Sunday, January 5, 2014

January 5, 2014

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

THE BIGGEST LOSERS: ADAM & EVE

Genesis 3

 

It’s always encouraging to learn that, no matter how badly we’ve messed things up in life, there are others who have done worse.  We’re starting a series on the biggest losers in the Bible.  If nothing else, I hope this series will encourage you the next time you feel like a loser.  Your mistakes will not seem so large when compared with theirs.  Especially Adam and Eve.  They were responsible for the downfall of the whole human race.  I don’t think anyone here can compete with that!

But before we look at their story and start this series, I thought I would share one of the many stories I could share about a moment in my life when I was a real loser.  I know you have stories like this.  Even worse than mine, I hope.  I’d love to hear your “loser” story and, with your permission, use it in a future sermon in this series.  Two things I’ve always believed: it’s good to start a sermon with some laughter and it’s fun to laugh at the expense of others.

I was working for my dad the summer after I graduated from high school.  It was a cable television business.  It involved a great deal of digging.  We did have some power equipment, so it wasn’t always digging with a pick and shovel.  My favorite piece of equipment was a walk-behind trenching machine that went by the brand name, “Ditch Witch”.

On the day I have in mind, I had the simple task of using that “Ditch Witch” to dig a trench to a newly built home.  My dad had told me specifically how to do it.  He said you always start at the cable box and end at the house.  When the machine was in operation, it would move very slowly backwards while the chain was turning and it was digging.  You would be holding on, glancing backwards now and then to make sure you were going where you wanted to go.  You knew it was time to stop when your back touched the house.  Then you had maybe four feet of a ditch to dig by hand.

Having just graduated from high school, I knew a lot more than my dad.  I really didn’t want to have to do any more manual labor than necessary.  That four foot ditch was something I really didn’t want to have to dig by hand.  So, why not start the trenching machine right at the foundation of the house?  I was so smart.  So I put the “Ditch Witch” in the fast forward gear and maneuvered it right next to the house.  I took it out of gear and lowered the boom control to get the digging chain close to the ground.  I throttled it up to the digging setting and let out the clutch.

I had done everything right, except for one thing.  I still had the machine in the forward gear.  So as I let out the clutch, that big machine lurched forward and those sharp digging teeth climbed right up the brand new siding on that brand new house.

At my dad’s funeral, I got to visit with his business partner from way back then, a man named Paul Rowan.  He is in his 90’s now.  I asked him if he remembered this story.  I figured after all these years, he would have long since forgotten.  I was wrong.  He remembered.   He remembered details I had forgotten.  If there’s a happy ending to my biggest loser story, it’s this:  My ability to drive a trenching machine up the side of a house was no doubt a factor in my becoming a minister and not following my father into the cable television business!

Dad said, “Don’t start at the house when you are trenching.”  God said, “Don’t eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden.”  It’s a good idea to listen to those who know more than we do.

Adam and Eve’s story lays some of the basic groundwork for the rest of the Bible.  We’re going to be looking at some foundational things this morning.  Some big themes.  We’re going to be answering three questions:  What is the definition of sin?  What are the results of sin?  And what is the solution to sin?  It’s all right here in Genesis, chapter 3.  What is sin?  What comes from sin?  And how has God made provision to deal with sin?

So let’s jump right in and answer the first question.  What is the definition of sin?  And I’ll just save us some time and give you the answer.  It’s in verse 6.  “The woman saw that the tree was good for food.”  But since that doesn’t sound even remotely like a definition of sin, let me back up and say a little more.

It was a rather strange command.  They could eat the fruit from every tree in the garden except one.  What was wrong with that one?  Did it have poison fruit?  Would it give them a rash?  Would it make them throw up?  If so, then why did God make it??  It would have been a lot simpler to just create good trees with edible fruit and then not have to bother with telling them which one to stay away from.

If God needs to lay down a few basic laws, then why not laws that have some practical value?  He could have said something like, “Adam and Eve, you’re married, so don’t kill each other.  Because I know some days you are really going to really be tempted.  Especially you, Eve.”  He could have said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” although that one wouldn’t have been too hard since they were the only ones there.  He could have given them rules for living.  Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t hit, play nice.  But instead he tells them to stay away from a tree.  Why?

Here’s what I think is the reason.  God is saying, “I want you to obey me because you trust me, not because I’m telling you something that makes sense to you.”  God is saying, “I want your obedience just because I said so, not because there’s something in it for you.”

Parents used to say that to their children more than they do now.  The parent would say, “Do this.”  The child would say, “Why?”  And the parent would say, “Because I am the parent and I am bigger than you.”  I don’t recommend using that line on your children.  Especially when your children get to be bigger than you.  Because parents aren’t God.  But God is God, and God has every right to tell us what we can or cannot do.  God has that authority.  And God exercises that authority right here in the Garden of Eden.

Then Satan gets involved.  Satan in the form of a serpent.  Eve has this little conversation with this serpent who convinces her that God didn’t know what he was talking about.  When God said to stay away from that one tree, he was trying to pull a fast one on her.  God didn’t want her to eat from this tree, not because it would be bad for her, but because it would be bad for God.  That fruit would make it possible for her to “be like God”.  And God didn’t want that.  In other words, the serpent convinces Eve that God does not care about what is best for her.  God cannot be trusted.  She knows better than God what is in her best interest.

And that’s when it says, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food.”  Up to now in this whole creation narrative, God is the one who says what is good.  During creation, God frequently takes a moment to look at what he had just created and says, “It is good.”  Several times he says that.  “It is good.”  “It is good.”  Except when he creates man and woman, he modifies it.  God says, “It is very good.”  God is the one who says what is good and what is not good and what is very good.  Until we get to chapter 3, verse 6, when Eve, influenced by Satan, says “the tree [is] good for food.”  God had said it wasn’t.  She said it was.

And that is the definition of sin.  Ignoring what God says about what is good and what is bad and deciding for ourselves.  Sin, in its essence, is not breaking God’s rules.  It is taking God’s place.  It is destroying the relationship God intends for us to have with him.  This relationship is possible only when we let God be God.  When we let God be the master of our lives.  When we stop doubting that God knows best and that God wants only the best for us.

So having defined sin, the story continues to unfold and it shows us next the result of sin.  The result of sin, in a word, is brokenness.  Brokenness in four ways.  With God, with self, with others, and with creation.

First, brokenness with God.  The relationship that once was, is no more.  Right after their sin, “they hear the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”  That word translated “walking” means more than just walking.  It means walking together.  It means fellowship, intimacy, friendship, closeness.  That’s what their relationship with God had been like.  They walked and talked and enjoyed the company of God.  So what do they do now, when they hear the sound of God approaching them, wanting to go for a walk with them?  They run and hide.  They want nothing to do with God.  They have rejected God and so they feel rejected by God.

Brokenness with God is the first result of sin.  That’s why we feel so empty.  That’s why we are so frequently disappointed.

That’s why we feel that restlessness we talked about last week.  That’s why we “can’t get no satisfaction, though we try and we try and we try and we try.”  We run away from God and we run to all the “God-substitutes” that are readily available, hoping that maybe this time we’ll finally find what our heart is looking for.  And time and time again we are disappointed.

Sin also causes brokenness with self.  The first thing we’re told after Adam and Eve eat the fruit is this:  “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.”  We contrast this with the final verse of the previous chapter, before sin.  They “were both naked and were not ashamed.”  So sin causes them to feel something they have never felt before.  Shame.  They are no longer at peace with who they are.  They are no longer at peace with the way God made them.

They tried to solve that problem with fig leaves.  And we’ve been sewing fig leaves ever since.  We feel inadequate, but we don’t want anyone else to know that.  So we cover that up.  We feel there is something wrong with us, so we go to ridiculous lengths to prove we’re OK.  Even though we don’t feel OK.  To prove we’re somebody, we’re important, even though deep down we’re not so sure.  Brokenness with self.

And then there is brokenness with others.  They start blaming each other.  Adam says it’s all Eve’s fault.  Eve says it’s the snake who is to blame.  There aren’t too many people around to point fingers at, but they are pointing at everyone and everything except for themselves.  Sin causes us to do that.  We excuse ourselves from responsibility.  The problem is with her, with them, with those people.  And our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the human family have been poisoned ever since.

Finally, there is brokenness with creation.  We see this in verse 17:  “Because you did this, because you ate from the tree I commanded you not to eat from, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground . . . for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

The picture is that before sin, the world was a paradise.  Never too hot.  Never too cold.  No natural disasters.  No floods.  No droughts.  No thorns or thistles.  No goat heads. Now it’s a constant battle with nature for survival.  And in the end, nature wins.

It’s always encouraging to learn that no matter how badly we’ve messed things up in life, there are others who have done worse.  Well, Adam and Eve did a pretty good job of it.  They introduced sin into a pristine world.  They decided they didn’t need God.  And as a result, all this brokenness.  All these broken pieces shattered everywhere.  God’s perfect plan, barely underway, and now it lay in ruins.  This was even worse than a jagged scar of twisted aluminum running up the side of that brand new house.

But God fixes broken things.  That’s where we are going to end each of these sermons.  We can’t mess things up so badly in life that God can’t redeem the situation.  We find that even here, right in this story of the first two losers, Adam and Eve.

God’s solution to sin is introduced while they are still hiding.  It’s found in the words God speaks, “Where are you?”  God knew where they were.  God didn’t need them to yell back, “Over here, God!”  Them hiding from God was kind of like a two-year-old hiding from her parents who can see her little feet sticking out from behind the sofa.  God didn’t say, “Where are you?” because he didn’t know where they were.  God said, “Where are you?” because God was reaching out to them.  God knew very well where they were, what they had done, and why they were hiding.  Still God was taking the initiative to call them back into relationship.  They ran away and hid from God.  God walked toward where they were hiding.  God wouldn’t, God couldn’t, just let them go.

Sometimes we run away from God.  Sometimes we hide.  Sometimes we chose, deliberately choose, to live apart from God.  We’re living in brokenness and we either don’t care or don’t think it matters whether we care.

Whether we like it or not,  whether we know it or not, whether we could ever believe it or not, God is calling out to us.  Calling our name.  Reaching out to us.  Inviting us to let God back into our lives.

That’s what God does with our sin.  “The Hound of Heaven” pursues us and will not stop pursuing us because he will not stop loving us.

But I’m going to close with something very specific in today’s text.  This isn’t going to be one of those nice, feel good stories to end things today.  So listen carefully.  It’s a little complicated.  But I find this fascinating and I think you will, too.

God speaks to the serpent.  That is to say God speaks to Satan.  And God says something that sounds rather cryptic.  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he will crush your head and you will strike his heal” (3:15).  Enmity, that means warfare.  That means a fight to the finish.  And we’re told how it’s going to finish.  Satan’s head gets crushes.

Now is this enmity between Satan and the woman?  Is it Satan and Eve who get into this battle royal?  No.  It says “between your seed and her seed”.  Between Satan’s offspring and the offspring of this unnamed woman, who actually isn’t Eve.

Who is she?  Here is the clue.  In all of human history, who is the one and only person who was the offspring of a woman?  Not of a man and a woman, but just the offspring of a woman?

The woman was Mary.  The offspring was Jesus.  Jesus is the one who would be God’s ultimate answer to sin.  Jesus is the one who would take on Satan and sin and evil and death, and would crush its head.  Jesus is the one who would restore all that had been broken and lost in the Garden of Eden.

 

Thank you God for this story, so packed with meaning, with which your Bible begins.  And help us to enter this story.  Your story always connects with our story.  Especially as we tell the story of losers, we can all relate.  We know sin.  We know its results.   We know only too well.  And we also know you.  We know Jesus, your Son.  We know the redemption and the victory that is possible even for losers.  So touch us, God.  Touch us where we are broken today.  Heal us.  Help us to live our lives the way you intend for our lives to be lived.  In Jesus,  Amen.