Scripture: Genesis 3: 1 – 7
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
October 25, 2015
‘Tis the season for ghosts, goblins and witches. But the spookiest, most frightening figure I have ever encountered is Brother Jud. I first met Brother Jud while I was in college. Brother Jud would pace back and forth in front of the bell tower at UC Riverside at lunch time, waving a huge black Bible in the air, preaching to us college students about sin, hell and damnation. He said, “I am here today to save you from your sins.” And then he would pick people out of the crowd. “You,” he said, “with the Greek-lettered sweatshirt — you’re a fraternity boy, aren’t you? Let me tell you, you better stop your drinking boy or you are going to end up in hell. And you,” he said, “pointing to a girl in a mini-skirt, do you realize that there are men here who are lusting after you– you are causing them to sin, you better clothe yourself or you are going to end up in hell.” He pointed to a couple holding hands, “What are you doing holding hands, that is foreplay to fornication — Be careful or else you will find yourself in hell.” Every day at lunch Brother Jud would show up at the bell tower, waving his Bible in the air, sharing the good news, and a huge crowd of students would gather around him — mostly to laugh at him, but I would cower in the back of the crowd, because I was afraid of him. He terrified me. I did not want to be pointed out by Brother Jud. Brother Jud was the most frightening person I’ve ever met.
He was one of the first to introduce me to the concept of sin. I grew up in this very church and I do not remember hearing one sermon here on sin, hell or damnation. In fact, maybe there has never been a sermon preached at Redlands United Church of Christ about sin. So, let me be the first…
Sin- the words alone makes our stomachs turn. Sin smells like rotten garbage; it tastes like castor oil. It feels somber and oppressive like chains around our ankles and wrists.
When I say “sin,” there is no telling what you see: a stolen candy bar, rumpled sheets of a bed shared by two in an adulterous affair, a large pipe spilling orange sludge into a once-blue river, the homeless digging through trash cans desperately looking for scraps of moldy bread to eat in the world’s wealthiest nation (Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin).
Many of us prefer not to talk about sin. We are all too aware of what an abusive and exclusive language sin is. Many of us have been hit over the head with the word “sin”: Hate the sin but love the sinner, we hear. While many of us would prefer never to hear the word “sin” again, sin may be our best hope yet. Because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.
Last week at RUCC, I talked about Original Blessing. We have all most likely heard of Original Sin – a term coined by Augustine Hippo of the 4th century. He said that since Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation is born in sin. In other words, we are inherently bad. Brother Jud, most certainly, embraces an Original Sin theology. However, Original Blessing says that after God created us, the very first words out of God’s mouth were, “It is good!” We are very, very good! We are created in the very image of God! Women and men, girls and boys, toddlers and seniors, rich and poor, popular and misunderstood, powerful and vulnerable – we all bear the image of God, no exceptions! God breathed God’s breath within us. We have the divine, creative energy of the Creator running wildly through our souls. We are inherently good. We are capable of creating immense goodness and beauty in this world!
And trust me, I would love to stop right there, with those words, “It is good!” We are good. Amen! Let’s go home. But the truth of the matter is that we often find ourselves doing things that are not so good. How many of you sinned this past week? While I firmly believe that the holy of holies lives within each one of us, deep down in human existence there is an experience of seeing light and turning away from it; deep down in human existence there is an experience of reaching for the forbidden fruit and pushing away loving arms; deep down in human existence, there is an experience of cutting ourselves off from the gift of abundant life. And in order for the theology of Original Blessing to carry its weight, sin needs to be addressed.
Sin, however, does not need to be the enemy that we often make it out to be rather it becomes the fire alarm that wakes us up to be the person God originally created us to be, to our inherent goodness, to our Original Blessing.
In our scripture, this morning we read about a tree – the tree of knowledge. God said to Adam and Eve, “We are going to have an amazing time together – we are going to create, laugh, walk and talk and skip together, love…life is going to be incredible, but just don’t eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” And we think, but knowledge is good, right? Why wouldn’t God want us to have more knowledge?
Actually, there were two special trees in the Garden of Eden, actually. The Tree of Life is for Adam and Eve to enjoy, but not the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life is a beautiful image – implying health, fruitfulness, aliveness, vitality.
What does the second tree imply? Certainly there are many answers – and some of you shared your reflections with me after my sermon last week about the meaning of the tree of knowledge, but I believe the second tree could represent the desire to play God and judge parts of God’s creation – all of which God considers good –as evil. In other words, when we judge, we inevitably misjudge.
“If we humans start playing God and judging good and evil, how long will it take before we say this person or tribe is good and deserves to live, but that person or tribe is evil and deserves to die, or become our slaves? How long will it take before we judge this species of animal is good and deserves to survive, but that one is worthless and can be driven to extinction? How long until we judge this land is good and deserves to be preserved, but that river is without value and can be plundered, polluted or poisoned?” (Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, pg.9). We see this misjudgment played out in the very next story of the Bible – with Cain who judges his brother, Abel, as “not good” and decides to kill him. No wonder God says do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. No wonder Jesus says, “Do not judge.” Why? Because we don’t know how. When we start to judge, we will inevitably misjudge.
So, we are constantly given a crucial choice: Will we eat from the Tree of Life – where we embrace the goodness of creation and reflect the image of the living God or will we eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – misjudging others, playing God, and as a result mistreating our fellow creatures? In other words will be creative and generous or selfish and destructive?
“Think of your hand. It can make a fist or it can extend in peace. It can wield a weapon or it can play a violin. It can point in derision or it can reach out in compassion. It can steal or it can serve” (McLaren, pg. 10)
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all“
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?“
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”.
Interestingly, the original Hebrew word for sin can be translated as “forgetful”. I love that definition. Forgetful. Because sometimes we forget that we are created in the image of God. Sometimes we forget that God breathed God’s breath into us. Sometimes we forget that God declares that we are good – very, very good! Sometimes we forget that we are an Original Blessing.
The Bible says that we are heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ. The Bible says we are a treasured possession and the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Let’s remember that! Let’s claim it, honor it, trust it, believe it! Let’s not forget that we are an Original Blessing, after all!