June 6, 2021
For our second reading today we go to the third chapter of Genesis to hear some of the Adam and Eve myth and what happens to them and the serpent after they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Listen as God continues to speak to you through the scriptures.
READ Genesis 3:8-15
So… let’s start this sermon with the “m” word… myth. Because that word gets a bum rap in our everyday use. We use the word “myth” to talk about how things are patently false. If something is untrue, we call it a myth. So when I say the words “Adam and Eve myth”… I know that uttering that phrase is going to trigger a negative response in many people. Just this week… scrolling through my regular YouTube feed… which I waste too much time doing, if I’m being honest… there was a video by what looked like an earnest young man claiming how the myth of the flood and Noah’s Ark proved that the Bible was false. Even without watching the young man’s video, I can tell you that he wasn’t arguing about the myth itself or the story of the flood… he was arguing against how he was brought up with the insistence that every story in the Bible had to be a fact… a literal fact… because if any part of it were not a literal fact then all of it was false and a lie. Myth wasn’t an option for him. I feel confident that this video was more about his throwing out the increasingly ridiculous mental gymnastics it took to uphold the belief in the historicity of everything in the Bible.
So it’s not myths that are a problem… it’s the absoluteness of the insistence that truth can only be found in verifiable fact that is the problem… especially when it comes to scripture because the insistence is trying to make certain writings included in scripture into something they’re not… and that’s the lie that eventually cracks for many with such devastating results that when they can no longer maintain the greater lie causes them to throw out all the wonderful and timeless truths that might be found through myth.
Because really… that’s the great power of these myths… to convey a truth… not a fact… a truth. Every religion uses the power of myth to convey timeless truths. It’s a human thing to do… to tell stories… because that is so much of how we understand and tell people what it is we understand. That’s what mythic storytelling tries to do. That’s why we attach that “mythic” adjective to some stories and not to others. “The Lord of the Rings” is mythic storytelling. The latest “Fast and Furious” movie… probably not so much. Much of what I do behind this fancy box every week is to tell stories… to try to give you the interpretive skills to see the truth that is contained within the stories that we tell again and again… to teach a language of stories that helps us to understand a little better the mystery of God and maybe even our own lives along the way.
The fact is… reading the Bible doesn’t require us to construct some false interpretive framework that forces the stories and other literature within to conform to our demands and to keep our predetermined conclusions safe. We don’t shape scripture. Scripture shapes us. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. And Saints, scripture should continually be surprising us with its wisdom. Surprising. Challenging. Pushing. That’s what’s kept it around all these years… not our attempts in the last hundred and fifty years to keep it safe from the ideas we fear the most.
Sorry… went on a little longer about this than I originally intended. Didn’t mean to go all Joseph Campbell on you today.
So… the story of the Fall. This myth is such a large part of our overall theological story. It’s vital. Through the Fall… sin… sin comes into the world. It’s the sin that is the broken relationship with God… not the wrong things we do to one another. It’s the sin that only God through Christ can overcome.
As God comes into the garden… the man and the woman… they hide from God. I know we tend to focus on the naked part of this story… but it is the act of hiding from God when they hear God in the garden that is more important. What better way to display the fear… not the awe that is expressed when we usually use that word “fear” in scripture… but here Adam and Eve are afraid… there is distrust… there is already the cracks that will lead to brokenness. They answer God’s questions with deflections… throwing the blame elsewhere. Adam is quick to say he isn’t to blame… it’s the woman’s fault… and really it’s your fault God because you gave me the woman. Even to say such a thing takes an indignant attitude. I mean, Adam has to plant his heels firmly in this position. He puts himself into conflict with God. Adam takes an unrepentant stand… and he can’t back down. He has to maintain that stand and in doing so keeps breaking apart his relationship with God. The woman whom you gave me. The gratitude for all that God has done is gone in an instant. God made Eve because God knew it was not good for the man to be alone. God made Eve as a helper… as a partner. The woman whom you gave me. Adam twists it all around into this ugly thing.
Now… I don’t know why we’ve been so hard on Eve over the years… she at least is somewhat honest in her answer, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” You know… I take that back. I do know why we’ve been so hard on Eve over the years… it’s one of the timeless truths in this myth… man will throw the blame on woman. Churches run by men will throw the blame on woman. So Eve becomes the focus for the reason of the Fall and… Adam gets let off the hook… even though he’s the one who first introduces sin into the story by his answer to God’s question. Now I know what you’re thinking… wait a minute, that’s not the way I’ve been told this story… I’ve been told that when Eve takes a bite of the apple… or whatever the fruit is… when Eve takes a bite… that’s the moment sin comes into the world. The Fall is her fault… just like Adam says. But let’s talk about that… because it is central to the story. Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Until Eve takes a bite… she is innocent. Until Adam takes a bite… he is innocent. Then they both eat and all this knowledge comes rushing in. They make clothes for themselves. Again… don’t get distracted by the clothes and the nakedness. Then God comes into the garden and their first response is to hide. Not a good choice now that they possess the knowledge of Good and Evil… but also not a choice that breaks their relationship with God. Hiding at this point can still be undone. I mean.. when God calls for them… they do answer. They do come out of hiding to face God.
Possessing the knowledge of good and evil… sin comes into the story when Adam chooses evil over the good. With God’s first questions… “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam… having the knowledge of good and evil… chooses the evil… Adam chooses to be defiant… Adam chooses to break trust with God. The good Adam could have chosen at this point… the good would have been confession. The good would have been repentance. I don’t think that it’s so much that in their innocence they broke God’s command not to eat of the tree… it’s that now in their possession of the knowledge of good and evil… they choose the evil over the good. That’s what breaks our relationship with God. That’s what breaks our relationships with one another. Knowing what is right… knowing full well what we ought to do… we still choose to do what is wrong. That’s a timeless truth. That is the Fall that happens over and over again… day after day we re-live this myth. We choose the lie over the truth… and then we try to justify our choice through blame. Eve may have been more honest with her answer to God’s question… but I can see her in my imagination with her head down… her eyes cast down… but her arm raised up as she points to the serpent. She doesn’t confess. She doesn’t tell God how now she sees what she did was wrong. She doesn’t ask for forgiveness. She doesn’t repent or seek to heal what has been broken. She doesn’t restore trust. She instead points the finger. Now having the knowledge of good and evil… she chooses the evil and not the good… breaking apart the relationship she has with God… and she joins Adam in sin… in brokenness.
Tell me you don’t see the truth of this myth in the world around you every single day.
Paul expresses well the conundrum of the Fall myth in Romans… “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For 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 dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
So… in a way… Christ is God’s giving us another bite at the apple. And again… I know that you want to say that taking a bite of the fruit was were it all went wrong in the first place… however, in Christ it’s not that the knowledge of good and evil is taken away from us… it’s that set free from that original shattering into sin… we are once again given that choice… it’s almost like hitting the reset button and our relationship with God is back to being unbroken… now as our knowledge has been reinforced and focused in the works and teachings and resurrection of Christ… as our knowledge of good and evil is enlightened through the continual shaping presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives… we are once again put at the moment when Adam must answer… and we must choose the good of God over the evil that leads to the brokenness of sin. Amen.