I attended the Methodist church again this morning. I particularly enjoyed the sermon because the pastor referred to the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish, and also looked at the Hebrew of Genesis 2.
The pastor was saying that she doubts that the ancient Babylonians or the ancient Hebrews interpreted their creation myths as literal, factual, historical accounts. She then went on, however, to talk like they did: she said that they believed that their stories were etiologies to account for how things came to be as they are—-to explain why people till the soil, why women suffer painful childbirths, why people get married, etc. But her conclusion about the significance of Genesis 2-3 may be more consistent with not seeing Genesis 2-3 as necessarily historical or factual: she said that the creation story was about humans’ place in the world, in light of how ancients understood it (i.e., tilling the soil), and that the Bible is about whether there is more to this life than working the soil and trying to get through the day. See here and here for some links on whether the ancient Hebrews understood their creation stories as literal and historical. And see here for the Stephen Curtis Chapman song, “More to This Life”!
Today is Pentecost for a number of churches, and Pentecost relates to the story in Acts 2 about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of the early Christians. The pastor was tying Genesis 2 with Acts 2. She was noting that, in Genesis 2, God breathes his breath into the earthling, and it becomes alive. She said that the lesson from this is that God is as close to us as our breath. I was unclear if she was suggesting that everyone has the Holy Spirit. I can understand a person arriving at that sort of conclusion, even if Paul seems to believe that Christians are the ones who have the Spirit of God inside of them, and the reason is that, in the Hebrew Bible, ruach can mean spirit or breath. In a sense, God’s own breath is inside of us, according to Genesis 2. Is that different from God’s spirit being inside of believers? Is there diversity within the Bible on this topic? In any case, the pastor’s conclusion on this seemed to be that God’s spirit has been around and active for a long time in history.
The pastor made a point about marriage in Genesis 2, and that made me think. She said that, in Genesis 2, ha-adam is split apart when God makes the woman; through marriage, however, human beings unite again, for the man and the woman become one. That raises some questions in my mind. First of all, does that suggest that full humanity comes in marriage? What about singles? I know that Paul in I Corinthians sees the single life as acceptable, and even preferable for him in terms of his mission. But is there a sense in which marriage makes people more fully human? I vaguely recall a rabbinic saying that implied precisely that. Second, does this insight (about men and women coming together in marriage) imply that men and women are certain ways and complement each other? Third, does it indicate that marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman, who bring their own ways of doing and seeing things into the union? My impression is that this church is rather liberal—-it is sensitive to historical-critical insights about the text, it reads Marcus Borg, etc.—-and thus would be more on the pro-marriage equality side than the anti. Would the pastor say that same sex couples, too, reflect the union of humanity that heterosexual couples do? I would ask her, but I did not want to barrage her with difficult questions about controversial issues after the service!
The pastor made another point that I kind of liked. She shared with us a prayer of St. Augustine. She said that Augustine was big on original sin, so he is not the type of person whom she ordinarily reads, but that he has great prayers! I could identify with this approach. I am probably more sympathetic towards Augustine on original sin, even though I do not care for his belief in infant damnation (and yet I respect that he struggled with that). But, as with the pastor, there are things that resonate with me, and there are things that do not resonate with me so much, and yet I am open to whatever encourages me to live a healthy spiritual life.
The service this morning was calm and laid-back, and I liked that. There was a peaceful quality to it, a calm in the atmosphere, if that makes sense. The pastor’s sermon did inspire some questions inside of me, but I do appreciate any sermon that is thoughtful and scholarly, and hers certainly was. I am eager to hear her thoughts about other biblical texts in future sermons, and maybe even in Sunday School, once I start to attend that (which may be a while—-it will be sometime after I get my own key to our apartment). Last week, I inadvertently sat in someone else’s seat in the back row, and I noticed today that she sat in another seat before I arrived; she may not have been intentionally giving me her seat, for she probably just became accustomed to her new seat, but I was glad to sit in that seat in the back row. Something else that I like about going to this church is the thirty minute walk to the church, and the thirty minute walk back. There are churches that are closer to me, but I really enjoy the walk to this particular church. It is a good time for praying, and the scenery is beautiful. I talked with someone this morning who walks an hour to church!