Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Monday, April 18, 2011

The gift of grace (3.27.11)

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

3:1Now 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’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but 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.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6So 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. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Romans 5:12-19
12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned — 13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Our story with God begins with creation. God created the world good and beautiful. He put a man and a woman there to take care of it and help the plants grow. In a world full of safety and abundance God gave the man one limitation. God told Adam not to eat the fruit from the one tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The story doesn’t tell us anything about why God doesn’t want the people to eat from that tree. Over the years there have been plenty of ideas: maybe God’s testing them to see if they will obey; maybe God doesn’t want them to decide right and wrong for themselves, but simply to rely on him; maybe God knows they won’t be able to handle the knowledge of good and evil. Lots of ideas, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually, there’s a lot we don’t know about the story. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden before the serpent made his move. We don’t know how often God and the people talked or what they talked about. We don’t know what Adam and Eve did with their time in that garden.

What we do have is an image of peace, innocence and intimacy. We know God sometimes walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. We know Adam and Eve were peacefully at ease with each other and their surroundings so it didn’t bother them to be naked.

What would it be like to live in that garden with God? Maybe it would be like the simple joy of children running and playing. Maybe like the pure pleasure of gardening without the difficulty that comes with weeds and hard soil and pressing time commitments. Maybe living in the garden was like a perfect vacation without ever having to go back to work.

However we imagine it, the peace of Eden was shattered the moment Adam and Eve believed the serpent. When we talked about this story at Supper and Scripture Susan raised a really good point that I’d never thought about before. The people were vulnerable to the serpent because they wouldn’t have even known that lying was a possibility. Without the knowledge of good and evil they wouldn’t have been able to imagine deception and dishonesty. They wouldn’t have any reason to suspect the serpent’s words.

With all we don’t know about Adam and Eve, it seems their sin was choosing independence over trust in God. I don’t know if that’s how they thought about it. The serpent’s temptation was that the fruit would make them “like God.” Something about that possibility was too much to resist. We keep making the same choice today when we judge other people, a responsibility God keeps telling us to leave up to God. God can judge fairly and lovingly. We know we’re not supposed to judge others, but often the temptation is just too much.

The punishment for turning away from God to be independent fits the crime: instead of resting in the perfection of God’s garden the man and women were sent out to make a way for themselves in the world. As Cain killed Abel it became painfully clear that knowing about good and evil was not the same as doing good and refusing evil. We don’t all get caught up in murdering each other, at least not directly, but we don’t live in the Garden of Eden either. We’re a long way from strolling in the garden with the Lord and being totally honest, open and unafraid with each other.

Paul tells us the first man brought sin into the world and that sin spread to everyone. Along with sin came death, not to mention alienation from God and from each other. That’s been the situation since Adam. The Law of Moses made the picture worse because it showed us how far short we fall in terms of God’s calling.

Fortunately, our disobedience doesn’t have the last word. God doesn’t leave us alone in the wasteland of our false independence. Instead Jesus came into the world to restore what was broken and bring us back to God. Like Adam, Jesus was one man and one of a kind. Adam was the first created man; Jesus was the only begotten son of God. Sin came into the world through Adam’s disobedience; grace came into the world through Christ’s perfect obedience. The judgment of Adam’s sin brought death for all people; the forgiveness we receive through Jesus’ death brings life for all people.

Paul talks over and over again about grace and the “free gift” of God. He’s talking about the kindness, forgiveness and welcome of God, and he’s emphasizing that our forgiveness is a gift, not something we earn. When we were far away from God because of our sin, Christ came to earth to teach and heal and die. Christ came to give us a new start with God.

Sin and grace are both powerful; but God’s free gift of grace is more powerful than our sin. One day, grace will complete its work, restoring us and all creation to perfect harmony with God. Until then we struggle in a world that’s far from perfect. We struggle to live out our faith and our calling in a world of competing values and voices. We struggle to listen for God, to listen for the gentle tune of grace in a noisy world.

We hear the gentle notes of grace when we come home at the end of a frustrating day to the simple love of a dog or cat. That love reminds us that God accepts us as we are; that God knows all our shortcomings, and loves us anyway. We remember that even though we don’t finish all the things we want to accomplish, God will finally bring everything to completion.

We hear the echoes of grace when out of the blue a relationship we’ve been struggling with becomes clear. When we realize what’s been getting in the way of good communication and we take a step towards openness. Or when the hurt we’ve been clinging to recedes just enough for us to recognize our role in the situation and seek forgiveness.

We see a glimpse of grace when we reflect on our childhood and notice how much love our parents gave us, how many times they put something aside to make time for us. Or we see a glimpse of grace when we remember how little love our parents gave us, how messed up moments in our past were and realize that God was with us and brought us through.

We see reflections of grace when we truly feel welcome and able to share ourselves with a community. Maybe it’s a group at church or a recovery group; maybe a special friend at work. We know when we’re there we are safe, that we can share the darkness in our soul without risking rejection. We know that the community will lift us up and hold us close, or give us the space we need to heal.

We see grace in the story of Jesus: in his humble birth, his wise and challenging teaching, his healing and forgiving ministry. We see powerful grace in his slow journey to Jerusalem with stops along the way to be anointed, to challenge the leaders who tried to control God’s love, to eat once more with his disciples and wash their feet. We see the cost of grace when we watch Jesus praying in the garden, when we see his suffering and desire to live right along with his willingness to die for us so God’s love would be clear.

We see abundant grace poured out as Jesus carried his cross to a hill, as our Lord felt the nails pounded through his wrists with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips. We see grace triumphant in the empty tomb and new life from the dead.

In a garden long ago we decided to try living without God and making our own decisions. In a garden near Jerusalem Jesus saw the temptation to resist the cup of suffering but instead chose the path of obedience. Jesus walked that road before us; because of his sacrifice we can choose obedience too. Jesus shows us the joy and freedom of following God instead of following our selfish desires.

In the end grace is something that happens to us, not something we do. That’s hard to understand in our culture that is all about doing, working, achieving, but we don’t make grace. We receive grace from God. We rest in the tender care of our Lord; we allow God to fill us with love we don’t deserve and cannot earn. Grace is a free gift that we accept by faith, but trusting the one who gives it to us. Our response is important and natural, but the most important thing about grace is that it is simply a gift. So rest in the knowledge that God loves you deeply. There’s no road Jesus won’t walk to find you, no length God won’t go to bring you home.

Christ gives us a new beginning; without doing anything, we are back at peace with God. What will we do with that amazing gift? Will we choose each day to seek God and grow stronger in that relationship? Will we share the gift of love with others in our daily lives, pointing people towards the God who loves them and wants to know them better? Will we let God’s love fill us with gratitude and love for other people? Or will we choose to go back to doing things our own way, trusting no one and living for ourselves?

Both desires live inside us. We long to be close to God, to follow and obey, to love others and live with trust and joy. But we’re also attracted by the world’s calling to look out for ourselves, to have more things and to separate ourselves from other people. We fear what could happen to us if we truly open ourselves up to God’s calling and to the need around us.

What will happen if we choose Christ? What will happen if we choose love? Jesus doesn’t promise comfort or wealth. Instead he promises peace and love. He promises that he will be with us and that he will build us up in community. The road ahead will bring plenty of surprises and challenges, but it leads us back where we belong; it leads us home to God. So let the joy of grace fill you to overflowing, and let that overflowing grace guide you to others.

Thanks be to God.

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