Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Story of Us

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17, 3:1-8
September 11, 2016

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, Tell me where are you going?
This he told me
Said, I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm,
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
                                                            Joni Mitchell

            “And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.” These lyrics are from the song Woodstock. Joni Mitchell wrote them, but the performance of them that I know and love best is by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I’ve listened to this song countless times over the years, but until I started working on this sermon, I’d never thought too much about the line, “And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.” I’m assuming, and I believe my assumption is correct, that this is a reference not just to Yasgur’s farm or to the Woodstock concert itself, but to the Garden of Eden.
            It’s a nice idea, isn’t it; getting back to the garden, getting back to a time and place when human beings and creation, human beings and God lived in perfect harmony.  Wars were not yet fought. Poverty was not even a concept, much less a reality. There were no isms to overcome; racism, sexism, ageism, etc. Justice was not necessary because there was nothing to cause injustice. If only that snake would have kept his mouth shut. I almost entitled this sermon, “This Is Why I Hate Snakes.” But the snake is only one part of this story.
            That leads to the question I have been asking myself all week; what is this story really all about? I know that theologically speaking, it is about God’s creation and humanity’s fall. It is about original sin, and Adam and Eve’s disobedience. It is the story that has justified centuries of violence toward women because Eve took the first bite of the forbidden fruit. It is the history of humanity’s first bad decision. It is the reason there is a garden to which we are constantly trying to return. It is the story of how Adam and Eve lived in paradise, until the tricky serpent came along, and God’s original children listened to the snake instead of God.
            But was the garden perfect? What do we mean when call something “perfect”? Was it without flaw? Was it a place where no mistakes could be made? If that’s true, then it wasn’t perfect because mistakes were made; hence, why we’re trying to get back to it. If God created it to be perfect, then the snake would not have had the ability to whisper tantalizing suggestions in Eve’s ear. If it were perfect, then Eve would not have considered disobeying and taking the fruit. If it were perfect, Adam would not have stood beside her through all of this and done nothing.
            Maybe the Garden of Eden was not perfect. Maybe God did not create us to be perfect; at least not perfect in the way we understand perfection. God created Adam to be in relationship with God. As one of my friends pointed out in Bible study, God spoke creation into existence. If you read the first account of creation that is what God did. God spoke it into existence. But when it came to Adam, God got his hands dirty. God took the ground and formed Adam. The name Adam is a Hebrew play on words from the word for ground, which is adamah. God formed Adam from the ground, and you would think that if God’s hands formed humanity, then humanity should indeed be perfect, right? Yet Adam and Eve were not perfect. Perfect people do not disobey. They did.
            I loved playing with my dollhouse when I was a kid. I could arrange the furniture anyway I wanted to. I could put the doll family who lived there in any room, have them do anything I chose, say anything I wanted them to say. They were inanimate objects, and they did what I commanded. I guess if God had wanted to create perfection, we would have been created like those dolls. God could move us around where God chose. God could make us do and say what God wanted. But that is not how Adam and Eve were created. That is not how we were created.
            God created Adam to be in relationship with God and with the rest of God’s creation. God created Eve to be in relationship with Adam and with God and with the rest of God’s creation. God created us for relationship. God created us with free will. We were given brains to think and bodies to move and use. We were given the freedom to say, “No.”
            I’ve come to believe, as heretical as it may sound, that the Garden of Eden was not a perfect place – at least not in the way that I have always defined perfection. I believe it was a place of abundance. I believe it was a place where the chaos was kept at bay. Remember, when God spoke the world into being, God pushed back the chaos. But the chaos was not destroyed or eliminated. The Garden of Eden was a place of abundance and safety, but not perfection. The couple and the creatures that inhabited it were also not perfect. Those two free-thinking, imperfect people did what all free-thinking, imperfect people do. They messed up. They acted wrongly. They broke relationship with God. They fell, and they were sent out into the world where the chaos threatened to come rushing in – and often it did. Often it does.
            It seems to me that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of us. It is the story of the human condition. It is the story of broken relationship and the sadness and consequences that follow. It is the story of us. We are Adam and Eve. We continue to break relationship. We continue to make bad choices. We continue to suffer the consequences of our brokenness. It is the story of us.
            How fitting it is, then, that this story of us is chosen for this particular day. Fifteen years ago, on a beautiful September morning, while I held my two-month-old in my arms and watched my two-year-old play on the floor, I and the rest of the country, the rest of the world, also watched in horror as planes flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. We heard of another plane bound for Washington D.C. that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. We watched on our televisions as chaos swept back in. We witnessed the moment when families were ripped apart, when parents would no longer come home to their children and children would not be returned to their parents. Our terrible brokenness was on full display. Our human condition had never seemed lower and more wretched. Yet we also saw those who worked to keep the chaos at bay; those who rescued and helped, those who sacrificed their own lives to go in when others were desperately trying to get out. It was a horrific and appalling and heartbreaking chapter in the story of us.
            Fifteen years later, we are still broken. The chaos still threatens to overwhelm us. This is the most rancorous election seasons I have ever been privy to, and I know that I get caught up in and contribute to that rancor. I wonder sometimes, especially when I feel to the depths of my being the hatred and anger that seems all around me, if the story of us will ever have a happy ending; if there will ever be a chapter devoted to peace and compassion, to justice and righteousness. If the writing of this story is left up to us, then I doubt that chapter will ever be written. But the good news is that it is most assuredly not left up to us. Because back when the story of us began, back when we were still in the Garden, back before we listened to that sneaky snake, God created us to be in relationship with one another and with God. We broke the relationship. We broke it and we have suffered and struggled ever since. But God didn’t break the relationship. God did not end it there. God kept trying to help us write the story. We speak of us trying to get back to the Garden, but in reality I believe it is God who is trying to lead us back there; back to relationship, back to abundance of life and love.
            God is still with us, still writing the story of us. In spite of the terrible things we do to one another, God is still pushing back the chaos and calling us to do the same by showing the same love, compassion and mercy to others that God shows us. It seems to me that the story of us is not yet finished, because the story of us is the story of God. We are broken, but God is still creating, still shaping us with his merciful hands; still loving us with his unconditional love. Thanks. Be. To. God. 
            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!”


No comments:

Post a Comment