Sunday, March 9th, 2013 – Sermon on Adam and Eve

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but 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.” 

1 Now 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’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but 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.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So 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. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Before I begin, I would like to read just a couple more lines of the text from Genesis this morning. After Adam and Eve at the fruit and discovered their nakedness, the story reads, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And then a few verses later…20The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

I heard a story this week about a child who went to school in a classroom where color-coded sticks were given based on good behavior verses poor behavior. If you were attentive and listening, you would get a stick coded for good behavior. But if you were rowdy or disruptive, you would get a stick coded for bad behavior. This particular child was a bit shy and quiet and was rarely one to be disruptive in class. Every once in a while, however, there would be a day (perhaps it was a full moon) when just the right number of kids in the class would be out of sorts, that it tipped the teachers patience over the edge, and the teacher would give the entire class room a stick coded for bad behavior. Every single one of them.

Now, there is a good lesson here. It reminds us that the actions of some can have an impact on the entire community. Just a handful of kids can misbehave enough such that the entire classroom is punished. But when you think about this young, quiet, shy child, there is part of you that wants to cry out – “But that’s not fair! This kid wasn’t misbehaving! Why should he be punished!?”

Sometimes, I think this is how we feel about the story of Adam and Eve and original sin. Most of us have been taught that we are sinful because Eve ate the fruit in the garden. That like a domino affect, or a sexually transmitted disease, or a genetic disorder, Eve’s original sin of not obeying God gets passed down to the rest of us from generation to generation to generation and as a result we all have to suffer through the effects of a sinful world. Every single one of us. And sometimes it seems appropriate to cry out, “But that’s not very fair! Why is it that just because Eve ate some fruit, the rest of us have to suffer through a life of sinfulness? Why should we be punished? Just because Eve ate the apple doesn’t mean I would.”

It does make a pretty good excuse though for anytime you screw up. Uhh…yeah, sorry I did that, but you know…original sin. Not my fault. Talk to Eve.

But is this what this story is about? Is this story about the first sin, which came from Eve, that then spoiled the rest of creation for the rest of time? Is that really what this is about. Some people would have you believe so, but it seems to me that this story has been misinterpreted for a long time now.

Far too often it has been interpreted as “The woman is to blame.” Too often this text has implied that the woman is the weaker sex and more easily tempted by the snake. And the woman has been viewed as the temptress – the one who lures innocent men astray. Imagine for a moment commercials and ads that are geared toward men – let’s say beer and motorcycles. More often than not they involve a woman that is enticing the man into buying the product. Recently, I saw in a men’s bathroom a motorcycle ad with a woman in a bikini sitting on it. I’m not sure what purpose a bikini clad woman has in selling a motorcycle, other than to be used as the temptress and I think it comes back from a misinterpretation of this text. You see, in Genesis chapter 2 and 3, Adam and Eve are viewed as equals. They are connected to each other – they are bone from bone, flesh from flesh. We forget that Adam is there the entire time and Adam eats of the fruit as well, without any tempting language from Eve. “They are also equal in responsibility and judgment, in shame and guilt, in redemption and grace. What the text says about the woman is also said about the man. Both hide from God, and both are punished.”[1] Whatever fault Eve might hold, Adam carries as well.

Another misunderstanding you hear quite often is that the snake is Satan or the devil. There is no mention of this in the story. And notice how Eve shows no fear toward the snake. It just seems to be part of the normal created order. In fact, if we can recall, the snake was just created by God and named by Adam in the previous chapter. And through the creation stories, all that God has made is declared good. So we could presume that the snake is also part of God’s good creation. It is also worth noting that the snake does not use any tempting language either. The snake simply gives the possibilities that are available. You can eat of the tree, the snake says. You won’t die. It is simply the option of choice the snake offers.

God has created a world of choices. A world of possibilities “in which alternatives to the will of God are available. The humans live in a world where choices count and the relationship with God is not a programmed affair.”[2] What we do is not predetermined. The snake is simply the one who points out the possibilities that exist within God’s world. There is no arm-twisting, no enticing by presenting the fruit in a seductive way.

Finally, the third common misunderstanding is the idea of original sin. Original sin is the idea that our flawed nature as humanity is inherited by the first parents of humanity. The idea that everything that is wrong with humanity – our brokenness, our faults and failures, our pain and suffering – can be traced like a genealogy all the way back to Adam and Eve. But first off, we should note that the word sin isn’t even mentioned in the story. Secondly, suffering doesn’t begin after Adam and Eve at the fruit. It was present beforehand.

Do you remember the punishment that God gives Adam and Eve for eating of the fruit? God increases the pain in giving birth. Which means we can presume that even before they ate the fruit, child-birth would be painful.  Which means pain and suffering was a possibility in the garden of Eden. And the man, who was given responsibility over the earth, tending to it and caring for it – God makes that more difficult too. Presumably tilling and tending the earth, even the Garden of Eden, would involve some blood, sweat, and tears. Pain and suffering are part of the paradise known as Eden, even before Adam and Eve eat the fruit.[3]

So if all of this is true. If these misinterpretations are common, how might we reclaim this story of Adam and Eve? Is there another way to understand it that doesn’t devalue and put all the blame on the woman? Is there another understanding that is truer to the text? Preacher Tom Long thinks so.

He says, “Instead of seeing … the sin of Adam (and Eve) as somehow causal of all subsequent human destruction, today most Christian theologians view the story of our first parents as myth.” Not in the sense that it isn’t true, but in the sense that it is our sacred story that is “descriptive of the human condition. We are all Adam and Eve. Like them, all of us are created in freedom. Like them, all of us choose to use our freedom in disobedience to God. We are free to choose the wise, the joyful, the true — and sometimes, of course, we do — but sometimes we don’t. Theoretically, we could always choose the good, but – and here’s the mystery – experientially we don’t. (So often we choose ourselves over what we know God would want.)

“We sin not because Adam and Eve did something eons ago that infects us; instead, the story of Adam and Eve is constantly repeated, reverberating throughout the human saga. We are all (Adam and Eve), each human life is a recapitulation of the Genesis story, a tragic tale of human beings who, in freedom choose nevertheless to infect ourselves and others with sin. The Adam and Eve story is not so much about the way sin got started; rather it is more about what the celebrated television news anchor Walter Cronkite said at the close of each newscast: “And that’s the way it is….”

Christian theologian and pastor Carlyle Marney was once asked by a student where the exact location was of the Garden of Eden. “215 Elm Street, Knoxville, Tennessee,” Marney answered. The student was shocked and scoffed at Marney, saying that everybody knew that the Garden of Eden had to be somewhere in Asia. “Well, you couldn’t prove it by me,” Marney said, “For there, on Elm Street, when I was but a boy, I stole a quarter out of my Mama’s purse and went down to the store and bought me some candy and I ate it and then I was so ashamed that I came back and hid in the closet. It was there that she found me and asked, ‘Where are you? Why are you hiding? What have you done?’” ”[4]

We are all Adam and Eve. This is our story. It tells the truth about who we are. We too often do not trust in who God has made us to be. We too often think we need to be more. We think we need to be like God. And we can mess things us pretty well along the way. This is a story about who we are. We are all Adam and Eve. But it is also a story about who God is. Because, you see, when humanity fails to live up to it’s God-given identity as children of God. When we fail to believe that we and all people are made in the image of God, and when we are tempted to run and hide in the closet because of it, God doesn’t strike us down with a sword of judgment. No, God comes to find us in our hiding place, asking, “Where are you?”, longing to be near us once again. And when we look down, only to see our naked selves, embarrassed and ashamed, God knits together some clothes and wraps them around our fragile and flawed bodies.

The grace of God abounds amidst the messiness of the human condition. Throughout our continued ways that draw us away from God, away from others, away from a love grounded in love, in this story, our story, (we) see a powerful witness of a God who will stop at nothing to remain in relationship with God’s beloved creatures.[5] AMEN.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1978

[2] Terence Fretheim – http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/14-2_Genesis/14-2_Fretheim.pdf

[3] Fretheim, New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis, pg. 366.

[4] Tom Long, http://cslr.law.emory.edu/fileadmin/media/PDFs/Journal_Articles_and_Book_Chapters/Long_-_Fearful_Before_God.pdf

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1978

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