Sunday’s sermon: Once Upon a Purpose

Adam and Eve” by Omenihu Amachi

Text used – Genesis 2:4-7, 15-17; 3:1-8 (read in the midst of the sermon)

  • Last year, we took a journey through Scripture together. We started in September, and from then until the end of May, we read through the arc of the Grand Story of faith. We started in Genesis, reading through bits and pieces of the Old Testament until Christmas – enter the Baby Jesus, enter the New Testament. Then we read through bits and pieces of the gospel of Mark until Pentecost.
    • Did this because we were following a new lectionary – Narrative Lectionary
      • Devised in 2010 by Profs. Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester at Luther Seminary in St. Paul
      • Purpose: to “follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church. The texts show the breadth and variety of voices within Scripture. They invite people to hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets, Jesus, and Paul. Listening to the many different voices within Scripture enriches preaching and the life of faith.”[1]
      • Best part: Narrative Lectionary = 4-yr. cycle → different readings every year that take us through that “sweep of the Biblical story”
        • Helps us to become more and more familiar with that grand arc of God’s Story of Faith: creation → covenants → prophets → Messiah → early church → And everything in between. It’s important for us as Christians to be familiar with this age-old story because it’s our story. → story that we continue to tell and live into each and every time we pray, each and every time we share our faith, each and every time we turn and return to God
  • So here we are in September again, ready to start the next cycle. And where do we start? The beginning. The very beginning. Creation.
    • First, begin with some basic background → In “scholar speak,” this is called Biblical historical criticism.
      • Important to remember that all of these stories were being told for centuries before anyone wrote them down → And just like any story that gets passed down and down and down and down and down, the stories changed somewhat. Some details were forgotten. Others were embellished. Sometimes the order or the names of the characters got shifted around a little. Sometimes the same story was told from a different perspective. That’s the nature of telling a story, hearing the story, and telling the story again.
        • E.g. – family story told by two people at once → Both people were there. Both people have some of the elements of the story in common. But they also both have their own, personal experiences. One person heard this. The other person saw that. They both felt and thought different things about the same situation, and all of those differences color their telling of the story. And parts of the Biblical narrative are no different.
          • See this in the gospels
            • A few stories/passages that are incredibly similar
            • Some stories that are shared but told differently
            • Some stories that show up only in one or two of the gospels
            • Each individual gospel is someone’s individual account of Jesus’ life and teachings.
          • OT “Documentary Hypothesis”: idea that 4 different authors contributed to the Torah – first 5 books of the Bible (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Deut) → We’re not going to dig deeply into this hypothesis today because it can get fairly technical and extensive, but one of the ways that scholars delineate which source contributed which part of the text has to do with the name that the author uses for God. In some sections of the Torah, the name “Yahweh” is used for God. In other sections, the name “Elohim” is used.
    • 2 different creation stories in Genesis = perfect illustration of this
      • Story from Gen 1 = narrative of God’s creation on each individual day peppered with God’s declaration that that new creation is “very good” → ends with God resting on the seventh day
        • Account of God creating humanity is both short and broad in its scope: God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.”[2]
      • 2nd creation account in Gen = sort of the exact opposite
        • Small amount of detail given to the creation of the world and the creatures within in BUT much greater focus on God’s creation of and relationship with humans – Friends, listen for God’s story in today’s Scripture reading: [READ SCRIPTURE]
          • Shares a few elements with the Gen 1 story of creation but also includes a lot of different details
  • Now, before we tackle the main message of today’s Scripture reading, we need to address the elephant in the room … or rather, the snake in the room: Eve … the fruit … the snake … and sin. For centuries, the blame for that Original Sin has been placed on Eve’s shoulders. This passage has been used as a weapon against women to subjugate them and deny them opportunities.
    • Began with Latin Fathers back in the 2nd and 3rd centuries → shifted the blame of sin from both Adam and Eve to rest it squarely on Eve’s shoulders → attitude passed down from generation to generation throughout the church
      • Used to keep women out of leadership
      • Used to keep women uneducated
      • Used to keep women subservient
      • Used to keep women entirely dependent on men for centuries
      • Used to justify prejudice and violence against women for centuries → twisted and distorted in some of the most unjust, malicious, evil ways
    • And while I wish I could say we have grown past this image and twisted, harmful theology, friends, there are still plenty of people around the world today that still use this passage as justification for hate and discrimination against women. I cannot tell you the number of colleagues I have who have felt the painful reverberations of the way this passage as been warped and manipulated. Strong, intelligent women called by God to serve churches here in America today have been told they’re too pretty to be the pastor … have been told people are amazed a woman can preach so well … have been told that they can “have” the children’s message but the “real” sermon is for the man on staff (even if she is the senior pastor and the man is the associate) … have been told they can’t be the real pastor because they’re women. I cannot tell you the number of women I know who have experienced inappropriate interactions – both physical and verbal – with men in their church because those men refuse to see them as authoritative leaders called by God … simply because they are women. And as heinous and inexcusable as all of that is, we know that it’s so much worse for so many women around the world. And friends, that is not what this passage is about.
  • So what does this passage say, then? What’s the point of this 2nd creation narrative from Genesis? Why start the story here?
    • 2 parts of today’s story → creation part and the fall from grace
      • 1st part = creation
        • God creates this beautiful world and then creates humanity – text: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.[3]
          • Heb. “take care of it” = watch/guard it, save it, protect it, revere it – connotations of being careful and attentive
        • Comes with the implication of moderation and preservation – text: And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”[4] God gives creation to Adam so that Adam may care for the world – so that Adam may find sustenance and shelter in it, so that Adam may find joy and recreation in it, so that Adam may find reverence and sacredness in it. So that Adam may find purpose in it. Not so that Adam may do as he pleased with every blade of grass and flower, bending the natural world to Adam’s own will and whim, wasting the lives of all creatures – walking, crawling, swimming, flying – for sport. Adam is given stewardship of this creation … not supreme rule.
          • Scholar: The Creator who gives life also gives meaning and purpose to life. We are called to serve as caretakers in God’s good creation – stewards of a world we did not make and can receive only as a gift held in trust. … The freedom God ordains is expansive but not boundless. There are limits to the exercise of our creaturely freedom.[5]
      • 2nd part of the story = the fall → humanity’s first failure in that care of creation
        • Adam and Eve encounter the serpent
        • Serpent convinces them to eat the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden
        • Adam and Eve disobey God’s command and eat the fruit
        • Interesting discrepancy in Eve’s story vs. what God said to Adam
          • Important to note: When God gave the directive not to eat the fruit from the tree, God gave that directive to Adam before creating Eve → So Eve never heard those words from God. Clearly, Adam must have conveyed them to her because she conveys them to the serpent as part of her argument against eating the fruit … but her words do not exactly echo God’s own.
            • God (text): “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you it from it you will certainly die.”[6]
            • Eve to the serpent (text): “God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”[7]
            • Scholar highlights the crucial difference: This interaction holds the first distortion of God’s words. God never said, “Don’t touch the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”; rather, God warned not to eat of it. The woman did a curious thing in that she restricted her own freedom and said God had done it. Here we see the first cracks form in the relationship between humanity and God.[8] → Cracks in the relationship between humanity and God. The point at which our own self-indulgent, misguided, internally-driven purpose overrides God’s purpose for us, and we turn away. Sin.
        • Another scholar puts this a different way (encompassing all creation): God sends us into the garden because the garden needs service and preservation, and we are God’s instrument for caring for creation. Even though this mission is compelling and should be all-consuming, we share a human propensity for distraction. In the midst of caring for the garden, we will inevitably find fruit, and we will think that the fruit looks good to eat. … We will use our God-given intellect to rationalize doing things that are not part of our mission, or we will just settle for doing as others tell us, when we need to concentrate on God’s mission in the world.[9]
    • And when we hold those two things in tension – God’s call to purpose in this world and our “human propensity for distraction” – we find the reason for beginning this year’s journey through God’s Grand Story here in this creation account from Genesis. We find the ultimate purpose to which we are called – following God, being in relationship with God, and caring for all God’s creation (flora and fauna; animal, vegetable, and mineral; humans and neighbors of all colors, creeds, and persuasions). And we find a reminder of just how easy … how absent-minded … how inviting it can be to stray from that purpose. Once upon a purpose, there was God … and creation … and humanity. And the story continues. Amen.

[1] From “What is the narrative lectionary?” section, https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_faqs.aspx?fbclid=IwAR3BDmu06cmxC8YduElc_f6htjLr72lgIPf9euMTfpC47fOF0CZTpygB7u4.

[2] Gen 1:27-28.

[3] Gen 2:15.

[4] Gen 2:16.

[5] Allen C. McSween, Jr. “First Sunday in Lent – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2.  (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 26.

[6] Gen 2:116-17.

[7] Gen 3:3 (emphasis added).

[8] Lisa Sharon Harper. The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. (New York, NY: Waterbrook, 2016), 46.

[9] Jon L. Berquist. “First Sunday in Lent – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville,  KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 31.

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