• Rev. Izzy Harbin

14 June 2021 Genesis 1 and 2
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The Book of Genesis provides us with a variety of wonderful stories regarding the foundation of the world and of the people who will become known as the Israelites. In the coming weeks, we are going to journey through the Book of Genesis to discover some truths and insights that may be hiding in plain sight.

When we read the first account of creation in Genesis 1, we immediately recognize God’s activity as one who creates. God systematically and logically ordered the world we now know. Upon a closer look, though, we can also say that God, through his ordering, also created separation: night from day, land from water, vegetables from fruits, animals that dwell on the land from those that fly in the air, and finally the creation of humans, both male and female.

The universe swirled in chaos that God then ordered, but the act of separating out the various aspects of creation divided the chaos from itself. This separation is felt in humanity from the moment we are born, begging the question, “Does the separation within creation extend beyond what we see to what we cannot see? Does this separation naturally separate that which was created from that which created it?”

Is this a significant enough idea to play with? Theologically, separation at creation has huge implications for those who follow Augustine’s thoughts about the “fall of man” and the inherent sinful nature of humanity. By recognizing the separation built into creation, one must decide whether the separation, as orchestrated by God, was by design. We can certainly look at this passage and see the separation, but is there another option—not as unified or separated, but interconnected?

In Karen Armstrong’s book In the Beginning, she relates the separation created by God as a theme that evolves over time in the ancient world. She states:

Nearly all cultures have evolved a myth of a golden age at the dawn of time when men and women lived in close intimacy with the gods. Human beings, it was said, were in complete harmony with their environment, with one another, and with the divine. There was no sickness, no death, no discord. The myth represents a near-universal conviction that life was not meant to be so painful and fragmented. Much of the religious quest has been an attempt to recover this lost wholeness and integration.

The idea that at one time humanity communed with the gods, interacted with the gods on a daily basis, is widely written into our earliest literature. Over time, though, the gods become less involved with human activity. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people, we see God interacting with the in a variety of ways. What may not be obvious, though, is that God’s relationship with the Hebrew people, just like the gods and their interactions with other cultures, changes dramatically over time to include much of the same distancing and separation.

For those of us reading Genesis in the 21st century, we take the little we know about the writers of Genesis and extrapolate potential expectations of God from their writings. In truth, we have no idea how close God was to that which God created. All the written and oral accounts of creation from vast cultures around the glob were all considered myths used by those cultures to derive meaning and purpose for being created in the first place. It is only in the present era that we see folks attempting to use Chapter 1 of Genesis as actual recorded history. This was not true of the Hebrew, however, that first penned these pages.

For the writers of Genesis 1, creation had to begin at some point in history. Lacking all scientific knowledge, they wrote how they imagined God set about creating based on their visual observations of sky, land, water, animals of all kinds, plants and trees of all kinds, and human beings of all colors and cultures. The writers imagined a creator so deft at calling things into being, that God only had to say the word and it was so. But the writers of chapter 1 of Genesis also needed God to be bigger than and outside of creation. They set God at a distance from creation and made God to be a strategic planner who set things out in an orderly fashion. This actually says more about the individuals who wrote Genesis 1 than it does about God.

Still, there is something about the necessity of separation that speaks to me, especially as we continue to long for unity and to be reconnected with our creator. Brene’ Brown frequently speaks of being born “hardwired for connection.” On some level we believe this is true, but then we must ask the more difficult question, “Why are some folks so broken and disconnected?”

Many religious scholars would say that the fall of Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, which is what caused our separation from God. This sin is then passed on to generation upon generation. This would seem like a plausible idea except that we’ve already shown that God introduced separation into the world before Adam and Eve were created (at least in Chapter 1). This creates a dilemma for us as humans in that we cannot understand where evil comes from and why we do the things that only cause more separation. I would argue that it is precisely the struggle against right and wrong or good and evil as a result of inherent separation that makes us human, by God’s design.

In Genesis 2, we are struck by the change in focus and how God is characterized. This is no longer the God of Chapter 1 of Genesis; this God is not systemic or orderly about creation as a whole but is more concerned about the relationship between the divine and the created. We see man being created first, not last, and then moving on to the rest of creation, but not in the same creative order as in Chapter 1. Little care is taken by the authors to maintain symmetry or to be cohesive between the two stories.

There are so many divergent points in the text that we now believe that Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 were written by different sets of authors. We even see the use of place names and river names that were written into the account in Genesis 2 that did not exist at the time of its creation. Many of these myths and stories were penned when Israel was held in captivity in Babylon in the 5th century BCE. Still, there is an important distinction to be made between the God of Chapter 1 and the God of Chapter 2.

One huge distinction between the two; God in chapter 1 creates both male and female at the same time, and they are created in the image of their creator. In Chapter 2, they are made from the dust of the ground. This imagery will come into play repeated throughout the Old Testament and be resonant in how the Hebrew people view themselves in relation to God, “from the dust you were made, and to the dust you shall return.” This doesn’t promise an afterlife or eternal life, simply a beginning and an end. The theological supposition in being created from the earth is that we are and always have been separate and apart from the divine. There is little or no connection between the two worlds. And yet, it is in the Garden of Eden, this supposed paradise, where God will commune with Adam and Adam will feel the closeness of God.

We also see the institution of coupling in Chapter 2, which is not present in Chapter 1. God feels the need to ensure that Adam has a helpmate. What is so startling, though, is how quickly God forgets the kind of creature that Adam is, even though Adam was created unique among all other living things. God first creates all the animals of the field, bird of the air, and fish of the sea. Each is paraded in front of Adam to determine if any would be suitable as a helpmate, but none could be found.

It is important to note that God is also giving Adam some creative license by allowing Adam to name all the animals. This co-creator position is unique to Chapter 2 where God relinquishes some of his own need to do it all and to allow Adam to help with the overall process.

When no helpmate is found, Adam is put to sleep and a woman is formed from Adam. The creation of woman places another form of distance between all parties: God creates Adam; God creates woman from Adam. This distancing only furthers the idea of separation and brings the act of creation under more scrutiny. There is no way for God to create with also creating separation. The very act itself must allow for the molding of distinct things that can be known as distinct things; giving credence to our 20th century motto: unity through diversity.

As the story continues, we’ll see how that which God created quickly spirals out of control and takes on new meanings of who God is and how God shows up in the world. As we dig further into the Book of Genesis, we will see that separation is only one aspect of God that comes into sharper focus. The God that reveals himself in the early chapters of Genesis is a God that demands further examination. And, with any luck, we’ll be able to reconcile some of our discomfort with the God of Genesis as we navigate the difficult beginnings of a people in search of a God of promise and covenant.

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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

2 Then Joshua, son of Nun, sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So, they went and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and spent the night there. 2 The king of Jericho was told, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.” 4 But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. 5 And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went, I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.” 6 She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof. 7 So the men pursued them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. As soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

When I was putting this series together on women, a friend of mine asked me why I chose to preach on Rahab, the prostitute, as if preaching about prostitutes are somehow a horrid thing to do. To inject a little humor, I told my friend about the TV show Lucifer, a show about the Devil retiring to LA, and being asked if prostitutes are in hell, and he said with a straight face, “No, actually, they aren’t because they are some of the most honest people you will meet.”

This passage challenges our thinking about who God can use and for what purpose. I think her profession is actually quite irrelevant to the discussion, but we must ask, why did the writers include that detail in the story? Does it matter that she was a prostitute?

In verse one of this passage, it tells us that the spies spent the night, but it doesn’t say anything about why they chose Rahab or how they knew. In this moment, I imagine they were trusting their instincts—or trusting God—on where to go and with whom to associate. What is made clear is that Rahab was willing to help protect them. She had heard of the Israelite God and found that God to be the true God, unlike the gods of Canaan.

When soldiers inquired about the men who had visited Rahab, she lied to protect them, and we are told later in the story that she was blessed by God for aiding them in their efforts. What we don’t know about Rahab, though, until the Book of Matthew, is that Rahab ends up marrying a Hebrew man who is in the line of David, who is also in the line of Jesus.

At the heart of this story is Rahab’s willingness to do the unexpected when faced with a difficult choice. She could have turned the spies away or turned them in, but instead, she protected them. In so doing, she changed the course of her life. According to the text and how the writers understood Rahab’s actions, God was able to use her in this moment to further God’s plans for Israel. Through the intel that the spies were able to provide, the Israeli army was able to conquer Canaan.

As a way to protect Rahab, the spies instructed Rahab to gather all of her family into her home and to tie a red piece of cloth to her exterior window. This piece of cloth would protect Rahab and her family from the invading Israelites.

When thinking about this series, I wanted to pair a modern example of a woman or icon with the ancient one, and for Rahab’s counterpart, I chose Rosie the Riveter, the iconic woman who represented all the women who utilized their skills during WWII to aid in the war effort.

I did not choose Rosie the Riveter because of the war connection (that bit just worked out on its own), but rather what she represented in the world of women. The campaign to get women out of the home and into the workforce was driven by the war effort, but what women found once they made that transition was that they could be appreciated for their skills beyond cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children.

At the end of the war, we see an interesting division created among women. Some women were grateful to be returning to their homes and resuming their “wifely” duties. Other women, however, did not want to give up their new-found freedom. They enjoyed making their own money, enjoyed participating in the overall success of the economy, and liked being challenged by the work in which they were engaged. Even though many women were relegated to more “female” oriented professions like teaching and nursing, there were many women who pursued careers in the sciences; careers such as physicists, welders, mechanics, military personnel, and the like.

During the Rosie the Riveter days, women were finding new ways to express themselves and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

I cannot say whether God was pleased with how women found their way into an everchanging workforce, or whether God was pleased with the help that women provided toward a war effort, but what I can say is that God is always pleased when we use the gifts that we have been given.

What stands out to me most in both the story of Rahab and that of the icon of Rosie the Riveter is that they represent the willingness to use the gifts God has provided for the betterment of the whole, however that is defined at the moment. Often, we are quick to dismiss our gifts as not being good enough, useless toward a particular effort, and having less value than others. What stands out, especially during WWII is that women had to step up and use what they had, there really wasn’t any other option.

Without the gifts that the women brought to the table, the American economy would have collapsed in the midst of war, and most likely the American troops would have suffered worse hardships than they already experienced. War is never something that we want to glorify. In fact, we pray that one day we can all know peace. But we can value the contributions of women and how their contributions changed the American landscape forever.

In our present day we are still called to be a part of God’s unfolding kingdom. We are being asked to continue to order chaos and to make things better for the whole of humanity. We can do this by sharing our gifts and talents. God has given to each of us a unique set of abilities that are to be shared. In the sharing of our gifts, we honor God and each other.

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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

2 Samuel 13:16, 20b

“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

(b) And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

Quotes: Tarana Burke

'Me Too' became the way to succinctly, and powerfully, connect with other people and give people permission to start their journey to heal. ~Tarana Burke

The work is more than just about the amplification of survivors and quantifying their numbers. The work is really about survivors talking to each other and saying, 'I see you. I support you. I get it.' ~Tarana Burke

Two simple words, “Me Too,” that started an international uprising that has shined a much-needed light on sexual violence and assault. When I was choosing the women for this series, I knew immediately that I wanted to do something around Tamar and Tarana Burke. This is a topic that we whisper about, but rarely discuss in church settings. It feels as though everyone is super uncomfortable talking about sexual violence and assault, and rightly so. Everything associated with sexual crimes has been shrouded in silence for so long that we don’t know how to respond.

In truth, sexual violence and assault happens more frequently than we want to admit; it just isn’t something that we talk about, especially in church. Although, the trend is changing. Many historically black churches have started groups called, “The Friends of Tamar” which clearly identifies the group as a survivor’s group—those who have survived sexual violence or assault. The “MeToo” movement has helped these types of groups take shape as more and more individuals come forward and tell their stories.

As a trauma therapist who worked primarily in the substance use field, I encountered a lot of women who had experienced sexual violence and/or assault. Many were reliving that trauma daily whenever they would use their bodies as a way to support their habit, an added layer of trauma on top of the initial trauma. It was heartbreaking to see how so much violence had shaped their lives.

At the heart of this kind of trauma is shame, followed closely by fear and silence. In working with women through their trauma, what I discovered is that our stories have value, and that by telling our stories, we are able to release the shame, fear, and silence that binds us.

In the story of Tamar, she was raped by her ½ brother Amnon. In the ancient world, rape was frowned upon, BUT the definition of rape was not nearly as robust as it is today. Age of consent didn’t really exist. The way a man “married” a woman was by having sexual intercourse with her. In the ancient Hebrew world, they really didn’t have “wedding ceremonies” like we do today. Marriages could be arranged by families, but it was more of a promise from one family to another.

An odd fact, the biblical text talks about sexual violence more than it talks about homosexuality, but not as much as it talks about divorce. What we are willing to talk about in the church, though, is limited by our level of comfort. We think of church as the place we go to feel good about ourselves. But I don’t think that was Jesus’ original plan for churches, to only feel good about themselves. The early churches were tackling some of the most difficult social problems of the day. Jesus wanted the church to be at the forefront of standing up for the most marginalized in their society, which included women and the misuse of power and authority by the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day.

What we discover in the story of Tamar is that the more offensive act was that Amnon dismisses her after he rapes her. It was not uncommon for “family” members to “marry” one another. In the Hebrew world, at the time of Tamar, polygamy was still practiced, and the various children produced by the many wives were not restricted from marrying within the family. What was uncommon, though, was for a man to have intercourse with a woman and then not see that union as binding. If a man dismissed a woman, it reduced her to prostitute status and left her with no options for future marriage. For a woman, this was tragic because this also meant there was no one to take care of her, and there would be no children, who often defined a woman’s status.

In our present day, women who have been raped often describe the sensation of having their very soul ripped from their body. It can be difficult for women to ever trust again, to be able to engage in healthy relationships, and to function in everyday society without mental health challenges. This is what Tarana Burke discovered working with young women in a youth development program in Alabama. She started the #metoo movement as a way for girls/women to finally acknowledge the hurt and the pain of being violated, and to recognize that they were not alone in their suffering. What no one expected was in one year, the hashtag “metoo” would be used 19 million times on Twitter alone. This movement shocked the world with its brutal honesty and paved the way for high profile abusers to finally be exposed and convicted of their long-time misuse of power.

Today Tarana Burke continues her work with women as the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equality in Brooklyn, NY. Just like Tamar, Tarana found a way to be known to the world, and to stand up for what is right and just in a society that has for too long devalued women’s bodies and overlooked their minds.

As we continue our study of women, we stand with those who have experienced sexual violence and assault, and where possible, we join in the chorus of the #metoo movement, once again shining a light into dark spaces so that we rip the cover off of shame, fear, and silence. We stand ready to listen to the stories of those who have been impacted by violence, and we become allies of the highest order—those who can listen without judgment, and who can offer love and support without shame.


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