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Mystery and Wonder of the Mess We're In
February 26, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

GENESIS 2:15-17, 3:1-13

Our Lenten theme is “Mystery and Wonder”.  Lent from the Old English word “lencten” meaning "spring season”, is a season of preparation for the celebration of the resurrection. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting and pray. This event inspired the forty days of Lent. Today we look at the mystery of the mess we’re in.

Why is the world in such a mess? The lesson today is from Genesis—the Adam and Eve story. Can you visualize families throughout the centuries asking Grandpa, “Why is the world in such a mess?” 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. I recall asking my Dad where their sons, Cain and Abel, found their wives. He said that the story is a parable, a story with a lesson. It’s not factual history but the story of all of us, 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 “Adam and Eve”, but translates them into English as the man and woman. We see ourselves—Everyman and Everywoman—in the story.

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 does not give us a neat definition, but the story graphically illustrates why we are in a mess. Can you see yourself in the story?

First, they disobeyed God. Then, 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 did not want God to see them as they now were. They covered up with fig leaves. Oh, we know all about cover-up—trying to hide facts so others won’t know. 

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

First, they disobeyed God. Secondly, they tried to cover-up. Do you try to cover-up? Hide behind masks of goodness, righteousness and smiles? Or, put on a mask of  failure—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.” They covered up.

Third, they refused to take responsibility for their actions. An interesting dialogue is reported between God and the man and woman, 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.” Incidentally, serpents were symbols of Baal. So, this story is a subtle warning about the Baal religion.

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! The blaming game! Do you ever blame others, say it is their fault and thereby avoid taking responsibility for your actions?

Why is the world in such a mess? 1) disobeying God, 2) covering-up, 3) blaming others, 4) not taking responsibility, 5) what is the underlying cause? 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 be like God, and so they ate.

The world is in a mess because we want to be like God, we want God’s place, God’s power. Banish God from the center, and put ourselves there in place of God. Number 5: The essence of what is wrong is self-centeredness, 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 God or for others. 

Why is the world in such a mess? 1) disobeying God, 2) covering-up, 3) blaming others, 4) not taking responsibility, 5) self-centeredness. 

But, the story of Everyman and Everywoman does not end there. God has the final word. Look at what God did.

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 cover-up, whatever blaming games you play, 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 tragedies, many crises, have been used by God, not caused by God but used by God to confront you with the realization of what you are doing with your life.

3) God judged the man, the woman and the snake. They were banished from the garden. There is 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 a red light  and either a traffic ticket or a bad accident will be the judgment. God judges. 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 through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Banished from the garden of Eden, yes, but God has provided a way out of the mess we are in, and leads us to a new garden, the kingdom of God, where we live with Jesus. 

Have you asked God to take your life and lead you out of the mess into the new garden?

© 2023 Douglas I. Norris