Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8
(watch here: https://youtu.be/6ZWxfjA7yAI)
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘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.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not 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.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a little girl who asked her mother, “How did the human race appear?” The mother answered, “Well, honey, God made Adam and Eve and they had children, and so was all mankind made.” Two days later the girl asked her father the same question. The father answered, “Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved.” The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said we developed from monkeys?” The mother answered, “Well, dear, it’s very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his.”
Who knew the age old tension between science and faith could actually find its source in the age old tension between men and women?! Evolution seems to support man’s brutish, animalistic nature while creationism seems to support woman’s mystical, contemplative nature. Were we created as the Bible says or as Science says? Well, we’ve been arguing over that one for hundreds of years now and neither side seems to have convinced the other side. And I don’t imagine the debate will be resolved anytime soon, certainly not in our brief time together this morning. I’m perfectly happy with science and faith co-existing in equal value and importance and whichever theory resonates with you the most is the right one. Just as men and women can, for the most part, co-exist in perfect harmony with equal value and importance, so too can the two theories about where we came from. Adam and Eve or monkeys? Yes…you’re right! But for the sake of our gathering this morning, we’ll stick to God’s explanation as revealed in the book of Genesis.
I like how our reading picks up in the second chapter of Genesis with the so-called “second creation narrative.” The first chapter told the familiar seven-day narrative where God created light and the world and almost everything in it. It took the second chapter to focus on God’s ultimate creation, man. We get our own special creation story because we are so special to God! And we are special for a few reasons besides being created in God’s image as we heard in the first chapter. Yes, we are special because we were made different from the rest of God’s creatures. God took dust and formed us. He didn’t just form us out of nothing the way He did all other creatures. No, He used very basic stuff of this world to form us which makes us deeply connected to this world unlike any other creature. We are this world whether we like it or not! It is a part of us and we can’t deny its importance. We must sustain and protect this world just as we sustain and protect our own selves. All other creatures are simply passing through this world but we are this world. Of course God expects us to be its caretaker!
But being formed from dust isn’t all that makes us special. Once God formed us, He did something truly unique…He breathed into our nostrils “the breath of life.” The breath of life…the breath of life…what is the breath of life? Is it simply the air we breathe? Is it our body’s ability to process food and water? Or is it something a little more abstract…how about the motivation and ability to serve as this world’s caretaker? How about hope and love and faith, the three gifts of the Spirit? How about the Holy Spirit itself? How about consciousness…spiritual, mental, bodily? What does the Bible mean by “breath of life?” Whatever it means, it was given to us and us alone, making us all the more special among God’s creation.
Perhaps the most special aspect of our creation story is the “gift” of sin as we heard in our reading. God not only made us different but He also gave us something that no other creature must wrestle with–sin. The serpent came to us and us alone with his most treacherous ‘gift.’ So what is sin? At its root, it is an agent of death. It leads to mental, spiritual, and bodily death. Maybe not immediate death but eventual death. Many people struggle with this account of Adam and Eve in the garden because they didn’t immediately die after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, at least not bodily. But there are several deaths that did happen: death of innocence, death of trust, death of identity, death of assurance to name but a few. Make no mistake about it, sin leads to death in one form or another. And God ‘blessed’ us with it, making us all the more special.
But is sin really a blessing or a curse? Almost all things die eventually so what’s the big deal about sin as an agent of death? (Remember God and God’s love are eternal!) More often than not, sin leads not only to death but also to suffering, something that few of us would welcome in our lives or the lives of those around us. So yes, sin is a curse on our lives. But perhaps it is ALSO a blessing! There are some things that need to die and whatever can lead to death quickly can be quite a blessing. More importantly, sin can also lead to greater freedom. It is because of sin that Christ came to us to heal us and save us and set us free. Without sin, there would be no need for Christ…no need for the joy and freedom found in Christ! Without sin, we would have no choice but to love and serve God. Without sin, we wouldn’t know the full meaning of freedom. Mind you, loving and serving God is my personal recommendation but only if you want to. You have to have the freedom to choose to love and serve God if you’re going to know the full joy of loving and serving him. Freedom is an adverse gift of sin that helps make sin a blessing.
Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, “for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1) Sin may enslave us to death but it also enables Christ to work his freeing powers. Sin but know that Christ is waiting in the wings to set you free. Christ WILL set you free if you simply ask him to! And freedom is so very important to know God’s love. God loves us! God frees us to love him! God frees us to love each other. A little later in his letter to the Galatians, Paul seems to contradict what he just said about not submitting again to a yoke of slavery. He writes, “for you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” (5:13) Luther himself expounded on this in his treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian.” According to him, we are “masters of all and servants of all,” freed only to become slaves to each other.
As we set out in the new program year, it’s good to reflect on just how special we are. God created us deeply connected to our world and with the gifts of the breath of life and sin itself. God created us to be free to love and serve him, those around us, and the world around us. Make no mistake about it, friends, we ARE his most prized and special creation! Let us set out in the new program year empowered and encouraged. Wherever the year leads us, let us take comfort in the words of Paul from his second letter to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and self-discipline.” (1:7) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.