27 OT B "Partners" ~ Rev. Richard Eslinger

Updated: Oct 13, 2021



James Weldon Johnson tells the backdrop of our creation story in the voice of the folk tradition of African American preachers:


He looked on his world With all its living things, And God said: I'm lonely still.


Then God sat down— On the side of a hill where he could think; By a deep, wide river he sat down; With his head in his hands, God thought and thought, Till he thought: I'll make me a man!


Up from the bed of the river God scooped the clay; And by the bank of the river He kneeled him down; And there the great God Almighty Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night, Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand; This great God, Like a mammy bending over her baby, Kneeled down in the dust Toiling over a lump of clay Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life, And man became a living soul.[1]


The problem was that even after all that labor and love in creating everything, Adam, the one created out of the soil, was now lonely.

The One who “batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed”—and “clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled” now realized that the loneliness that God had felt was now the condition of this living embodied soul, “Adam.” But the Lord God did not believe that it was good for the man to be alone. As a way to rectify this condition, this state of isolation, God formed all the animals that roam upon the earth and all birds that fly in the air. Wisely, the one true God then brought them to the man to see what he would call them. While all of the animals and birds were formed out of the ground by God, it would be up to the man to see them in turn and name them. In Hebrew thought, the very act of naming conveyed a distinctive identity and vocation to the one who was named. So, for example, when Saul of Tarsus receives his new birth on the Road to Damascus, he must have a new name. “Saul” becomes “Paul.” And naming also establishes a connection, a relationship between the namer and the one being named. It is a wondrous honor, therefore, to serve as a Godparent of a newly baptized child. The newborn’s name grounds the relationship that will endure for a long season of joy. The celebrant asks, “What name do you give your child?” (“What name have you given?) There is an indelible relationship between the Godchild and the Godparents, centered in the name. So the Lord God brings all the animals and birds to Adam and is anxious to learn what the man will name them. In that act also springs forth our human responsibility for those creatures we name. They become “partners” of a sort to us and we become their caretakers.


Did you ever visit a museum where a stuffed passenger pigeon was on display? Back in the middle of the 19th century, these birds numbered in the billions and flocks would darken the sky for hours as they migrated by. The sound was awesome—“a feathered tempest,” in the words of conservationist Aldo Leopold.[2] But then they were hunted, industrially slaughtered, and in a matter of decades they were extinct. We had named these glorious birds of the air “Passenger Pigeon.” Then we turned from our responsibility and wiped them out. But the man there in Eden who is given the job of naming all the creatures of air and earth remains faithful to his duty. He names them and does not annihilate these “partners” given by God. But in spite of this new labor of naming these living creatures, the man remains lonely. A void still remains in the depth of Adam’s soul. The observation of the Lord God abides, “It is good for man not to be alone.”

Now the Lord God acts to ensure that the man will be “partnered,” and the woman is built up from one of sleeping Adam’s ribs. She will be his “helper,” as some Bible translations have it. But the Hebrew in no way implies a submissive relationship to the man. Remember Psalm 121 (“Our help is in the name of the Lord”)? Most of the uses of this word in the Hebrew Scriptures speak of God’s help for us,…hardly implying that the Lord God is being submissive to us! Actually, “partner” serves us better. Being partners as man and woman is a wonderful expression of equality and unity. Another way to put the Hebrew is that the woman is one of strength who stands in front of the man. Neither always leads the way with the other following along in trail. This relationship is reciprocal and mutual. In the film, As Good as It Gets, Melvin Udall is a highly successful romance novel author who is afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disease and an acute case of misogyny. He breakfasts every morning at a nearby restaurant where the only server who will wait on him is Carol Connelly, a single mother whose young son has a serious asthmatic condition. Carol literally is his “helper” every morning at the restaurant. Melvin takes an interest in Carol, but he brings to this “wooing” his horribly self-absorbed and abusive personality. He attempts to break through to Carol by providing her son with a competent physician. Still, Carol will not agree to a deeper relationship with Melvin unless he sets aside his hurtful arrogance and resumes the medication for the personality disorder. Carol is a woman of strength who “stands in front of” Melvin. Finally, he lets go of his unhappy and even tragic self-centered existence. He blurts out to Carol a memorable line: “You make me want to become a better man.” With this a new creation is being born in him. The couple are becoming partners, helping each other while at the same time, knowing healing. They are growing into what God had intended for them from the beginning there in Eden. Carol is a woman of strength who stands in front of Melvin. It was necessary if they were ever to become partners together.


Only now is the celebration of human to human covenant possible. When they are brought together by the Lord God, the man sings the first love song of the entire Scriptures. Only in the Song of Songs (Canticum canticorum) will a deeper and more extensive love song be found. He says,


This one, at last, is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

This one shall be called “woman,”

for out of “her man” this one has been taken.


Finally, the narrator of this creation story will add its implications regarding the man and the woman. “For this reason,” he says, “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and as befits this precursor to the Song of Songs, “the two of them become one flesh.” Becoming one flesh is an outcome of this partnering that is of God. Because of the gift of covenant love, loneliness is finally overcome, and we discover that the basic unit of human being is a duality of partners, given to each other by the Lord God.


Amen.




[1] James Weldon Johnson , God's Trombones, The Viking Press, Inc., 1927. [2] Barry Yeoman, “Why the Passenger Pigeons Went Extinct,” Audubon, accessed September 19, 2021, https://www.audubon.org/magazine/may-june-2014/why-passenger-pigeon-went-extinct.

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