Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sin and separation, 3.11

Genesis 3:1-24
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. 8They 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?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

14The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

16To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

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. 22Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
We talked about this story on Wednesday during supper and scripture. There are so many layers to the passage, and it was a great discussion. Today our purpose with this passage is pretty specific, so there are a lot of topics and questions we’re not going to address.

God put the man and woman in a beautiful garden with everything they needed. They had all kinds of plants to eat; trees for shade and flowers to perfume and beautify their world. They lived peacefully with the other animals in the garden; there was plenty to go around and nothing to fight about.

The garden was beautiful and peaceful; it was God’s garden, and God liked to stroll through it in the evening. Take a moment and imagine what it would be like to walk in the garden with God. Picture that closeness and comfort.

There was God, there were people and there was unity. The man and woman were one with God; words like law, religion, discipleship, and sin wouldn’t have made any sense because God was simply there, the center of the universe. Then everything changed; it changed so much we can even truly imagine our way back to that garden now.

For whatever reason, the serpent wanted to separate humans from God. So with half-truths and subtlety the snake slid a wedge between the woman and God. In place of the trust between that first couple and God the serpent slipped not only doubt, but suspicion: “God only told you not to eat from the tree because God is jealous and wants to keep the best knowledge for himself.” In place of contentment with a perfect world, the serpent stirred up a desire for power and knowledge that wasn’t meant for us.

As soon as the man and woman ate the forbidden fruit everything changed. Instead of comfort in their skin; they felt self-consciousness and shame about their bodies. Instead of joy in God’s presence, when God came walking through the garden the people hid from him. Where before there had been obedience out of love and trust, there was guilt and fear because they knew they had done wrong.

As soon as God started asking questions, guilt became accusation: the man blamed his wife while the woman blamed the serpent. Authority, painful childbirth, hard work for our food and exile from the garden quickly follow, and the next chapter finds the first couple’s children wracked with jealousy to the point of murder. In place of a garden, our world became a mess.

My favorite modern theologian is Paul Tillich. Tillich has shaped the way I think about some central parts of the faith, so I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t give credit where credit is due. His goal was to strip away the baggage from faith-words so we can recover their true meaning and embrace them in a new way.

Tillich talks about the word “sin” and how it has been weakened to mean nothing but breaking rules, often even man-made rules. In the Bible sin is a power that separates us from God. It is not just actions that go against God’s will; it’s first the universal human situation of being separated from God. Tillich often uses the word estrangement in place of sin: there’s a painful gulf between God and people like the gulf between separated spouses or parents divided from their children.

Individual acts of selfishness, dishonesty, lawbreaking, abuse etc. are results of our estrangement from God. The power of sin shows itself in individual sins. This passage from Genesis is the classic story of our estrangement from God, from our neighbors and from our world. It is our situation; everyone’s situation. We are divided from God and from everyone around us. Even in our closest relationships we find miscommunication, heartache and distrust.

In a few minutes we’re going to hear a word from Paul that reminds us just how deep our estrangement goes: we are even in conflict with ourselves. Genesis and Tillich set the stage to hear Paul in a new light. But before we turn to that message let’s take a break from me and from the listening part of our brains and sing a song about striving to find someone we can connect with in a world full of strained relationships and disappointment.

This song isn’t a hymn, it’s Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” If you don’t know it, feel free to listen to the first verse and chorus; I bet by the second refrain you’ll be ready to sing along too…

Now let’s hear what Paul has to say to us this morning. The letter to the Romans is probably the most complete presentations of Paul’s theology. He begins by reminding his audience that everyone is trapped in sin. Then he spells out God’s grace in Jesus Christ, which overcomes our sin. In this section of the letter he wrestles with the tension that still remains for those of us who claim Jesus as our Lord. We are being made new by God’s grace, but part of us is still trapped in sin. Not only are we estranged, separated from God and our neighbors, we are separated from our own best desires:

Romans 7:15-24
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

            We are separated from God, and that separation affects every part of us. We know in our heads and even in our hearts what God wants from us. We know, most of the time, how we are meant to live. We know God calls us to love God and love our neighbors, to seek justice for all people and care for those in need. We know that, but we can’t do it.

            There’s this power, the power of sin, the power of separation from God, the power of estrangement from the people we love. The power of sin holds us captive and keeps us from doing what the better part of us wants to do.

Paul wouldn’t have known the word “addiction,” but that’s what he’s talking about. We know what we’re doing is wrong; we want to stop, but there’s a powerful drive inside us to do whatever we’re addicted to. Human beings are addicted to sin. We’re addicted to having our own way; addicted to putting ourselves first; addicted to consumption, injustice and convenience.

Because we are so trapped in sin we need God’s law to “force” us to do the right thing. We shouldn’t need the law at all; if love guided our actions we would treat people right and seek justice on our own. Generosity, kindness, altruism, friendship and care would be automatic and we’d never have to think about God’s commandments. Since we’re twisted by sin we need rules to keep us on the right path, and even the clearest rules aren’t enough to keep us from following our selfish impulses. As long as we keep trying to follow the rules on our own we’ll keep falling short, keep being torn apart by the struggle between sin and God’s law.

Estrangement. Sin. We are cut off from the source of life and love. Even when we know the right path, we aren’t strong enough to follow it because sin pushes us in the other direction. Even when we want to get closer to God and to our neighbors it feels like there’s a deep canyon separating us.

I’d like you to take a moment and think of something in your life that separates you from God or from someone you love. Write it on your slip of paper, crumple or fold it up and put it in one of the flowerpots as a symbol of giving up your own power and trusting Christ to free you. Even though the Garden of Eden is gone forever; God offers healing and new life in Jesus; something new will grow in spite of our sin and distance from God.

We can’t follow the rules on our own, but we are not on our own. In Jesus Christ God heals our guilt, judges our sin and brings us home in love. We’ll unpack each of those beautiful truths over the next three weeks, for now it is enough to know that Christ will save you if you let him. Give up your struggle to rule; let Jesus take over. There is healing and new life at the foot of the cross, so lay down your burden, lay down your guilt, lay down your pride, and trust in Christ to bring you home.

Thanks be to God.

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