Stuck In The Bushes

Romans 5.12-21

Therefore, 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 – sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet 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. But 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. And 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. If, 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 the life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore 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. For 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. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I take a lot of pride in my ability to communicate with people of different age groups. On any given week I will spend time explaining theology to five year olds in our preschool, fifteen year olds in our youth group, 50 year olds in our bible study, and then the rest of you on Sunday morning. It is definitely a challenge taking ideas from the likes of Paul and proclaiming them in a way that can be appreciated for the here and now for the young and old.

But sometimes, I fail.

Like the time I tried to address the moral and ethical dilemmas of Capital Punishment to our youth group one night, to the times I’ve tried to proclaim the strange complexity of confronting our finitude on Ash Wednesday to our preschoolers, to the times I’ve told some of our much older adults that one must have the faith of a child to inherit the kingdom of God.

Communicating the gospel, sharing the Good News, is a challenge, and I definitely failed once when we were on our mission trip to West Virginia a couple summers back. Picture it, if you can: It is hotter than blazes outside, and I’m stuck in a tiny kitchen surrounded by teenagers who would rather be instagramming and snap chatting one another than cleaning a floor or painting a ceiling. And it was silent.

So I did what I do: I started asking questions…

“What’s your favorite story from the bible?”

One of our boys immediately said something about David defeating Goliath. The Davidic story will forever rest in the hearts of prepubescent boys who struggle with how rapidly the girls are growing while they remain the same.

A boy from another church said, “Well, I kinda like the one about, you know, Jesus feeding people?” while saliva poured out of his mouth as he stared at the cooler in the corner filled with our lunches.

A girl from a different church said, “I’ve always been rather captivated by Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana in Galilee.” To which I made a mental note to bring this up with her youth group later in the evening. No sensible teenage girl should be thinking about water turning into wine, and certainly not when Jesus has anything to do with it.

We went on and on, and then it was my turn to answer. “Well” I said, “It’s not my favorite story, but I’ve always loved this little detail at the beginning of the bible, in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden with a choice. They could choose to live in perfect harmony with God and God’s creation, with each other, free from sin and free from death. But Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, they wanted to be like God, and as soon as they tasted the fruit from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, their eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked.

“But here’s the part that gets me every time. Almost as soon as they sin, they heard the sound of God walking in the garden and they both sprinted for the bushes. But God called out, ‘Where are you Adam? Where are you Eve?’ After waiting for a few moments, Adam popped his little head out of the bushes, and told God that he was hiding because he was naked and afraid.”

To which God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’

“Isn’t that hilarious?” – The teenagers had all stopped working while I was sharing the story, and now they were all staring at me with eyebrows askew. I could hear the paint dripping off their brushes onto the floor as if even the crickets were too concerned to chirp. One of the boys finally broke the silence to say, “Um… I don’t think it’s very funny. If I were naked and God came looking for me, I’d run for the bushes too!”

Do we know this old, old, story? Do we know what sin is? Do we know what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?

What kind of stories and habits and beliefs do we want to pass on to the coming generations? I feel like I am forever hearing about the good ol’ days when “we knew our bibles” and “we would’ve gone to school with snow like this when I was a kid” and “we entertained ourselves with our imaginations and not a screen in our pockets.”

Do we wish that things could go back to the way they were? Are we worried about the future that we are handing to our children?

We can talk and talk about what we want to pass on, what we hope to engender, but if we don’t know our story, if we don’t know where we came from, how in the world can we even hope to take a step in the right direction?

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Just as sin came into the world through one man… Paul assumes that we know the story, that we know the details of the Garden. He does not waste lines in his letter rehashing the characters and the questions, he gets right to the point: Sin came into the world through Adam and Eve. They, and therefore we, broke the covenant with God. The transition from God’s rule to the rule of sin and death came into the world because of our rebellious and disobedient desires.

This is our condition. There is no going back. Fear and shame and anger and disappointment are our lives. We are, in a sense, stuck in the bushes for good, hoping that God will not come looking for us.

We are in the bushes. And Lent is a great time to ask the question: Why? Which of the commandments have we broken? Did we work on the Sabbath? Have we hated our mothers or our fathers? Did we covet something that did not belong to us? An object, a job, or God forbid, a person?

How would we respond if we heard God walking toward us in the middle of our sin? We, like Adam and like that boy on the mission trip, would run for the bushes.

Paul assumes that we know the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden because it is OUR story! Adam’s sin is our sin, and it not only divided us from God, but also brought death into the world, which spread like a disease. This is Paul’s point, and he says it in these few verses over and over again.

We are trapped in sin and death and we are stuck in the bushes. That’s the story of the Garden. Is this what we want to pass on?

Truly I tell you, we cannot know who we are to be, if we do not know our story. This inexhaustible, unexplainable, indescribable moment from the beginning is who we are. It is the story of how the life of order fell into disorder. But, thanks be to God, it is not the end of the story.

Adam brought the entirety of humanity down, down to the depths of death and destruction. Jesus, however, is the new way who is able to create a new humanity.

The promise of a good and remade and hopeful future comes from the old story that is forever new. The story of our death, and then the death that freed us from sin and death.

In Jesus Christ our stories are made new; God, as the author of salvation, takes up the pen and starts a new chapter through the life, death, and resurrection of his son. This is the story that those who are coming, the one who will follow us, need to hear. This is the story we need to share. We need to pray for the courage to shout this story from the rooftops as if our lives depended on it, because they do.

The only way to victory, the way to upend what was done in the Garden, is through the cross. We might think of a different way, a more efficient and less taxing way, but the way of the cross is the WAY that Christ defeated death.

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But this is not an easy story to tell. The message and value of the cross comes with a cost. It is difficult, it is selfless, and frankly it is un-American. Today, we would rather surround the young with lessons that teach very different values: get the job, earn as much as you can, find the right spouse, buy the car, lose the weight, invest in the right companies, bring 2.5 children into the world, purchase the perfect house, and you will be free and life will be perfect.

That’s the story we tell. And it’s a lie! It’s all a lie! None of these things can give life. They cannot give us the identity and purpose and hope we so desire. The job will change, the money will disappear, the spouse will grow old, the body will too, the companies will falter, the car will rust, the children will not listen; Sin and Death corrupt them all.

But there is nevertheless Good News, there is a way out of the bondage that was brought into the world by the one we call Adam. We are freed through the one we call Christ.

We are stuck in the bushes of our own sin and shame. But Christ comes to us in the Garden of our own demise without a question, but a call. Jesus does not ask us who told us we were sinning, Jesus says follow me. Follow me to Galilee, follow me to Gethsemane, follow me to Calvary.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Sin has increased in this world and in our lives, but God’s grace in Jesus Christ has abounded all the more.

The story, our story, began in the Garden, but it did not end there. It continued through the strange and wild wilderness in the days of Abraham, weaved through the journey to Egypt and back again in Jacob and Joseph. It rose through the power of David and Solomon, and fell through the failure of God’s people worshipping idols. It danced through the prophets who remained faithful to the Lord, it endured droughts and famines, it saw suffering and sadness. It connected the lives of the powerful with the powerless, it brought down the high and lifted up the lowly.

It was born again in a manger in a small town called Bethlehem; it trudged through the towns of Galilee and sailed over the sea. It walked through the streets of Jerusalem and turned over the tables at the Temple. It was dragged before the council and the ruling elite. It was marched up to a hill and nailed to a cross. It was silent in a tomb for three days. And it broke free from the chains of sin and death.

That is the story. It is a story worth telling over and over again; because in it we discover who we are and whose we are. In it we see ourselves stuck in the bushes being beckoned by Jesus to follow him. And in it we realize that it is not just a story, nor even our story, but THE story. Amen.

 

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The Temptation of Temptation – Sermon on Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7

Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but 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.

Now 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 eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but 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.’” But 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.” So 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. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

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The Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but 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.”

In the entire range of the world’s writings, it would be immensely difficult to locate any passage so brief that has had such immense influence on human thought. I have heard this scripture preached upon countless times, I can remember learning about it in confirmation class years ago, and I can vividly remember struggling with the text as I attempted to explain it to pre-school age children during a particular Vacation Bible School. The story of Eden is so well known and discussed that even most self-affirmed “non-religious” people can even explain what took place in the Garden. 

This passage has been debated, ripped apart, examined, micromanaged, and exegeted for centuries. Generations of Christians have dwelt upon these verses unlike any others to explain the introduction of sin into the world through the one man, Adam.

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I know a family that had it all together. The husband and wife always sat next to one another in church, fingers wrapped together as they listened to the sermons week after week. The children were all attractive, known in the community for their well-behaved manners, regular fixtures on the honor roll at school. Because of their wide interests and pursuits the family was known throughout many of the segmented areas of the community; sports, music, drama, politics, faith, etc. On the surface they were that perfect family. Others families would often hold them up on a pedestal and compare their own flawed family to this ideal one. Why can’t my children work harder like theirs? Why don’t our parents love us as much as theirs do?

What no one realized, was that underneath the exposed public appearance, the family was about to fall apart. I don’t know all the details about what happened leading up to the great schism, I don’t know who was to blame for the many rumors than began to spread around town, but I do know that it began with the husband.

He felt unfulfilled. There was a constant nagging sensation that he deserved more than what he had. Though he had that ideal wife, and the ideal children, with the ideal house, and the ideal job, he believed he deserved more.

Thats when a younger woman appeared in his life. He knew that it was wrong to flirt with her, he knew that it was wrong to lie to his wife about spending time with her, but he did it anyway. As time went on, casual get-togethers became more frequent, the conversations moved from flirting to romance, and soon they were engaged in an affair.

I don’t know if this is true, but I imagine that late at night, when laying awake in his bed he would rationalize what he had done: If she makes me happy how can it be wrong to be with her? I deserve her love. I deserve this kind of happiness in my life.

Eventually he could no longer continue to live the lie. He told his wife what he was doing, without remorse he left her and the children, and started a new life.

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He gave meaning to existence, brought forth light and life, and populated the earth with his creations. The paramount of this creative work were our first parents, Adam and Eve, made in God’s image. They were given everything they needed: life, land, food, companionship, and purpose. At the beginning of our scripture this morning Adam and Eve were content with all they needed, but they did not have everything. 

Enter the serpent; crafty and wise. He said to Eve, “Did God tell you that you could eat from every tree in the garden?” and she replied, “Of course we may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God told us not to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, not even to touch it, because if we do we will die.” But then the serpent said, “Surely you will not die! God knows that when you eat of that tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” At that moment Eve saw the tree in a new light, she believed that it was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and that it would make her wise. So, she took the fruit from the tree and ate, gave some to Adam who also ate, and their eyes were opened. For the first time they realized they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Real temptation is never an offer to fall, but instead it comes as an offer to rise. Notice: the question was not, “Do you wish to be like the serpent?” but instead, “Do you want to be like God?” The truest forms of temptation are indications of strength, not weakness. We are not tempted to do what we cannot do, but what is within our power. The greater our strength, the greater the temptation.

This is how the seductions of sin and temptation present themselves: Want to know a little bit more about life? Want to be a little bit greater than you are already?

The serpent of life, the deepest part of our imaginations, plays on our condition and places the seed of doubt: I know this is wrong, but if the fruit of it is good, what sense can there be in not enjoying it? The way the serpent tempted our first parents in the garden comes to us still this very day, presenting us the idea that we can know better than God.

Reinhold Niebuhr once asked, “Do we belong to God, or do we belong to the devil? We most certainly belong to God, but we are in danger of becoming the devil by imagining that we are God.” That is true temptation at its most frightening degree; you can be like God! In our pride and lust for power, we begin to define our own understanding of good and evil. We become masters of rationalization for the sins and the wrongs we commit.

Thats what happened to the man from that perfect family. Its what happens to each of us when the temptation of temptation dangles before us. We rationalize ourselves out of making the right choice. We instantly become the center of our own universe, our own god; we become the only thing we worship.

And its not just us. This has been going on throughout the entirety of human history, particularly through what has been revealed in scripture. When God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they reached out for the dangling fruit and consumed it. When God commanded the wandering Israelites to have no others gods before him, they created their own golden calf and began to worship themselves instead. When Jesus called Peter to follow him, Peter was quick to deny Jesus three times as he was being led to the cross. When temptation strikes, it hits us in the very core of our beings, and once it enters the realm of possibility it can be dangerous and evenly deadly.

But the fact remains that we live in a universe which God controls, not us. When God gave each of us the breath of life to exist in this world, to live, laugh, and love, he did not intend that we should take over the school and change the expectations to suit ourselves.

Temptation will confront us whether we ask for it or not, it hangs out like fruit begging to be plucked and consumed. In order to confront our temptations we are called to recognize that we live in a created world where we must accept reality and not believe that we can indulge in every single wayward fantasy. There are some things in life that we are not to have, some prizes we shall not win, and some ambitions that the grace of God will not let us gratify. When our consciences tells us, as it told Adam and Eve, that some particular temptation is not for us, we do well to not rationalize our curiosity or our appetite into an justification for reaching out to take it.

We live in a risky world full of temptations. Some of us are strong enough on our own to resist the constant bombardment of sinful choices, but most us will give into temptation when it appears before us. As Christian disciples we recognize that God means for us to grow in this difficult world, surrounded by influences clamoring for our allegiance. Our call is to not shift our responsibility onto someone or something else, but to make our own creative choices for the good.

Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Many people act as if no one could reasonably be supposed to resist temptation. Temptation is a present element in every life and it comes to everyone. But it is possible to confront our temptation and not yield to their alluring powers. Just because a choice exists, that doesn’t give us reason for choosing the wrong one.

In my experience, one of the best ways to resist the temptation of temptation is to speak them aloud and confess them to our trusted friends or loved ones. The cost of this honesty is a remarkable amount of vulnerability. To confess our weaknesses requires a fundamentally strong trust with others.

So, confession time. One of my greatest temptations is to believe that I deserve this. That somehow I have been blessed with such an incredible community, church, and vocation because I have earned it. That the reason so many new people have been coming to church is because of ME. Now on some level this is true, I have worked hard to be where I am, but there is a remarkable temptation to believe that I have achieved this all on my own. There is a power that comes with the pulpit, a tempting power to become the center of my own universe, to preach myself, to be the shining example for all of you to follow.

The truth, however, is that I am called to proclaim Jesus Christ, and him alone. I am a flawed and weak creature, guilty of sin and falling short of God’s glory. I want all of you to know about this temptation in my life, so that in speaking it aloud I might confront it, and that by making it known all of you can help me battle against it.

For some of us, though, speaking aloud a temptation is too difficult. The amount of vulnerability required to admit a temptation is so staggering that we cannot even imagine sharing it with someone else. Thats okay. There is another way that we can begin to address our temptations. Before sharing it with someone else, we do well to admit our temptations to ourselves. 

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In each of your bulletins you will find a blank piece of paper. I encourage you to take it out, and in the next few moments prayerfully consider the temptations in your lives; the true and deep temptations that you wrestle with. Write one of them down on that piece of paper. Admit the temptation to yourself so that you can begin to resist it. When our service ends this morning there will be a fire (in a fire pit) on the front lawn of the church. Throw your confession of temptation into the fire. Let God take that temptation from you. Let the God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, help carry your burden. Watch you paper burn in the fire knowing that God is with you in this life, walking beside you, loving you in spite of your temptations.

(Pause to write down the temptations)

My friends, here we are taking our first steps into the season of Lent. This liturgical journey is always tough. But it gives us an opportunity to confront the different sins and temptations in our lives. Over the next six weeks we can begin to reconcile our broken relationship with God, with others, and with creation. As you prepare to leave from this place, watch your temptation burn in the fire. Repent and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. Witness the flame of the Holy Spirit consume that temptation in your life knowing that nothing will ever separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.