by Rev. Joe Connolly
A READING FROM THE TANAKH IN THE SECTION KNOWN AS THE TORAH — Genesis 2:18-23 [ILV]
Because we do not read the passages from Scripture in their original languages this places us at a severe disadvantage when it come to understanding what many words mean. In the passage I am about to read what we take to be simply names are actually words with meanings hidden from us because of this. The translation we use today attempts to address what the passage means since it is translated in a way which helps us hear some of the meanings behind the words which we often take merely as names. Needless to say, the meaning behind the words indicate something richer is happening here than mere naming.
 …Yahweh, God, said, “It is not good for this creature of the earth, this one I have made out of the adamah, made out of the earth, to be alone; I will make a fitting companion, a partner for it.”  So also out of the ground, from the soil, out of the adamah, Yahweh, God, formed all the animals, every wild beast of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the earth creature, the adam, so these could be named. Whatever the earth creature, the adam, called every living one, that became its name.  The earth creature gave names to all cattle and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field, all the wild animals.
But none of them proved to be a fitting companion, a partner for the adam, the earth creature.  So Yahweh, God, caused a deep sleep to fall on the earth creature. While it slept God divided the earth creature in two and then closed up the flesh from its side.  Yahweh then fashioned the two halves into male and female and presented them to one another.
 The male realized what had happened and said,
“This time this is the one!
Bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
Now this one will be called ish” —
ish a word which means source of life
“and I shall be called adam”—
adam— a word which means from the ground
“for out of me was this one taken.”
Made Out of the Adamah
by Rev. Joseph Connolly
“So Yahweh, God, caused a deep sleep to fall on the earth creature. While it slept God divided the earth creature in two and then closed up the flesh from its side.” — Genesis 2:21.
Since I arrived in Norwich over nineteen years ago, like clockwork, once a month, I lead a Sunday afternoon service of worship at Chenango Valley Home. One of our musicians also attends so we can have a couple of hymns.
On June 14th, before Bonnie and I left on our trip, as a part of my sermon, I decided to tell the residents something about our upcoming travels. In part I wanted to explain why I would not be back until October. So this is how I started my comments at Chenango Valley Home on that day. (Slight pause.)
“Many of you know when Bonnie I got hitched she was a resident of the great State of Maine. I was a resident of New York City. And not just a resident but a native.”
“Many natives of the Big Apple, myself included, never learn to drive. So when I moved to Maine to marry Bonnie I needed to learn. Therefore, at first Bonnie did all the driving. That was O.K. Bonnie would drive. I would navigate. (She will tell you navigation is not her forté.)”
“There is one more thing to add. If we were going somewhere that took more than an hour, before Bonnie stepped on the gas we would look at each other and in unison say, ‘Adventures with Bonnie and Joe.’ And off we’d go: another adventure.”
“Well,” I said back in June, “we have not done that recently. However, I suspect on June 27th, Bonnie and I will get into the car, look at each other and say those words once again: ‘Adventures with Bonnie and Joe.’ That’s because we are about to go on the biggest adventure we’ve ever tried.”
“We will be gone from June 27th through the October 1st. Together we will be driving across the country and back.” That’s what I said at Chenango Valley Home. (Slight pause.)
I am here to report, that is exactly what happened, exactly what we did. On the morning of June 27th we got in the car and intoned the words “Adventures with Bonnie and Joe” in unison as we were about to leave. Then we cried, perhaps a little overwhelmed by the enormity of what we were about to do.
Bonnie says we cried because we were leaving the cats. But I’m of a different opinion. That would not be the last time we cried on this trip.
We cried when we saw the Badlands. We cried when we saw Yellowstone which we saw both headed West and East. We cried when we saw Yosemite. We cried when we saw the Grand Canyon. We cried when we saw Zion Canyon. We cried when we saw Devils Tower.
To be clear, we had moments of deep emotion when we spent a week at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York. And we were moved when we saw the Norton Simon Museum, the Huntington, the Dead Sea Scrolls at the California Science Center, the John Steinbeck Center, the Art Institute of Chicago. We were moved when we visited Mount Rushmore, the Hover Dam. But, for this moment, for these remarks I want to address what God hath wrought rather than what the children of God hath wrought.
We both felt just to see these amazing places left us in awe of God and of the universe God created. Indeed, Bonnie kept saying over and over, “I can take all kinds of pictures but I can’t seem to convey how amazing and wonderful these things are.”
Personally, I think Bonnie did a great job of conveying the magnitude of what we saw. But a part of me says ‘she is right.’ These are places of overwhelming beauty, hard to capture.
Do note: probably sometime in November on a date still to be specified we will have a pot luck and show some pictures. When that happens you can be the judge of how well Bonnie captured what we saw. And I hope everybody can come. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in Tanakh in the section known as the Torah from the portion of that work known as Genesis: “So Yahweh, God, caused a deep sleep to fall on the earth creature. While it slept God divided the earth creature in two and then closed up the flesh from its side.” (Slight pause.)
Well, let’s try a little experiment which has to do with a certain animal we saw in Yellowstone Park. I am going to intone the first five words of a very well known song which refers to this beast. When I stop, I ask that you sing the next four words and only the next four words. Ready? O.K.
“Oh, give me a home…. (the pastor holds out his hands and the congregation responded) …where the buffalo roam….”
That’s it! “Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam.” There is only one problem with those words. There are no buffalo on the North American Continent. There never have been buffalo on the North American Continent.
Several kinds of buffalo inhabit Asia, Africa, Europe. But there are none here. What this song and popular culture refers to as buffalo are not buffalo. They are bison.
Bison are distant relatives of buffalo but they are… not… buffalo. To be clear, popular culture often refers to bison as buffalo. And popular culture is… wrong… just dead wrong. (Slight pause.)
Popular culture is often wrong, especially when it comes to Scripture. Why? Because popular culture makes no effort to see Scripture in light of the original context and the original language in which it was offered.
In fact, the creation stories in the Bible are not particularly original or unique. There were many creation stories in ancient times and the Hebrews simply adapted some stories which already existed. Why did the Hebrews want to use and adapt these stories?
The answer has to do with the Hebrew understanding of God. In ancient times most people thought there were a multitude of gods each of whom took care of their own little job: planting, harvesting, weather, etc., etc., etc. The Hebrews understood God to be a God of all things, not just some things.
The Hebrews understood God to be a God of the universe. In that era, in that context, the concept that God might be a God who touched all things, the concept that God was a God of the universe was a new idea, a radical idea. (Slight pause.)
Now, I hope the translation of the Genesis reading I used today made something clear: the word ‘Adam’ is not a name. The word ‘Adam’ does not refer to gender.
Adam means earth, ground, dust. So the point being made has nothing to do with mere humanness and certainly not gender. That misreading of Scripture is a product of popular culture. And popular culture is… wrong… just dead wrong.
The point being made by Scripture in light of the original context and the original language in which it was offered is that God creates humans, our incredible and finite species, out of the earth, out of the ground, out of the dust. God creates humans from the same stuff out of which God creates everything. The story tells us that.
So, the point being made here is not even about how or why creation exists, again a popular misunderstanding. The point being made is that the Hebrews give us a new and radical claim: God is a God of all things, a God of the universe.
Therefore, in this story God molds many incredible and finite things out of out of the earth, out of the ground, out of the dust. How do I know God molded many things out of the earth, out of the ground, out of the dust?
Perhaps I don’t know God created many things of the earth, out of the ground, out of the dust. Because the creation stories do not inform us in any way about the how or the why of creation. The creation stories tell us about the Who of creation, a God of all things.
So, I really don’t know how and why God created. On the other hand I do know this about our reaction, the reaction Bonnie and I had, to the God who created all things: we cried when we saw the Badlands. We cried when we saw Yellowstone. We cried when we saw Yosemite. We cried when we saw the Grand Canyon. We cried when we saw Zion Canyon. We cried when we saw Devils Tower— these places of overwhelming beauty.
And so this is what I do know because Scripture is clear about it: God is a God of all things. And that is an overwhelmingly beautiful idea. Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: [The pastor holds up a large piece of sandstone] “This is piece of sandstone from the area around the Colorado River, the river that formed the Grand Canyon, the river that’s bottled up by the Hover Dam. Its atoms are in a slightly different form than the atoms in us but it is made of atoms, just as we are. Science tells us there are as many atoms in the universe today as there were at the time of the Big Bang— think about that. But the atom and science is not the point here. The point is God is God of all. And that idea should engage not our intellect but our emotions. Hence, when I grapple with the reality of God— a God Who touches us all, I get emotional— but you may have noticed that.”