Our Father, the Gardener

 

Meditation on Genesis 2:4b-15

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Sept. 22, 2019

Care for Creation/Blessing of the Animals Sunday

 

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In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

      10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

***

It feels like ages since I have been with you, altogether in this place, though it has only been a couple of weeks. So much has happened since my Dad passed away in August. The world seems a different place. Are you with me, those of you who have lost loved ones before? I feel, at times, a little disoriented and tired, beyond words. The old saying, “Don’t know if I am coming or going,” seems to fit my sense of being these few weeks. But it’s getting better.

I am thankful for your patience and kindness and God’s help and grace for every day. And I am grateful to my husband, Jim, for preaching and sharing a word of encouragement with you last Sunday while I presided over my father’s celebration of life and witness to the resurrection. I am blessed that my husband and I share the same faith and calling to serve the Lord and His Church! He is preaching and leading worship at Central Presbyterian in Zanesville today.

Some joyful things happened to me this week, since I returned from Florida. One was a blessing in disguise. I had a routine physical on Friday. I didn’t want to go to the doctor, and I really didn’t want to have my blood drawn! But at the lab in the 311 Building in Coshocton, I met Wendy. I immediately sensed God’s presence with us and felt Christ’s peace. I told her that I am more anxious than I was before losing my Dad. She looked at me with compassion, pointed to her family photos on the wall, and shared her story. How she has lost a husband, a brother, a son. We connected in that sacred moment. Time seemed to stand still.

I shared with Wendy how I wanted to start a grief support group at my church, so people could talk about their loved ones and be encouraged. She said, “I think that’s a great idea.”

Then she said, “Tell me about your Dad.”

I paused a moment, thought of the many things that I could say, and then said, “He was a gardener.”

She smiled and her face was shining. And I have a feeling, so was mine.

 

***

On this day when we remember and give thanks that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it and seek God’s blessing for our beloved pets, it is good to remember that Our Heavenly Father is also a gardener, the very first one. And that the calling of the very first human being was to garden with Him.

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As we read in verse 15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  Gardening in Genesis requires love—love for God and love for God’s Creation—and not just a desire to be fed and blessed by the fruit of the land. The word “keep”—shamar—means care for, guard and protect. Cain uses a form of this word after he kills his brother in anger and jealousy and buries him in a field. The Lord asks him, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 

This second Creation story in Genesis 2 isn’t as well known as the first in chapter 1, when God created the world and made a man and woman in his image on the 6th day. The second Creation story is the only place in the Bible where God is called the Lord God; combining the very personal Y-H-W-H or Adonai with the more general Elohim. For this Creator God also knows us intimately and designed us to be in close relationship with Him.

In this second Creation story, God is also a Potter, forming the first human being—adam in Hebrew—from the dust of the ground, adamah, bringing him to life with his own breath! As Isaiah will say in 64:8, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

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And the Lord God, in this second Creation story, is concerned that the human being will be lonely, so He creates a helper with a rib from the man’s body. From the man, in Hebrew—ish­­­­, God makes woman—ishah.

The Garden, planted by God, fashioned for human beings to live with Him, was called eden in Hebrew. Eden, which means “luxury” or “delight,” is a name of an actual place in Mesopotamia, far away to the east of Palestine, mentioned in Ezekiel 27:23. The Septuagint, an ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, translates eden to paradeisos, from the old Persian pairi-darza, meaning “an enclosed park, a pleasure ground.” The word came to be interpreted to mean “pleasure” and “paradise”—not just humanity’s first home, but our heavenly home.

The garden isn’t watered by rain; a stream would rise from the earth, says verse 6, and “water the whole face of the ground.” And a river flows out of Eden into four branches. The names of the rivers were both familiar and exotic, close by and far away, inaccessible like Eden itself, to the ancient Israelites. Pishon doesn’t appear again in the Bible and has never been clearly located, but the Tigris and Euphrates are key resources in Mesopotamia. The Gihon is also well known, not as a river, but as a spring that supplies Jerusalem with water. Havilah is south of Israel and is associated with the Ishmaelites and Amalekites in Genesis 25:18 and 1 Samuel 15:7.

The Garden of Eden or paradise, watered by rivers and springs, brings to mind John’s mysterious vision in Revelation 22 of Eden restored to its original goodness and beauty. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

***

Talk of a heavenly home and Our Father, the Gardener, makes me think of my Dad. His ashes have been returned to the dust, laid in Section 11, Site 594 in Cape Canaveral National Cemetery. It is a quiet, peaceful garden, with perfectly aligned rows of nearly identical, white stones, engraved with names and loving words by which to be remembered. Among the words that Mom chose for Dad’s stone is “Gardener.”

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As I walked on Friday—my first walk since I returned from Florida Monday night, I felt close to my Dad and Our Father, the Gardener. Is it any wonder that we feel closer to God out in Creation, since our first call as human beings was to till and keep the Garden—and that we are still called to care for, guard, and protect the Creation? It was and still is a gift from the Lord; home for God and humanity to live, talk, love, and walk together. And someday, we will see Him, once again, face to face.

As I walked on Friday, I passed a gardener pulling weeds and remembered John’s story of the Resurrection. Mary came to visit the tomb alone, while it was still dark, and found the stone rolled away. She spoke with angels, and in her grief, didn’t notice they weren’t human. She only saw that Jesus wasn’t there and thought that someone had taken his body. As she turned to go, she saw a man who looked like a gardener and, in her distress, begged him to tell her where the body of her Lord had been laid.

It wasn’t a mistake that Mary thought Jesus was a gardener! That detail is important! The Easter story brings us back to Creation, redeeming what was the first sin, humanity’s rebellion and separation from God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, as Colossians 1:15 tells us. He walked with the first human beings in Eden, a place that sounds both familiar and exotic, close by and far away, accessible by faith. I remembered all of this as I passed the gardener on my walk, an elderly man in a hat that reminded me, a little bit, of my Dad.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” I asked.

“It IS a beautiful day!” he said, smiling.

His face was shining. And I have a feeling, so was mine.

Let us pray.

Lord God, Our Potter, thank you for making us out of the dust of the ground and breathing into us life. Thank you for the promise of everlasting life with you. Lord God, Our Gardener, thank you for planting a garden in which we would live together in joy and peace, and for your love and grace that continued, though we went our own way and were disobedient. Thank you for having a plan, since the foundation of the world, to redeem us from our sins through your Son, who suffered and died so that we would be forgiven and made right with you. Help us to live in loving relationship with you and one another and to be faithful to our calling to garden with you — to till and keep, love and protect your beautiful Creation. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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