Sermon March 5

Another great leap forward, or not

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh

March 5, 2017; Lent 1A: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7;Romans 5:12-19Matthew 4:1-11

Today we have Adam and Eve. A couple things are worth pointing out right from the start. First, Adam and Eve are not names of people but representatives of a human species that we can now trace back through the millennia using first mitochondrial DNA. The Akkadian word “adama” means “to make” and is close to the Hebrew word for “earth” or dust. It is also close to the word “red” which is used for red clay. Eve is derived from the Hebrew word for “life” or “breathe.” Taken together the words Adam and Eve mean “living clay,” “dust with breath” or “earth with spirit.” To put it differently, Adam and Eve are not individual people, they are all people.

Second, it is also important to recognize — as seen in the presence of Akkadian and Babylonian words in this these passages, the reference in them to God as plural, and the existence of two similar but completely separate creation stories in Genesis chapters one and two – that the roots of the the story of Adam and Eve come from other religions and cultures than our own. (Our current version of creation was probably grafted on to Jewish tradition during the time of the exile in Babylon.) Adam and Eve is more than an ancient archetype, poetic metaphor or primitive projection that preserved for an unenlightened populace who build arks and theme parks showing humans and dinosaurs frolicking together. This is an oral tradition deep within our history.

It is a mythic memory of the magnificent and mystical moment when everything changed. This is the memory of a movement embodied in an evolutionary shift that occurred some ten to twelve thousand years ago when human beings began to domesticate plants and animals. Anthropologists tell us that those beginnings of agriculture fed a great leap forward in brain size, cognition and human development. The story of Adam and Eve comes from this time. It is the story of when humans became sentient beings. It is the story of when humans began to think, reflect, and discover who they are and whose image they were made.

In Genesis 3:5, the serpent tells Eve that if she eats the apple her eyes will be open and she will know the difference between good and evil. In Genesis 3:22, God confirms this by saying “The man has now become like one of us.” Though evolutionary biologists may argue that we are guided by our DNA and reproductive urges, this is the moment when free will was born and humans began to claim their god-like ability to make decisions, to choose their destiny, and to use their brains to figure things out. The story of Adam and Even is a story of when people began to show that they were made in the image of God. So what’s the problem? Putting aside thoughts of original sin and Sunday school conundrums, the issue seems to be that they forgot that being god-like did not mean being God and that being made in God’s image did not mean that they no longer needed God at all.   This is the temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness. It is the same temptation we face today.

The story of Adam and Even is a story of when people began to show that they were made in the image of God. So what’s the problem? Putting aside thoughts of original sin and Sunday school conundrums, the issue seems to be that they forgot that being god-like did not mean being God and that being made in God’s image did not mean that they no longer needed God at all.   This is the temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness. It is the same temptation we face today.

In our modern world, the devil’s challenges are a piece of cake. With the right hydroponics, we can grow wheat and make bread out of stone. With the right avionics, we can jump off of the tallest buildings and fly. With the right histrionics, we can get elected to the top position in the greatest of country. We know we can do great things. Our so-called “Protestant work ethic” has taught us the non-biblical proverb that God helps those who help themselves. We believe we can succeed through rugged individualism, self-reliance and the idea of putting number one first. Though we seem to be moving in the opposite direction, we are infused with enlightenment

Our so-called “Protestant work ethic” has taught us the non-biblical proverb that God helps those who help themselves. We believe we can succeed through rugged individualism, self-reliance and the idea of putting number one first. Though we seem to be moving in the opposite direction, we are infused with enlightenment ideals, trusting that with the proper application science and reason, we will go nowhere but up… and that through a sort of Manifest Destiny we are meant to lead not just our nation but the world itself. Having evolved beyond the primitive punishing deity of the Old Testament, most of us now see God as a sort of benign but divine clockmaker and believe what has best been described as a moral therapeutic deism. In America, culture and capitalism have become so conflated with Christianity that hubris has replaced humility, and pride, boasting, and self-aggrandizement are now seen as signs of strength. All this leads to the situation in which we find ourselves today, what on this first Sunday of Lent is well defined as a state of sin.

Having evolved beyond the primitive punishing deity of the Old Testament, most of us now see God as a sort of benign but divine clockmaker and believe what has best been described as a moral therapeutic deism. In America, culture and capitalism have become so conflated with Christianity that hubris has replaced humility, and pride, boasting, and self-aggrandizement are now seen as signs of strength. All this leads to the situation in which we find ourselves today, what on this first Sunday of Lent is well defined as a state of sin.

Sin is a word that means separation. We are in a state of sin when we are separated from others, and from God. Sins are actions that create this situation, that break or get in the way of relationship with others, and with God. The story of Adam and Eve tells of the time when human beings broke from God and took off on their own. The story of Jesus tells of the opportunity for that relationship to be restored. Notice that Jesus didn’t respond to the temptations by debating the details – making bread, ruling nations, or being protected from harm. He responded by rising about it all, by talking about God, by living God’s values and by putting God first. Paul put it this way in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped (or “exploited), but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (or “slave”), being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

Notice that Jesus didn’t respond to the temptations by debating the details – making bread, ruling nations, or being protected from harm. He responded by rising about it all, by talking about God, by living God’s values and by putting God first. Paul put it this way in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped (or “exploited), but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (or “slave”), being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

Lent is an opportunity, a season set aside, for us to do just that. To not use our God-given brains, our God-given gifts, and our God-like abilities is a sin. So also is making the mistake to think that those brains and gifts and abilities mean that we can do it all on our own. It is common for people at the top end of their fields to talk about how much they do not know. It is equally common for people who aren’t to think they know everything. We have a choice. Instead of dumbing down, Lent is a time for us to wise up, to recognize the presence of and our need for a power greater than ourselves, and put God first. Lent is a time to reconnect with God and our neighbor and make another great leap forward, using our gifts to remember who we are and whose image we were made. Lent tells us that the way to do this is to follow Jesus, to do what Jesus did, to make the journey to the cross… and then to the new life and hope beyond. Like Adam and Eve, we are at one of those moments in history when we could leap forward or back. What happens next is up to us.

We have a choice. Instead of dumbing down, Lent is a time for us to wise up, to recognize the presence of and our need for a power greater than ourselves, and put God first. Lent is a time to reconnect with God and our neighbor and make another great leap forward, using our gifts to remember who we are and whose image we were made. Lent tells us that the way to do this is to follow Jesus, to do what Jesus did, to make the journey to the cross… and then to the new life and hope beyond. Like Adam and Eve, we are at one of those moments in history when we could leap forward or back. What happens next is up to us.

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