When I was growing up in Indiana, we always had a garden in our backyard. It’s a great memory because while I don’t recall having to do all that much work in the garden, I do remember eating all of the wonderful vegetables that we got from it. In particular I remember having so many tomatoes that my dad and I would eat them like an apple.
Amy had gardens too when she was growing up. However, during our married life we have never had one. Really, there are four reasons for this. They are named Timothy, Matthew, Abigail and Michael. We would have had a garden when we lived in Brookfield, IL, but before we had been there very long we had the twins and needless to say that put everything else in life on hold.
When we moved to Marion our backyard initially wasn’t conducive to a garden because of trees, and of course then we had Michael. The inland hurricane and the clean up that followed took care of all but one of those trees. And now the kids are old enough so that instead of hindering activities they can actually help out with a garden. So, if all goes according to plan, that despised sweet gum tree will be coming down and a garden will go in by next spring.
In the meantime, this summer, we have made a very small start. Amy bought a tomato plant, a cherry tomato plant and a green pepper plant that are in pots on the deck. Matthew, Abigail and Michael have taken on the job of tending these plants, and I would not have thought it was possible for three plants to produce so much excitement. Every morning the first thing they do is to go out of the deck and water the plants. They carefully inspect them to see how they are doing, whether they have produced new blossoms, and how the fruit on them is growing. And then they come inside and share a detailed report about what is happening with the plants.
For the kids, tending the tomato and green pepper plants is enjoyable – it is something they want to do. And when we hear in our text this morning that God put Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it,” we should probably have a very similar image in mind. Our text teaches us that we were created to work – that this is part of our God given purpose and that it is something in which we are intended to find fulfillment. The fact that for us, work can be drudgery, gives us insight into how sin has changed things. And from our text, we also get a better sense of the hope that awaits us.
Genesis chapters one and two provide the foundation for all that follows it in the Scriptures. Now I’m not trying to be “Captain Obvious” here. Of course, these are the first events narrated in the Bible. But more than that, I am talking about the manner in which Genesis one and two establish the way we are to think about the creation God has made and the bodily existence God has given to us.
God makes a material creation – he makes a world made out of “stuff.” It is a place of water and land; a place of plants and animals. And the text of Genesis leaves us in no doubt about God’s assessment of this material creation. As God makes the creation in Genesis one, six times we hear the refrain that it was “good.” This reaches its crescendo on the sixth day when we hear in the last verse of the chapter, “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.’
In our text from chapter two Moses gives us a close up look at the creation of Adam. Here again, you can’t miss how important the “stuff” is. We hear, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God creates a material body and breathes into that body the breath of life, and in that unity Adam becomes a living being. Or as we express things on the basis of what Jesus says, we are the unity of body and soul.
Then we learn that God planted a garden and put Adam there. Adam lived a bodily existence. He was located in a place. And he had a vocation – he had work to do. We read, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Adam was there to care for the Garden. But there was nothing onerous about this work. Instead it was fulfilling – the fulfillment of the purpose God had given to Adam.
Everything we have talked about so far is material – it involves the “stuff” God had made – good stuff. And the same thing was true when it came to the way Adam worshipped God. We learn in our text that God commanded Adam, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
God gave Adam an abundance of food. And then for his material creature who was located in a place, he gave one command about a tree in a place. He commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God located one thing in Eden by which Adam worshipped him. Adam demonstrated that he feared, loved and trusted God by obeying him and not eating of that tree.
Of course, things didn’t stay that way. Adam and Eve decided that they weren’t satisfied with limitations as creatures. They weren’t going to listen to God. They weren’t going to obey God. Tempted by Satan they sought to be God – to become more than what God had made them to be. And in doing so they found themselves plunged into limitations they never could have imagined. Their life was now limited by death. Their joy was limited by sickness and pain. And their experience of work was limited by drudgery – work became real work.
Your life now follows the same course as Adam and Eve. You refuse to listen to God and to obey him. You refuse to put God first as you focus upon yourself. You refuse to love and honor your spouse as you look out for yourself. You refuse to help and support those around you and instead help yourself. And work? Well, work is real work.
Because that has been the way of life for Adam and you, and everyone else since the Fall, God acted to provide the remedy for sin. But when he did so, he didn’t ignore all that he had done in Genesis chapters one and two. Instead, he redeemed your material and bodily existence by sending his Son to take part in it. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary the Son of God entered into this world and lived your bodily existence. As Paul told the Colossians, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Jesus Christ came as the second Adam. He came so that as Adam was overcome by the temptation of a tree, Jesus might overcome sin by obedience that led to the tree of the cross.
And then on third day Jesus overcame death as he rose from the dead. He emerged from the tomb – not just alive once again. He emerged with a body transformed so that it can never die again. Death was swallowed up in immortality as the second Adam began the new creation.
This is what Jesus Christ has done to win you forgiveness. And when it came time to give you the forgiveness won through incarnation, God didn’t ignore all that he had done in Genesis chapters one and two either. Instead, he chose to use material means that are located in your midst. In Holy Baptism he uses water in the font as you share in Jesus’ saving death for the forgiveness of your sins. And that water poured on your body guarantees that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will raise and transform your body too.
In the Sacrament of the Altar he uses bread and wine at the altar. Through the power of his creative word, Christ uses that bread and wine to give you his true body and blood. He puts into your mouth the very price he paid for your salvation. And by doing so he guarantees that he will raise and transform your body too, for Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
In Christ, through the work of the Spirit in the washing of regeneration and renewal, you already are a new creation. The new man in you seeks to live in the ways that God intended. And so work takes on a new perspective. Now because we live in the “not yet” of the fallen world; and because we still have the struggle against the old Adam, work has not ceased to be work. At times and places there still is drudgery.
But now, just as God placed Adam in the garden to work it and keep it, we begin to see our work within God’s broader purposes. We begin to see that God is actually working through us to care and provide for our neighbor. The seemingly mundane becomes freighted with the divine. God’s work and purpose is seen in the midst of the ordinary.
This work is not merely the work of a job that brings home a paycheck. It is the work of vocation. It is the work of a husband and father who takes up the role of being spiritual head of the house - who sets the tone that the Divine Service and family devotions are key things in our life; it is the work that seeks to put the needs of his wife and children before his own, even when that interferes with time in the “man cave.” It is the work of a wife and mother who who cares for her children in the middle of the night and seeks to meet her husband’s sexual needs even when she isn’t entirely in the mood and
Now this isn’t always easy. It isn’t always fun. But we are able to do it in hope. Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the human experience. Where there is hope we are able to keep doing, to keep going. He have hope because of the resurrection of Jesus. In fact Peter said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
In fact, we have a hope that extends beyond our own bodies to creation itself. For you see, the Bible ends in the same way as it begins. In Genesis chapters one and two we learn about human bodily existence in the very good creation God had made. And in Revelation chapters twenty one and twenty two we learn about the restoration of what God intended. After the resurrection we learn about the new heaven and the new earth, and the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.
There John sees Eden restored – he sees heaven on earth. He says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.” We live in the hope of the resurrection and the renewed creation in which everything will be very good once again. And that is a hope that enable us to live each day faithfully in the callings that God has given to us.