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The Journey to the Cross, step five: The Challenge

April 6, 2014
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Ezekiel 37:1–14

Reverend Stephen Caine

37: 1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.  3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”  7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.  9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:  Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”  10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.  11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’  12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.  14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:1-14, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Generous God, out of your great abundance you give us things both spiritual and physical. Help us to hold lightly the fading things of this earth and grasp tightly the lasting things of your kingdom, so that what we are and do and say may be our gifts to you through Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.

It has been a couple of years ago since my family took a spring break trip to Washington, DC.  We drove through East Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, DC and Maryland.  Many of the places we visited were Monuments, Cemeteries and Crypts.  We saw Washington and Lee University named for George Washington and Robert E. Lee.  We toured the beautiful campus and the historic Lee Memorial Chapel where Robert E. Lee’s crypt is.  We even saw where his horse, “Traveler” is buried.   Then we went to Charlottesville, Virginia and toured Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.  There is a family cemetery on the Grounds where Jefferson is buried along with other members of his family.

 

Then we went to DC and walked the Mall.  We saw the U.S. Capital, the White House, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial and the stars that represent the soldiers who died, the Korean War Memorial and the haunting real-life faces on the statues, the Lincoln Memorial, the Viet Nam War Memorial and the names; name after name after name of war dead, and we finished with the Holocaust Memorial, where a pile of shoes were the haunting reality of all that had died.  These shoes were worn by Holocaust victims who were forced to remove them as they were stripped and herded into the gas chamber to their deaths.  The images, sites and sound of the dead were all around us.

 

The next day we visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington and his burial place.  Then we went to Arlington and the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial, and the struggle depicted on the faces of those brave marines as they fought to capture Iwo Jima, an important island in the Pacific Theater in the war with Japan.  The next day we traveled to Annapolis, Maryland and toured the United States Naval Academy.  We were blown away by the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel and underneath the chapel is the crypt of the great Commodore John Paul Jones, the naval leader of the American Revolution and the founder of the US Navy.  While all of these memorials, homes and monuments were very impressive, what touched me the most was our visit to Arlington National Cemetery.  I have seen the Cemetery on TV and in pictures but seeing it in person is breath taking.  As far as the eye can see white headstones.  It has been called the garden of stone.  There are Army Private’s buried in the same hallowed ground as Presidents and Five Star Generals.  Inside Arlington National Cemetery, high on a hill overlooking D.C. is the most impressive of all sites we saw.  It was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.  The Unknown Soldiers entombed there are from:

  • World War I
  • World War II
  • The Korean War
  • The Vietnam War

The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded by a special guard the 3rd Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) of the U.S. Army.  We watched this particular guard march his solemn march back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  It was a highly emotional scene.

 

So, as I read Ezekiel 37 this week it brought back many of those images of walking in the beauty of that hallowed ground acutely aware of the supreme sacrifice these men and women made for our freedoms in this great land.  I thought of all of those bones, those bodies, those soldiers, those men and women buried there and what they did, what they died for – our nation and an image for our nation, our world, today – can these bones live?

 

There are not just a few bones lying around; no these bones have been dead for a long time – dry, white bones.[i]  No life left.  No chance.  Dead. Dead. Dead.

 

In order to understand how the bones came to be in this valley, we must understand the history of the Israelites.  On Mount Sinai, the people entered into a covenant with God.  God promised the people that if they were faithful, they would be put in a land where they would become a people and not just a band of slaves wandering in the wilderness.  They would become the nation of Israel, the people of God.  The people were faithful, and God delivered them into the land.  Eventually a king was placed on a throne.[ii]

 

Over time, however, the people of Israel turned away from their covenant with God.  They were not worshipping God faithfully.  They were not taking care of the widows and orphans around them.  They were concerned with having more wealth, more power, and more stature.  They no longer defined themselves as the people of God.  Instead they saw themselves as a political nation.[iii]

 

The nation of Israel as they knew it didn’t last.  It was destroyed, and the people were sent into exile in a foreign land. The people were reduced to this pile of bones.  The people cried out to God, their hope was lost, they were cut off completely.  The people of Israel no longer knew who they are, they had lost their identity, their way and they were dead.[iv]

 

It is in that depressing, dead place that God asks Ezekiel, can these bones live? I can just imagine Ezekiel wanting to say, “Well of course not.  They are dead.  Dead bones don’t live!”

 

But instead Ezekiel says hesitantly, “Only you know God.” And that is the crux of our faith.

Only God knows—

  • Where life can come from death…
    • Where hope can arise from despair…
      • Where joy and laughter follow grief…

 

We might not see any evidence of it because all we see is dead, dry and lifeless bones.

 

And that is where our faith comes in because God calls us to believe without seeing.  The Lord’s words provide room for hope.  “Hope is believing in the face of the evidence and then watching the evidence change…”  In a dark valley of death, with Israel lost in deep exile, God commands Ezekiel to speak words in the face of death.[v]  Can these bones live?

 

Only you know, God.  So, in the meantime; we worship and we pray and we trust in God.  We remember too all that God has done, and we tell it.  We tell our faith story and we begin to see how it is part of God’s story… we trust that God can make even old, dried out, dead bones, get up and dance…Can these bone live? Only God knows!

 

Let us pray: O Almighty God, you alone can transform our unruly wills and desires of sinful hearts: Grant that we your people may love the thing which you command, and follow what you promise; so that among the many changes in the world around us, our hearts may be fixed on thee. Amen.

 



[i] Rev. Heather Daugherty, Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, New Life Exists, a sermon preached on May 31, 2009—Pentecost on Ezekiel 37:1-14.

[ii] Rev. Heather Daugherty, Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, New Life Exists, a sermon preached on May 31, 2009—Pentecost on Ezekiel 37:1-14.

[iii] Rev. Heather Daugherty, Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, New Life Exists, a sermon preached on May 31, 2009—Pentecost on Ezekiel 37:1-14.

[iv] Rev. Heather Daugherty, Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, New Life Exists, a sermon preached on May 31, 2009—Pentecost on Ezekiel 37:1-14.

[v] Jim Wallis, Sojourners Magazine

Journey to the Cross, step 3: The Test

March 23, 2014
Third Sunday of Lent
Service for the Lord’s Day
Indian Hill Church
Exodus 17:1-7
Reverend Stephen Caine

 

17: 1 “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, You give the water of eternal life through Jesus Christ your Son. May we always thirst for you, the spring of life and source of all goodness; we pray in the name Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

The human narrative continues forward from – the fall of Adam and Eve, to the call of Abram and Sarai, and now to the Israelites and their journey in the wilderness.  While they are traveling – they put God to the test.  The Israelites are the people of God.  They were born out of an agreement that God made with Jacob, a grandson of Abraham.  Remember it was Jacob who wrestled with an angel of God.  And Jacob, who held his own and did not let go of the angel until the Lord blesses him.  Jacob is blessed and his name is changed to Israel and in that moment the nation of Israel is born.

 

Now, we jump forward – the Israelites are on a journey into the Sinai desert.  They are led by Moses, a man they hardly knew and each step took them further away from what they knew and deeper into the unknown.  (Note that in the bible the wilderness is a place of depravity where basic human needs are lacking.)   So, as the Israelites are following Moses through the wilderness they face hardships and trials.  The first hardship they faced was the water was too bitter for them to drink; then they ran out of food; and then they run out of water to drink.  Doubt sets in; their sense of trust erodes, their fears overwhelm them, and they begin to complain.  And they quarrel amongst themselves, then they quarrel with Moses and ultimately with God.

 

However, each trial the Israelites face, God provides: God delivers them from slavery and the Egyptian army, God provides sweet water for them to drink, food to eat, and then water from the rock.   The LORD heard the Israelites cry in the midst of slavery, danger, hunger, and now thirst and God provides for them each time.

 

Now while they are wandering in the wilderness they have used up their resources.  They have lost their way.  They have forgotten God.

 

In their forgetfulness the Israelites have settled at a place called Rephadim and they have run out of water and they can’t find any water anywhere.  They “quarrel with Moses, and say, ‘Give us water to drink!  Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?‘”  In response, God tells Moses to take his staff, the same staff he had used to part the Red Sea.  Then at a designated place, Moses was to strike the rock, and water would come out, and the people could drink.

 

Yes, this is a story about Israel and its’ history, but it is also a story for us.  Even though we live in a time and a place where water is available at the turn of a faucet and food is abundant.  During this time of Lent, many people create a sense of want by giving something up, coffee, chocolate, bread, cursing, or some other pleasure.

 

So, on this Third Sunday of Lent, it is fitting to contemplate the Israelites experience of thirst and want.

 

As we reflect on this story our primary purpose is not to learn about the past. You see, it is not the people of Israel who were stiff necked, hard hearted, and lacking in faith.  It is all of us. It is not just the people of Israel whose community was threatened by their sinfulness.  It is true for us, our nation, our communities, too.  It is not merely the ancient Israelites who complained against God.  We do too.  Notice that God did not condemn their grumbling.  Because, God can handle it.

 

This story tells what it means to be human – sinful, broken and fallen creatures that we all are but more importantly it bears witness to the faithfulness and graciousness of God.  In fact, the entire Book of Exodus is about the faithfulness of God.  God hears the people groaning in Egypt and remembered the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

 

This story also has something to say to us as individuals.  The Israelites look at their situation and they ask the hard question.   It is the same question that has haunted men and women of faith since Adam and Eve – ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’  We ask it on a personal level as individually we wrestle with the challenges of life in our everyday trials and temptations.  Why me lord?  Why cancer?  Why the economic downturn? Unemployment? Why an earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear meltdown?  Oh Lord, are you with me or not?

 

We ask it corporately as a Church, as our community is changing around us how do we respond?  Are you with us Lord?  Time and again the Israelites had evidence of God’s presence among them, God’s gracious provisions for them and God’s covenant with them.  The Church today is in the midst of great change – the challenge for us is to have faith and hope in a God who is always travelling with us, providing for us and loving us as we go!  God has been with you and me, our ancestors, the ancestors of this great church, since the beginning.  God has never forsaken us.  God will not desert us now and God will be with us in the future.

 

As the Israelites thirsted in the desert, their plight became a crisis because they forgot the story of what God had done for them.  Let’s vow never to forget what God has done for us.  Let’s remember God’s story of faithfulness to the people of Old Testament, again, again, again and again until we can’t help but remember!  Let’s tell each other the stories of how God has worked in our lives so that we can celebrate God’s faithfulness to us!  Let’s proclaim what God is doing in our lives right now so that we will know that God is with us and will be with us to the end!  As we remember, we develop faith that the God who was with us in the past will be with us through all of our tomorrows.

 

God is at work in you!

In me!

In each of us!

If we trust in that, and in the spirit it brings to life in each of us, then there is truly nothing God cannot accomplish in and through us.

 

So whatever wilderness you find yourself, know this: God is with you…

Just as God was with the grumbling Israelites.  It’s amazing to me that with such a lack of trust and faith, God still gave them what they asked for. God is with us.

 

Let us pray:

 

Anne Wrider Sermon March 16, 2014

2 LENT (A)
MARCH 16, 2014
The Rev. Anne Wrider

When I first moved to Cincinnati, in 2000, someone who did not realize I was a newcomer asked me where I went to school. Not knowing what that question meant in this town, I naively told them where I got my undergraduate degree. The person gave me a strange look, and, of course, I quickly learned that in Cincinnati, that question refers to which high school one attended. This is a town with old names, old traditions, long-lasting memories. It’s pretty odd to someone coming here from somewhere like Chicago, as I did. But now, fourteen years later, I recognize a lot of the Cincinnati names, I know the neighborhoods, I even know where a lot of the high schools actually are!

 

But for all of our rootedness in tradition and name and neighborhood, we have nothing on the people of Abram’s time and place. For the people of that ancient time, family and land were all there were. If you wanted to know who you were, all you needed to know was your tribe and the place you lived. So imagine how bizarre it would have seemed to Abram to leave that. No one did that. And to leave country and kindred would be terribly dangerous. To venture out alone, or even with your immediate family exposed you to terrible risk. Family took care of family. If there were no family around, you could be in terrible trouble quickly. But God’s command is clear. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house…”

 

I imagine that Nicodemus felt equally disoriented when Jesus started to talk to him about being born again. We hear Jesus with 21st century ears. We know about being born again, or think we do! At least the concept is one we’ve heard before. But imagine never having heard that phrase before. And Nicodemus, who is probably not a poetic soul, has no clue what Jesus is talking about. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a leader of the community, but he is attracted to Jesus. He wants to know more, and so he sneaks out to see Jesus at night. But what Jesus says is clearly not what Nicodemus was expecting. God’s call to Nicodemus, like the call to Abram, means leaving behind everything that is known and familiar and going to a new, strange world. “You must be born from above.” What can that mean?

Unlike Abram, we don’t really know if Nicodemus took up Jesus’ challenge and invitation. John says that Nicodemus came to anoint Jesus’ body after he was crucified, so perhaps he did.

 

But the question that presents itself is “Why?” Why would people leave the safety and comfort of home and family or, as for Nicodemus, the safety and comfort of old beliefs, to answer God’s call? I think the answer lies in the promise that comes with the challenge.  God says to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And Jesus says to Nicodemus, “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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

The blessing of the whole world, the salvation of the whole world – these are God’s promises. One of the worst things we human beings have done with those promises is to try to make them private property. God’s promises are never just for us. When people talk about God’s promise to Israel as if it were just to Israel, they have missed the point. And when Christians take the first half of Jesus’ phrase and forget the second half, they have distorted what he said and what he meant. God’s love is for every creature, every person. There is no limit.

 

But if we are really going to know God’s love and the promise he holds for us, we are going to have to give up safety and comfort. That’s not something we want to hear. We want to come to church to feel safe and warm. We want music that doesn’t challenge us and we want to hear words that make us feel good. And sometimes, that’s okay. But that’s not all there is. Sometimes God has a challenge for us, a call to leave what is comfortable in order to help save the world. And the way we find that out is to ask. We have to spend time praying to know what God’s will for us is.

 

This season of Lent is the time to listen for God’s call. The call to you or me may be shocking or disorienting. God may have a challenge for you or for me that is alarming or frightening. If that is true for you, if you have been praying to know God’s will and find the ideas that are coming into your head disturbing, hooray! It means that you are listening. God’s call may be hard to hear, but what is important to remember is that it always carries promise, and that promise is the hope of the world. God calls us to great things, but God also always gives us what we need to do those things.

 

We think of God’s call as something that happened long ago and far away. But let me tell you a story that comes from our own time.

 

It was late Friday night, January 27, 1956.  In Montgomery, Alabama, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., sat alone in the kitchen of his home.  For the last month, he had been the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott.  It was not going well.  He had led mass meetings of the people involved in the boycott, he had tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with the bus company and with the white leaders of the community.  He had even been put in jail for driving people who were supporting the boycott to and from their jobs.

 

As he sat in his kitchen on that Friday night, the phone rang.  When he picked it up, a voice on the other end said, “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.” Later, King described what happened next, (Bearing the Cross, p. 58)

 

I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born…She was the darling of my life. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile.  And I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and about the fact that she could be taken away from me at any minute.

And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife, who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I was weak. Something said to me, you can’t call on Daddy now, he’s up in Atlanta, a hundred and seventy-five miles away.  You can’t even call on Mama now.  You’ve got to call on that something, on that person that your Daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of no way.

And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me, and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I will never forget it…I prayed a prayer, and I prayed out loud that night. I said,”Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak.”

 

Then it happened:

 

And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world”…I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone.

 

We know what happened after that night.  Martin Luther King, Jr. went on to be a witness and a prophet, a person who by his life and teaching showed the world what it means to follow Christ. He became a man of almost superhuman courage, able to love and able to inspire others to love, even in the face of the most vicious hatred. No matter how much evil he met, Martin Luther King responded in love and overcame evil with that love. On that January night in Montgomery, his fear was taken away and God made him strong.

 

We may not be called to be a great saint and prophet like Martin Luther King, Jr., but each of us called to dare to leave our comfort and safety and to journey to where God calls us. And each of us is called, in whatever small way, to make the world a better place.

 

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” And, because we belong to Jesus, through us.

 

Amen.

Journey to the Cross, step 1: The Fall

March 9, 2014 (The First Sunday of Lent)
Service for the Lord’s Day

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11
Reverend Stephen Caine

2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 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.”

3:1 “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’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 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.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 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. 7 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.” (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season of Lent that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the life-giving words of your Spirit. Amen.

 

Today is the first Sunday of the Journey of Lent.  The season of Lent is the forty day period of the Christian year that began on Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and runs until Easter Sunday (April 20).  During these forty days we are asked to reflect on our humanity and renew our commitments to living as people who belong to God in Jesus Christ.  We enter this season with a brutal reminder of our humanness.  It is the story of the fall, the story of Adam, Eve, the Snake, Sin and God.  It is a reminder that we are more than just biologically related to Adam and Eve but we are also heirs of their sin and brokenness, even today.  We, like them are tempted by the serpent and we too are guilty of eating forbidden fruit.  So, it is my hope this Lenten Season that we will also learn that we are also heirs of Jesus and his grace.

 

We begin with the first step of the journey of Lent by starting at the beginning, Genesis.  It takes place in the Garden of Eden soon after God created the world.  The story – “The fall,” you see, didn’t happen just once.  It happens again and again and it still happens today, as you and I continue to repeat its vicious cycle as we stumble through life.  It is a story of disobedience and rebellion against God, it is not a story of the woman who alone was tempted.

 

It is a story of Adam and Eve who were not satisfied.  They were not content living with God in paradise. They were created in God’s image, with all the gifts, privileges and potential that God could give them, but they wanted more.  They wanted to be like God.  That was the temptation that the wily serpent offered them. The serpent gift wrapped the temptation, to eat of the one tree that God told them not to eat from, in a lie that they really shouldn’t trust God and that he the serpent knew better.  So he played on their sense of trust or their lack of trust and they were all in, apple, sin and the fall.

 

Adam and Eve believed the serpent because they wanted more.  They wanted to forge their own identities “over against,” God.  It is like a child who is desperate to break away from her parents and become her own person, with her own identity.  This story tells us so much about God, the snake (tempter), Sin and humanity.

 

This story tells us so much about God. God is generous and creative, loving, and genuinely interested in being in relationship with Adam and Eve, but they just couldn’t see it.  God is creative.  God makes the world and everything in it.  God is generous.  God creates Adam and gives him everything he needs; food, drink and a lush garden to live in.  God is caring – when God commands Adam, “Eat freely of all this beauty, except that one tree.”  God is relational and does not want to be alone, and thinks Adam shouldn’t be alone either.  The animals were nice but they aren’t really companions for Adam.  So God uses one of Adam’s ribs and creates Eve.

 

This story also tells us so much about the snake, the tempter.  First, the serpent is the craftiest creature and there is no way to outsmart him.  The serpent is a very clever and talkative animal “that the LORD God had made,” who simply asks some questions concerning God’s motivations in creation for Adam and Eve to consider.  At any point in the conversation, the humans could have told the serpent that he was full of it and to please slither off to someplace else.  Never try to outwit temptation because you end up making a “deal with the Devil” that can truly cost you your life!  Second, the serpent lies.  Jesus calls him “the father of lies.” But, the serpent tells lies we want to hear—why else would they be so tempting!  “You will not die; you will become like God, knowing good and evil.”  The serpent tells lies we want to hear and want to believe!   It is part of his diabolical plot.  Third, the temper’s lie always plays to our desire to be more than we were created to be.

 

This story also tells about sin.  Sin is a mysterious force that arises from within God’s “good” creation.  The serpent, the embodiment of sin, is simply one of God’s creatures.  And the yearnings and suspicions of the humans about God and his motivations are somehow already in Adam and Eve’s DNA and only needed to be teased out by the serpent to be put into action.  Sadly, as we all know all too well, this trait has been passed down throughout human history, to every one of our fore mothers and fathers of the faith.  There is no doubt that we are their off-spring because we have inherited the same wants, desires, and sin that we are not content to be with God.

 

This story also tells us about ourselves: it reveals that since the beginning of time we are competitive by nature, we look at the other and we want to beat them.  So when the snake comes along and tells Adam and Eve the lie that God is not who God is portraying himself to be, Adam and Eve took the bait because they wanted to be like God.  From the very beginning Adam and Eve have been given work to do and responsibilities to tend too, when God places them in the garden “to till it and to keep it.”  The Garden of Eden is no Caribbean vacation in Paradise!  From the beginning, humans are made for a regular rhythm of doing meaningful work for the good of creation.  Along with the meaningful work they are to do they are also to take regular periods of Sabbath rest and enjoyment.

 

Finally, this story describes the reality of what it is to be human and our mysterious human tendencies to rebel against God, to resist God’s gracious boundaries and the limitations that God has placed around us for our own good.  Our sinful nature arises from our desire to be like God rather than thankful, trusting and faithful creatures of God.

 

Sin is our problem, what should we do about it?  We start by owning up to it, naming it, confessing it.  That is why we confess our sin each Sunday in worship even if we did not do those things we pray.

 

After we acknowledge and confess our sin, that which separates us from God we don’t resolve to try harder, to do more good; instead we throw ourselves at the feet of God and beg his mercy and forgiveness.  That is our hope; God’s grace and forgiveness.  Only with God can we hope to turn our lives around.

 

Our hope begins with the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Whatever or however we define sin, it begins and ends for us Christians with the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

 

People come to church on Sunday with disappointments in their hearts—in life itself, disappointed in government, disappointed in our health care system, disappointed in our sports teams, disappointed in our role models, disappointed in ourselves, some of us come with an acute sense of failure and inadequacy.  Some are ready to give up.  We come to church with fresh memories of wounds in our hearts, our emotions, and our spirits that each of us has experienced.  We also come aware of the wounds that we have inflicted on others.   People come—we all come—in spite of our confidence and can-do attitudes we come questioning, wondering, and unsure of our standing with God.  What we do is read this story and remind ourselves that, yes we have all sinned, we have all fallen short of the glory of God, we confess, we repent, God forgives us, God loves us, God wants to be in relationship with us, God wants us to live fully, and to leave behind the load of guilt we are all carrying. God has forgiven us! God wants us to move on and live as the faithful stewards of creation that he created us to be.

 

It begins not by working harder, being better or trying harder to be good – instead it starts in your heart and in mine when you and I allow ourselves to be loved and forgiven by God, washed clean, healed, refreshed and claimed by him.

 

Let us pray:

Lord God, our strength, as the battle of good and evil rages within and around us, and our ancient foe tempts us with his lies, deceit and empty promises.  Keep us steadfast in Your Word and, when we fall, raise us again and restore us through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.