In The Beginning - Week Three: "Falling and Rising"
This week we are continuing our sermon series entitled, "In The Beginning," a study on the Creation account in Genesis that is meant to help us prepare for the possibilities and potential of this brand new year.
As we've discovered, making and keeping resolutions for a new year can be a tricky proposition. Very few of us actually keep the resolutions that we make. In fact, I would venture to guess that several of you---other people--have already broken resolutions that you made so hopefully on January 1st!
To that end, we've identified a theme to this series that we've been coming back to each week: This year isn't just a chance to make a new resolution, it's a chance to be a new creation."
Last week we left the story of Creation at the conclusion of Genesis chapter 2 and the introduction of two trees and a choice. Genesis chapter 2 tells us that God placed two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the story, God tells the first humans not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but gives them no prohibitions agains eating from the Tree of Life.
We always have a choice, don't we? We can choose to live, to truly live. Or we can choose to not live fully, which can lead to death or worse. We can choose to see the world through the lens of hope, or we can choose to be cynical and hopeless.
Here's the thing... Choosing to be hopeful doesn't mean that you are blind to the hopelessness in the world. Choosing to focus on beauty doesn't mean that there isn't ugliness in the world. In fact, as we discovered last week, the beauty sometimes helps us clearly distinguish the ugliness that needs to be transformed. Choosing to see the goodness in the world doesn't mean that we can't see that the world isn't as it should be.
So, with that in mind let me ask you a question... "What breaks your heart about this world?"
Is there something about this world that just brings you to tears, or to your knees? Is it when you realize how many children are dying of hunger all around the world? That most of the world's population doesn't have clean water? Human trafficking, drug addiction, extreme poverty? Maybe what breaks your heart is that there are people who need to know Jesus, but there is no one to tell them how much he loves them... or they have been so hurt by supposed followers of Jesus that they won't listen...
What breaks your heart about this world?
And this leads us to another, deeper and more difficult question... "How did the world get that way?"
Lots of Christians would answer that question by pointing to Genesis chapter 3. "There!" they'll say, "This is where it all started! This is where Adam and Eve messed up and got us into this mess."
And this is why we are going to dig around a bit in the story itself--so we can see what the Bible has to say about what many Christians call "The Fall."
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
The serpent in the ancient world was often a symbol of death, wisdom, fertility, health or chaos. There was an ancient Sumerian god, whose stories would have been contemporary with the Genesis account that was in the shape of a serpent. In the Gilgamesh epic, another contemporary story with the Genesis account, a serpent snuck up and ate the life-giving plant that Gilgamesh, the hero of the story, retrieved from the bottom of the cosmic river. Jewish interpreters have also seen the serpent as a spirit of rebellion or temptation. It's interesting in the story that neither Adam nor Eve seem too surprised that the serpent could talk.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Here the serpent contradicts God's words. He tells Eve, "You're not really going to die. All God wants to do is to keep you from becoming like him. He told you that to scare you." What the serpent doesn't say is that there are lots of ways to experience death--the death of hope, innocence, and the like.
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Immediately, Adam and Eve are aware they are naked. It's like when your kid is like four years old and they don't care whether they have on pants or not and just run around the house when you have visitors. But all of a sudden they get a little older and start hiding when they can't find their pants.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
The "cool of the day" is also an ancient Akkadian term. Akkadian is an ancient language that was written and spoken during the time that the Genesis account was being passed down from generation to generation. The term "cool of the day" also could mean "storm," which has to do with impending judgement.
9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
This could also mean, "What has driven you from me?"
10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11
When the man says, "I heard the sound of you," that could also mean "I obeyed you, don't do anything harsh!" Which is completely a lie.
He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Everyone wants to play the blame game here... more on this later.
14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring[e] and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for[f] your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
We need to point out something very important about this passage. There is no indication that there is a permanent rupture of God's relationship with humans here. In fact, God goes on to clothe them, and care for them. If we continue reading, we discover that the humans are cast out of the Garden of Eden and are not allowed to return.
Additionally, we need to ask if being "cast out" is a punishment or merely a consequence of their new awareness--an awareness that resulted in their loss of innocence and their willfulness. Being cast out of the Garden means that there will be pain in childbirth for the woman, hard work and toil for the man, struggle to live, awareness of death... lots of awesomeness.
This was never God's intention for those created in his image. Which leads a lot of people who read this story to say things like, "It's all their fault!"
Which leads us back to the whole "blame game."
In the story, Adam blames Eve and then he blames God. "The woman did this---the woman you gave me. I was fine before she showed up! Listen, she's cute and all---but don't hang this on me, bro. If it wasn't for her, I would have been just fine."
Then Eve blames the serpent. "Are you kidding me? I was just being a good wife and helper. This serpent came up to me and told me a bunch of things that weren't true---how was I to know it was lying? I mean who doesn't trust a talking snake, am I right?"
Things sort of unraveled from there over time. Lots of ancient biblical interpreters placed the blame for the fall of humankind squarely on Eve's shoulders. John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, blamed Eve then blamed Adam for listening to Eve and for not throwing Eve under the bus sooner.
Now we all blame these two people---even people who don't really believe this story. IF things hadn't gotten screwed up THEN we wouldn't be in this mess NOW.
So where do you place the blame?
Do you blame Adam and Eve for all of the things that are wrong in the world? Do you place the blame on all of those other people who don't believe like you do, because clearly if they did--the world would be just like the Garden of Eden again. Do you blame the Democrats? The Republicans? Do you blame Muslims? Christians? Jews? Do you blame the news media?
Where do you place the blame?
Let me tell you something that may sting a little to hear... God knows, it makes me feel like I'm scraped up and being doused in Bactine...
If you're blaming things---you're not changing things.
You can read the story in Genesis 3 and throw up your hands and say, "If this is what I have to work with, then what's the point?" You can keep on blaming things---or you can decide to start changing things.
Let's go back to the question we asked earlier: "What breaks your heart about this world?"
Only let me add another question to that question: "What are you going to do about it?"
Are you going to keep blaming things or start changing things?
If the idea of children starving in this world breaks your heart, you can keep on blaming the system, lack of awareness, people who don't want to see the problem---or you can stop blaming things and start changing things. Every week we feed people in our community. We hand out sack lunches so that those in need can have something to eat when they go home at night. Once, when we first started this program, one of our volunteers handed a sack lunch to two little girls. The older girl turned to her sister and said, "We can eat tonight."
If the idea of people who are lost and far from God breaks your heart--you can keep on blaming the church for messing up the Gospel, your schedule for keeping you from being more available to share the Good News---or you can stop blaming things and start changing things. A lady who comes to our weekly meal and clothes closet told my wife Merideth that when she first started coming here, she was wounded and hurt and not in a good place with God. She sat next to a man one day who began sharing the joy of Jesus Christ in his life with her. She took the first step back, and then another, and then another... On the day she told my wife this story she wrote our church a check for $20. This check for $20 was like $20,000 to some of our church members. But all it took was one guy, to take five minutes out of his day to share the good news with someone far from God.
I could go on and on. If broken families break your heart, you could keep on blaming things or start changing things. There are so many ways you can volunteer, give and lend your time, talent and treasure to help strengthen families at our church. Maybe it's time to start.
Does your heart break for the poor? For single moms? For children who are failing in school? For at-risk kids, who the system has given up on? For the sick and dying? You can keep on blaming things or you can start changing things.
This year, my brothers and sisters isn't just a chance to make a new resolution, it's a chance to be a new creation.