MORECAMBE PARISH CHURCH 9 March 2014
Genesis 3: 1 – 13
Back in January a friend and I started a Bible study with a new group of International students. This time there are 3 from Mainland China and one from Brazil. They all teach in Universities in their home countries and are here at Lancaster Uni to do some further study.
Yet again this year none of the Chinese folk had ever opened a Bible before our meeting together. Because of that we always start with a little bit about the beginning of the Bible, otherwise, as Mike was saying last week, the gospels don’t make any sense. And we always have the same experience. I ask ‘do you know any stories or ideas from the Bible?’ and one of their answers is always: Adam and Eve and ‘original sin’!
I usually explain that it was Augustine who first coined the phrase original sin – a brilliant but very troubled bloke who lived around 400 AD. His idea was that because of Adam and Eve’s first act of sin, sinfulness has been passed down, transmitted to every individual in every generation since.
That’s not how everyone sees this story today, but it does acknowledge that we all seem to have this feeling that something has gone wrong. It seems to be embedded in the consciousness of every human being. And, coming back to my Chinese friends, it shows that when people know little else about the Bible except Adam and Eve, the garden and the snake, it’s a story that fascinates us.
I know that many of you were very encouraging to Mike when he spoke about creation a couple of weeks ago (if you weren’t here, it’s on his blog and well worth reading).
I am going to follow that train of thought and say that, just as with the account of creation, we do not have to take the story of Adam and Eve literally to feel its power. It operates at the level which – to use a dangerous word - is properly called ‘myth’.
I say it is dangerous to use that word, because the way people use the word myth today has reduced it to no more than a fairy story, and certainly not to be taken seriously. Please don’t mis-hear me. I am not saying the account here is a fairy story. It’s much deeper than that. We think of myths as not true, but this story is very true. In fact in Genesis 3 we meet with truth in so deep and powerful a form that it can only be conveyed through a story. And that is the true meaning and purpose of myth.
So don’t be afraid when people say “oh all that nonsense about Adam and Eve; it’s just a myth. The cradle of humanity is Africa not some unknown place called Eden and some imaginary people called Adam and Eve”. You could pull the rug from under their feet by saying, “I agree; it is myth – if you mean by that, that this story is my story, your story. It describes every human beings’ experience since the beginning of time – and that’s the point. It describes the root of the human predicament amazingly accurately. It answers those questions of how did we got into this mess with a story that has the ring of truth.
So what did go wrong?
Well there’s something here about disobedience. That’s where the serpent starts: v 1 “did God say you shall not eat of the tree?" Yes, he did! God gave a command and Adam and Eve disobeyed. So sin equals disobeying the law of God. But there is more to it than that.
V 4 – 5 “The serpent said to the woman, ‘you will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’.” Adam and Eve seemed to know that they were made to be like God but they had a sneaky feeling that there was more to it than God was letting on to them. Surely just living in harmony with creation and taking care of all that God had made couldn’t be what it was really like to be God? They were hoodwinked into believing that eating the forbidden fruit would do the trick and give them what they wanted – a short cut to making them like God. They are persuaded to despise what they already have and to go it alone. They decide they can do without God.
Their response is the opposite of Jesus’ response to the temptations in the wilderness. Satan tempts Jesus with the same subtleness, twisting scripture, offering a way of living without God. But he gets short shrift from Jesus who knows his Hebrew Bible and will not live independently of God his Father.
It’s the beginning of Lent. Somehow instead of thinking about that bigger picture, we become absorbed with what little sin we can give up. Sue was telling me that a rather difficult girl at school said to her last week: “I think I’m going to give up choc for Lent?” To which Sue replied, “why don’t you do something more productive?” “Like what?” she asked “Why don’t you give up sulking instead?” “Oh, that’s an idea. Pause. How long’s Lent?” She came back a few days later and said “I tried it and I feel so much better!”
The sin of attitude is a far more important sin to address in Lent than chocolate! The way we talk about or talk to each other is mentioned or alluded to in Jesus’ teaching a lot, far more than some other sins that people outside the church think the church is obsessed with!.
Let’s take something that probably all of us have been guilty of at some point: criticism, talking about someone negatively behind their back, gossip. Even if I have a feeling it’s not right, a little voice inside says: it’s not all that bad, is it? So similar to the serpent’s question in v 1: “Did God say?”
Eve saw that the tree was good and a delight to the eyes, (v 6) and it was to be desired to make one wise, so she took – stole it, and she ate – took it inside her. That’s how sin works. It’s a very familiar pattern.
If someone told me the truth, that gossip and talking negatively about another is stealing their reputation and murdering their good name, I would defend myself; it’s not all that serious, surely? And I certainly would find it hard to believe that something in me will die as a result. We hear the serpent’s voice: “You will not surely die?” (v 3)
And just as we do with criticism, Eve didn’t keep it to herself; (v 6) she gave some to her husband. We drag others in with us. But then we fear we are going to get found out! And so we hide from the truth - Adam and Eve hid from the presence of the Lord God (v 8) and we try to cover it up and then we blame the other person. It’s exactly what happens in this story – Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent (v 12)!
Now tell me, is this true of your experience? This story is my story – at the deepest level of my being, I know it to be true. And I also know that if we are walking with God, if we are in the habit of being open with God in prayer, we’ll feel ashamed of ourselves and we will want to put it right with God and the other person we hooked in.
We also know that the God who created us in love wants that relationship healed and restored and forgiven – and that is the story of the rest of the Bible.
- Sue Kiernan