We might even argue that we aren't the smartest. But we were created uniquely in God's image and charged with the care of all that God has made.
Though we have dominion over the rest of creation, we don't have much to brag about, do we? Who are we that God would know us, not only as a species but as individuals? Who are we that God would care about each one of us personally? We are His, created in His image for a purpose. We are created to be part of a community, to be in relationship, not only with each other but also with the world and with our God. This is pretty amazing.
The writer of Hebrews asks, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them?" But he quotes a psalm with one particular human in mind: the new Adam, through whom all things were made. Men and women were given dominion over all creation, but we haven't done a very good job. We have not been the best caretakers of all that God has given us. This is not simply an environmental concern or a concern over the care of the animals. We fail with our human relationships, too. We use our power and resources in the wrong ways. We take advantage of others. We don't share what we have with our neighbors. We are sad and broken people, in need of someone to show us how it should be done. But we need more than just a good example. We need a Savior.
Jesus, the new Adam, being an exact imprint of God's being, a reflection of His glory, sustains all things by His powerful Word. He could, by this power, have made the world perfect with a word, taking all fear and pain away by His grace. Yet, the plan to restore God's people to one another, to the creation and to God required something more than a word. God established a new covenant, a covenant that we could not break, a covenant that was established in and through His own Son, Jesus the Christ, who was born among men to suffer and die for our sake. Then He was raised into new life to be the first of God's children crowned in glory.
The world today is not Eden. We have not been returned to the paradise that existed in that heartbeat before sin entered our lives. We continue to fail to be the people God created us to be. However, we have hope in Jesus Christ, who has promised that one day we will live in the world that God intended, where we dwell together in His Kingdom forever unashamed and without reason to fear. Until that day we have to live together as best we can in His grace.
Adam and Eve had what we long to have. They did not need the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they were created according to God's good and perfect will. It took only a heartbeat for them to destroy not only their innocence and holiness, but also every relationship that would follow, especially the relationship between God and His people. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, however, that we have reason to hope. We hope in the Gospel, the promise that God has and will restore everything as it was meant to be. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them." Let us never forget that which God has done, Christ has done, and the Holy Spirit continues to do in our world. The Kingdom of God is a promise that exists today, now, here. Let us live in faith working with God in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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