Adam vs Eve

First Reading:  Genesis 3.8-14
8They 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.

9But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
14The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 

Adam and Eve, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Eve & Adam

The early chapters of Genesis are some of the most controversial in the whole of Scripture.  It’s not just the strange anti-science of creationists that bring this text into disrepute.  Although it is worth pausing briefly to point out that a Creationist reading of the early chapters of Genesis is not just unscientific – it is barely literate.  The story of creation is told twice in Genesis first from Genesis 1.1-2.3 and then again 2.4-3.24.  You will recognise both stories, but you may not have recognised that they are different.  In the first are the six days each ending with “and it was good.”  the second has Adam and Eve.

In the first story God created humans (male and female together) after all the other animals; in the second, God made one man (“Adam”) and then created all of the animals in order to find a companion for Adam. God brought all of the animals to Adam, but none were good enough, so God made a woman from one of Adam’s ribs to serve his companion.

Any serious reading of the early chapters of Genesis show that the ancient people who created the text did not take the stories literally – they saw these two contradictory stories, and decided that both were worth preserving.  They saw that these were parables of deep and profound and life-changing wisdom, not science or history.

But its not just confusion over science that has brought Genesis into disrepute.  Valid feminist criticism has said that these texts are dangerous and damaging to women.  In the creation narratives:

  • woman’s subordinate status is reflected in her being created second
  • woman is created to be a ‘helper’ to the man and cure his loneliness
  • woman tempted man to disobey and so is responsible for sin in the world; she is also gullible and simpleminded
  • woman is cursed by pain in childbirth

Our reading is the conclusion of the story, but at the heart of the story of Adam and Eve is a dialogue between the serpent and Eve… There is more to this story than meets the eye.  For example, the serpent addresses the woman in the plural, she is seen as he spokesperson for the human couple and therefore spokesperson for the whole human race!

The serpent and the woman discuss theology.  They talk about God.  The theologian Phyllis Tribble describes the discussion “reveals her as intelligent, informed, and perceptive. [She is a] Theologian, ethicist, hermeneut, rabbi, she speaks with clarity and authority.”

But it is true that the woman is tricked.  But it does not appear that Satan tempts the weakest of the couple – he tempts the one with brains, the one he knows the other will blindly follow.

Eve makes a mistake, but Adam is not the hero of the tale.  Adam is a passive nonentity.  The contrast that he offers to the woman is not strength or resolve but weakness.  He isn’t a patriarchal figure making decisions for his family, he follows his woman without question or comment.  She gives fruit to him, “and-he-ate.”

Eve is tricked by the serpent, by the Devil incarnate.  The most cunning of the angels leads her to question God’s instructions.  And to be fair the knowledge of good and evil is a step forward for humanity, albeit an uncomfortable one.  Eve is led astray by Lucifer.  What does it take to lead Adam astray?  His wife saying “would you like a bite of my apple?”

When the mistake is revealed the woman takes responsibility for her actions, the man blames the woman and blames God.  Adam is weak and wheedling, “the woman that you gave me” he says to God.

It is interesting to note that story does not even say that Eve ‘tempted’ Adam; Adam isn’t reluctant or hesitating, he doesn’t theologize, he doesn’t contemplate.  Instead, his one act is eating: Eve offers and he munches without a second thought.

If this story deals in archetypes, the woman is intelligent, sensitive, and ingenious, the man is passive, dim-witted, and inept.

There is more than one way to read this text.

The story of he Fall is subtle and deep and in the best possible sense of the word it is ‘true.’

There never was an Adam there never was an Eve, and there certainly was no talking serpent.  This is not a story about the past, it is a profound millennias old reflection on what it means to be human.

What is a human being?  Are we good?  Are we evil?  Are we Animals?  Are we angels?

This is what Genesis teaches us:

The deepest and most profound truth about humanity, is that we are good.  We contain the ‘image’ of God.  There is nothing so extraordinary in the world (and probably in the universe) than a human being.  Yet we are not Gods, Genesis tells us that we are made of the same dust as the rest of creation.  In modern terms, we are part of the same evolutionary process as giraffes and dolphins and dogs and cockroaches.

Another truth from the story is that the purpose of humanity is to “tend and care for” the Garden – we are created with a responsibility to care for the planet that we are part of.

But before this sermon becomes a party political broadcast for the Green Party lets get back to humanity.

Humanity is good, in God’s image.  But (and it’s a big but!) Eve represents the brightest and best of humanity, and yet she goes astray.

There was one rule, and she broke it.

We are good, but we have a tendency to cock things up.

The Fall describes human alienation in a way that beggars the greatest talents of psychologists and sociologists.  The human condition is described to a tee, and is as relevant today as it was nearly three millennia ago when it was first written, from an even more ancient oral tradition.

Humanity is good, but Fallen.

We all have the potential to be a St Francis or a Mother Theresa or a Gandhi.  We are made of the same stuff as they were.  They were people with the same doubts and fears and insecurities as the rest of us, but their lives shone with the brilliance of God’s image within them.  Even they were fallen, St Francis had masochistic tendencies, Mother Theresa refused to look at the political reasons why people were in need, Gandhi was not a good husband.  But they are heroes of faith and humanity.  Looking at their lives we can hear God’s words echo over creation ‘and it was good.’

But then we are made of the same stuff as Hitler, and Stalin and Myra Hindley.  We look at the devastation we have caused as a species, of the planet and of one another.  Islamic State, the Inquisition, two world wars, the Holocaust.

It is a mistake to put these heroes and villains too far away from us.  They are us.  People just like you and me, yet their deeds for good or evil are extraordinary.

We are full of contradictions.  Edward Young wrote;

“How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful, is man!”

We human beings contain God’s image, but are Fallen.  None of us live as we could.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “a man is a God in ruins.”

The image of God that we bear is tarnished, but it is still there.  Most people never find it within themselves.  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” (Henry David Thoreau)

We are bogged down in our falleness, as we fall every day.  We live in ‘quiet desperation’, the song of our true nature never sung.

The Fall is a skewing of perspective.  God comes down to walk in the Garden with Adam and Eve and they are worried about what they are wearing!

Our perspective on life is distorted – we treasure what is worthless and ignore what is truly precious.

I close with a quote from Robert Fulghum about perspective:

“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”

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Pentecost – a sermon by Margaret Offerman

Margaret Offerman, Reader at the Ascension

Margaret Offerman, Reader at the Ascension

The Feast of Pentecost

Th e fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self control.   Paul’s letter to the Galatians, ch. 6 v. 22.

Today we celebrate the symbolic moment when the disciples received the gift of God’s spirit.  It  came in the form of a mighty wind followed by dancing flames of fire.   Peter addressed the huge crowd who had witnessed the event.  He referred to the prophecy of  Joel.  God said: I will pour out my spirit on all humanity.   Your sons and daughters shall prophesy.  Your young men shall see visions and your old men will dream dreams……………The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood , in that great resplendent day.

The coming of the spirit is accompanied by disturbances in nature and prophetic utterance  replaces normal speech.

The power of the spirit of God is a recurring theme in the bible.  The second verse of the bible describes God’s spirit moving over the darkness of the newly created earth;  the primal darkness became light.

When Moses was close to despair after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, striving to reach the Promised Land,  he had to listen to the constant complaints of the Israelites who looked back on the days in Egypt where even as slaves  they ate meat and fish for the asking, cucumbers and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic.  Moses cried out to Yahweh whose response was to pour out his spirit on seventy men, elders who could  bear part of Moses’s burden of leadership.   As the spirit alighted on them, they were seized by a prophetic ecstasy and normal communication was suspended.  Moses expressed his relief:  I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that he would bestow his spirit on them all.  

The writer of psalm 139 describes the pervasiveness  of God’s spirit:  Where can I escape from your spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will be guiding me.

The spirit is creator, provider, guide, protector, encouragement,  conscience, liberator, source of hope and fountain of wisdom.   In poetic language or in homely prose the  authors  of our sacred story  have shed light on aspects of the workings of the spirit.

Once the spirit had descended on the apostles at the feast of Pentecost, and after they had been through the almost mandatory period of  ecstasy which in their case led to speaking in tongues, they began to establish the  way of life that we recognise as the life of a religious community.

They met for synagogue  worship regularly on the Sabbath day.  They spent time in prayer and study of the scriptures.  They broke the bread – commemorated the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in  their reenactment of the last supper.   They supported each other financially: there was never a needy person among them, because those who had property in land or houses would sell it, bring the proceeds of the sale and lay them at the feet of the apostles to be distributed to anyone in need.   They listened to the stories which were becoming part of their sacred story, relating events in the life of Jesus to episodes from the Hebrew scriptures.  They reached out to friend and stranger, enlarging their number with a missionary zeal which impressed Jew and Gentile.

There were setbacks – the ideals of community living were not always achievable.  Some individuals,  like Ananias and Sapphira, couldn’t accept the notion of sharing their wealth.  There were personal quarrels at all levels of leadership, notably the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas.  There were serious disagreements about the criteria for membership of the Christian body, eg over circumcision as an entry ritual.  Some groups became disorderly and disreputable – in the passage from the letter to the Galatians which immediately precedes Paul’s list of the fruits of the spirit, he warns against the kind of behaviour which will exclude them from the kingdom of God – fornication, debauchery, idolatry, envy, fits of rage, selfish amibitions – all human failings but these can’t be the characteristic or the life style of a Christian community.  Paul takes a similar line in the letter to the Corinthians, reprimanding them for sexual impropriety,  infidelity, factionalism,  personality cults.

The early followers of the way were living out their faith in turbulent times.  There were bound to be lapses from the standards of behaviour  they had chosen to live by.   But they lived with hope and mutual love.  Paul wrote:  though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  The insistence on the primacy of Jesus’s commandment that his followers love one another suggests that this was the salient characteristic of the early church.  I am convinced, wrote Paul to the Romans, that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  And in the first epistle of John, we are told that perfect love casts out fear.  This is an extraordinary statement, given the threats of violence and death that were recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles.  We feel that they must have lived in constant fear, of illness, of the tyrannical  power of the occupying Roman government, of natural disaster, of crop failure, of war, of  many of the sources of fear that are familiar to the people of Syria for example, or Libya or Palestine in the present day.  But they were  persuaded that surrounded by the love of God, they need not fear.

In our own society and in our own times, we are prey to fear.  It would be facile to tell the people of Nepal that they had nothing  to fear in the face of their recent experience of the power of an indifferent, possibly hostile natural universe.  Many people in SE13, given the uncertainty of their employment prospects or  living conditions are fearful for their future and that of their  children.  Talk to some members of the congregation at the HTC and they will tell you of their fear of being sanctionned because of an infringement of their benefit regulations.  Our children are warned at school to fear  ‘stranger danger’.  Nick Clegg made an emotional, almost elegiac speech when he announced his resignation after the election.  He said:  It is clear that in constituency after constituency north of the border the beguiling appeal of Scottish nationalism has swept all before it and south of the border a fear of what that means for the UK has strengthened English conservatism too.  This now brings our country to a very perilous point in our history where grievance and fear combine to drive our different communities apart.

Last Sunday saw the end of CAW.  CAW is the week when we can show that we really understand what being part of the Christian community is about.  We give our time and risk our dignity begging for money from strangers.  We produce plants and cakes and we dig into our pockets for the sake of people we’ll never see.  We commit ourselves to the cause of social and economic justice,  hoping, praying that it’ll eventually be achieved.  We know from some of the responses we get that a significant number of people think we are  nuisances or deluded idealists.  But as we heave sighs of relief that it’s over for another year, we recognise that although what we do is making a tiny difference, it’s going some way to stem the tide of cynicism and self absorption   that threatens our society.

Peter, Paul, Philip, Barnabas, Dorcas, Lydia, Stephen, Julia, the countless members of the church, some of whom are mentioned by name, others  as someone’s  brother or sister or mother in law,  were nothing  if they weren’t risk takers,  showing in their lives the fruits of the spirit.    They gave their houses, their money, their food and clothing, in some cases their future to be followers of Jesus.  They worked tirelessly and sacrifically for the gospel.  They knew that nothing could separate them from the love of God.  They were spirit filled.

This prayer comes from the service book we use on weekday mornings:

God our father, you have called us
In order to make us like your son, our lord Jesus Christ;
Change us day by day,
By the work of your spirit
So that we may grow more like him,
In all that we think and say and do,
Amen