June 6, 2021 / 2nd Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
First Reading Genesis 3:1-15 Second Reading 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 / Gospel Mark 3:20-35
This Is Us
What does it mean to be human? Where did people come from? Why are human beings the way we are – varying across a spectrum that runs from warm and kind to cold and uncaring? What is our purpose in life?
We know that the bible tells the story of God. Through the pages of scripture we learn who God is, what God is like, what God has done and continues to do, what God expects – and what God promises. The bible also tells our story – the story of humanity. Through a wealth of engaging stories, the bible addresses the questions I posed at the outset: who we are and what we’re for.
The bible is thus not only a book of Theology – teaching us the ways of God – it is also a book of Anthropology – showing us how to be truly and fully human. When we’re born into this world we don’t know the first thing about God. Likewise, upon arrival we have a lot to learn about how to live as authentic persons.
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The bible does not provide instruction like a textbook. Instead the scriptures engage our hearts and minds by means of many marvelous stories. We are invited to discover our own story in the narratives of both the Old and New Testaments. Of course the story begins, as it should, at the beginning. Genesis is the first book of the bible. Genesis means “origin,” “coming into being.” The opening chapter presents the story of our origin – how we came to be. We hear the story of God’s creation and our place in creation. Chapters 1 and 2 describe the beauty and order and goodness of creation. God creates all the wonders of the universe, the heavens and the earth, sun and moon, land and sea, plants and animals – and then as a grand finale God creates human beings in his own image.
Where do we come from? We come from God! Not by chance or by accident, but by God’s design. We are blessed with marvelous capacities. Psalm 8 exults that God has made us “but little lower than the angels.” Early church father Irenaeus observed, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Humans are the crown of creation. Like God – and unlike other creatures – humans enjoy a great deal of freedom. We have certain instincts like all animals. But we are not hard wired or limited by instincts. We are able to choose and to change – we can override our instincts. This freedom is a wonderful and liberating capacity – it makes humans highly adaptable and empowers us to create wonders of our own.
Chapter 3 in Genesis (our reading today) presents another aspect of humanity. Created in God’s image we are like God in many ways. However, unlike God, humans are not infallible. The primal story of Adam and Eve relates how and why we messed up – and continue to mess up. Our power to choose opens us to the possibility of making choices that are not wise or good.
People are created to live in harmony with God and one another and creation. The intricate balance and harmony in the created order is a wonder to behold. The insights of science have served to make us even more aware of the beautiful and complex inter-relatedness of living things – and the whole universe. However, sometimes instead of living in harmony with God and one another, we hit some notes that are off-key and discordant. Instead of abiding in love and gratitude, we choose to turn inward becoming arrogant and selfish. Rather than seeing ourselves as members of a wider community, we center all our attention on ourselves – our personal wishes and wants and desires. The Ego takes charge – and is interested in one thing: what’s in this for me?
It's been said that the three letters of that word EGO stand for Easing God Out. We are created by God, but we can choose to ignore God, to ease God out of the equation.
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The story of Adam and Eve illustrates how easily we can go astray – how we are susceptible to temptation. Consider their circumstances: They were living in the beautiful abundance of paradise. They had each other to share it with. They had peace and freedom and security. They were living in serene harmony with God and Creation. Yet somehow all that wasn’t quite enough. When the serpent / salesman came knocking at their door (as, sooner or later, he always does) Adam and Eve might have said to him: “You know we have more than we could possibly want or need. Life is great for us. Save your breath – we are beyond content!” But this salesman was clever, and crafty as a snake. He insinuated himself into their contented life in a seemingly innocuous way. He asks what sounds like a harmless question – as though merely seeking information. “Did God say,” he asks, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” (“Just asking, for the record you know.”) Eve is now fully engaged, and she explains that actually there is only one tree whose fruit is forbidden to them – eating it would be fatal to them. Having managed to subtly bait his hook, the salesman now sets that hook: “Guess what,” he says. “You won’t die if you eat this fruit. And what’s more, if you eat it, you will become like God. How do you like those apples?”
Eve pauses to consider this opportunity. She starts to sell herself on the idea of eating the forbidden fruit: It’s a delight to the eyes – it looks really good. It’s obviously delicious to eat. And it will make me wise – as God is wise. So, why not? Before taking the first bite, Eve has already distanced herself from God. She is exercising her freedom to choose – to choose her way over God’s way. Wouldn’t it be great to be like God?
So taking completely for granted all that she has and all that she is, Eve takes a bite of the forbidden fruit. And, by God, it’s delicious! It’s fantastic! She tells Adam, “You’ve got to try this! You won’t believe how good it is!” And of course he does. Why wouldn’t he? It looks good. Eve has no apparent side effects. God has been eased out of the story.
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Of course, there is more to the story: The awakening of conscience. The shame at being naked. The guilt of having disobeyed the God who made them and loves them. And of course the blame game: Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent / salesman. They try to avoid the responsibility that comes with freedom.
We know this story, because it is our story – yours and mine. This is us, how we are. There is much that is good and right with us. We still bear the image of God. We are blessed in many ways. Yet we can always be distracted and tempted by the prospect of having a little more. We can forget God while on the way to getting what we think we want.
Our pursuit of personal happiness can be misguided. It can lead us away from God and others. Our best aim is the pursuit of godliness – which is to say simple goodness. Happiness is not the goal – happiness is a byproduct of the pursuit of love and faithfulness.
It turns out that the bible is God’s story – and our story, too.
Keep God and others in your story – and the story will ultimately end well. That’s God’s promise.
Thanks be to God.