Monday, March 07, 2016

Living East of Eden

Living East of Eden
A Sermon from Genesis 3 and 4 from Lyndon Perry

One of the most disturbing lines from scripture, for me at least, is from Genesis 4.7, when God says to Cain, right before Cain kills his brother Abel, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.”
That’s a scary bit of dialog, don’t you think?
The image that comes to my mind is of a rabid dog, hiding, crouching, growling behind a door, ready to pounce, ready to bite, ready to devour the next person who walks through.
It’s scary because this bit of dialog is also directed at each one of us – at me, at you. Sin is crouching and its desire is for us. From the time of Adam and Eve, sin has been waiting at the door and has not given up its post.
In the garden, sin took the form of a serpent.
The serpent knew of the two trees at the center of the garden – both representative of a good and right relationship with God. The tree of life symbolized humanity’s life-giving walk with God; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolized the path of obedience that led to the good life with God verses the evil that would result from trying to live a life apart from God.
Simple parameters – walk with God and live, depart from God and die.

Simple choice as well. It’s the same choice given to the people of God, the Israelites, as they were about to enter the Promised Land. God had rescued his people from Egypt and through miracle after miracle demonstrated his covenant love to them. He’d given them the Law, embodied in the Ten Commandments, which provided instruction as to how God’s people were to respond in faith.
Then in Deuteronomy 30, Moses, in his farewell speech, announces to the Twelve Tribes as they are about to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, verse 16, “Keep the covenant. Love the Lord your God, walk in his ways, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering.”
It’s not complicated, Moses assures them in verse 11, “What I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.”
Verse 15, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, or death and destruction.” It’s up to you, Moses is saying. I’m just telling it like it is.
Verse 19, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Simple choice. On the one hand is, Deuteronomy 30.20, “Love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, hold fast to him, for the Lord is your life.”
On the other hand is disobedience which leads to destruction, and the warning from Moses, in verse 18, that if you don’t obey, “You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”
Not a difficult choice, in my opinion. But sin distorts such simple choices.
In the garden, the serpent said to the woman, Genesis 3.1, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
First distortion, first assault: Misrepresenting God’s word.
This is what sin does. That rabid dog, crouching behind the door, says, “Walk this way, come on through, God doesn’t mind.”
Now if a rabid dog actually said that, we’d be forewarned. It would come out as a growl and a snarl. There would be no way we’d walk through that door and let that wolf, that Cujo from Stephen King’s horror novel, pounce on us.
But sin doesn’t normally announce itself that way. It distorts God’s word by being partly right. Whatever the issue, sin tries to water down the facts.
For example, when two people fight, whether it’s a husband or wife or two friends or even two enemies, sin says, it’s not your fault. The other person was way out of line. Sure, you might have blown it a little bit, but the other guy, the other gal, he carries the bulk of the blame, she’s the majority stakeholder here.
Sin tries to muddy the waters. Surely, sin says, you have a right to your feelings! You were wronged, that person offended you!
When it comes to any emotion or internal struggle, same thing. Anything we know to be wrong according to God’s word, sin will question. Are we harboring anger, lust, gossip, desire for revenge, a judgmental attitude, pride? Whatever it is, sin will distort God’s word on that issue with some half-truths.
“Surely you have a right to your emotions,” sin might say. “What’s this?! God doesn’t want you to feel anything? Are you supposed to be a robot?” the serpent demands.
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from ANY tree in the garden’?”
Well, the woman, to her credit, wasn’t completely deceived by this distortion.
She replied to the serpent, verse 2, “We may eat from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor touch it, or you will die.’”
And for the reader who’s been paying attention to this story, we immediately see her mistake. In fact, she makes two flubs in this retelling of God’s command, which indicates that she really didn’t know God’s command all that well.
(This is a warning to us, by the way, to make sure we know God’s word.)
First, she doesn’t differentiate between the two trees at the center of the garden. She immediately thinks of the one that has been forbidden them. She’s forgotten about the Tree of Life, the symbol of her life-giving walk with God. She jumps to the conclusion that the serpent is talking about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This, too, is a symbol of her life-giving walk with God, but the flip side of the coin. And that is if we obey we live, if we disobey we cut ourselves off from life.
The woman wasn’t clear on this basic message, evidently. So she made a second flub in responding to the serpent. She said the she and the man were not to even touch the tree, otherwise they’d die.
The basic problem as I see it, is that she turned a symbol meant for blessing into a set of rules that could be watered down, distorted, and eventually ignored. She was uncertain as to what was really required of her, so she opened the door, where sin is crouching, just a bit, just enough to peek in and see if…maybe…you know…God could be a little…off…on this, er, one issue…
The serpent was waiting and pounced. That’s what sin does. It waits for an opening and pounces.
Verse 4, “You will not surely die!”
Second assault, second attack: Contradicting God’s Word.
The first assault or strategy from that crouching, rabid dog is to distort and misrepresent God’s word. If that’s effective, then the second attack is an actual lunge. Cujo goes for the throat and denies, contradicts God’s Word.
“That person who offended you,” sins says. “Forget about ’em! Cut them out of your life. Remember, they were mostly to blame for that broken relationship. He’s the one who blew it; she’s the one who should be apologizing to you! If she can’t see that, if he can’t see that, then cut them out of your life. Who needs ’em?”
This is a direct contradiction of God’s word that says we are to seek reconciliation and live at peace with one another.
If the issue is anger, lust, pride, gossip, bitterness, envy…same thing. Sin will lunge at us and try to convince us that harboring such thoughts and emotions is not in violation to God’s word.
What’s more, sin will malign God and throw suspicion on God’s motives for giving us his commands. This is the third assault: Mocking God’s Word.
Verse 5, “God knows that when you eat of it (talking to the woman with regard to the forbidden fruit), your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
In other words: God is holding out on you! He has something he’s keeping back from you that rightfully belongs to you!
The reality was that the man and woman already knew what good and evil were. In fact, they were already like God in that they were created in God’s image. But they both bought into this lie that God was holding out on them; sin had planted a seed of doubt in their minds about God’s love and goodness.
Back to our example of a relational breakdown. Again, I’m preaching to myself – whether it’s an argument with your spouse, a friend, or a stranger on Facebook, the temptation is to first, distort God’s word, then second, ignore it completely, then finally make excuses why we know better than God.
This is in essence what the man and woman did when confronted with their sin. You know the story, the woman gave into temptation and took and ate. The man was there with her, didn’t stop her, joined right in. He took and ate.
Immediately they felt the effects of going their own way, walking their own path apart from God. They didn’t just abuse the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they abused the tree of life. And they knew, they knew! something had died within them.
Verse 7 and 8, the scripture says their eyes were opened (not to ‘good and evil’ but to the evil they’d done) and they realized they were naked and so they hid from God. (Read verse 9 and 10.)
Then God asks, “Who told you you were naked?”
God knew, of course. The human conscience did. They’d finally experienced sin personally. You see, being naked and not ashamed is a statement about the purity of their relationship with God, with each other, and with creation. But when they disobeyed God, the resulting shame, guilt, and fear demonstrated the sad new reality of a broken relationship with their Creator.
They’d followed the path of temptation to its logical conclusion. First, sin distorts God’s word, then it contradicts God’s word, then it maligns God’s word. Each stage was echoed by the man and woman. The woman didn’t express God’s command accurately – maybe the man didn’t teach it to her correctly, we don’t know – then she doubted if the command was true, and then they both ignored it completely. They basically told God, “We know better.”
And now listen as the excuses roll in.
Verse 12. “The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit.”
Verse 13. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Did you hear the passive nature of their protests? It wasn’t my fault. The devil made me do it. It’s the economy. It was my upbringing. It’s the world we live in. Friends, excuses are a dime a dozen and everyone has one.
But really, it’s the man’s excuse that is the most audacious. Sure, he threw his wife under the bus, but he basically blamed God for his current situation: “The woman YOU gave me.” If you stop to think about it God, one could argue that you’re the one who is ultimately responsible for our downfall.
Wow, how brazen, how impertinent. But it’s really the same excuse Cain gave when asked about his brother’s whereabouts. Look at Genesis 4.9. “Where is your brother, Abel?” God asks. Here comes a flippant reply: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In other words, if you’d kept a better watch over him God, I wouldn’t have killed him.
 Hate. Murder. Death. This is the end result of letting sin crouch at the door and having its way. The humans in the garden pointed fingers, and experienced relational and spiritual death. Cain murdered his brother, the first physical death on earth. Moses reminded the Israelites they too faced death and would not last long in the land they were entering if they disobeyed God.
And Jesus? Well, he was pretty blunt when he said in Matthew 5.22, “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” What kind of judgment? 1 John 3.15 states, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”
Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.
This is some of the worst news I have ever heard. It’s some of the worst news I’ve ever preached. It’s a kind of terror “behind the door” that each one of us faces. Worse than any horror novel imaginable.
For that thread of sin winds its way through history, leaving death and destruction in its path. I needn’t recount any particular examples, we have enough in our present day to remind us we are living in a culture of death. From extreme violence in video games, television, and movies to the proliferation of guns in our streets and war around the world, from the appalling statistics of abortion to the hateful rhetoric among our politicians, in our society, and yes, even the church. That this rabid dog of sin is crouching, pouncing, and devouring is self-evident.
That’s the nature of living the consequences of our actions.
It begins with God’s statement to the woman and man in the garden. In a kind of chiasm, or parallel pronouncement in Genesis 3.16-19, God tells it like it is. He’s not cursing the man and the woman, he’s explaining the consequences of their actions. 
I want to touch briefly on this section; unfortunately, we don’t have time to dig deep. But I think it’s important for us to know that the accepted translation for some of the key words and phrases in this passage is not without dispute and is not as clear cut as our modern translations make it out to be. The current word choice, in the NIV for example, has, in my opinion, done a disservice to the original text.
Obviously, I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but having read and studied this text with a professor of Hebrew and Old Testament, I want to let you know up front that I disagree with the reading of our modern translations on five key words.
Here’s the New International Version for Genesis 3.16, which is typical of how this text has been translated for about the last 500 years and has really slanted our understanding of the relationship between men and women…in the wrong direction, in my opinion. (READ vs 16)
To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”
Now here’s how other Hebrew scholars are translating this text.
A snare has increased your sorrow and sighing.
In sorrow you shall bring forth children.
Your turning shall be for your husband,
And he shall be like you (as in, the results will be similar to you).
Quite a bit of difference. And it makes a difference in how we understand it.
The five key terms or phrases are:
o   A snare will increase sorrow instead of God saying “I will increase it”
o   Sighing instead of childbirth
o   Sorrow or grief instead of simply physical pain in labor
o   Turning instead of desire (which has an overtone of sexual desire)
o   And finally, that he, referring to the man, shall be like you instead of rule over you; he’ll have similar grief and sorrow as he works the land
Now there are technical and linguistic reasons for these changes which, unfortunately, we don’t have time to go into this morning. But I would be happy to meet with you at some point in the future to share with you, probably in an hour long bible study, why this alternative interpretation makes sense to me.
Here it is again:
A snare has increased your sorrow and sighing.
In sorrow you shall bring forth children.
Your turning shall be for your husband
And he shall be like you.
The big take-away at this point is that God is not cursing the woman, nor does he curse the man. He’s explaining the reality of the situation and that, because you both gave into temptation, chose death instead of life, and now you’re turning to each other instead of me, a snare is going to dog you for the rest of your life.
Another word for snare is ambush. It’s a reference to sin personified, or in this case, the serpent which symbolizes the presence of evil and temptation. It’s the rabid dog crouching at the door, lying-in-wait, ready to strike, to devour, to kill.
As we’ve noted, this thread of sin and death starts in the garden, wraps itself around Cain and his offspring, populates the earth during the days of Noah, even after the flood, appearing at the Tower of Babel and then during the formation of the nation of Israel. Moses warned about it, the prophets as well. And on it goes, winding its way through history, and is present among us even today.
The Apostle Paul speaks true and clear: “The wages of sin is death.”
That’s the terror of sin.
But there is also a thread and a glimmer of hope.
The thread of God’s grace and mercy and strength and salvation and hope also starts in the garden and winds its way through history, and is present among us even today.
          Let’s look at a few of these threads of grace.
          Notice that the first thing God does for the human couple after telling them about the consequences for their sin, is to clothe them. Verse 21. They are naked and ashamed, guilty, exposed, open to ridicule and embarrassment over all they’d done…and God has mercy on them and covers them with garments.
          Second, God kept them from eating the Tree of Life still at the center of the garden. By driving them east of Eden, God was merciful and did not allow them to enter into an eternal state of sin and separation. There was a possibility for true life.
          Third, God blessed them with children. Of course, they experienced sorrow and grief, as God said they would in verse 16, in that Cain murdered Abel. Nevertheless, God did not forget his blessing and original command in Genesis 1 for humanity to fill the earth and represent God as stewards over creation.
          These are all threads of grace. Another act of God’s grace and mercy actually precedes all of these I’ve mentioned. Have you ever thought about the fact that the woman and man did not die the moment they disobeyed?
They died relationally. They died spiritually. But God was merciful in allowing them to live so that they might have the opportunity to resume, albeit in a profoundly different manner, their relationship with God. It will be a struggle, but if humankind pursued it, it would be possible to continue to walk with our Creator.
In fact, God assures us of this possibility when he curses the serpent, which remember, is a symbol of sin.
Verse 15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, you – sin, serpent – can only bruise him on the heel.”
In other words, sin will indeed dog you the rest of your life, nipping at your heel like a mangy mutt that can’t be tamed. But you have the opportunity to squash it on the head. And ultimately, one day, it will be squashed completely. This passage is often seen as a prophetic word of hope about the coming savior. But the word of hope isn’t just for some far off day in the future. God is telling the man and woman, that sin does not have to win or have its way today.
This is the same message God gives Cain in Genesis 4.7.
We started this sermon with one of the most disturbing lines from all of scripture: “Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you.”
But that’s not the whole of the message. God tells Cain, if you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? Will not your face shine? Will not you be happy and accepted and in relationship with me? If you choose to do what’s right?
Yes, sin is crouching, but – end of verse 7 – you must master it.
You can master it. It’s possible, it’s really possible, with the help of God, faith in Christ, in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, with practice, prayer, and patience to master it. The sin in our life does not have to hold sway.
We don’t have to wrestle with Cujo – it’s not that kind of battle. We simply have to walk away from the door. The door of temptation, behind which the siren call of sin is constantly calling.
We can simply walk away. That is the proscribed method of mastering sin.
Moses put it this way in Deuteronomy 30: “It’s not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” to choose life instead of death.
The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10.13, “No temptation or testing has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted or tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted and tested he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
The Apostle James is even more succinct in James 4.7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
God has given us the tools to master sin. But remember, sin is crafty. We’ve already seen that it distorts God’s word, it denies God’s word, it mocks God’s word. And these are powerful delusions, friends.
All the more reason to stay in God’s word so we can apply the truths, these biblical principles, and use the tools he gives us so we can stay in relationship with him. We must purposefully follow the thread of God’s grace and hope and strength and mercy throughout scripture and cling to it as a lifeline.
One more tool, one more expression of God’s grace which I think provides great power and comfort as we seek to squash sin on the head.
It’s an image that finds its reference back in Genesis 3.6 at the climax of this tragedy. If you recall, the woman took the fruit and ate it, giving some to the man as well who took and ate. These verbs, applied to the first Adam, brought death.
But when the second Adam, who is Jesus Christ, changed the outcome of these verbs, there is life. Jesus, who is the Tree of Life incarnate, says in the Eucharist, this is my body and this is my blood. Take and eat.
Our first parents took and ate in disobedience. But in Christ, we are offered a new path, a new way, a new life. We can take and eat from the Bread of Life in obedience, and walk with God again.

          Will not your countenance be lifted up?