“In the Garden” is a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our weekly worship event on the weekend of September 13, 2020. It represents the kickoff of our Fall lectionary cycle that has us reading through key stories of the Old Testament. The texts on which this sermon is based are Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-22; 3:1-8.
“In the Garden”
Pentecost 15 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-22; 3:1-8 September 13, 2020
“IN THE GARDEN”
It started out innocently enough ... but ... then ... it usually does.
After all ... they were Adam and Eve ... the first couple .... they had it made in the shade.
• They were surrounded by trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” ... and entertained by a menagerie of animals that seemed unthreatened by their presence.
• They’d found mutually-supportive ... mutually-encouraging ... life-partners in one another.
• And they enjoyed regular visits with the Creator of all that is.
It was a pretty good life.
And their job description?
• “Be fruitful and multiply.”
• “Till the garden and keep it.”
• “Enjoy the fruits of the earth.”
• “Name all the birds and the animals.”
• “And just don’t eat the fruit of that one tree.”
A little horticulture ... a tad of zoology ... and lots of time leftover for whatever they darn well pleased. It was ... in fact ... a REALLY good life.
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But you KNOW what happens next.
Heck ... I suspect that most EVERYBODY knows what happens next.
After Genesis chapter 2 ... comes Genesis chapter 3 ... doesn’t it?
The story of the serpent and the apple and “original sin”.
But rather than doing what preachers like me usually do when it comes to thinking about this text ...
You know ... trying to force you to look at “the human condition” and “original sin” and the place of evil and the demonic in this world ...
Let’s try something different today ... and just take the story at its simplest level ... as a description of life as we live it.
For while it IS a story about “sin” in general ... it is also a story about “sin” in its particulars.
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I mean ... take for instance HOW that “temptation” occurs.
• Does the serpent lie to the first couple? No.
• Does the serpent coerce this first couple? No.
• Does the serpent force them to eat “the apple” ... as it were? No!
The serpent simply calls into question the goodness of God!
• “Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
• “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.’”
• “You won’t 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.”
In other words ...
• Doesn’t trouble begin for Adam and Eve when they think they know better than God does???
• Doesn’t trouble begin for Adam and Eve when they doubt God really has their best interests in mind???
• Doesn’t trouble begin for Adam and Eve when they push against the limits of life as God intended it to be lived???
• Doesn’t trouble begin for Adam and Eve when they assert for themselves a desire “to be like God”???
Then again ...
Doesn’t trouble begin whenever and wherever we think we know better than God does???
Doesn’t trouble begin whenever and wherever we doubt God really has our best interests in mind???
Doesn’t trouble begin whenever and wherever we push against the limits of life as God intended it to be lived???
Doesn’t trouble begin whenever and wherever we assert for ourselves that desire “to be like God”???
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Now another particular in this story that we ought well to pay attention too has to do with what the “temptation” looked liked?
The serpent is selling is something that is “good for food” and “a delight to the eyes” and “desired to make one wise”. It is ... in fact .. GOOD STUFF.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wisdom or food or pleasure ... or even money or political power for that matter ....
But whenever anything is grasped in rebellion against God ... there are hidden costs that begin to emerge.
I remember once ... back in the days before I went off to seminary ... being part of a group called Bible Study Fellowship.
And we were talking as a group about “temptation” ... and how we are tempted today ....
And one of the guys in the group ... a young salesman ... said:
“Temptation is when your boss calls you in ... as mine did yesterday ... and says, “I want to give you a real opportunity. I’m going to give you a bigger sales territory. For we believe that you have what it takes to make it to the next level.”
“But I don’t want a bigger sales territory,” the young salesman told his boss. “I’m already away from home four nights a week. It just wouldn’t be fair to my wife and my daughter.”
“Look” ... his boss replied ... “You should be doing this for your wife and your daughter. It takes good money to support a family nowadays. Think about their futures. Do this for them.”
“Now that” ... the fellow said ... “is temptation.”
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But then .... what happens when Adam and Eve get caught in their misdeed ... right after they’ve eaten the forbidden fruit?
God says to Adam ... “Where are you?” And Adam’s immediate response is one of guilt.
But what comes next????
THE BLAME GAME!
• “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
• “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
How often in our own lives ... folks ... do we seek to blame others for our own actions of failure and our failures to act?
For instance ... what’s the classic excuse of every kid on the playground who gets caught up in a little dust-up? “But she pushed me first.”
And what’s the classic excuse of every politician who gets caught coming about of a beauty salon in these days of social-distancing? “But they set me up.”
And what the classic excuse of every presidential candidate who gets caught not wanting to visit a historic memorial? “They told me the weather was just too bad.”
Point being .....
• If we can blame somebody or someone else for our missteps ...
• Then we can be let off the hook ...
• And our egos can be left intact ...
• And we can continue to live in the delusion that we are perfect.
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But did you ever stop to realize the real price of all of those excuses in our lives?
If we can get away with blaming others ... then we needn’t blame ourselves ...
And if we don’t ever rightly blame ourselves ... we abdicate the power to grow and grow up!!
I mean ... I sometimes wonder what would have happened in this story if Adam had accepted responsibility for his misbehavior?
If ... rather than blaming Eve ... Adam had simply said ... “Yes Lord, I blew it. I was wrong.”
During my year of seminary internship ... I was living down in Houston, Texas ...
And a fellow in the congregation I was serving had car trouble ... and needed to get to work downtown by nine in the morning ... and asked if I could quickly give him a ride.
So I hopped in the car and raced over to his house ... and off we went downtown ... to a series of one way streets with these prominent signs which read “No Right Turn between 7 and 9 a.m.”
Well ... I made a quick calculation and determined that to get from where we were to where we needed to be by 9 a.m. ... I was going to HAVE to make a right turn ...
And so I did ...and just as soon as I did ... I heard a siren ... right behind me ... and I pulled over.
Truth be told ... the officer stepped out of the car ... and asked me to roll down my window ...
And asked me what time it was ... and if I knew that it was illegal to make a right turn between the hours of 7 and 9.
And I explained to him that it was five minutes to nine ... and yes ... I did know that it was illegal to make a right turn at that intersection between 7 and 9 a.m. ... and yes ... I did deserve for him to write me a ticket.
And ... truth be told ... the officer was so dumbfounded that I would acknowledge my error and NOT try to cook up some cockamamie excuse ...
That right then and there he shook his head and said “I’ve never actually heard anyone say that before” ... and he let me off the hook.
Now ... I’m not saying that ... had Adam owned up to his misdeed ... we’d still be “in the garden” ...
But I am saying that owning up to our errors and misdeeds ... to our actions of failure and our failures to act ... is a far better approach than is the “blame game” which we so love to play.
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But ... finally ... and just briefly ... consider this.
At the end of the story ... after the part we heard read ... there comes some bad news.
The serpent and Eve and Adam will each receive the just desserts of their behaviors ... an articulation of the consequences of their actions.
• And the serpent will end up eating dust ...
• And the woman will end up enduring pains in labor ...
• And the man will end up tending a garden that grows more weeds than wheat.
But AFTER that ... there is one little comment that shouldn’t be missed ... because it gives us a hint about just who God is.
For in the face of all those awful consequences ... as ticked as God was that all this stuff transpired ... chapter 3, verse 21 says this: And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. In other words ... EVEN STILL ... God gave them gifts and a blessing!
Now it is clear that God wasn’t “pleased” with all this misbehavior.
But it is also clear that that doesn’t mean that God gave up on what ... and whom ... God had made!
If the face of our misbehaviors and our rebellion against God ... not just umpteen years ago in the garden ... but even now today ... God doesn’t give up on us and call it quits between us when we mess up.
No ... even then ... maybe even ‘especially then’ .. God continues to gift us ... and bless us ... and watch over us ... and provide us with what we need.
For which we can only ever say “Thanks be to God!”