Sermon for September 9, 2018

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
September 9, 2018

Scripture: Genesis 3:1-24, Ezekiel 28:13-18

For the next few months, the scripture readings that we will focus on in worship are ones that both the Narrative Lectionary and the Common Lectionary avoid. It is common practice for many if not most Catholic and Protestant Churches to follow one of these, which means that passages omitted are seldom shared in those churches. It is curious to me that this morning’s passage from Genesis is one of those omitted particularly since this story and the theology that follows it are pretty important in much of orthodox Christianity. This adventure that Adam and Eve have in the garden is often referred to as humanity’s “Fall” which is due to their apparent “sin.” One of the interesting facts about the story is that neither the word fall nor the word sin ever appear in this passage. The story goes like this. God says to Adam, “Don’t eat the fruit or you will die.” The serpent encourages Eve to eat and she does, then Eve offers it to Adam and the rest is history. But notice, God does not carry out God’s threat. Fortunately, Adam and Eve live to tell about it. The garden is the perfect place, idyllic as it can be, that is until Adam and Eve dare to question, dare to be curious, dare to do something that will make them self-conscious. The passage brings up for me more questions than answers and perhaps that is why it is excluded from the normal lectionaries.

I found myself turning back a few pages in the book of Genesis, to the Creation story found in Genesis 1, a description of God’s Creation on the 6th day. “Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. So, God created humankind in God’s image, male and female God created them. God blessed them. And God saw everything that God had made, and indeed it was very good.”
From the beginning we are told that we are made in God’s image and that as God looked upon us and I would dare still does look upon us and declares this is very good.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked a little bit about dependence and independence. That little children are dependent upon us for just about everything. Our job as parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and teachers is to boldly love them and try to keep them safe and out of harm’s way. Oh how we wish we could protect them from the hard things of life. We want them to be innocent for as long as possible. But life happens, a pet dies, a best friend finds someone else, a disappointment arises, or a parent has a different idea than the child does about a behavior, and there is a subsequent consequence. It is complicated as children age and as they begin to declare independence. And most parents react. They want their child to be safe. They want their child to be obedient. They want their child to avoid the pain of failure. We all deal with this in a different way. Some become helicopter parents, some make stricter rules, most spend some time pulling their hair out. When such chaos enters our orbit, we long to be in Camelot. We wish we could go back to the garden where things were simple and peaceful. Perhaps you remember Joni Mitchell singing in the 60’s, “And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

This poem by Harold Stern, entitled Saying Good-by speaks
I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us with our feelings,
as I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her,
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts, her smiling faceand her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.

This is a place where I connect with this passage. I see a God who so wants to protect, who so wants us to obey, and like any good parent even goes to the place of threatening punishment, but to no avail. The forbidden fruit is eaten.

We are told we are made in the image of God, made according to God’s likeness. We dream about simplicity, about a place where there is no pain, a place where children will obey us. But that is not the nature of human life. And I think in some ways this passage is a snapshot of that truth. There is good and evil, there is joy and suffering, there is life and death.

What would it be like to be in a relationship, when your most fundamental task would be to obey another? To be enslaved, never having a choice, if something was asked that made you feel uncomfortable? Where would the sense of adventure be, where would one discover one’s own gifts, one’s own joy? In fact, I think a real healthy relationship cannot occur when this is the dynamic. And yet especially in raising children, there have to be some boundaries, some rules, for safety’s sake, so that one can grow into a more mature being.

The writers of Spill the Beans share these words: “Once Adam and Eve have eaten they recognize the dualism of existence between life and death and good and evil which they did not know before. This is maturity. God said that by eating the fruit they would surely die, and that is exactly what happens in terms of the innocent perfection and dependence of childhood: it comes to an end. When you begin questioning the “perfection” of the world, in effect eating the forbidden fruit, then the world is discovered not to be so simple. Paradise has been lost. The rest of the Bible is about the maturing relationship that then develops.”

God did not live up to his promise, if indeed it was a literal one to kill them, and it seems pretty clear that he forgave them, sending them out into the world. He still looked and saw that it was indeed very good. And isn’t that how we also look at our children? They disobey us, we threaten to take their phones away for a zillion years, we stay up and talk, we tell them that the reason we are so scared is because we want them to be okay and we find ourselves watching them, when they don’t suspect it, and are filled again with such love. We find a way somehow for forgiveness also, because you see we are made in the image of God.

Somehow as I look at the passage from this perspective I don’t see the “Fall” or do I see horrible sin. I witness a relationship doing its dance to health and maturity. But there is one other piece of this story which we can’t ignore. It’s part that some say is the real reason God was so mad.

So we are in the part of the story where God asks, Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? Notice the responses. Adam immediately blames Eve: She gave me the fruit. And then Eve blames the serpent, He tricked me, and I ate. What does God require? Somehow, I don’t think it is perfection. We will make mistakes, but maturity only starts to come to us when we take responsibility for those mistakes, when we acknowledge the pain that it causes another. When we do take responsibility for our actions and our mistakes, the probability that we will have deep and enriching relationships increases substantially.

Is this a story about disobeying God, and a resulting breach between God and us, or is it a story about coming into maturity, about acknowledging that paradise might be lost, and pain might come and failure is a possibility, but out of that the treasures and beauty of life become real. Are we not buoyed by the knowledge that we are made in God’s image, and that God sees us as very good and that even when we eat forbidden fruit we are sent back into the world?

At the end of the 6th day, God looked and behold- he declaled that what he had made was very good. Could it be that Jesus came to remind us of that truth- to remind us of God’s unconditional love?

Amen