22 November 2017
Genesis 2:15-17;3:1-7 The Garden of Eden
Matthew 4:1-11 The temptations of Christ
Romans 5:12-19 The free gift following many trespasses brings justification
Way back in the mists before memory began, , we are told there is a garden. A beautiful garden , which the Lord himself has planted and where he lives and rests in the presence of other divine creatures, cherubium and flaming sword . It is a place of abundant fertility, and contains wondrous things such as talking animals, and subterranean springs which provide life giving water which supplies the whole earth.. There are supernatural trees of great beauty offering divine gifts of wisdom and life. The first human looks after this garden of God. This is the setting of the story where the events will unfold.
The story of the garden of Eden is a classic story of the Christian tradition. Though the centuries it has gathered all sorts of interpretations which are not necessarily supported by the passage itself., As we look at this story at the beginning of Lent we will not be able to answer the questions that have preoccupied theologians for centuries. How is Adam's sin passed on to other humans? What would have happened to Adam and the woman if they had not eaten of the forbidden fruit? What was the talking serpent? In fact I suspect all these questions are red herrings to keep us from facing ourselves. And those who want to look at this historically, wondering about where Eden was, risk losing in irrelevant details the depth and richness of the truths the story is trying to impart. For this story is our story, the human story.
We who are so steeped in Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin in our western Christian tradition with its emphasis [ not necessarily biblical] on original sin need to know that there are other interpretations.
In the Orthodox Christian tradition the story is interpreted as positive. As being a picture of humankind and us coming of age. growing up, acquiring the knowledge of good and evil, and being sent to live in the real world, where the soil is hard and life is tough. How we become aware that we have the power of choice and our choices make a difference to all creation. Don't we want our children to know the difference between good and evil? Why would God not want humanity to know the same?
What ever tradition the story tells us that
Our capacity to choose is powerful. It contains great potential for harm as well as good. And it is God-like. Perhaps, sin is when we ignore our power of choice - taking it for granted, just doing the obvious thing , like everyone else.
Maybe not exercising our power of choice is itself sin and can lead to the greatest harm for ourselves and others.
Which brings us back to the Garden and the crafty talkative wild serpent. Now the serpent was more crafty," says the Bible. Crafty is a double edged word can be good can be bad, prudent, clever all can have double meanings.
Our subtle serpent twists God?s words. "Did God say, 'You
shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
No, that wasn?t what God said, only one tree was forbidden.
The woman got it wrong, too. She quoted God: "'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'"
God did not prohibit touching. In fact they could eat from all the other trees, except one.
Why do humans get hung up on the one desirable object rather than the enormous good God gives us.
Her attention is captured by the fruit, Be in no doubt about this, it was good fruit - it was made by God, top quality stuff. But was she ready for it?
"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, she took of its fruit and ate." It seemed the prudent thing to do.
As for the man, well there?s not much to say about him. the man was as passive as the woman was active. She rationalised. He was with her all through this. He took.. He took the forbidden fruit and ate anyway"
But, prudent people know that to get along, one has to go along with the flow, and that?s what the man did. The serpent tempted. The humans took and ate. Their eyes were opened. They saw that they were naked, they realised that they had something to hide. So they did the prudent thing and put on some clothing.
Strolling in the garden in the cool of the evening God looks for his companions. Then its sheer slapstick.
Where are you ? The man and the woman were hiding in their fig leaves.
What happened? . .God knows, God always sees into our evasions.
The man is shrewd. He blames the woman and also blames God. The woman whom YOU gave me. The woman is shrewd. She blames the serpent.
God was smart, did what was wise, and removes the two of them from the garden. Or rather, the man and the woman wrecked their paradise by blaming each other for their failings instead of facing up to what they?d done and accepting their God given responsibility for their own actions..
Can a human race that deals with its failings by scapegoating others ever live in Eden?
Its an irony that the most common interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve is human suffering is all their fault. For the first 1500 years of Christian history, the church, run by celibate males, pointed mostly to the woman, Eve and blamed human suffering on women and sex. We're a little more inclusive since then, and a little less anti-sex, but still, the most common interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3 still blames Adam and Eve for our present circumstances. Or if we?re not blaming Adam and Eve, we?re blaming that crafty snake. Either way, we?re finding someone and something else to blame for our problems. Either way, we are scapegoating as surely as Adam and Eve were scapegoating.
This story is our story - we are responsible for our choices and the consequences as a society and as the human race.
All human beings come into the world thinking that they are the center of the universe and that no boundaries really apply to them. A baby is concerned with nothing else than having its immediate needs met.. This "instinct for self-preservation" is part of God?s creation. We do not see anything sinful in a baby?s cry when she is hungry. But. It is one thing for a week old baby to demand that her world serve her; it is quite another thing for an 18-year-old (or a 40-year-old!) to make the same demands. We need to come of age, to grow up.
At its most fundamental level, this is the nature of sin. The human tendency to be responsible to no one but self and serving no ends but self-satisfaction. In this sense, it is "original," because it lies at the very heart of who we are as human beings. -
There is no concern in the story with how a single ("original") sin by the couple could contaminate humanity. There is only the recognition that all the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve -live East of Eden; that is, that all human beings enter God?s world, made good, with the capacity to choose, but tend to exercise that freedom toward selfish ends and bring disharmony and chaos into the world. Sin, then, is not something outside human beings that operates apart from human decision; it is personal, communal and relational. Neither is it a flaw in God?s creation; our freedom is a fact of who we are, a gift of God. It is our perversion of this gift, the infantile grasping of this freedom to ourselves, the refusal to turn away from our self-oriented desire for the one forbidden tree and "grow up" into responsible, God-oriented and other-oriented persons, that is sin.
The story also introduces us to God's grace.
The couple do not die but are given clothes more suitable for their needs . This God shows mercy and forgivenness - grace.
And God does not stay in the garden but accompanies the humans into the world.
We see that freely given grace in Jesus who exercises his freedom of choice in the wilderness of Judah. As Jesus struggles to understand what he was called to do and how to do it. He resists the shrewd enticements of another adversary.
To control, to do good, to control to do good quickly , to be in control and work miracles, to fix things, must be one of the most tempting fruits ever offered. But Jesus said , that is God's perogative and said No! He offered his freedom to follow where God called.
We are not asked to return to Eden, to become innocent like the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, We are asked to grow and become fully human like Jesus, knowing what is good and what is evil and making the choices which bring new life to our world.
For he having made a choice to give up his own life, invites you and me to take his way of life which lasts and brings new life and hope to the world.
Many references went into this
But thankyou for particular quotes from Chris Lockley, Dennis Bratcher , and others in the PCRL discussion list.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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