March 1, 2020

2020 March1

 

First Sunday in Lent - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The Fall of Man: that is what the story from Genesis is entitled. The story of Adam, Eve, the Serpent and the Apple is the origin of the Doctrine of Original Sin. Because of the eating of the apple, all humans are prone to sin and in need of redemption and reconciliation to God.

 

Last month, we grappled with Evil and with Free Will. Both of those concepts stem from the story of The Fall. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by their own free human choice. Once they made that choice, their lives, and the lives of every human being who came after them was dramatically changed from the ideal life into which they were created. Sin is now part of what it means to be human. And whether or not we believe these early Bible stories, whether or not they really happened, they are provided for us to try to understand who we are as individuals and as humanity, and to try to understand our relationship with God.

 

The idea that humans are inherently sinful has been found in Sumerian and Egyptian texts of the same period:

 

  • There is a Sumerian wisdom saying: “Never has a sinless child been born to its mother.”
  • And a Song of Thanksgiving to the Egyptian god Amun-Ra: “If it is the nature of the servant to commit sin, it is the nature of the Lord to be gracious.”

 

The Book of Genesis is split into two parts. Chapters 1-11 are referred to as Primeval History, which includes the Creation Stories, the Fall of Man, the population of the earth, the first murder, and the Flood. Chapters 12-50 are the Ancestral History, focusing on Abraham and the lineage of the rest of the biblical characters.

 

Every story in Primeval History is a turning point in the lives of the first humans. The Fall of Man is a turning point after the establishment of the whole of the created order. The next turning point is the births and marriages of Cain and Abel, then the first murder, and so on. These stories are all connected, and what we read in these first few chapters are the foundation for the rest of the Bible and our current lives with respect to life, death, sin, redemption and our relationship with God. When Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, not only did they see the world differently, they changed the whole course of human history that God had planned…by their own free human choice.


The story never actually refers to
“sin” or “The Fall”. It only states
that their eyes were opened.

 

Even the Serpent says, “your eyes will be opened”.

 

It’s interesting that we just finished the season of Epiphany and moved into Lent with an OT reading that focuses on the opening of eyes. During Epiphany, we are to open our eyes and see Jesus of Nazareth as the true Son of God. In Genesis, we read that Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened to the knowledge of good and evil, after which they saw one another and the whole world differently. In his OT commentary, Birch and others state:

 

[T]hey wanted control over their own lives; they now have control in grievously distorted and unevenly distributed forms. They wanted to transcend creaturely limits; they have found newly intensified forms of limitation. They now have the knowledge they desired, but not the perspective to handle it well. (Birch, et al)

 

This likely resonates with any parent of a teenager.

 

The only suggestion that Adam and Eve knew anything beyond what they already knew was that they were naked. By the way that’s presented, we are to assume that them being naked is evil, and there begins the West’s destructive view of the unclothed human body and our cultural and personal shame around nudity.

 

It is also interesting to note that “…and they were ashamed” is not in the Bible, or the original Hebrew, yet many people associate shame with Adam and Eve realizing that they were naked. On the contrary, only a single verse before the Serpent was introduced, at the very end of the Second Creation Story in Genesis 2, it is boldly written: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” So, why, after they ate the apple, were they suddenly compelled to cover their genitals? Perhaps this was a form of social control.

 

In the rest of Ch3, the consequences of sin are listed. Birch points out that:

 

“Every aspect of human life is touched: marriage and sexuality; work and food; birth and death. It is especially remarkable that the “rule” of the man over the woman is seen as a consequence of sin; hence it stands over against God’s creational intention”, that man and woman are equal. (Birch, et al)

 

So, now that our eyes are opened, thanks to The Fall, how will we use this gift to minimize evil and maximize good? As a metaphor, eating the apple “is not a single event of the remote past, but something that is repeated again and again in human history” (Birch, et al). So, let’s briefly examine what it means for us today. And, to follow Swiss theologian Karl Barth’s suggestion, let’s “Take your Bible and take your newspaper…[and]…interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

 

Just last week, Harvey Weinstein was sentenced in the first of several sexual harassment and rape charges. The accusations against him sparked off the #MeToo Movement, which was the opening of the public’s eyes to just how pervasive and widespread sexual harassment and acquaintance rape are. Because of the #MeToo Movement, our eyes have been opened even wider, to the prevalence of sex trafficking and of domestic abuse – lengthy news stories about both were on NPR in the last week.

 

When our eyes are opened, we can, indeed, see the evil that has been right in front of us the entire time.


Now that our eyes are opened, it
is our responsibility as Children
of God and as human beings to
act against that evil:

 

to help our friends and loved ones out of abusive relationships; to see and report the signs of sex trafficking that are within our own, seemingly safe community; to hold men accountable to what they do to women rather than shame victims for what has been done to them, and to believe women when they bravely share their stories. Our eyes are now open to these evils, which gives us the power to overcome them.

 

Tuesday, we go to the polls. What each of us will actually see will largely depend on what we want to see and also what we don’t want to see. The Johnson Amendment prohibits me from telling you who to vote for, and I don’t believe that I have that much influence over your electoral decisions, anyway. And I wouldn’t tell you who I’m voting for. My role is, though, to illustrate how your faith can and should influence your vote. You can decide for yourself which candidates’ platforms align with how you live out your faith. If the allegories of the Primeval History tell us nothing else, they tell us that we were created to live in community and to do good to one another.


Vote in whatever way enables
you to live out your faith as you
understand it.

 

The stories in the Primeval History illustrate humanity’s journey away from God and further from the Garden of Eden, that perfect ecosystem that God created. As the Bible moves into the Ancestral History and into the history of the Israelites, humanity keeps getting further and further away from God and Eden, all stemming from this one event with the Apple and the opening of the eyes to good and evil.

 

With sin, though, comes Redemption. Without sin, there is no need for Redemption, no need for restoration, no need for repairing the relationship between God and Humanity. But we have sin, and we need Redemption.


Enter: Jesus. Jesus came for our
Redemption and to open our eyes
to the good, to the love in the
world that God has given us and
that we do.

 

There is good in the world, and we need to keep our eyes open to it. And some of it is happening right here, through you.

 

The Vestry has turned its attention to the Social Outreach Report submitted by Clark Lewis at the Annual Meeting last year. Just reading through the list of activities and events this small congregation participates in, the activities that you pour your hearts, souls, time, talent and treasure into, show the good that God is doing through you in this community. And while our review is to find a way to be more effective in our social outreach, that task does not diminish the good or the worthiness of any of those activities you are doing. To want to do them better with higher participation will bring depth to the work that is being done, emphasizing the good in the people who participate and in the people served – emphasizing the goodness of God in each person. And all good, all love combats evil!

 

We can learn from this primeval story; it is there for us to not fall into the trap that Adam and Eve fell into. They let the Serpent guide their decision, but the Serpent doesn’t actually tempt them. Adam and Eve ate the fruit without actually being invited to do so; the Serpent only tells them that they won’t die if they eat it. Neither of them considers any consequences or outcomes before doing so. Does this sound familiar in your own lives?

 

What is even more interesting and even more important for us to learn, this story is about how Adam and Eve will forever relate to God, yet, they never consult God who is fully present to them in the Garden. Birch and his band of OT theologians offer some suggestions for what this might be about. God knows about the tree, but Adam and Eve do not know the full truth. Is God keeping something from them, something that could benefit them? If so, how can they fully trust God to have their best interests in mind? “Can the humans trust God while pursuing the truth about God? Can they trust that God has their best interests at heart even if they do not know everything? Can they trust that not all “benefits” are for their good?” (Birch, et al) So, what results is that the first primal sin was borne out of a lack of trust in God and God’s word.

 

So, during this Season of Lent, Can we learn to trust God again?

 

When we open our eyes to the good, we might also see that that God’s original plan with Creation and the Garden of Eden is that everything for human beings was to be good. However, we are easily led astray by temptation. While those temptations may bring greater knowledge, it can lead to disaster, and impair our relationship with God. However, God has never abandoned humanity, and is still concerned about our welfare. He sent us Jesus, who was tempted as we are, but who did not turn away from God. Jesus is our path to Redemption. As we go through Lent toward the Crucifixion, we understand that we cannot have Resurrection without Death…and neither can we have Redemption without recognizing, opening our eyes to, our sin.

 

President Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words. One morning after church, his wife asked,

 

“Was the sermon good?”
The President said, “Yup.”
“What was it about?”
“Sin,”
“And what did the minister say
?”The President replied, “He’s against it.”

 

Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation. (BCP p848)

 

Be against it; work against it; trust in God.

 

Now that our eyes have been opened to good and evil, we can atone for our sins by recognizing evil and working for good. During Lent, may your fasting, almsgiving and prayer open your eyes. Open your eyes to the world, and examine the good and the evil. Open your eyes to God, and promote the good that God has given us in the world and in your life, and push out the evil.


Stand naked in front of the
mirror, unashamed, and open
your eyes to yourself, examine
the good and the evil, and see
how you, like Adam and Eve,
were created in the image of
God, and it was very good.

© 2020 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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