19 PENTECOST, PROPER 22
There is a 12th Century manuscript that has a beautiful painting in it of Adam and all the animals God has brought to him to name. Adam is sitting on a high rock in the center and rows and rows of different animals stare up at him with blissful looks on their faces. He is the focal point and all the attention revolves around him. Except in the lower left corner where there is a cat carefully grooming herself, leg pointed up, and her back to Adam. Even in the 12th Century, people knew what cats were like.
This painting illustrates today’s reading. All the animals being created and brought to Adam to name. They are brought into relationship with Adam, but it is not an equal relationship.
In all the animal kingdom there was no equal partner for Adam. People think of dogs and cats and all manner of other animals as their partner, but they are not equal. They cannot go to the kitchen and make you dinner. They cannot argue philosophies with you. They cannot share an equal intimate relationship with you.
Don’t get me wrong, animals are great and they worm their ways into our lives and hearts like nothing else. They may even be in in charge of the relationship. Like the old joke about where dogs are allowed:
Dogs are not allowed in the house.
Dogs are allowed in the house when it rains but they live outside.
Dogs can be in the house but they sleep outside.
Dogs are allowed in the house but they are not allowed on the furniture.
Dogs are allowed on the sofa but they are not allowed on the bed.
Dogs are allowed on the bed but they sleep on the floor.
Dogs sleep at the foot of the bed but they are not allowed on the pillows.
Humans can use the pillows when I’m not sleeping on them.
Guess who’s got the upper hand in THAT relationship.
But it’s still not an equal relationship. The dog doesn’t take herself for walks nor feed herself her kibble. She doesn’t discuss things with you or help you make decisions.
Adam needed an equal partner.
So God made Eve to be a helpmate for Adam. The word “helpmate” comes from the King James version and it is a word used only twice in the Bible. The other time it refers to God as man’s helpmate.
So it is to be a special relationship.
Not like Adam’s relationship with the animals. Here was someone who could think and reason like he did.
But there’s a catch. It’s not always easy to be in an equal relationship. It requires work and reciprocity. You can’t be selfish in an equal relationship. You have to think of the other before you fulfill your own needs. And you have to be willing to apologize and make up when things go wrong.
And they will go wrong. Not even the best-intentioned person hasn’t hurt someone somewhere along the line. The question is have we apologized and made amends?
It’s not easy being in a relationship with another human being.
But that is the relationship God calls us to in this reading. A relationship of partners.
God not only calls us to a relationship of equals but God wants to be in the midst of that partnership as well. Every relationship, from our most intimate to our first nodding acquaintances, God wants to be there. We are to place the love of God squarely into how we deal with each other.
How do we do this? By being servants of each other. By becoming subject one to another.
There’s a great passage in Ephesians that usually only gets half read because alone it tends to subjugate women. But let’s look at the excerpts of the whole:
Wives be subject to your husbands
Husbands love your wives as your own bodies
Children obey your parents
Parents do not provoke your children
Remembering that this was a time when slavery was acceptable:
Slaves obey your masters
Masters remember you have a Master in heaven and your slaves as servants of God.
In other words, no matter what relationship you are in with someone, serve one another as a servant of the Lord.
Then God will be in the midst of our relationships -- being a servant, just as Christ was servant to his disciples when he washed their feet.
There is a way to practice this and it is set forth in a prayer attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is discord, union
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love.
We are to practice love, pardon, union, faith, hope, light, joy, consoling, and understanding.
That’s quite a list, but as Christians it will help bring God into our relationships. Practicing each of these virtues helps us come closer to God and to the person we are in relationship with. Having Godly relationships means having good relationships, whether they are close or casual, and having good relationships makes our lives better.
And that’s what it boils down to isn’t it? A better life. Jesus promises us that we should have life, and not just life but abundant life. Not in terms of material goods but in terms of a relationship with God and a relationship with others.
But it takes work. Work on our relationship with God and our relationship with others -- specific work on love, joy, hope, understanding and all those others.
These things don’t happen spontaneously. And it’s easier for some people than for others. But it’s required of all of us that we try.
Having a relationship with God should lead us to have a relationship with other people, and having a relationship with people should lead us to God. For Christians, the two are intertwined.
And it’s not that we’re always successful, but it’s that we work on all our virtues. Practice.
Practice doesn’t mean we get it right all the time, it means we try. And we are pardoned when we don’t get it right.
The important thing is to have relationships -- we weren’t created to be alone. We were created to be with other people, not solitary. We were created to be with God -- we are spiritual people.
Being with people, being with God -- relationships that make us who we are.
And who we are are people of God -- Christians striving to do well and be who God created us to be.