Different Opinions

Rev. Timothy B. Tutt, Senior Minister
Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ

Sunday, June 22, 2014, 10:00 AM

“Different Opinions”
Genesis 1 and 2

 My friends and former neighbors, Jenny and Brian, have two smart, interesting, talented teenaged sons.  On Father’s Day, Jenny posted this on her Facebook page: 

Happy Father's Day to Brian -- our boys have a wonderful, loving father in you. Thank you for going on all the Boy Scout campouts that you couldn't pay me to go on, for taking [the boys] to political rallies and groovy concerts, for being a model of what it means to be a person of faith, and for your ever-present humor and thoughtfulness. You're a good dad.

That’s a very nice Father’s Day note for a mother to post about a father. What’s interesting about that is that Brian and Jenny are divorced.   About five years ago, after being married almost twenty years, they separated and divorced.

 Over the years, I talked to the two of them.  They were in our house, we were in theirs.  I saw them at neighborhood events and Boy Scout meetings and other events.   They talked about the complications of divorce and their efforts to do their very best for their sons.  But in the years that I knew them, I never heard either Jenny or Brian say a cross word about the other.   The reason for their divorce was the classic description: Irreconcilable differences.   And maybe that is what they told the court. Whatever the legal description of their marital differences, they have lived with the grace to not air those differences publicly.

Which raises some questions:   What do we do with differences?  What do we do with differences of opinion? 

Differences, disagreements happen all the time. 

The class I’m leading after worship during June is entitled, “What the UCC Believes,” but it could easily be entitled, “What the UCC disagrees about.” 

Over the centuries, Christians have had rip-roaring disagreements over matters of theology.  Christians have different views about the Virgin Birth, the meaning of resurrection, the role of the Bible and on and on.   At one point, Christians fought over whether one should cross oneself with two fingers or three.  I’ve even heard of some church members who have different opinions about whether you should have a sounding board above your pulpit or not.

People have differences of opinion about all manner of things:  about economic policy, who to vote for on Tuesday, what Washington’s NFL Team should be called, which way the toilet paper should unfurl off the roll.   In Iraq we are seeing the deadly consequences of differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

 How do we live with differences of opinion, with disagreement?

One answer is found in the opening pages of our Bible. 

Genesis Chapter 1 tells an epic story of creation:  In the beginning God created Light. Then, God created the Sky and the seas. God created plants and stars. On the sixth day God created animals, and God created humans. Then on the seventh day, God rested.  Genesis 1 is a stately, orderly, poetic telling of creation. 

Then you read Genesis Chapter 2, and the story is told again, only in a different order and style.  Genesis 2 says God created a male human first.  Then God created a garden.  After that, God created animals and birds. And then God created female human.  Genesis 2 tells a more wandering, flowing creation story.

 I remember the first time I ever heard this.  I remember the impression it made on me.  So I want you to hear this.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before.  But if you’ve forgotten, or if you’ve never heard this, you need to know:  The Bible has two creation stories. 

Genesis 1 and 2 are different stories written by different people at different times that have different views of how the world came to be.

To understand how we got two different creation stories, we need to know a bit about how we got the Bible.

 Let’s start by saying the Bible is complicated book.  The process of compiling the Bible was complicated.   And let’s also remember that life is complicated.

For a long time, people assumed that the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – the Torah, in Judaism – were written by the same person.  In the 1800s, scholars reading those books of the Bible in Hebrew noticed some things.  They noticed that, throughout those five books, there are different styles of writing.  And the different styles seem to have different themes.  And there amid the different styles and themes, the names for God change.  So scholars in the 1800s determined that the Torah was written by at least four authors.  For technical reasons, they named those four authors J, E, P and D.[i]  And then someone said, not only were their four authors, there was also an editor who compiled the books. They nicknamed the editor R, for the German word redaktor.

And what the R did, what the editor who compiled the opening books of the Bible did, in several places, was to take contradictory stories and put them side by side.

 So we ended up with two creation stories back to back, Genesis 1 and 2, telling versions about how life began, sitting right next to each other.  (If you ask me, that sounds like church:  People who have different ideas, sitting right next to each other.) 

In addition to the two creation stories, there are other contradictions in the Bible – One verse says the people of Israel lived in in Egypt for 400 years; another verse says it was 350 years.   One story in the Bible says that Noah collected two of each animal to go on the ark; another story says he gathered seven of some animals. One description of Solomon in the Bible says he had 3000 horses; another places says he 30,000 horses.  One story in the Bible says David killed Goliath.  Another story says Elhanan killed Goliath.

What do we do with those differences?  

Some people have said, “Well, the Bible is full of crazy nonsense,” and they’ve given up on it entirely.   And some people look at the human race and say, “People are full of crazy nonsense,” and so they go off and live alone in a cabin in the woods.

Other people look at the Bible and try to harmonize the whole thing.  They spend hours and years and lives trying to squeeze and twist the Bible to one, certain view of thing.  Those people argue and fuss and exert energy trying to prove their point and convince others to believe things just the way they do.  Those people can be edgy and argumentative. And they to tend to start religious wars and to be fond of excommunication.

Other people look at the Bible and said, “Well, what do you know?  There are two creation stories sitting side by side in the Book of Genesis. There are different stories about Noah’s ark. Different stories about Goliath.”  Those people may read the different stories and realize, the stories don’t point fingers at each other.  The stories don’t say, “Read me, read me, I’m the right story.”  Instead, they just sit there – Genesis 1 and 2 – with different opinions.  And with their differences, they make up what we call sacred scripture.

And some people live with grace, despite their irreconcilable differences.  Some people look at the differences of opinion all around them and they said, “Isn’t that how life is?  And isn’t that how people are?  Isn’t that how creation is?  We are not a single cell.  We are not a single idea.  Instead, we are an ecosystem, a complex community of beautiful, complicated organisms interacting as a system.

On Tuesday of this week, I had the privilege of officiating at a wedding.  Two men, friends of Amy’s and mine, who have been together for 35 years.  They were on vacation in DC and decided to get married, since the laws of our land are catching up with the depth of their love.

I was trying to decide what scripture to read at their wedding.  I thought of the famous love chapter from I Corinthians, “love is patient, love is kind.”  Then I thought, “No, people read that at wedding all the time.” 

But before the wedding I opened my Bible and I read the entire book of I Corinthians.  The Book of I Corinthians is a giant story about disagreements and differences of opinion.  The church at Corinth argued about sexual purity, they disagreed about who may marry whom, they disagreed about the role of women in their church, they argued about whether men need to be circumcised or not.  They had different opinions about speaking in tongues.  The argued about who was more important in their group – teachers or preacher or healers or organizers.

The Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to them responded by saying, in effect, “People are different.  But you are all members of the body of Christ.”  And then he wrote, “And now I will show you a more excellent way.  No matter what gist I have, not matter what my skills and abilities are, no matter what I do,” Paul wrote, “if I do not have love, I am nothing.

“Love,” he said, “is the more excellent way.  Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way.  Love bears all things.  Love believes all things.  Love hopes all things.  Love endures all things.  Love never ends.”

 Yes, humans are different.  We disagree.  We contradict.  We are complicated.

But we were created to love.

We were created to love each other, to love God, and to love the world.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

 

 

[i] J is for Jahweh (the name one write used for God).  E is for Elohim, the name another writer used for God.  P is for a Priestly writer, one who was interested in worship.  D is for the Deuteronomistic writer.  Julius Wellhausen and others developed this theory in the 1800s. The theory has been questioned, refined, debated, added to over the decades.