February 26, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "Whom to Trust"
Feb 26th | The Reverend Anna von Winckler | Genesis 2:15-17
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In one of my churches, a woman told me that she never reads from the Hebrew Scriptures. She felt they were nullified since Jesus came. I thought that was such a loss for her; for the Hebrew Scriptures continue to be important for us today. They continue to inform us of the nature of God every bit as much as the New Testament.
The lectionary passage from Genesis is one such passage. It is a fitting passage to start off the Season of Lent, because in these words from Genesis, we are called to think about and reflect on why we were created, what our purpose is, who God is, and how we have become so separated from our Creator and heavenly parent. In the scripture we read this morning, we are told that man was created to work the land and to care for it. The image of Adam in the Garden is one where people tend to think he was able to just lounge in this heavenly place without a care in the world. But we are told that he was to work the land and to care for it. He had a task to do, but it wasn’t one of hardship. The land would be fruitful, so his labor would always be rewarded with abundance. God in God’s infinite generosity had provided a land that was rich in variety and substance. For me, this passage connotes a working of the land that would bring joy to Adam as it does to so many people I know who enjoy the planting of gardens in the spring and watching the plants come to life and bear fruit. It wouldn’t have been a hardship to work, but a joy. And, we are told in chapter one, that Adam and Eve were made in God’s image. Imagine such love that God wanted to make us in God’s own image!
My son has long talked about having a son of his own one day. He has said how he wants a child that resemble him and, hopefully, has similar interests to his. He imagines this father-son relationship that he didn’t have with his own father. That is what I imagine God felt when God created us in God’s own image. Adam wasn’t God, but God wanted him to participate in creation through the managing of the garden. God even allowed Adam to name the animals. And, God saw that it wasn’t good for man to be alone and so created woman to be a suitable helper. God had provided so much beauty and goodness for Adam and Eve. They were given a purpose for their lives and given a special relationship with God. There was just one small restriction and that was for them to not eat of the tree of Good and Evil.
Purpose and trust. That is the focus of the scripture lessons for this morning. Rev. Samuel Wells writes, “Genesis, chapter 2, tells us that God gave Adam and Eve ‘three P’s - purpose, permission, and prohibition.” In chapter 3, Wells continues, we get “a definition of sin - it’s the substitution of knowledge and experience for trust and memory.” Let me say that again, “a definition of sin - it’s the substitution of knowledge and experience for trust and memory.”
Professor Joy Moore writes, “When tempted, the first couple failed to remember that being made in the image of God was a trustworthy promise that they indeed were like God. Without that memory, they forgot their purpose to embody God’s goodness and sought an experience beyond the invitation granted by the Creator. When Jesus encountered a similar temptation from Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4), his memory permitted him to trust that his status before God could only be nullified by disobedience but never by interrogation.”
On Ash Wednesday I spoke about sin. The word sin is such a loaded word. I think for many it is hard to imagine ourselves as sinners. We may acknowledge on a purely academic level that we are sinners, but don’t really feel that way as we know that we are what society would deem as good people. We don’t steal, or cheat, or worse, intentionally harm others, but there is a subtlety to sin that this passage points to. We have an immense capacity for self-centeredness and a great ability to rationalize what we desire. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve did in the garden? They allowed temptation to win them over because of what they desired. The lure of being like God, the self-centeredness that caused them to believe that they deserved that one last little bit to be like God, led to their downfall. They forgot that they were already made in God’s image. And isn’t that how we are? How we tend to sin the most? Through our self-centeredness and the justifying of our desires?
What Adam and Eve sought, knowledge and wisdom, are not bad things in and of themselves. It is how those things are sought. Are we seeking them by asking God for what we desire or are we allowing satan to help us take those things through short cuts? We see that all the time as people steal or cheat or lie to get what they want. We may not be doing that, but we need to think about what it is we want, why we want it, and if we are going to God for those things; or are we allowing ourselves to be tempted and go for those things simply out of desire and greed?
I’ve worked at several churches that were close to the ocean or to lakes. Many of the members had boats and always seemed to be justifying the need to get a bigger and better boats - justifying their desire. I think we all need to look at ourselves, to ask God to reveal to us the ways that we are self-centered, selfish, rationalizing our desires, because it is in this sin, as with Adam and Eve, that we find ourselves separated from God. We need to recognize and acknowledge this. If we downplay our sinfulness, if we treat it as if this sin is minor, then we continue to distance ourselves from a deep and nurturing relationship with God. For the result of sin is not the lack of human flourishing but the brokenness of life that issues in a flood of sin and death throughout creation.
While we will continue to live as sinners until the day our Lord returns, we need to remember that we are still called to till the land and be caretakers of God’s creation. We were not created for ourselves; we were created in order to care for God’s creation. And I don’t just mean the land, water, and air. For some Christians it is literally caring for nature, but for many of us it is doing God’s work in our communities, to serve and protect what God has created in regard to God’s children. That often means standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, being the voice of the voiceless. And this should not be a pastime, something we donate a little time to each week or once a month or once a year. This is why we were created, what God expects of us, to care; and we do this not to feel good about ourselves, but to honor and glorify God. This is what we owe God for God’s lovingkindness toward us. This is how we honor God for being our Lord and Savior. This is why we were created.
In going back to the Genesis passage, we are told that despite their disobedience, God does not carry out the threat of death, not at that moment. In God’s sovereign freedom, God responds to human disobedience not with the full weight of judgment, but with unexpected mercy. Paul writes in Romans: “Where sin increased grace abounded all the more.” (Rom. 5:20)
And in John we hear: If the Son made you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) and in Galatians, these words are written: “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” (Gal. 5:13)
We live as broken people in a broken world because of one man’s self-centeredness, because Adam and Eve forgot that they were made in God’s image. Their selfishness made them want more. They were unable to appreciate all that they had. They had everything minus one. Everything! But that one indulgence separated them from God, separated us from God. But God in God’s infinite mercy did not leave us lost. Paul’s most important point in our Romans passage is this: If Adam’s fall had such widespread consequences for humanity, Christ’s grace must have wider consequences still. I think we too often live in a mindset that Adam’s sin is great and that Christ’s grace isn’t quite sufficient to repair that breach. Paul’s attitude is that sin and brokenness are small and our rebellion is only partially successful and it is temporary. Christ’s grace is wider reaching, deeper impacting, and more expansive in its effects by far.
Adam and Eve fell. And we were born into this fallen-ness. But we are not alone in the ditch. Jesus came and entered into that ditch that we found ourselves in. Jesus fell into the grave to deliver us out of it.
As you go through this Lenten season, think about what desires you are justifying that keep you separated from God. Think about ways in which you place yourself up there with God, perhaps with a sense of arrogance, independence. We were created to till and care for creation and to live in relationship with God, who made us in God’s image. Do you believe that? Do you believe that you have a purpose in this life? Not just a job, but a calling?
We have many voices that are always trying to demand our attention. Whose voice are you going to listen to? May you find God’s voice speaking ever more clearly as you give up those desires that separate you from God and as you strive to return to trusting the One who gave you life. Amen.
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