What's the Matter With People? Back to Index

What's the Matter With People?
February 10, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church

GENESIS 2:15-17, 3:1-7

What’s the matter with people? Why is the world in such a mess? Do you believe people can change? Do you believe you can change? I am preaching three sermons on change. Today, the lectionary suggested scripture lesson begins at the beginning and we ask, "What’s the matter with people?” Why are we in such a state, and why is it difficult to change, to change people, to change the world and make it the kind of world God created it to be?

The lesson today is from Genesis, the Adam and Eve story. Can you visualize families throughout the centuries asking Grandpa, “What’s the matter with people?” And Grandpa would lean back; the children would get comfortable, and listen again, with rapt attention, to the story of Adam and Eve. Don’t get all confused about the historicity of the story. It’s not so much factual history as it is the story of us all, for the Hebrew word “Adam” means “human beings.” Adam and Eve are Everyman and Everywoman. In fact, the New Revised Standard Version does not use the Hebrew words, but translates them into English, calling them man and woman. We see ourselves and all humankind in the story.

According to emails that circle around, and you know how authentic they are, a child wrote the following:

“In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, “The Lord thy God is one,” but I think he must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God said, “Give me a light!” and someone did. Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.”

And there you have it! The story of Everyman and Everywoman[ tells us what is wrong with people. The story illustrates the broken relationship between humankind and God. The bond between the Creator and the created has been twisted, distorted and broken. We call the broken relationship “sin.” Sin is not popular. It is laughed at by movies and authors, ignored by psychology and self-help movements, even downplayed by the church; but, nevertheless, sin is the condition in which people find themselves.

What is sin? The story of Everyman and Everywoman does not give us a neat definition, but the story graphically illustrates sin. They disobeyed God. Then, they hid from God. After they ate the forbidden fruit, they hid from God. They were ashamed, embarrassed over what they had done. They did not want God to see them so they hid in trees and covered themselves with fig leaves. Nudity is a symbol of purity, innocence, and virginity. They lost their innocence. They no longer could be open before God. They did not want God to see them as they now were. They covered up. Oh, we know all about cover-up—trying to hide facts so others won’t know, which is a popular Washington pastime.

When you were a child, and you broke mother’s favorite vase, what did you do? You probably hid—under the bed, or up in a tree. You were hiding from her anger, but you were also hiding from yourself, for you no longer were innocent. You had joined the ranks of “vase-breakers”. You had hurt your mother, disappointed her and broken something dear to her. You changed. Never again could you recapture the innocent state of pre-vase-breaker. So, you hid, as much from your new discovery about yourself as from your mother’s wrath.

Sin is cover-up. We try to hide behind masks of goodness, righteousness and smiles. We play games—see how good I am, or see how I am a failure—so don’t confront me, don’t count on me, don’t expect much from me. The man called out, “Lord, I was afraid and hid from you because I was naked. I lost my innocence.” Sin is cover-up.

What is sin? Sin is the distorted, broken relationship with God. Sin is disobeying God, cover-up and the refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions. An interesting dialogue is reported between God and the sinners: Genesis 3.11-13:

“Who told you that you were naked?” God asked. “Did you eat the fruit that I told you not to eat?”

The man answered, “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

The Lord asked the woman, “Why did you do this?”

She replied, “The snake tricked me into eating it.”

The man was asked, “Did you eat the fruit?” All that was required was a simple, “Yes” or “No.” But he evaded the question. He refused to take responsibility. He said it was the woman’s fault. The man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the snake, and the snake got a curse! How we love to blame others, and say it is their fault. How we try to avoid taking responsibility for our actions. Not taking responsibility is sin.

What is sin? Sin is the distorted, broken relationship with God. Sin is disobeying God, cover-up, not taking responsibility, and perhaps the underlying sin is what enticed the woman to eat the fruit. God told them not to eat the fruit (Incidentally, apple is not mentioned in the story) of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But the snake said, “Oh, go ahead. God doesn’t want you to eat it and gain wisdom because then you will be like God.” The woman and the man thought how wonderful it would be to become wise, to be like God, and so they ate.

The relationship between the Creator and the created is distorted and broken because humankind wants to be like God, wants God’s place, God’s power. Sin is the banishment of God from the center, and putting yourself there in place of God. Self-centeredness is sin, the basic sin. The essence of sin is self-centeredness. It is the desire to make our interests the point of reference for everything, the setting up of ourselves as the center of life in the place of God. Self-centeredness: all for me and none or little for you. 

What is sin? Sin is the distorted, broken relationship with God. Sin is disobeying God, hiding from God; evading, refusing to take responsibility, blaming others. Sin is self-centeredness. That is what’s the matter with people.

The story of Everyman and Everywoman, however, does not end with sin having the final word. God has the final word and is very active, both in the story and in your life. What is God doing? The story continues.

1) God searched for the man and the woman. God looked throughout the garden until they were found. Like the shepherd who, though he had 99 sheep, looked diligently for the lost one, God hunts, searches for you. Wherever you go, wherever you hide, however you hide, whatever the masks you wear, whatever the games you play, whatever the cover-up, God searches for you. God never gives up.

2) God confronted the man and the woman. God asked, “Why did you eat the fruit?” God confronts you, sometimes gently through your conscience, and you feel guilty. Sometimes, God confronts you with a blow between the eyes. Many a tragedy, many a crisis, have been used by God to get through and confront persons with the realization of what they are doing with their lives.

3) God judged the man, the woman and the snake. They were banished from the garden. There is judgment. You cannot sin without judgment. Judgment is the consequence of actions. We assume that we can do and live as we please. Yes, we can, but we will suffer judgment, the consequence of our actions. You can eat sweets and carbohydrates, and fat will be the judgment. You can drive wildly through red lights, and either a traffic ticket or a bad accident will be the judgment. God judges, and you cannot forever hide from your responsibilities, evade blame, or put yourself first without judgment.

4) The story doesn’t end in Genesis. It continues through the Bible, culminating in the ultimate expression of God’s love for you and me. Banished from the garden, yes, but God has provided a means of entry to the new garden, and a complete, restored relationship with God. God has provided the means by which people change: the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yes! People can be changed. You can be changed. The world can be changed. Sin is what’s the matter with people. But God searches, confronts, judges, loves, saves and changes us! Continued next week.

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris