The Common Good

Adam, Eve and That Damned Snake

Image by B.Stefanov / Shutterstock.
Image by B.Stefanov / Shutterstock.

NBW Sermon 6_10_2012 <—–Click here to listen along. Sermons are a spoken art form!

And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

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. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

~ Genesis 3

A couple hours ago on Facebook, Catherine posted that she had just seen a snake on her hike. As her pastor I thought it best to reply, “If it starts talking, don’t listen”

This likely came to mind since I was editing this very sermon about Adam and Eve. The story of the Garden of Eden is what is called an origin story and every culture has theirs. Origin stories tell us how the world came about and where we came from and other important things like why snakes don’t have legs. We think we might know our origin story really well, but in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden, there actually is no mention of sin, or a fall, or Satan, or temptation, and I hate to break it to you but there wasn’t even an apple involved. Which means the cultural understanding of the story of the Garden of Eden is slightly corrupted. This is due in part to the countless paintings throughout the history of Western art which for some reason portray a tree and a snake and an extremely white Adam and Eve holding a Red Delicious.

See, for generations folks have called the tale of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the forbidden fruit “The Fall from grace” or “The story of Original Sin."

That's a little weird to me. Like, God created the heavens and the Earth and animals and it was like, this awesome all-inclusive primeval club-med for Adam and Eve – they ran naked through the warm sunlight of an idyllic paradise and everything was theirs for the taking – except for that one tree that they were told to steer clear of. And this absolute paradise in the garden between God and Humanity lasted approximately 20 minutes. Until Eve had a chat with a talking snake and then disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. And because Eve, ate some fruit she was told not to, now all of humanity is cursed and this so-called original sin of Eve’s became sort of like a sexually transmitted disease.

Because now, according to this version of what the story is about, every person born after that inherited original sin from Eve. That’s right. Eve messed it up for everyone by eating some piece of fruit God told her not to. Which feels kinda unfair to her and kinda unfair to us. But this is what we are told the story is about.

See, religion has taught many of us that the story of Adam and Eve is a story primarily about their disobedience. And that the fracture in the relationship between God and humanity is caused by us breaking God’s arbitrary little rules. So it feels like maybe religion was established just so we could be certain about what rules we need to follow in order for our relationship with God to be a loving, peaceful one.

But this week, after reflecting on several conversations I’ve had with many of you about your lives and identities and the struggles we all have to hear the truth of who we are, well, I started to wonder if the real damage to the relationship between Adam and Eve and God wasn’t the rule breaking nearly as much as it was in allowing themselves to believe lies about themselves and God. See, the serpent lied to them about who they were and who God was and like all the most dangerous lies, these lies the serpent told were just close enough to the truth to be really destructive.

Which makes me wonder about one thing: When Adam and Eve listened to a voice other than God’s and believed a voice other than God’s – and disobeyed –  when they were trying to avoid God and God calls out and says, Where are you…And they say, We are naked, and God says, “Who told you you were naked?”

Well, I wonder this: How would this story have ended differently if they simply said, “Yeah we screwed up…we were wrong – we listened to a voice other than yours and didn’t trust you, please forgive us."

How differently would this story have ended? I mean, maybe their disobedience (while not insignificant) wasn’t as big a deal as it’s been made out to be. Because from what I know of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, forgiveness is like, a really big deal to God. Reconciliation and the desire to make whole that which is broken is a big part of God’s redeeming heart for us. And when, like Adam and Eve we can’t just say the truth and instead we hide and are fearful and rationalize and justify and blame other people…when we do this, it’s like we rob God of being the forgiving and redemptive God God wants to be for us.

Genesis tell us that God made us and indeed all of creation “good”, not perfect, but good. So given the good-but-not-perfect nature of humanity, maybe messing up and then speaking the truth of it and then allowing God to forgive and make whole that which we have broken has just always been part of the deal. If there was a fall, if there was something which tore at the fabric of our relationship with God maybe it wasn’t eating the forbidden fruit, maybe it the was fear and shame, and untruth.

Because while Adam and Eve had done something wrong, what they felt wasn’t guilt. Guilt didn’t make them hide their nakedness…it was shame. And here’s why that’s a significant distinction, because guilt is about what we have done  – but shame is about who we are. We should feel guilty for the wrong we do. That is healthy and leads us to the foot of the cross where we receive grace upon grace for the forgiveness of sins. Shame on the other hand…that’s different. Shame keeps us afraid of God.

As I said earlier, this is an origin story and here’s something we learn from Adam and Eve: shame has an origin… and it’s not God.

When they are filled with shame and trying to avoid God God says, Where are you?

And they say, We were naked and tried to hide from you because we were afraid.

God said to them: Who told you you were naked?

Who told you you were naked? My money is on the snake.

For some reason God allows us to live in a world where alternatives to God’s voice exist (for instance, the serpent)  and those alternatives to God’s voice are where shame originates and there is another term for alternatives to God’s voice and it is that which we call the demonic. Shame, when it keeps us hiding  and blaming and fearful is demonic. And Jesus, as we hear in our Gospel text for today has no patience for this. Jesus just absolutely insists on destroying the false voices that shame.

Shame kept Adam and Eve from the truth as it has continued to keep all of us from the truth. So Eve blames the serpent, and Adam blames Eve and the shaming continues and God’s forgiveness is simply not allowed to take hold.

Maybe you are sitting here tonight hiding having listened to a voice other than God’s. And maybe that story is so familiar that you think it’s the truth. But consider that you might not know your own story. Listen and maybe you can hear God saying,

Who told you you were naked? Who told you that you have to lie to be loved? Who told you your body is not beautiful and worthy to be loved? Who told you that you must manipulate everything in your life to get what you need? Who told you that God cannot forgive, that you or anyone else is not redeemable? Who told you that what you have done (good or bad) is actually who you are?

Who told you that?

My money is on the snake. And he’s a damned liar. Always has been.

So if that snake starts talking blasphemy, don’t listen. God wants more for you. And always has.

Amen.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado — an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more atwww.houseforall.orgThis post originally appeared on Nadia's blog, Sarcastic Lutheran.

Image: B.Stefanov/Shutterstock.

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