Father Nicholas Lang
The First Sunday in Lent
Some years ago, I spotted a bumper sticker that read “Eve was framed!” Funny, but it makes a good point. Poor Eve has gotten a bad rap throughout the ages.
What really happened in the garden that day? Simply stated, two people who were created to live in a lush garden made a choice to eat the fruit of the one tree from which God told them they should abstain or die. It was really a minor restriction and God imposed it because this Tree of Knowledge and Life would lure them into idolatry, making them want to be God—totally self-reliant and self-centered. The snake tells them what God did not—the man and woman will not die if they eat the fruit. In fact, their eyes will be opened, and they will be like God.
They exercised their freedom and wind up being evicted from the good life they once knew standing out on the curb and looking in. But the snake had told them the truth. They did not die. They just lost everything that made life a joy. And, of course, Adam’s defense was, “she made me do it.”
Clearly, it was men who framed the Genesis story and recorded it because women in that time and culture had no access to that power or even the ability to write. Women neither shaped decisions about life nor engaged in any decision-making process. So it’s no surprise that this biblical narrative tries to explain the problem of evil and sin in the world by declaring that it was the fault of the female helpmate God created. Women have been blamed for many things from that day on—even though Adam ate the apple too.
Until this wise woman came along. She had just run a red light and crashed into a man's car. Both cars are totaled but amazingly neither of them was hurt. After they crawled out of their cars, the woman said; "Wow, just look at our cars! There's nothing left, but fortunately we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God that we should meet like this and be friends for the rest of our days." The man replied," I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God!"
"And look at this,” she said, “here's another miracle. My car is completely demolished, but my bottle of 75 year-old scotch didn't break. Surely God meant for us to drink this vintage delicacy and celebrate our good fortune." Then she handed the bottle to the man who nodded in agreement, opened it, drank a big mouthful and handed it back to the woman. The woman took the bottle, put the cap back on, and handed it back to the man. The man asks, "Aren't you having any?" She replies, "Nah. I think I'll just wait for the police."
When I say the word “sin,” I wonder what images come to mind for you? The stolen candy bar, the concealed crib notes used to pass an exam, the questionable deductions on a tax return, brown sludge pouring into a once pristine lake, war-torn countries in the Middle East, the almost weekly shootings in malls and other public places, the incidence of poverty and homelessness? I suspect we all get a different picture.
It’s hard to preach on sin. Either one can use it to bully the congregation or dress it up in finery and sugar coating. Let’s be honest about it. It is difficult to speak about sin in church because we know what a turn off it is and because we have our own baggage around the language of sin instilled in us from childhood and maybe from our affiliation with other churches and denominations.
I don’t mean to be glib or to make light of the reality of evil and sin. We are all profoundly aware of the existence of wickedness and malice in our world. The problem I raise is not that people do bad things but that, from the time of the story in the Garden, it has become part of human nature to avoid responsibility for the wrongs they do. Like Eve, we may blame a serpent or like Adam a spouse or like the woman in the accident story, we may totally abdicate any culpability for our wrongdoing.
When we “miss the mark,” which is the simplest definition of sin, and really mess things up, we may be accountable, but we don’t need to wallow in it or be paralyzed by our guilt. We can act as an authentic and honorable child of God and claim responsibility for it, ask God’s forgiveness, make amends as best we can, and be assured of God’s mercy.
Martin Luther believed that the chief temptation of the devil is to try to convince us that we do not have a gracious God. Our God is not a vengeful, rancorous, ogre who sits around devising ways to put us to the test. But that same gracious God has given us this thing called “free will” and with it the opportunity to make both wonderful and disastrous decisions.
This season of Lent reminds us that the tendency of Adam and Eve to be their own God did not die with them. Human beings still have the itch to be self-reliant and self-centered. God knows that about us and yet still loves us. It is when we fully understand God—not as our judge but as our lover— that we can be transformed.
People will still continue to make stupid, even disastrous decisions and they will still have consequences. We will still feel like we are living in exile when, instead of trying to honor that empty space we feel deep inside of ourselves, we try to fill it with of all sorts of things we don’t need.
Life is by its nature the gift of being allowed to exercise our freedom and make choices. We can look back to the garden and bemoan what we’ve done, or we can follow Jesus into the desert, a place of unlimited imagination and possibilities, reclaiming our identity as signs of God’s presence in the world. That’s an amazingly good choice