Scripture: Genesis 2:4b-25
When was the last time you cut open a ripe watermelon? Not the pale pre-cut cubes you get in plastic at the grocery store. I mean a whole huge melon, dark-green from the late summer sun and heavy with juice? Sliding a sharp stainless steel knife into a perfect round melon you are Galileo, discovering otherworldly beauty. As the sides of a fresh watermelon fall open on the cutting board, the dark pink inside turns itself out for all the earth to marvel at. An aroma of sweet summer rises from the cut, hundreds of black seeds lie hidden in orderly rows, the ripe sugars are already almost in crystal form, and an ample rind provides green armor for the treasure within.
What a marvelous thing is a watermelon! Have you ever stopped to consider it? How many hours of sunlight did it take, falling for weeks on broad leaves, to grow twenty pounds of pure perfection? By what wisdom do roots grow in such a way that they catch rain from a dozen thunderstorms and pass it on, to be encapsulated in the time machine on your kitchen counter? How did the rain get up there in the first place, and where did the soil come from? How does it know to hold the roots and the water and the nutrients out of which watermelons are made? How in the world does anything so good come from plain old dirt?? Look deep into a watermelon or any little part of creation, and you can get lost in the mystery found there.
There are scientific answers for how the juice and the sweet get into watermelons. There are theories about rain, and soil, and the sun. There’s a great story told by science about where it all came from, and how it might have been in the beginning of what we can imagine. I have no doubt that many of these theories are true, at least in a sense that they describe how things work here and now. But science cannot answer why things are this way and not that. The limits of science are found when we stop asking “how”, and start asking other questions. “Who am I, to be so blessed by this incredible meal? Why do I feel this gratitude welling up in me as the juice runs down my chin? For whom is this other half of melon on the counter, and in what ways shall I share it?” For those questions—of identity, meaning, and purpose—we must look to our Bible and the God to which it testifies. And that’s where the deepest questions can find age-old answers.
In the very beginning, even before the Big Bang, there was always God. All that exists came into being because of the Lord God, Yahweh. This holiest of names and holiest of beings chose to create that which was not God, which was everything else—creation. And the Lord God, we read, formed the first human creature from the dust of the ground and the breath of the Lord God. All people were intimately made by a loving God, and formed from earth. The Hebrew in verse 7 makes clear the connection between people and earth. ‘adam is the name for the creature, and ‘adamah is fertile ground. The word connection is clearer when we translate it this way: the Lord God formed human from humus. The same nutrients, water and stuff of earth out of which comes everything else is also that which grows humanity. In other words, we are walking watermelons—of a different shape, but made from the same stuff and no less marvelous, when we stop to consider. We are all ‘adam.
Creating ‘adam, God created humans who lives in relationship in three ways: relation to God, relation to creation, and relation to one another. And with each relation there is vocation—a purpose and calling given to humanity. We see this as our story unfolds. God creates us, ‘adam, out of love, and it is to God that we owe our entire existence. God creates all the rest of the garden of the world, and with incredible generosity places us within the world. Our relation to God is that of the creature to the Creator, and our vocation is to live in eternal gratitude, never forgetting the One from whom all things arise. We sing this in our doxology each week: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” Our first relation is to God, and our vocation is to recognize our Creator with hearts of praise.
As Genesis unfolds, we see that our second relation—and vocation—is to creation. God planted the garden of creation, we are told. “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.” There are abundant rivers and fertile ground, a global jungle of every type of plant, birds of the air and fish in the sea, minerals in abundance—good gold, onyx stones, bdellium (whatever that is), and everything else besides! The garden of God’s creation, Eden (which means “delight”), has everything good in it, everything we need for life, and even the awareness of good and evil. Into the midst of the garden God places us, ‘adam, and gives us the very first human calling. We belong in the garden, in order to “till it and keep it.” The word in Hebrew here is shamar, to “guard, keep, watch over, protect and care for.” Our first vocation, our first reason for existing in the Garden, is that of shamar, taking care of the earth on God’s behalf. Genesis tells us that all the creatures of the earth were made as helpers for humanity, but we do not have free reign to do whatever we please. Our freedom reaches its limit when we cease to shamar and begin to exploit creation for our own purposes alone. Humanity cares for creation as God cares for us—with compassion, tenderness, and generosity.
And thirdly, God recognized that even all the loveliness of the world was not enough for ‘adam. We have relation to earth—with pets, show dogs, horses, and wild creatures—but this is not enough for humanity. God says, “it is not good that ‘adam should be alone”, and so after creating all sorts of animals God creates once more. God made another creature like ‘adam, “bone from bone and flesh from flesh”, that we might truly know others like ourselves. Humans from humus are made with one more vocation: to be helpers and partners for one other. God makes the watermelon out of sheer loveliness, makes us of the same stuff, and calls us to share the melon’s goodness with one another, and in so doing to build community.
On this day when we celebrate new life in baptism and a new start for the church year, the Bible reminds us what truly matters from the very beginning. All our lives, we honor creation by following our vocation in each relation: gratitude to God, service to the earth, and partners with one another.
Finally, the wisdom of our Genesis creation story is this—God does not remain far off, but is right alongside us in the garden of the world. From the very beginning, God forms and shapes ‘adam from ‘adamah, then directly breathes in life. God gets in the dirt with us, including in the messy times when we fall out of right relationship with one another, the Earth or God. We are held in love by at God who is right alongside us, even in death. It’s because of this that even on this happy day of baptism, we can also recall the words that are spoken on the other end of life: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Even that is good news, because God is in the dust, and by returning to the dust, we return to God.
Let us pray: Lord God, giver of watermelons and all this magnificent creation, we are amazed by the wonder of your world. Fill us with gratitude for you, that we may humbly serve the earth and seek community with one another. Move us from loneliness into companionship, that we might be at home in your garden all of our days. Amen.