The recording of today’s sermon is book-ended by the Roots of American Music performing a selection from the Wailin’ Jennys’ One Voice and by member Ralph Dise belting out a selection from the American spiritual Laid My Burden Down (Glory, Glory Hallelujah)
This is really Clover’s story but she didn’t use it last week so I’m stealing it! At the kick-off for the Sr. High Youth Fellowship a couple of weeks ago, Caitlin had the kids cooking homemade spaghetti sauce for dinner. One young woman noticed that there was no parmesan cheese. Clover volunteered to go to the store to get some. The young woman warned her, “Don’t go. We will be fine. Don’t give them the option and no one will care.” Sounds like parental wisdom. . I never say, “Do you want to take out the trash?” Clover went anyway, playing the generous and beneficent goddess – and got the cheese.
The young woman said, “I told you not to get the cheese.”
Options create choices and choices sometimes muddle things and necessitates clean ups!
I thought of that story when I was reading the Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden because they took the option of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God, why did you give them an option? God, why do you put prohibitions? You know that is only an invitation.
“Don’t eat that freshly baked cookie that is right THERE on the counter, smelling delicious. And, by the way, I am going away for a while. And you two can just play around here and that delicious cookie will just sit there – don’t eat that delicious freshly baked aromatic, melty chocolate, gooey delightful thing – all tasty and all.” Oh, by the way – Don’t mind that cute and clever Poppin’ Fresh Doughboy over there who’s pouring that glass of milk!
We can get silly about this story and of course much silliness has ensued over the course of the centuries. You can’t read it as if it is factual reporting. And this story has caused more than enough mischief in damning women, condemning sex, the whole “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” stupidity, starting the whole patriarchal madness which we, as a species, have done our best to perpetuate. Thank you St. Paul, thank you St. Augustine!
And we get distracted by all the questions this story seems to raise about God and temptation and “was it a set up for failure” and all of that.
All silliness and distractions aside – this story is true – no, not about serpents and trees, but about reality. Just look around and peer inside.
As I have noted often, the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said that the ‘original sin’ described in this story is the only verifiable doctrine in all of scripture, all you have to do is read the headlines.
We can talk about the why and the how all day long – but that shooting at the Naval Yard, and hostage crisis in Kenya, and the Ariel Castro saga and it goes on and on and on – shows that something is broken, out of sync … we don’t live in any garden of Eden.
You ever made a choice you regret? “Wish I could have that one back!” “If only I had just said ‘no.’” “If only I had not pressed ‘send.’”
The choice to drop the bomb, to fire the chemical weapon, to willfully pollute in order to make money, to cut employee hours in order to save on health care, to horde instead of share, to cut food stamps, to do all these things – to judge, condemn and separate.
The consequences of personal, institutional and corporate choices makes me feel naked and ashamed and embarrassed. I want to hide, I don’t want God to see what I have done, what we have done.
Sometimes I get it right – there are glimpses of glory, and drops of divine creativity and love – sure, but there is always tension, the awareness of the missed option; of choosing self over God.
I get St. Paul, when he wrote in Romans: “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwell within.(7:22)” As if having this Genesis story before him, Paul writes, perhaps the words about the pain of childbirth echoing in his psyche: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we are saved.(8:22-23)”
But here is the great thing about this story – something that is just as real as the human propensity to screw up, to turn away from God. It is very graceful and powerful and hopeful.
“And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.” God chooses to clothe and provide. God’s yes is bigger than our no. God’s grace is bigger than our sin. God pursues us in our choices and beyond our mistakes and saves us.
That is a lovely thought. I can screw up. You can make a mistake. You and I can even willfully do something stupid and hurtful. There will be consequences – AND YET – God provides. You and I may run headlong into darkness – AND YET – God waits arms open.
The world is full of madness – AND YET there is still human choice that matters: we can clothe each other. We can share the wealth. We can laugh. We can seek after and find God. We can cultivate little gardens of delight. We can imagine and move beyond our reality. Yes we can.
I am reminded of the powerful poem by Shelly “Prometheus Unbound.” Prometheus, chained to a rock for bringing the knowledge of fire to humans. Each day an eagle comes and pecks at his innards as punishment. Shackled for eternity – Prometheus still clings to the divine imagination that no matter the wrong – there is something larger, stronger which has the final word.
To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night,
To defy power, which seems omnipotent
To love and to bear
To hope til hope creates from its own wreck
The thing it contemplates
Disobeying God, living into the consequences of action – banned from the garden and yet God clothes. God loves and bears and hopes and creates from the wreckage of our disobedience the plan of salvation, which is ours for the taking now – you can choose that too! The very thing meant for our punishment becomes the birthing of creativity – we can choose!
Work and giving birth – described as the consequences of our sin – become the places of deepest expression of our divine image. WOW.
And that, my friends, is the story of our faith – no matter what, God loves and provides:
In exile, God restores,
in slavery, God releases,
in sin, God forgives,
banned from the garden – God expels us towards the New Jerusalem!
There is the land flowing with milk and honey to east of Eden – and the story of redemption begins.
No turning back: may I have the Parmesan cheese?