starting off on the wrong foot (Genesis 3:1-21)

Second Sunday After Pentecost (Year B)
St. Luke's International Hospital Chapel - 10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist

I want to look a bit at the text from Genesis we read today, because I think what is revealed here is so essential for understanding what it means to live as a human being in the 21st century.

But first I should say a quick word about what this account in Genesis is aiming to do. Genesis is not like a science textbook: It isn't trying to explain the biological origin of the human race.

Of course, even simple logic dictates that, at some point, however many thousands of years ago, our "first parents" had to come on stage—that is, the human race, as distinct from chimpanzees or Neanderthals, had to start at some point, somewhere.

But that's actually not where the Bible's interest lies. The story of Adam and Eve is trying to answer two very important questions: 1. What is a human being? and 2. Why are human beings the way we are now, today?

Every person ought to try to find answers to these questions. Genesis offers the answers God wanted us to know. With that in mind, and in our limited time, I want to explore the text with you.
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  • Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen 3:1)
The Church has always understood the serpent to be Satan or his servant. His goal, as we say in baptism, is to seek to "corrupt and destroy the world God created."

Notice how the serpent starts out: "Did God really say…?" That's a typical approach for the devil: To cast doubt on what God has revealed. Do you recall what Satan said to Jesus in the wilderness: "If you are the Son of God" (Matt 4:3)? God had just declared at Jesus' baptism: "You are my Son, my Beloved," but the devil says, Is it really true? Are you absolutely sure?

Every day, we face similar temptations to doubt what God has clearly shown us. Jesus commanded us to forgive our neighbor, but did He really mean my sister-in-law? Does the Bible really say no sex outside marriage? Is Jesus Christ really Lord and Savior of the world? Are you absolutely sure?

But notice what the serpent is trying to get Eve to doubt here: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

What kind of God would say such a thing?! A cruel, tyrannical God! To put man in a beautiful garden, surround him with good things to eat, and then to say: Sorry, not for you. Hands off.

Actually, many people have a similar view of God. They assume God is a harsh tyrant. He's out to spoil our enjoyment of life. He asks us stoically to endure life as one long, joyless grind. He forbids this and that for no reason. And that's exactly the image of God the devil wants us to have!

But is it true? Let's listen to what God really did say, a few verses back in Chapter 2:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 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." (Genesis 2:15-17)

You are free to eat from any tree in the garden! Any tree! Thousands upon thousands of trees bearing wonderful fruit and vegetables--and you can eat whatever you like! Whenever you like! As much as you like!

Does that sound like a tyrant? No, that is a loving Father who has provided for the needs of his children. Nothing is lacking. And yet, getting us to doubt the love of the Father is one of Satan's most successful tactics.

  • The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but 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.'" (Gen 3:2-3)
Uh oh. Eve doesn't fall for the serpent's trick, but she's already halfway there. Did you notice how she expands on what God commanded? God said: "Don't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Eve is much more vague: "We mustn't eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, AND we mustn't touch it."

God never said anything about touching the tree. And He was very specific: "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil".

Why did God forbid that tree? Some people ask, "Why did God make the tree in the first place if He didn't want people eating from it?" The answer has to do with freedom. God made man in His image, which means He made us free to respond to Him, and free to offer love. And the primary way we show that we love God is by obeying what God says.

We are free to obey, or not to obey. God did not make people like robots. If nothing were forbidden in Eden, there wouldn't be even the possibility of Adam and Eve choosing to not obey. Which means there would also be no possibility of loving God: Love has to be freely chosen, or else it's not love.

But more importantly, God said "Don't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" in the same way I say to my daughter, "Don't touch the hot stove." I say that precisely because I love her.

Well, the tree was off limits because it was harmful. Something isn't just wrong because it is forbidden by God; God forbids things that are harmful.

Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong. They knew it was wrong to disobey God and eat from that tree. Up until now, Adam and Eve have had an intuitive knowledge of good. They have naturally done what is good, simply because it is good and because it is pleasing to God.

In eating this fruit, though, Adam and Eve will "know" good and evil in a way they never did before. The Hebrew word for "knowledge" doesn't just mean awareness--it means being enmeshed with the thing known. After eating the forbidden fruit, evil will become part of them. And they will become "like God," it says in verse 5. Which means, they put themselves in the position of deciding what is good and what is evil--regardless of what God says.

But the saddest thing about this interaction between Eve and the serpent is one word spoken by Eve: "God" (kami-sama).

Up until now in Genesis, God has been called "the Lord God" (adonai Elohim in Hebrew). But now Eve says simply, "God" (Elohim).

"Lord" signifies a profound relationship. Creator and created. The Lord and his people. The One who guides and protects and those who serve Him with praise and thanksgiving. The One who speaks intimately and those who listen with joy. The One who pours out love and those who return love.

Already at this point, Eve has lost sight of this relationship. For her, "God" is powerful, but distant. He is Someone who simply imposes rules: Don't even touch the tree!

Let's move ahead to the awful scene itself: 
  • When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Gen 3:6-7)
So what happens when they eat the fruit?

As we skim over the next verses of Genesis 3, first we see Adam and Eve's relationship breaks down. Until now, the two of them have been naked but not ashamed (Gen 2:25). In other words, they were completely themselves with each other; each completely accepted the other one as they were.

But now they're ashamed to be seen as they really are. What's more, the husband-wife relationship which was one of delight and mutual service becomes an imbalanced power relationship.

The second thing we see is that Adam and Eve are terrified of God. Up until now, God and man were friends, co-workers in the garden. But no longer: "The Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid…'" (Genesis 3:9-10)

Can you feel the incredible distance, the anxiety here? That's what sin does: It pulls us far away from God, and makes us afraid of submitting to His gaze, afraid of His righteous judgments.

I will skip over the next verses. But notice how Adam shifts blame to Eve, and Eve shifts blame to the serpent--people have been denying responsibility ever since. Our politicians are a shining example of this.

Finally, man is alienated from the natural world itself. Man, whose job was to manage and protect and till the soil now has to fight to dominate the natural world.
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Once in awhile you hear someone say what happened in the garden of Eden, what's commonly called "the Fall," was somehow good or necessary. The disobedience of Adam and Eve was sort of humankind's "growing pains," the cost of gaining autonomy.

It's hard to imagine a more outrageous misreading of everything the Bible says about Eden. Scripture speaks with one voice in declaring the Fall an unmitigated catastrophe, a total dislocation of man from right relationship to God, to his fellow man, to himself and the natural world.

It wasn't that God's children grew up and left the nest. A better example would be a teenager being "scouted" and lured into a life of drug abuse, violence, and prostitution, in a city far from home.

Absolutely nothing about the sin of Adam and Eve was good or necessary. In fact, from this point on, the human story just goes from bad to worse. Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain ends up killing Abel. It gets even worse after that. So bad, in fact, that God decides to start over, using the Flood as a kind of reset button for the human race. Only Noah and his family are spared--but as soon as they get off the boat, they fall back into drunken perversion.

We are inheritors of the sin of Adam and Eve. Every day we live with the consequences of the Fall. Our world is stuck in the mire of great evil and suffering, the bulk of which is caused directly or indirectly by human selfishness and greed and violence, as well as sheer disinterest.

Do you lock your door? I do. Elder people constantly have to be warned about bank transfer frauds. Marriages are failing left and right: the divorce rate in Japan is just under 40% (50% in America!). The rich-poor gap is growing both in Japan and globally. Even though the earth currently produces enough food for every single person to have 2,720 kcal of food every day, 1 in 7 people goes hungry--mostly in Asia. There are a dozen ongoing major armed conflicts in the world and twice that many minor ones. Irreplaceable rainforests are being progressively destroyed. Every day, three endangered species disappear forever.

The Bible declares: It wasn't supposed to be like this! This is not normal! This is the result of man's lack of trust in the goodness of God, and his desire to put himself in the place of God. What's more, we are powerless to get ourselves out of this mess. What hope do we have?

On that note, I want to end by looking at the last verse in our text today: 
  • The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)
Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden. But even after all that has happened, even after they have disobeyed the only commandment they were given, even after they have demonstrated their basic distrust of God's love and gracious provision and tried to put themselves in the place of God, even if they have forever spoiled the beautiful harmony of the garden--even after all this, what does God do? Destroy them? Forget about them? Cut off all ties with them?

No. God gives them warm clothes to wear. The climate outside the garden is harsh, and Adam and Eve's fig leaves just won't cut it. So God himself acts to protect them, to keep them safe from the worst results of their sin.

Why? Because God has not changed. Adam and Eve have changed, but not God. He is the same loving Father he has always been. His children are precious in His sight. He wants nothing more than our well-being and our joy. Even when we reject God, He does not reject us.

I want to leave you with this last thought: What were the clothes made of? Animal skin. In other words, the blood of innocent creatures was shed so that Adam and Eve would be protected from the effects of their own sin.

Do you see, here at the very beginning of the story, a hint of what happens at the end of the story? Do you see that it's the blood of an innocent victim which alone saves us from the consequences of our sin?

As Paul writes: Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, for "in Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us." (Eph 1:7-8)

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