Sermon September 27, 2020

Misadventures in the Garden of Eden
September 27, 2020
By Dr. Terry Swicegood 

I had prepared the bulletin for this service before I thought much about the sermon for today.  I did know that I was going to preach on Genesis 3, for that was the chapter we were studying this past week in our Wednesday Bible study.  So, I did a quick and dirty and titled the sermon “Adventures in the Garden of Eden.”  But as I started to put the sermon together, I realized a far better title would be “Misadventures in the Garden of Eden.”  

Genesis 3 is the antithesis of Genesis 2.  In Genesis 2 we see how God placed the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, in Eden.  How they walked in total fellowship with God and took up residence in a garden that surpassed all the botanical gardens on earth put together.

As  we turn the pages of our Bibles from chapter 2 to chapter 3, the story darkens.  In chapter 3 we witness the willful disobedience of our first parents, how their actions invoked the curse of God upon them, how the peaceful creation gets disturbed and its beauty marred. 

So, follow along with this story in Genesis 3, which most of you have in front of you.  

There are four main characters in the story: The Serpent, Eve, Adam, and God.

We meet the serpent as the story opens.  We are told that the serpent was more crafty (don’t you love that?)–more crafty than any of all the other wild animals on earth.

It’s wrong to think of the serpent as Satan or the Devil.  It’s more accurate to think of the serpent as the “Tempter.”  To think of him as the entity that temps us to compromise the highest and best within us; as the entity that temps us to disobey God’s commandments. 

So, think of the serpent as anything– personal or impersonal, inside us or outside us–which entices us to ignore God’s will for our lives.    

The serpent launches his attack upon Eve with an innocent enough question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the Garden’?”   

The serpent is softening her up, causing her to second-guess her own memory: “Maybe God didn’t say that at all.  Maybe I misunderstood the message.”  The tree in the center of the garden was off limits, and now it suddenly becomes accessible.  

Oh, how soothingly the Tempter speaks to us.  How innocuous are his suggestions?  The very power of the Tempter is that he breaches our defenses and attacks us where we are most vulnerable.

Before I go on let me very briefly tell you about the Tempter, for I qualify as an expert as one who regularly contends with him–or her–as the case may be, for the tempter is unquestionably androgenous.  As the Christian tradition has it, the Tempter is a fallen angel.  His attack is always on high, seeking to compromise our identity.  He rarely suggests that we do anything bad; almost invariably he suggests that we do something, which on the surface, has a certain appeal.  

Eve responds firmly to the serpent: “Here’s what God told us, that we could eat fruit from any of the trees in the garden, expect one, that tree that stands in the middle of the garden.  God warned us that if we even touch the bark of that tree, we shall surely die.”

And here the serpent assumes the authority of God himself, claiming to know more than God knows, refuting  God ‘s prohibition.  

“You shall not die,” the serpent laughs, but instead something marvelous will befall you…  “If you eat the fruit you will have divine discernment. Your eyes will be open to things beyond your wildest imagination.”  

Such a deal, huh?  To be like God, and no longer a pathetic, ignorant mortal.  To know what God knows, to see what God sees.  What could be better than that?  

So, she saunters over to the tree in the center of the garden, spies the low hanging fruit.  Looks yummy. Picks it, takes a bite.  It IS yummy.  Takes some to her husband, “Try it, you’ll like it”, so he takes a bite.      

Which demonstrates the irrefutable point, “Everything wrong in this world originates with a woman.”  (No groaning, please!) 

And then reflecting on all this, she realizes that God has been wrong.  She and her husband do not die, as God predicted they and then the doubts begin to multiply.   How can you be God, how can you have authority over my life, when what you tell me is a lie?  

So, she was right in one sense.  She did not die, nor did her husband…. for a while!

But one thing did immediately change.  When their eyes were opened, they realized for the first time that they were naked, so they took some fig leaves, sewed them together, to cover up their modest parts.  

Most of us miss the humor in this part of the story.  Fig leaves are about “this” big.  They’re so small it would take hundreds, maybe thousands of them to cover up your nakedness.  A more appropriate leaf to make a covering would be the elephant ear plant.  It would only take five of six of them to cover your entire body.  

So, the storyteller is making a subtle point.  How pathetic are our attempts to hide from God, to cover up from the shame of our disobedience?  

The story shifts to late in the day.  In the cool of the evening Adam and Eve are walking in the garden.  In a few short hours they have begun to experience feelings they have never known before, shame & guilt, the damning realization that they have disobeyed their Creator.  

They are playing hide and seek with God, for they hear him walking in the garden.  They hear him calling out, “Adam, where are you?” “Adam??” 

And Adam’s finally realizes there is no way to escape this relentless pursuer.  His response is first act of confession in the Bible.  “I heard you in the Garden, but I hid from you, Lord, for I was afraid because I was naked.” 

“I was afraid.”  What are we afraid of?   What do we not want other people to know about us, know what we are like, know what we have done?”  Our fears define us in many ways

So Adam–and Eve–learn the agonizing lesson we all have learned at some point in our lives: 

“Forbidden fruit is always intriguing, but in the end never as tasty as we imagined it to be.” 
                                 ― Claudy Conn, Runaway Heart

God notices the fig leaves covering their nakedness and realizes that something fundamental has changed between Himself and his creatures.  “Who told you that you were naked?  Did you eat of the tree I commanded you to stay away from?”

And then comes the blame game.  “It was the woman’s fault,” Adam insists.    It’s always someone else’s fault, isn’t it?  The six hardest words to force over the human tongue are these: “I was wrong.  I am sorry.”  

“The woman led me to the tree.  She ate the fruit first. ‘Try it dear.  It’s delicious’.”  

Never an admission that he could have politely refused. Never an admission that he was a free moral agent. Never an admission that he had full responsibility for his actions.  

Then God turns to the woman, and asks her, “Why did you do this?”

The Blame Game escalates.  “The Serpent made me do it.”  Reminds us of the old Flip Wilson joke, “The devil made me do it.”

And now the story concludes with the consequences: 

The serpent becomes the most hated of animals, forced to slither along upon its belly, killed whenever human beings come upon it.

The woman has to endure the pain of child-bearing.

The man is consigned to a lifetime of sweat and back-breaking labor, day in and day out, year in and year out.  
Adam and Eve are destined to learn, in the words of Scott Peck, that “Life is hard, and then you die.”   

As the story closes, they are banished from the lovely Garden where life was sweet and easy.  To ensure that they cannot go back God stations a heavenly creature–a Cherubim–as a sentry to make sure that Adam and Eve, and their offspring could never go back inside again. Above the gates to the garden God places a flaming sword.  No entry, forever.     

There’s a story about Adam and his sons Cain and Abel. They are out hunting one day and come upon the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve had been kicked out years before for eating the forbidden fruit.

Adam was staring at the garden and one of the boys saw that he was crying.  “Daddy, why are you crying? What is wrong?”

Adam wiped away a tear and said, “Boys, that’s  the Garden of Eden right there….that’s where we used to live…until Momma at us out of house and home.”

Genesis chapter 3 is a terrific story with many nuances. 

At its heart this is a story told with a flashing amber light of caution.

We  see in this story that when break God’s commandments we end up breaking ourselves.

We see in this story that when our know-it-all self concludes it is smarter than God, there’s trouble ahead. 
We see in this story the devastating consequences of willfully and continually disobeying God, that in so doing we will be banished from Eden and may not ever be able to return.