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Hear It Again
June 6, 1999

GENESIS 4:1-12, JOHN 3:16

The topic of the first sermon I preached from this pulpit almost six years ago was the balcony window, the window I gaze on every Sunday, the window which portrays so beautifully the foundation on which this church is built: Jesus, little children, and John 3:16. Jesus is standing, holding a child. Standing next to Jesus is a child. They are dressed in pink robes. I understand that when Olean Peterson gave the window in memory of her husband, she insisted that pink be a dominant color. Pink is not usually found in stained glass windows, but pink was Olean's favorite color. She wore pink, she lived in a pink house with pink flowers in the yard. I don't know who decided there should be children in the window with Jesus rather than adults, but ministry to children is of high priority in our church.

The message of the window is timeless. John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

Does anyone doubt that perish is a real possibility? That our children may perish--individually and collectively; that civilization, even our planet may perish? That war, crime, violence, greed, pollution, nuclear disaster may eventually do us in? What is wrong? What went wrong? Why is perish a real possibility?

We look to our stories for answers. The stories in the first part of Genesis were told to answer the question, "What went wrong?" Genesis chapter one tells us God's creation is good; Genesis chapters 2-11 tell the stories of what went wrong, and what is still going wrong. Ed and Peggy Hughell loaned me the book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. I recommend it to you highly. It's one of those books you can't put down, fascinating and intriguing. Quinn divides humankind into two groups: civilized and primitive. The primitives have been on this earth for millions of years. They were and are hunters, gatherers and herdsmen.

Incidentally, I heard on the radio recently why men have trouble finding things. Our ancient ancestors were hunters and gatherers. The men were the hunters and the women were the gatherers. The women learned how to look. They learned how to find that one last berry hiding on the bush, the last egg under the chicken. Men were the hunters. When I told my son, Jack, he replied, "In other words, it has to move before we see it." As you stand in the open doorway of the refrigerator, how often has your wife said, "Well, does it have to jump out before you can see it?" Exactly!

Back to the stories. The primitives are hunters, gatherers and herdsmen, and have lived successfully for millions of years. About 10,000 years ago, an event occurred which forever changed history. Someone began farming. They began tilling the soil which meant they had to stay in one place. They became very possessive of their land. They felt they owned the land. This in itself did not cause problems, for even the primitives guard their turf. The American Indians had tribal boundaries, and if they invaded their neighbors, a battle would ensue.

Possession of the land, preserving it for farming was not necessarily wrong, but when our ancestors began to expand their turf, a new phenomenon appeared on the face of the earth. The so-called civilized peoples began attacking and destroying the primitives, driving them off, confiscating the land. They began killing animals indiscriminately, not just when they needed to eat, as do the primitives. The civilized began stockpiling, hoarding their food. They became greedy, wanting more and more.

Not only did they want more and more, they felt it was their right to take. They felt it was their right to kill off the American Indian and the Australian Aboriginal and to steal the land. After all, they rationalized, "Our way of life is superior. We are civilized. They are only savages. We have a God-given right to the land. Everything belongs to us. All of creation belongs to us. And, we can do anything with it that we please." In that statement is the crux of what went wrong with civilization.

Back to the stories. Do you see who told the story of Cain and Abel? The story describes the ancient controversy between herdsmen and farmers. According to herdsmen, God was not pleased with the agricultural offering. God was not pleased with the behavior of the civilized who were expanding their territory, destroying anything that got in their way. Cain killed Abel. And the descendants of Cain, namely so-called civilized people, are still killing Abel. We have destroyed tribes of people and driven the remnants to reservations. We have killed off entire species of animal and plant life without a second thought. We have destroyed rain forests without a thought of the effects on weather or the future of the planet.

The story of Cain and Abel describes what went wrong. The stories of Adam and Eve and the Tower of Babel tell us why. Adam and Eve lived like affluent primitives in the Garden of Eden; everything was provided. They could do what they pleased, and eat what they pleased, except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord God told them they would die if they ate of that fruit. But, the serpent tempted them by saying, Genesis 3:5, "When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the Lord God found out they had eaten of the fruit, they were kicked out of the garden. Genesis 3:23, "Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground." The punishment was farming! Agriculture was the curse! Guess who told this story! Herdsmen! However, there are days when farmers might agree with them!

The story of the Tower of Babel is the story of civilized people building the first city, a city with a huge tower, its top in the heavens. And the Lord said, Genesis 11:6, "This is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." This prophecy has certainly come true, and is still coming true. Nothing will be impossible for humankind. Even destroying ourselves, even perishing is now possible.

To be like God and to act like God is what went wrong. To replace God as the provider and sustainer of life, to put ourselves in the #1 spot at the center of the universe, is what went wrong with civilization. We think we are god. We think the earth belongs to us, not we belong to the earth. Somehow "dominion over the earth" in Genesis chapter one became conqueror and destroyer of the earth. We act as if it is our right to do with the earth as we please. We want more and more. As I wrote this sermon, our new sofa bed was delivered! It is not wrong to buy a new sofa; what is wrong is to try to satisfy an insatiable desire for more and more. What is wrong is to let greed run rampant. When is enough enough? How much does one need to live successfully?

What is wrong is to think and act as if the universe belongs to us. What is wrong is to think and act as if it is our right to decide who will live and who will die. Why are we threatened by people whose culture is different? Why do we try to change them, to "civilize" them? Why are we threatened by people whose lifestyle is different, who wear different clothes, or things in their ears and nose? Why are heterosexuals threatened by homosexuals? Why can't we all live on this planet together? Why not? Because we are insecure. Because we have replaced God with ourselves, we are not sure of ourselves, and are threatened by anyone who is different. If we persist, we will perish.

But, God is not willing to let us perish. God sent prophet after prophet to bring us back, back to the worship of the one true God, back to the values and morals taught and lived by Jesus. How we need a Savior! Civilization needs a Savior. You need a Savior, to save you from greed that swallows you, to save you from a self-centered universe where those you love cannot live with you because of your ego, to save you from demanding that other people think and act like you do, to save you from destroying yourself with drugs or alcohol or gambling, to save you from destroying relationships with your egotism, selfishness and pride, to save you from perishing! How we need a Savior! We have one! God so loved the world he gave his only Son! It was for you Jesus came. It was for you Jesus died, because God loves you. God loves you so much God was willing to make the supreme sacrifice for you and for the world, that none of us should perish, but have life, life here and now, and life eternal. Repent and receive the life Christ has for you. Put God back in the center, and enter into partnership with God, co-operate with God in leading humankind to repentance before we all perish.

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© 1999 Douglas I. Norris