The first scripture passage comes at the end of a story that you are all likely familiar with, the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the eating of the forbidden fruit. The Gospel should also be familiar to you: Jesus’ baptism and what immediately follows.
I chose the Old Testament passage, which includes verses that are not part of the three-year lectionary, because I’m a glutton for punishment. Actually not; I chose this passage to begin this worship series Navigating the Wilderness because in order to enter the Wilderness we have to leave many of our preconception and prejudices behind us. And in a way, that means BITING THE APPLE (and yes, I know that the Bible doesn’t mention APPLE in the Garden of Eden, BUT IT DOESN’T MENTION SIN EITHER!
Most if not all of us have been taught a particular hermeneutic on Genesis 3, calling it “The FALL.” But today I’m going to play the role of SERPENT’S ADVOCATE, again, because what we are reading is a person’s understanding of God that is both biased and confused. And again, for anyone who feels a bit uncomfortable about what I’m saying, please know that I’m not discrediting the Bible; I’m simply reading it the way it SHOULD be read, as ancient texts written by men of good intent who are doing their best to relate their experience of God with an audience. In a way we are DIALOGING with the authors, though unfortunately they cannot respond directly to our thoughts and questions, but because we are Christians we don’t mean any disrespect; we only mean to understand the author better, and also understand God better.
So if you believe that a fundamentalist understanding of scripture is paradise you may want to plug your ears.
But I would leave you with a question: What does verse 22 mean?
Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’
Anglican priest and academic Cuthbert Simpson writes that this verse comes from an early myth that the author of Genesis drastically revised, but the writer left this vestige of the earlier myth in the story we’re so familiar with.
According to that earlier myth, God was, as verse 22 suggests, threatened by humanity’s acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil, because that knowledge DID make us like God. According to that earlier myth, the serpent was not our enemy but rather our benefactor. According to that earlier myth, it was not the serpent who lied to the humans but rather God who lied, telling the woman that she would surely die if she ate of the fruit. The fact that she didn’t die was proof of the falsehood of what God said to her.
Again, let me remind you that I am not saying that God lies; I’m saying that the god described in the original myth lied.
And no one really knows why the author of Genesis included this verse in his story, because according to verses 17, 19, and 23 it is for OTHER reasons that God expels the humans from the Garden.
But let’s go back for a minute to the beginning of this Genesis story as presented by this particular author (or authors)…
At the beginning of Chapter 2 we learn that God first created man out of the dirt in the Garden, that God conversed with Man, that God and gave Man instructions. Then we learn that God FELT that it wasn’t good for man to be alone with a bunch of plants, so he made every kind of animal and bird, and brought them to man to be given names. And while scientists and archeologists would be quick to point out that many many species of animals showed up on this planet long before HUMANS ever did, WE SHOULDN’T LET THAT FACT DISTRACT US FROM A FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH THAT WE OBSERVE IN THIS LEGEND: GOD FELT EMPATHY FOR MAN! I WOULD GO FURTHER AND SAY GOD LOVED MAN. He saw that man was alone, which may seem odd because MAN had a relationship with God – but we are reading something that was written by someone who may have believed in a god who was aloof, authoritative, and perhaps a bit scary, and those factors may have defined the author’s relationship with God. BUT THROUGH IT ALL, GOD WAS COMPASSIONATE, RECOGNIZING MAN’S LONLINESS AND DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
And it’s kind of funny when you think about it; God presents man a bunch of animals before he presents him with WOMAN (though I do know some men and women who prefer pets to people).
And when God presents man with a woman – “a helper” as the author describes her – we cannot help but read between the lines here, because we’re talking about a marital relationship, AND GOD INSTITUTED IT! (I DID A WEDDING YESTERDAY)…And let’s face it, when we fall in love and get engaged and then get married, our minds are usually not focused on God…at least not directly, and yet God is there.
And so, as I read further between the lines, and I try to place myself in the sandals of the writer, I believe he’s conflicted between his relationship with God, and his relationship with his mate. And that conflict comes to a head when his mate, who listens to the serpent, decides to believe the serpent and doubt the wisdom of God, which leaves Adam in a bit of a quandary – Do I abide by the rules that God has set, or do I fully embrace the relationship with my spouse, standing with her in her transgression, falling from grace (if you will) but nonetheless determining that his destiny will by ties to his wife’s destiny. (John Milton – Paradise Lost)
But before we get disillusioned about the goodness of God (and I remind you that this story is written by a human being who has his own hang-ups and is nonetheless trying to understand something that is beyond our ability to understand) before we conclude that the picture of God that he paints for us is worthy of the scrap heap, take note of a few things:
1. God, out of love, creates for the man a spouse – knowing that their relationship with each other will take precedent over their relationship with God.
2. God remains with them.
The story indicates that they are cast out of paradise (into a wilderness of sorts) but they are never without God. I think it’s kind of a quaint image of God making clothing for the man and the woman. God remains in their midst, and will continue to remain in our midst whatever wilderness we may experience. And that is my first message for today.
And in the interest of time I’ll go right to the second message, which is drawn from the Gospel lesson: GOD SENDS US INTO THE WILDERNESS FOR OUR OWN GOOD.
At Jesus’ baptism God declares to Jesus “You are….” Jesus must have felt pretty good about that, as we all should when we sense that love and affirmation from God, but Jesus had hardly shaken the baptismal water from his hair before the Spirit of God DRIVES him into where? The Wilderness! This is before Jesus’ ministry even began, and last week I emphasized that Jesus was LED BY GOD TO REFORM THE RELIGION OF HIS PEOPLE, TO DRAW THEIR ATTENTION AWAY FROM THEIR SACRED TEXTS AND LAWS TO A NEW LAW – A LAW OF LOVE,
You have heard that it was written…but I say…love your enemy, turn the other cheek, give all that you can to anyone who asks.
In the wilderness God was leading Jesus to lead his people out of the wilderness of their own creation, a wilderness of fears and tribalism and pride and violence and rigidity in doctrine and dogma. What is the greatest commandment someone asked Jesus, to which he responded, love God with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus wants us to keep things simple.
So as we enter this worship series on the wilderness, know that we are never alone, and know that we are exactly where God wants us to be.