Genesis 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
3Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ 2The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, “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.” ’ 4But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,* knowing good and evil.’ 6So 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; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Adam and Eve. The Bible, from beginning to end, is the story of how God stepped into history to save people, and it begins with that story from Genesis. Tradition says that Moses wrote Genesis – an explanation of how humanity got to where it is, spiritually. It’s a little window into the soul of all of us. God says, “Live this way, prosper, and be happy.” But we say, “Let’s try something else.” It’s the story of what we do with the gift of free will.
Bill Cosby does a routine that I think explains it pretty well, a paraphrase of that story you just heard.
The First Parent. Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to his kids. After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing God said to them was: “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” Adam asked.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit, said God.”
“Forbidden fruit? Really? Where is it?” Adam and Eve asked, jumping up and down excitedly.
“It’s over there,” said God, wondering why he hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.
A few minutes later God saw the kids having an apple break and he was very angry.
“Didn’t I tell you not to eat that fruit?” the First Parent asked.
“Uh huh,” Adam replied.
“Then why DID you do it?” God asked, exasperated.
“I dunno,” Adam answered.
God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus the pattern was set and it has never changed. But there is a reassurance in this story. If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give your children wisdom and they haven’t taken it, don’t be so hard on yourself. If God had trouble handling his children, what makes you think it should be a piece of cake for you?
The allegory is easy to imagine: Adam and Eve living in a garden full of God, animals, and fruit. The story says that their job was to take care of the place. Till it and keep it. That means the first job opportunity in the world (for humans) was farming and landscaping. So, we were originally meant to be cultivating the garden, taking care of the plants and animals, making everything grow.
But there’s one animal we can’t seem to manage, an animal with an attitude – a serpent – who raises an interesting question: when we know that God doesn’t want us to do something, does God mean what God says? We’re supposed to eat from these trees, not that one over there. Hmmm… did God say? A conflict with the management. The serpent has distracted the garden managers from their job and touched a button, and the button is called “Control.” I could have sent the serpent packing, but now I’m thinking. I want to be in control. I want to be in charge. Who is in control? Me or God? Being my own person, I decide to do what I think is best for me at the time. I can always apologize later. The scenario of sin always starts with the question: did God say? And it ends with our house of cards falling.
The end of this story has us outside the garden, feeling shameful and blaming the creature we were supposed to be managing. We got fired. Is that fair? Doesn’t God love us? If God loved us, wouldn’t God just be firm, give us a stern talking-to and let us back into the garden? Then we could get on with life as if nothing happened. One of our control issues is that we think we can make God into our image. God should be more flexible!
But the problem is that something did happen – something with consequences. And outside the garden, we are helpless, unless God wants to do something about our situation, and it’s a good thing God does. God sends Jesus to the rescue. Jesus clears the way for us to come back into the garden, back into our relationship with God. Through our faith in Christ, our sin dies with him on the cross.
That’s the simple version of the history of salvation. The word “sin” isn’t in the passage, even though sin is the theme, sin defined as separation from the God who loves us. Eve and Adam learned the hard way that sin has consequences.
It’s not a hard step to accept that human beings are sinful, that they are less than perfect, and everybody is affected. But what can we do about it? We are sinful human beings, therefore… what? Follow the rules? Be as good as we can be? What standard do you use? Will you ever be good enough? Who do you compare yourself to?
When I was teaching in a Catholic high school, I knew several kids who were planning on entering religious orders so that they could get some control over their lives. They thought that if they just joined a group of people with lots of rules, if they became priests or nuns or brothers, that eventually, because of the discipline imposed by the rules, they would be able to live stable lives. I never heard the priests or nuns or brothers say this; it’s what the kids thought.
But this is what many people think. To get back into the garden with God, all you have to do is be be good and live according to the rules. If you think this, you have a hard question to answer: if you could make it back into the garden by yourself, if you could color between the lines on your own, follow the rules and do favors for God – if you could save yourself, why did God bother to send Jesus?
I love AA’s 12 steps. The first three go like this:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. The word alcohol can be replaced by almost anything. Or, you could just admit that you are powerless, period.
2. [We] Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Give up the need for control.
3. [We] Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. Surrender to the God who loves you. The first words of faith are always, “God help me.” And God does.
The reason that we are here is to help our friends and family know that there is more, that life will not ever be perfect, but through Christ, God has opened a door to a new kind of life that can give you hope and help you live. And now our job as believers, as a United Church of Christ, is to bring as many people as we can back into the garden, using all the tools, and skills, and gifts God gives us.
O God, as we walk with Jesus toward the cross and resurrection, we examine ourselves. We realize how imperfect we are, and how much we need you; we are empty and need to be filled. We have taken your good creation and scarred it with our selfishness and thoughtlessness; we have abused our brothers and sisters, thinking only of ourselves. Forgive us, God – thank you for your forgiveness. You reach out to us through Christ and walk us back into the garden to be with you. And even beyond forgiveness, you stay with us, giving us the strength we need to overcome the temptations and struggles that confront us day after day. Thank you for the life you give us through Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.