Names and identity are important things. We all have unique identities. In my family of origin, I have always been known as Lizzie the helper. Growing up, I was my Aunt’s counter-part, helping her in the kitchen, with the kids. As I got older, running errands, helping to plan family trips, and parties. My aunt Lois called me just this week, and in our conversation, mentioned how she was working on a planning a party for next weekend, and couldn’t I just come down and help her out?? It’s who I am for my family.
We all have those things that people know us by, some good, like being a helper, the singer, the smart one, some less than ideal. In your childhood, were you known as the class clown, the snobby one, the bully? For some of us, who we were years ago, has no bearing on who we are now. And returning to class reunions, or hometowns, or communities can feel intimidating because you don’t want to return to be “that identity,” Sally the snob, or Billy the bully, because now you are a well-adjusted, well liked individual. The self or culture created identities are only a tiny fraction of what makes us who we are. Yet somehow, they carry more bearing on us in our daily existences. But really, who we are, should be wrapped up in who God created us to be. This morning’s passage is a glimpse at to who we are, as we begin our series this summer on faces of our faith. The first set of faces show us that our identities are less about who others label us as, and more about who God created us to be.
In this second creation story, God takes on a, hands on approach to the making of creation. What I love about this creation story is not only the intimate care that God has for the humans, and creation, but also this story is the summons of God for us to be his creatures, to live in God’s world on God’s terms. We begin where God is on the earth, and takes the dusty soil to fashion the legs, and arms, and head of the human. Then God breathes in to the nostrils the breath of life, the spirit, the pneuma, the ruach, so that this human could have life. He intimately fashions this person out of the earth’s soil, the Hebrew word for it is adamah, so later, when the person is named Adam, his name is literally means “dust person.” The dust person is formed, the garden is planted, which is a great place for a creature to live in. God gives the human a chance to have a companion and that companion, that is the dust person’s sustainer beside him, his counterpart. We are told of the purpose of the human’s being, and the conditions set by God. Scripture says, “And the Lord God took the human and set him down in the garden of Eden to till it and to watch it. And the Lord God commanded the human, saying, “From every fruit of the garden you may surely eat. From the tree of knowledge, good and evil, you shall not, for on the day you eat from it, you are doomed to die.” Three conditions arise for Adam and Eve: you are given a vocation: You are to care for and tend the garden. From the beginning the human creature is called, given a vocation and expected to participate in God’s work. Eat of anything in the garden, it is yours to enjoy for substance and for sharing, but don’t eat from that tree. There is an implied element of understanding the authority of God and the expectation of trust and obedience of the humans, this is what they were created to be, a likeness in God’s image. The term in Christian theology is called the “imago dei,” made in God’s image. As the imago dei we were made to be able to create, worship, communicate, relate and reason, not only with others but with and for God. The dust people, Adam and Eve, are then tasked to find a way to uphold their divine purpose, to live into the vocation set before them as imago dei.
The serpent then comes into the picture as a very clever and talkative creature made by God who simply poses some question and alternative explanation and identity that they could live into. At any point in the conversation, the humans could have told the serpent that he was full of it and to please go and bother someone else. But there was something in those humans that resonated in that suspicion, anxiety crept in and doubt in trusting God’s ultimate purpose for their lives. The two dust-people are controlled by their anxiety and they try to escape that anxiety by attempting to circumvent the reality of God. They failed to embrace the fact that they were made in the image of God. When God created human being in God’s image, God called it good, God had a purpose and plan for human beings and Adam and Eve failed to trust and believe in their lives as the imago dei, given the parameters God set before them.
So the humans end up disobeying the prohibitions set by God, and thus disrupting their imago dei, the very thing that called them into being and these two humans fail to live into the image that God called them into being. They doubted God’s providence, rejected the vocation, permissions and prohibitions that God placed upon them. They didn’t trust how God called them to live and move and be, even though they were given all of the components. For Adam and Eve, they decide instead of being made in the image of God, they would rather be like God and that is where they fail. However, the good news of God is, even when we fail in the eyes of God, there is forgiveness.
Redemption comes in the fact that God doesn’t give up on these two dust-people. God had a choice. God could have just said, ok you are going to return back to dust, I’ll start over with another set of people. But our God is a God who is persistent. God still works to correct their behavior and maintain relationship with the dust people. He prepares his dust people, fashions them clothes to send them out into the world to live, but he doesn’t abandon them. God wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t give up on his dust people. God empowers Eve to live into her imago dei, by literally bearing future imago dei, learning to live into not only her divineness, but also raising others up in their unique God-given image. As for Adam he lives into his original vocation, the keeper of God’s creation, entrusted to care for the all that God created to be good.
Just like the first dust people, we too have been created in the image of God. We were uniquely formed and given gifts and skills to serve God in our world. We have been given our vocation and call, and we have choices to be made every day. Each and every day, our world is plagued with other unique God-made creatures who call into question our very being, our identities and our calls. We are told subversive messages telling us that we aren’t good enough, that what we do isn’t right, that we are failures. We are told that if we believe in a certain way, if we do a certain deed, if we change who we are and who we were created to be, then we will be more successful, we will be more desirable, we will be liked.
However, what God created us to be was good, and so we have a choice, to trust in our own unique imago dei, or to be influenced by others, who tempt us, who make us believe we need something more, that we can do better, that we are not good. I am reminded, of the psalmist, “For it was God who formed our inward parts; God knit each and every one of us in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. And wonderful are God’s works.” Being made in the image of God, means we are fearfully and wonderfully made, just as we are.
The song we sang with our young people, to me, is an important song that we all need to sing. It tells the story of who we are and whose we are. And how we were fearfully and wonderfully made.
We are all somebody, because God loves us. We are called to be accepted just the way that we are. We each are given vocations and duties to live out our imago dei. Yet, when we fail to take care of our God-given selves, when we fail to follow our vocations. When we succumb to the negative identities that others label us, we fail in being the imago dei. The Good News is, God’s love is deeper and wider than you and I can ever understand. So may we learn to love our identity in God and live into God’s identity for us. And may it be so. Amen.