Tag Archive | Genesis

First Sunday in Lent, 2017

First Sunday in Lent, year A (preached 3/5/17)

first reading:  Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Psalm 32

second reading:  Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11


I’ve never liked the story of the “Fall.”  It holds up an ugly mirror for me, and for us all.  One commentator I was listening to this week said he didn’t like calling this event the “Fall” because that makes it easier to let ourselves off the hook.  We see it as a one-time event rather than as a story unfolding throughout time, that includes US, indeed is fundamentally about US.

He preferred to call this a story about our ongoing rebellion against God.  THIS is the ugly mirror.

We are all Adam – following someone else’s actions without much thought, then blaming our behavior on that person.

We are all Eve – led astray by grand promises, without examining if they’re even feasible.  And then again, blaming our behavior on someone else.

This story is a mess of ugliness.  But it doesn’t start out that way.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that in verses 15-17 a perfect order is set up by God.  In verse 15 human beings are given work to do – a vocation – to “till” and “keep” the garden.  In verse 16 we are given permit.  God gives the man and woman permission to “freely eat.”  And in verse 17 there is prohibition – the one thing they cannot do.

Brueggemann states, “These three verses together provide a remarkable statement of anthropology. Human beings before God are characterized by vocation, permission and prohibition…. Any two of them without the third is surely to pervert life.”¹

Our rebellion comes about when we think we can have a healthy relationship with God while neglecting any of the three.

Each of us is given a vocation in this life.  It may not be our “job” necessarily – vocation is more than just what we do to make a living.  Vocation is what we do with our life.  How we go about operating in the world.  The kind of person we are in and out of the specific jobs we’ve been given.

For Adam and Eve, their vocation was to “till,” to work the land, but it was also to “keep,” or care for it, which is more than simply plowing the fields.

And each of us is given tremendous freedom by God in our lives – permission.  We are not puppets.  God is not some puppeteer manipulating us like marionettes.  The man and woman were permitted to eat from any tree in the garden, and free to “till” and “keep” the garden however they wanted.

And we all live with prohibition.  There are certain things which are not good for us or for the community. We all need boundaries to keep us safe.  We all know the prohibition faced by Adam and Eve.  That’s where we almost always focus our attention – on what they could NOT do.

When we go against the grain of our vocation, when we abuse our freedom, when we neglect to follow boundaries – we find trouble – SIN.

That certainly happened for the man and the woman.  Their rebellion against God’s prohibition caused disruption even in their freedom and vocation.  Instead of following their vocation to “keep” the garden, they tore up plants to make coverings for themselves.  Instead of enjoying their freedom, in verse 8 they’re hiding from God because of their nakedness.

What tempted them?  We can never know Adam’s motives, but for Eve it was knowledge and power.  “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Those seem like good things to me, but the truth remains that the act crossed a boundary they were not allowed to cross.  They had a relationship of trust and obedience with God, and now the trust and obedience were crushed.

Brueggemann writes, “They had wanted knowledge rather than trust.  And now they have it.  They now know more than they could have wanted to know.  And there is no place to run.”²

Have you ever done something, and the second you’ve done it, you regret it?  I know I have.  And I can imagine that’s how Adam and Eve felt, but there was no going back.

Adam and Eve committed no “special” sin that caused God to send them out of the garden.  Their sin was not unlike sin that you and I are tempted with every day.  And like them, we lose.  We act in ways that do NOT reflect God to whom we belong.

We betray our vocation as Christians every time we put someone or something before God, every time we pass by a person who needs help, every time we harbor negative thoughts about any race or class of person who God created.

God has given us permission to enjoy creation and our fellow creatures.  But often we are just lazy.  Not only that, we also abuse our freedom through our mistreatment of creation AND our fellow creatures.

And none of us like rules.  Any kind of prohibition makes us bristle.  We don’t like being told what we cannot do. Never mind that most of the time prohibitions are there for our safety and for the safety of others.

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy we are each invited to special repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love – the discipline of Lent.  Today’s reading from Genesis invites us to see in Adam and Eve’s rebellion, our own rebellion.

Adam and Eve call us to reflect upon the ways in which we rebel against the vocation, permission and prohibition that characterize our relationship with God.  And to repent.  Not to point blame.  But to stand naked before God and say, “I’m sorry.  I confess.”

And then we experience a new and amazing freedom.  A freedom so profound it defies words – but the closest word we have to describe it is – GRACE.

Amen.

Adam and Eve, by Deeda

Adam and Eve, by Deeda


¹Genesis.  Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.  Walter Brueggemann.  John Knox Press, Atlanta; 1982, p. 46

²ibid, p. 49.

Second Sunday in Lent, 2016

Second Sunday in Lent, year C, 2016 (preached 2/21/16)

first reading:  Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Psalm 27

second reading:  Philippians 3:17-4:1

gospel reading:  Luke 13:31-35

 


Poor Abram had a long wait before him.

In our first reading this morning, God makes Abram a promise – “your very own (child) shall be your heir.”  God even took him out at night, had him look at the sky and told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.

God would repeat this promise to Abram more than once.  But a lot of LIFE happened between this first giving of the promise and it becoming a reality.  Abram and Sarai would wander and settle.  Out of desperation Sarai “gave” her slave Hagar to Abram so he could have a child with HER.  God would give circumcision as a sign of the covenant, and would change their names to Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham would bargain with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.  At one point, as they heard again the promise that they would have a son, Sarah LAUGHED.  Indeed, when their son was finally born, they named him Isaac, which means LAUGHTER.  In Genesis 20:6-7, Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

All told, they waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled for almost TWENTY FIVE years.  Like I said, a LONG wait for God to keep the promise.

I’m sure there were times when they thought all hope was lost.  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sums things up:  “Why and how does one continue to trust solely in the promise when the evidence against the promise is all around?”

We live in a world of promises.  People make them to us, and we make them to others.  In fact, we’re in the middle of a season of promises now, as the presidential campaigns are in full swing.  Candidates in both parties are practically promising us they’ll bring Eden!  Jobs, more money in our pockets, free college, less crime on our streets, the final collapse of terrorism – you name it, they’re promising it.  “All this can be yours if you just elect ME!”

Problem is, many of those promises won’t or can’t be kept.

But we make promises too.  Sometimes we make a promise KNOWING we can keep it, other times HOPING to keep it, and other times sadly, knowing we WON’T keep it.

We make BIG promises like the ones we make to our spouse when we get married, or the promises we make to God when our children are baptized.  We make LITTLE promises – or little to us, that may be a very big deal to the recipient.  A promise to take a child to the movies, a promise to call a friend, a promise to meet someone at a certain place at a certain time.  Or a promise that we’re telling the truth.

Promises are a big deal.  They are an earnest, sincere, SERIOUS statement of our intentions, or of another’s intentions toward us.  In a world where someone’s “word” still means something, promises require trust, and should not be made lightly.

In the end, Abram had faith, was able to trust God, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy in those 20+ years of waiting.  I’m sure Abram and Sarai had moments of doubt.

In our culture of instant gratification, waiting is barely tolerated – waiting for over 20 years for something is unthinkable.  And when we experience a delay we might not only get frustrated, we may also start to believe that maybe God has broken the promise.

But we need to remember that God is not beholden to our timetables.  God keeps promises on God’s time, not ours. We also have to be careful.  We need to distinguish between what God actually promises and what we simply want from God.  Those are two VERY different things.

Sometimes we get angry thinking God hasn’t kept a promise, when in reality it’s just that God hasn’t given us what we asked for.  Again, two very different things.  Here’s what God has NOT promised us:

God has never promised that we would have an easy life, a pain-free life, a life free from anxieties or suffering.  God has never promised that we would be respected,  or successful, or wealthy, or happy, or that our home life or work life or community life would be smooth sailing.

You know what St. Paul would call people who tell us that God ever promised things like those?  ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST.  He does so much in our second reading.

“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ….  Their god is the belly; and their glory is in shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”

Cross-FS

In reality, God has promised us very little.  But what God HAS promised us is HUGE.  And we, like Abram, trust and believe, even when the promise is only in the future, or not clear to the naked eye.

God HAS promised the savior, Jesus Christ.  God HAS promised that the Holy Spirit is in us.  God HAS promised that God loves us.  God HAS promised that God is present with us always.  God HAS promised that our sins are forgiven.  God HAS promised that there is a place prepared for us in heaven.

Now, these promises may not do anything to immediately solve our money problems or health problems, or relationship problems – and that may disappoint us.  But really they do MORE.  They give us a source of comfort, strength and courage to face the difficulties of this life.  They give us a foundation that steadies us no matter what comes our way.

This is what the cross is all about.  It’s about God understanding our suffering.  It’s God being WITH US, Emmanuel, in our suffering – walking through the valley of the shadow of death WITH US.

God’s promises may not give us those “earthly things” we WANT, but they give us more than we could ever dream of – they give us everything we NEED.

AMEN.

 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (year B), 2015 (preached 6/7/15)

first reading:  Genesis 3:8-15

Psalm 130

second reading:  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

gospel reading:  Mark 3:20-35


There’s an old saying that I’m sure most of us have heard before – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Our world has changed remarkably in the past one hundred years.  There have been amazing life-changing advancements – we’ve gone from riding on horses to speeding in cars and flying in planes, to sending people into space.

We have cures for diseases that used to threaten and kill.  Technology allows us to see our insides without a doctor having to make a single cut.  Encyclopedias and dictionaries are just about obsolete – if you want to know about something, just google it.

The world is indeed a different place, a changed place, from where it was just a hundred years ago.  And it is most certainly different than it was in the time when Jesus taught the crowds in parables.  And it is almost a completely different world than the one in which Adam and Eve lived.

But – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Raffaello (1483-1520)

Raffaello (1483-1520)

It is true that our outer lives, the stuff that surrounds us, differs dramatically from the time of the first people, but INSIDE, we see in our reading from Genesis, that since the beginning of the world itself, we have NOT changed very much.

All the technology and comforts that surround us have not been able to fix our human, instinctive desire to shirk from responsibility for our bad behavior.

Those of us who are parents, or who have cared for children, know this.  We “catch” children in a “wrong” activity, and one child says, “It’s not my fault, SHE made me do it!”  And the other says, “No, HE made me do it!”  Sound familiar?  Sounds an awful lot like Adam and Eve.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What do most adults in our day and age do when they are confronted with a fault within themselves, or something they shouldn’t have done?  We try to shift the blame off of ourselves, to move the responsibility for our bad behavior onto another person, or create some reason to excuse ourselves.

Adam – had the ultimate audacity.  He not only pointed the finger at Eve, he point his finger at GOD.

He didn’t just say, “The woman made me do it.”  He said, “The woman, whom YOU gave to be with me made me do it.”  In other words, “If you hadn’t given her to me Lord, I wouldn’t be in this trouble – so it’s really YOUR fault.” Sounds an awful lot like my son!  He also tries to make it MY fault when he does something wrong.

Eve doesn’t do much better.  She may not blame God for her mistake, but she also tries to point the blame elsewhere. “The serpent tricked me.”  “Don’t look at me Lord.  It’s not my fault.  It’s the serpent’s fault.”  Adam and Eve point the finger of blame at everyone but themselves.

But does it work?  Does God excuse Adam because Eve “made” him eat of the tree?  Does God excuse Eve because the serpent tricked her into eating from the tree?  Nope.  God holds all of them, even the serpent, responsible for their behavior, and the role they played in acting out the first sin:  disobedience – going against the direct command of God.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Human nature has changed very little over these thousands of years.  We still do the same, in our society, and even with God – even though we don’t have to.

Why are we so prone to running from our sins, trying to hide them, deny them even to ourselves and to God – when we have a God that is ready and wanting to forgive us?

None of us are without sin, without thoughts and actions we regret, things we wish we hadn’t done.  We confess this every Sunday at the beginning of worship.  “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” taken from the first letter of John.

But do we allow the deep meaning of those words to enter our hearts?  Do we use those words to confront ourselves, to humble ourselves before one another and before the Lord?  Or do we say those words and try not to think about it too much, or run from them altogether?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Adam and Eve learned the hard way that we can’t hide from God, and it’s impossible to run from ourselves.  I wonder why, age after age, we have to remind ourselves of this? Why do we run and hide, when through Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of ALL our sins and the gift of eternal life?

As we heard in our second reading, “we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” And, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

What wonderful words.  What wonderful promises.

They should make us unafraid to say, “Yes, I made this mistake.  I was WRONG.  I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.”

But just because the promises should make us unafraid, doesn’t mean they do.  Because – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When most of us think of the story of The Fall, we think of disobedience – the first sin – but perhaps a large part of it is also DENIAL.

Not the kind of denial that is the deep psychological inability to see something – the denial that is the cover up of what we know is wrong.

Political careers, stardom, and even everyday relationships are killed by that kind of denial – it’s been happening since Adam and Eve.

And it’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be.

For just as “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” is true of our fallen nature – the more things stay the same is also true of God’s natureforgiveness, given to us through Jesus Christ.

Amen.