God's Story, Our Story: The Story that Forms Us

Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: Genesis 2:4b-25

Part One: Tell Me a Story!

This past summer my brother and his wife and three daughters made the long trek from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to spend a week with us.   Our house became a place of happy chaos--a swarm of little girls bouncing, twirling, giggling and laughing.  I loved every minute of it.

Each night we would do “story time” before bed.  I would sit on the bedroom floor among a sea of sleeping bags and make up a story on the spot, including all the kids as characters in the story.  My nieces especially loved it.  “Tell us another story, Uncle Brian!” they would squeal.  And then my oldest niece, Maggie (who is 10) would tilt her head and give me a no-nonsense look:  “And Uncle Brian…don’t forget to put us in it!” 

There’s something about stories, especially really good ones.  All kids love stories.  But it’s not just kids—adults love stories, too!  Stories entertain, teach, inspire and provoke.  Stories are containers for truth.[1]  Neurology and the social sciences are now confirming what our best philosophers, storytellers and artists have always known to be true—as human beings, our brains are hardwired for story.  Stories are the way we make sense of the world and understand our place in it.  Stories define us and shape the way we live.  We are story-formed creatures!

“Before we can answer the question ‘Who am I and what am I to do?’”  the great philosopher Alisdiar MacIntrye has said, “We must first answer the question, ‘What story or stories am I a part of?’” 

The truth is, we all live (and die!) by the stories we tell ourselves and others.  And there are so many stories that are clamoring to define us and shape the way we live.  Stories in the larger culture that tell us what we have to be or do to be loved and accepted.  Stories in our own family of origin that we carry with us well into adulthood.  Stories in our heads that tend to define us and color the way we see God, ourselves and the world.

And when these stories are false, they can put us in bondage, get us stuck, and have a negative impact on the way we show up in life.  In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown says we all have stories that we’re telling ourselves; and until we get honest and own them, they will continue to define us.  When we let the false stories define us, it prevents us from living into another story, a better and truer story.  A story that leads to life, healing, freedom and joy.

What story is that?  It’s the story that the Bible tells us about who God is and who we are.

You see, the Bible is ultimately a story about God; but it is also our story.  God puts us in the story.   We see ourselves in the quirky, beautiful and broken cast of characters we meet in the Bible. And we also find our truest selves—what it means to be fully human and fully alive—in this biblical story. 

Today we begin a journey of learning how to get into God’s Story; and also how to get God’s Story into us.  We are going to spend a year in something called the Narrative Lectionary, which takes us through the sweeping biblical narrative, beginning with Creation and up through the early church. We’re not going to hear the entire Bible on Sunday mornings (we can’t do that in just 52 weeks).  But we will hear key parts of the story that give us an overall sense of the main storyline.

One of the ways that we’re going to enter God’s Story over the next year is through the gift of the visual and creative arts.  With the help of our Resident Artist, Joel Schoon-Tanis, and a cohort of other artists, we’re not just going to hear God’s Story but we’re going to encounter it with all of our senses.  In a minute, Joel is going to come up and help us see God’s Word. 

But first, let’s hear how God’s Story and Our Story begins.  So sit back and let me tell you a story.  And don’t worry: I will make sure not forget to put you in it!   Recite Genesis 2:4b-9,15-25.

{Imaging the Word with Joel Schoon-Tanis}

Part Two: Formed by God for His Glory and Purposes

Thank you, Joel, for helping us to enter this story in such a fresh and creative way this morning.  We are so excited to have you with us this year in this capacity as “Resident Artist.”   So let me briefly build on what Joel has already shown us.

There are two key sets of questions that I believe we must ask every time we engage any part of the Bible.   First and foremost, what does this story tells us about God?  God is not just the Storyteller; God is also the main actor in every page of the story.  So we ask: what does this story tell us about who God is and what God is like (God’s character)?  And what does it tell us about what God has done, is doing and will do (God’s action and purposes)? 

And then, only after we ask those questions, we can ask this one: And what does the story tells us about ourselves?  In light of who God is and what God is doing, what does this story tell us about who we are and how we are called to respond to what God is doing? What does it tell us about our relationship to the world?

These two sets of questions are the most important questions we must keep in front of us if we are to read and wrestle with the Bible faithfully.  If we get stuck with trying to take every verse of the Bible literally or are focused on questions like, “Did it really happen that way—was the earth really created in six days?  Did God really take Adam’s rib and form Woman from it?”, we may miss the point (and the deeper meaning and truth) of the story! 

So let’s ask these questions of our story today from Genesis 2.  First, what does this creation story tell us about God?  It’s fascinating that we have two different creation stories in Genesis.  The first, Genesis 1, gives us a picture of a transcendent Creator who is awesome in power and majesty—a God who creates this entire universe and everything in it by the sheer power of his Word and his Spirit.  God says, “Let it be…” and it happens!  And after each act of creation, God declares it “good.”   This first story of creation gives us a cosmic, bird’s eye view—like we’re getting a view of God’s creative act from the Hubble space telescope.  We are pulled into the wonder and awe of swirling galaxies and spinning planets and fiery stars.  The earth suddenly exploding with vegetation and flowers and all kinds of living creatures.

But the second creation story in Genesis chapter 2 gives us a different picture.  Instead of viewing God’s act of creation from the Hubble Telescope, Genesis 2 shows us God’s act of creation from here on earth, from the ground up.  Genesis 2 gives us a picture of a God who is imminent, a God who is not far off in the distance but who is present with us, who gets his hands dirty and forms us and rest of the creation by playing in the dirt.  Whereas Genesis 1 tells us “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”, Genesis 2 switches the order: “In the day the LORD God made the earth and the heavens…”

So which one is right?  Is God transcendent or is God immanent?  They are both right!  These two stories go hand in hand.  Together, they tell us something about who God is and how God is at work in human history that will carry through the entire biblical narrative—and reaches its climax in the person of Jesus Christ.  The transcendent, all powerful God who created the heavens and the earth is also an imminent and personal God—a God who puts himself in the story and has come to be with us.  The story of the Bible is ultimately about the God who is Immanuel, which means “God with us” and “God for us.”

This is a God who desires a vital, intimate relationship with us and with all of creation.  God created human beings, Adam and Eve, in his image and likeness for the purpose of experiencing communion with God.  To know God and be known by God.  We see God’s purpose not just for his relationship with us but for all of creation: this vision of shalom—which is about all of creation flourishing, enjoying harmony, and being made whole.  This is a picture of humanity and the whole world the way God designed it to be.

There’s a lot more we could say about God in this story, but that’s the most important thing I want to say today: Genesis 2 gives us a picture of a Creator who is not “watching from a distance” but who is intimately present, God with us, and who desires this whole world to flourish.

Well, what then does this story tell us about ourselves? It tells us that God is God and we are not!  It tells us that we’ve been created in the image and likeness of God, formed from the very dust of the ground. There is a word play here in Hebrew that gets lost in translation.  The Hebrew word for “ground” is adamah; and the Hebrew word for “man” is adamAdam is formed from adamah.  God breathes his very breath into us and sustains every moment of life.  This story tells us that we’ve been made for relationship with God.  That we can only truly flourish in relationship with God, and that our truest identity is that we are image-bearers of God, children of God.  In the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren put it this way: “We have been created by God and for God, and until we understand this, our lives will never make sense.”

To be formed in the image of God is to experience right relationship with God.  It is also to experience right relationship with each other.  God made us not only for himself but for community!  “It is not good for man to be alone, so I will make him a helper as partner.” God forms Eve out of Adam to be a suitable helper, which must not be misunderstood as one who is inferior and subservient to man.  No, the Hebrew word for helper is ezer, which is used most often in the OT in reference to God.  “God is our helper (ezer)” the psalmist declares.   When the story tells us that Eve is Adam’s helper, it means that she is intended to be a physical re-presentation of God to Adam; and he is intended to be that for her.  The two experience such flourishing and intimacy that they are naked and unashamed.   This passage is used in reference to marriage, which is right.  But it points beyond marriage to all relationships the way God intends them—to be places of shalom where we image God’s character and heart to each other.

To be formed in the image of God is to be made for relationship with God and others.  But there is one last thing I want to say about this.  It is also about being called to a vocation—a larger purpose in God’s world.  God forms Adam and Eve and places them in the Garden to till it and care for it.  Prior to that, God invited Abraham to share in God’s creative work by naming the animals.  God gives Adam and Eve a purpose of joining with him as sub-creators and stewards who care for the world and promote God’s shalom.

And this is true for us as well.  Because we belong to this story, it tells us who we are—image-bearers of God; and what we are to do—join God in being faithful stewards and embodying God’s shalom in all places, among all people.

In the next part of the story (Gen. 3) we will see that sin disrupts this shalom and deforms God’s image in us.  Sin makes a mess of things.  But the good news is that God does not abandon his creation—including us—amid the mess and disruption.  He will continue to be Immanuel, God with us, and the rest of the story of the Bible will show us just how true this is—God will do the impossible and pursue his creation and draw them back to himself.  God’s mission in the world is to fully restore shalom in all creation—to get things back to the beginning.

Do you hear how this is such good news?  God will stop at nothing to find us, to take us in or misshapen and deformed state and re-form us, breathe his Spirit of forgiveness and healing, make us new creations in Christ.  And with this work of re-formation in us, he will call us again to join him in his mission to restore shalom and reconcile all that has been fractured in our world.

So let me ask you today: what story or stories are you telling yourself?  What story is forming and shaping you—your decisions, the way you live?  Are you stuck in a story that is keeping you from being who God has made you to be, who you deep down want to be?

What if you could step in a different story-- a better story and truer story?  What if, instead of telling yourself, “I’m not enough” you would choose to believe that “God is enough” and because you are loved by him, that makes you enough?

What if instead of trying so hard to prove yourself and earn the approval of others you simply received what God has already done for you in Christ, and let that free you to live with the assurance that you are accepted by God?

What if rather than living a self-centered life, chasing the whims of your heart, trying to find fulfillment, you died to yourself and let your life get lost in the larger purposes of God—looking for ways to serve him and others?

What if rather than trying to be the author of your own life, you let God be the author, trusting that he’s a much better storyteller than you, anyway. And with humility say, “Let it be with me according to Your Story, God.  Here’s my heart—it is yours.  Form it, shape it, break it, heal it, renew it, transform it, stir it up, and make it more like Your heart.  Make me more than I can ever be on my own---for Your glory and for the sake of the world You so love.”

God, we don’t want to make you fit into our stories, because then the plot will be weak and the story will be small.  Instead, draw us up into your Story—your wild and adventurous and beautiful and courageous story of new creation—let this be the story that we finally discover what it means to truly get lost and found.  Amen.

Jordan ends with song, “Here’s My Heart” by David Crowder

[1] Rick Richardson