Sermon: A re-telling of Adam and Eve and that Damned Snake

NBW Sermon 6_10_2012 <—–Click here to listen along.  Sermons are a spoken art form!

And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;  for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.  They 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.  But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”  He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

-Genesis 3

A couple hours ago on Facebook Catherine posted that she just saw a snake on her hike. As her pastor I thought it best to reply “If it starts talking, don’t listen”

This likely came to mind since I was editing this very sermon about Adam and Eve.  The story of the Garden of Eden is what is called an origin story and every culture has theirs.  Origin stories tell us how the world came about and where we came from and other important things like why snakes don’t have legs.  We think we might know our origin story really well, but in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden, there actually is no mention of sin, or a fall, or Satan, or temptation, and I hate to break it to you but there wasn’t even an apple involved.  Which means the cultural understanding of the story of the Garden of Eden is slightly corrupted.  This is due in part to the countless paintings throughout the history of Western art which for some reason portray a tree and a snake and an extremely white Adam and Eve holding a Red Delicious.

See, for generations folks have called the tale of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the forbidden fruit “The Fall from grace” or “The story of Original Sin”.

Which is a little weird to me like, God created the heavens and the Earth and animals and it was like, this awesome all-inclusive primeval club-med for Adam and Eve – they ran naked through the warm sunlight of an idyllic paradise and everything was theirs for the taking – except for that one tree which they were told to steer clear of.  And this absolute paradise in the garden between God and Humanity lasted approximately 20 minutes.  Until Eve had a chat with a talking snake and then disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. And because Eve, ate some fruit she was told not to, now all of humanity is cursed and this so-called original sin of Eve’s became sort of like a sexually transmitted disease.  Because now, according to this version of what the story is about, now every person born after that inherited original sin from Eve.  That’s right.  Eve messed it up for everyone by eating some piece of fruit God told her not to. Which feels kinda unfair to her and kinda unfair to us. But this is what we are told the story is about.

See, religion has taught many of us that the story of Adam and Eve is a story primarily about their disobedience. And that the fracture in the relationship between God and humanity is caused by us breaking God’s arbitrary little rules.  So it feels like maybe religion was established just so we could be certain about what rules we need to follow in order for our relationship with God to be a loving, peaceful one.

But this week, after reflecting on several conversations I’ve had with many of you about your lives and identities and the struggles we all have to hear the truth of who we are, well, I started to wonder if the real damage to the relationship between Adam and Eve and God wasn’t the rule breaking nearly as much as it was in allowing themselves to believe lies about themselves and God. See, the serpent lied to them about who they were and who God was and like all the most dangerous lies, these lies the serpent told were just close enough to the truth to be really destructive.

Which makes me wonder about one thing: When Adam and Eve listened to a voice other than God’s and believed a voice other than God’s – and disobeyed –  when they were trying to avoid God and God calls out and says where are you…and they say we are naked and God says “who told you you were naked” well, I wonder this: how would this story have ended differently if they simply said “yeah we screwed up…we were wrong – we listened to a voice other than yours and didn’t trust you, please forgive us”.  How differently would this story have ended?  I mean, maybe their disobedience (while not insignificant) wasn’t as big a deal as it’s been made out to be. Because from what I know of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, forgiveness is like, a really big deal to God. Reconciliation and the desire to make whole that which is broken is a big part of God’s redeeming heart for us.  And when, like Adam and Eve we can’t just say the truth and instead we hide and are fearful and rationalize and justify and blame other people…when we do this, it’s like we rob God of being the forgiving and redemptive God God wants to be for us.

Genesis tell us that God made us and indeed all of creation “good”, not perfect, but good.  So given the good-but-not-perfect nature of humanity, maybe messing up and then speaking the truth of it and then allowing God to forgive and make whole that which we have broken has just always been part of the deal.  If there was a fall, if there was something which tore at the fabric of our relationship with God maybe it wasn’t eating the forbidden fruit, maybe it the was fear and shame, and untruth.

Because while Adam and Eve had done something wrong, what they felt wasn’t guilt.  Guilt didn’t make them hide their nakedness…it was shame.  And here’s why that’s a significant distinction, because guilt is about what we have done  – but shame is about who we are.  We should feel guilty for the wrong we do.  That is healthy and leads us to the foot of the cross where we receive grace upon grace for the forgiveness of sins. Shame on the other hand…that’s different. Shame keeps us afraid of God. As I said earlier, this is an origin story and here’s something we learn from Adam and Eve: shame has an origin… and it’s not God.  When they are filled with shame and trying to avoid God God says where are you?  And they say We were naked and tried to hide from you because we were afraid. God said to them: Who told you you were naked?  Who told you you were naked?  My money is on the snake. For some reason God allows us to live in a world where alternatives to God’s voice exist (for instance, the serpent)  and those alternatives to God’s voice are where shame originates and there is another term for alternatives to God’s voice and it is that which we call the demonic.  Shame, when it keeps us hiding  and blaming and fearful is demonic. And Jesus, as we hear in our Gospel text for today has no patience for this.  Jesus just absolutely insists on destroying the false voices that shame.

Shame kept Adam and Eve from the truth as it has continued to keep all of us from the truth. So Eve blames the serpent, and Adam blames Eve and the shaming continues and God’s forgiveness is simply not allowed to take hold.

Maybe you are sitting here tonight hiding having listened to a voice other than God’s.  And maybe that story is so familiar that you think it’s the truth.  But consider that you might not know your own story. Listen and maybe you can hear God saying Who told you you were naked? Who told you that you have to lie to be loved? Who told you your body is not beautiful and worthy to be loved?  Who told you that you must manipulate everything in your life to get what you need? Who told you that God cannot forgive, that you or anyone else is not redeemable? Who told you that what you have done (good or bad) is actually who you are?  Who told you that?  My money is on the snake. And he’s a damned liar.  Always has been.

So if that snake starts talking blasphemy, don’t listen. God wants more for you.  And always has.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • http://www.spiritedcrone.com/ spiritedcrone

    Well, maybe, but perhaps the story might also be about the importance of disobeying rules. The necessity of leaving the comfort of a life of ease and learning how to navigate pain in the world. The importance of becoming self aware. God in the story is a bit of a tyrant don’t you think – not wanting his creations to be aware of their own being.

    • http://meditatingontherain.wordpress.com meditatingontherain

      Yeah, I have to find it, but I remember reading it being understood in Jewish tradition as a story about growth, and how gaining knowledge requires the painful and jarring loss of innocence (and ignorance), but both of those states are still good things. That it is right that we should leave the garden and live in the world, just as it was right that we should live in Paradise in the first place, but that we could not live wise in Eden or foolish in the world.

  • Sally

    Good job Nadia! But I’ve often wodered If Adam and Eve didn’t frolic in the garden for maybe 20 centuries… Or not. and I saw a bumper sticker: Eve was framed! AND, it is consistent with the story to think, that if they hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit, we wouldnt have to worry about it, because the “gift” of children didn’t come until after their trial.

  • bls

    Great sermon. Especially loved this part:

    And here’s why that’s a significant distinction, because guilt is about what we have done – but shame is about who we are. We should feel guilty for the wrong we do. That is healthy and leads us to the foot of the cross where we receive grace upon grace for the forgiveness of sins. Shame on the other hand…that’s different. Shame keeps us afraid of God.

  • Shalom

    Great sermon, Nadia! While reading, I actually stopped and think about how many times in my life in which I listened to the “serpent” instead of God. There were a lot of times actually, and every single one led me to shame, “hiding” and blaming others. God’s forgiveness is indeed boundless, but to receive it, we should at first admit our sins and commit to changing ourselves. Thanks for this post! :)

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  • Robin Kunkel

    What resonates with me, Nadia, is the last paragraph. “Who told you? Who told you? Who told you?” Sometimes that voice “other than God’s” is in your head and it won’t stop speaking. Thank you for sharing this side of the story. It is most helpful for me to hear and for me to share with others hiding in shame.

  • http://vmwishes.com Mike

    I disagree on one point. The snake did NOT lie. He just repackaged the truth in an appetizing way. God forbade us from eating of the fruit not because it was poisonous to the body, but because it was poisonous to the spirit. By eating of the fruit, our eyes WERE opened. We gained the ability to see right and wrong… just as the snake said we would. But where God knew this was not good for us, the snake tricked us into thinking it was. The curse was not a literal banishment from the garden. The curse was the removal of the blissful naiveté, the obliviousness to “wrong.” As our eyes were opened, the garden lost its beauty. That is how we were banished from the garden.

    • http://vmwishes.com Mike

      Of course, this story is just that…. an explanation of how sin came into the world and why mankind is the only animal that suffers it. Our higher mind is both a blessing and a curse. I love the profound truth that can be found throughout the creation stories in Genesis.

  • Sandra Orrick

    Yea and Amen. Thank you Nadia. A perceptive musing on the nature of man and God and the universe, past and future. Think on these things.

  • KarenW

    @Mike – recognizing we are naked is not the same as knowing right from wrong, good from evil. In fact, human history shows that not to be the lesson learned. The “serpent” speaks to us each time we ask “Did God really say that? I can’t believe that’s what God wants for me/us. I/we deserve something different/better/more-to-my/our-liking, my/our current life-view.”

    But kudos, Nadia, for focusing on our response after disobeying God, and/or hurting each other. Where contrition and repentance exist we are called to fully forgive. This can be infinitely harder than walking away, nurturing hurt and betrayal. A great question with which to challenge the text!

  • Megan

    Incredible sermon and interpretation of this scripture. It moved me. I’ve been somewhat spiritually dry lately and it picked me up a bit, at least enough for me to step into a new direction. I read the article about the youth gathering and wanted to tell you that I’ve been reading your blog for around two years now and find you to be inspiring. I’m a Director of Youth and Family Ministry in NC and will be bringing a group of 8 youth and 3 other adults to New Orleans and was damn glad to hear you will be there as a speaker. I can’t wait for my group to hear what you share. Thanks for your words. Peace, Megan

  • Martha

    I could join in the line of people complimenting the sermon, or throw my two bits in on how I think most of what we feel that we call guilty is actually shame — but instead I have a question. What was the gospel reading for the day that you mentioned? I’m on a different liturgical cycle at my church.

  • D.E. Bishop

    Good sermon. There are centuries of bible distortions to be righted. Some of the distortions were honest mistakes, some were intentional.

    I teach my confirmation classes about Original Grace. Original Sin is crap.

  • Starfish

    My problem with reading the Garden story as leading to a fall/original sin is this: Before eating the fruit, they had no knowledge of right and wrong. So, when God says ‘Don’t eat this” how do they know it’s wrong to eat it? I mean, if they don’t know the difference between right and wrong, they could not have understood that eating it was the wrong choice. You have to understand that what you’re doing is wrong to be held accountable for it. So, when they do eat it, yes then they realize “Oh. Shouldn’t have done that” but before? Before, they didn’t have the ability to know they were doing something wrong, specifically because they were created not having the ability to tell right from wrong. So. . .for them to be kicked out of Eden for disobeying God when they didn’t know it was wrong to disobey God kinda makes him an ass. I mean, we don’t punish children for doing something wrong when they didn’t realize it was wrong, do we? We talk to them, we explain to them why what they did was wrong, we teach them, we don’t punish them. So, if we read the story as Adam and Eve being punished for disobeying God when they had no idea they shouldn’t disobey him…well, that doesn’t make any sense, not if we believe God is good and loving.

  • http://dialectofpraxis.blogspot.com/ Timothy Kellogg

    It’s funny how the first think I saw in the comments was a matter of contention, instead of reflection. Certainly, there are different ways of telling or re-telling the Genesis 3 origins story, but Pastor Nadia hit on a hermeneutic to this metanarrative, which is worth reflecting upon, maybe we don’t always know our own story because we’re deceived from the truth. Even in the various ways of telling Genesis 3, that is the core of its message (deception away from truth). How’s this for fruit that wasn’t an apple, the origins story in Genesis 2-3 was composed by Hebrew people (Israelites) in Babylonian exile around the time of 586 BC/BCE, using the Babylonian creation story to tell their origins, and how listening to the false truths of other God’s deceived their knowledge of the truth of their God. In other words, they had to be reminded of their own story because someone told them lies about it. Thanks Nadia (the audio is a nice touch).

  • Susan Phillips Plese

    I just read the update on Adam and Eve. (Our church is also sending youth to NOLA and the congregation has been told about the speakers.) Those of us fortunate enough to be raised in a kind and loving family learn early what is right and wrong and how to right our wrongs. But I think that the other voice, the demonic one, is our own. We call it an excuse, as in, my best friend told me I’ve gained a little weight so it’s OK to tell her that she needs to wear some makeup. Or my neighbor blew his leaves on my lawn so it’s OK to blow my leaves on his lawn. Petty stuff like that.
    But it can escalate quickly: I’m a GOOD PERSON so I DESERVE . . . fill in the blank: A promotion (step on someone’s foot to get there?) A healthy child (abort one because she has Down’s Syndrome?) A thoughtful husband who buys me jewelry instead of a ceiling fan with a remote (find a lover?)
    I believe there is a real presence of evil in the world. How else can you explain atrocities in Africa, Syria, Egypt, China – and right in our pristine little towns when a 3-year-old child is beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend or a mother and two daughters are raped and murdered in the middle of the night by strangers looking for money or a billionnaire bilks millions of dollars from investors who trusted him?
    But the other voice is in all of us who excuse our behavior because of a flaw in someone else. That voice is never quiet. It haunts and taunts us – me anyway. Still working on it. I’ll call her my pest. Fortunately, I know of a good repellent. Just have to point it in the right direction.
    Thanks for a great sermon.
    Susan

  • shebear

    I’ve always found this to be an interesting part of the origin story:
    “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
    My interpretation is that Adam didn’t blame Eve, he blamed God by stating the “woman whom YOU gave me.” Not that it changes the metanarrative. I have just found it to be interesting that neither one of them assumed responsibility for their actions indicating they felt no guilt.

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  • fws

    Nadia, that was amazing.
    ^That which is not of faith is sin^
    The opposite of sin is not goodness aka obedience.
    the opposite of sin is to trust God and his Word.

    Original sin then is what… it is the absence of faith in God. And it is the vicious false faith that insists upon fearing loving and trusting in any thing at all but God. It is what f**cks with me 24 by 7.

    So Original Sin is not about disobedience or transgression or breaking some rule about a tree.
    And so the restoration of original righeousness and innocence and the very Image of God, and the return to paradise, is found…….
    in Holy Baptism where fear love and trust in God is restored and we have a new man who has new heart movements and is now clothed in that robe of Righeousness that is faith in Christ.

    And this seems to be what you just preached Nadia.
    Is it a coincidence that this is what is taught in the Apology to the Augsburg Confessions article II? The title of that article is ….Original Sin.
    You, along with that article, identify sin/righteousness as being about faith in Christ and the Word of God.

  • hannah

    After some googling on the topic, I am very happy and thankful to come across this piece. You’ve hit the nail on the head (and that damned snake), I believe. =) I’ll remember this article next time I feel insecure about something silly, I hope. =)

  • Jackland

    I really liked this sermon. And I’d like to agree with the perspective it places, but she did not move onto the fact that God punished Adam & Eve by kicking them out of the garden of Eden. I’m not trying to start an argument, but I really want to understand this. Is the banning from the garden a metaphor? Can someone/anyone please explain their perspectives of this to me?

  • http://www.cherylwolverton.com Cherylw

    sin didn’t come through the line of woman..it came through man, hence the reason Jesus could not be born with man in mind, but through a woman and the holy spirit.

    secondly, the reason they saw the nakedness..they sinned..the glory of the Lord departed, their covering was the glory of God, and their focus went from God to what they now saw….their nakedness….our sin brings our focus from worship of god to the worship of self-of what we want-hence…the sin..all sin is bad..you can’t rate sin as this one is so so but this one over here is a biggie….sin is sin. period…it means separation from God. The entire reason for a saviour.

  • KingGeorge

    The love of God is running ahead of the judgment of God. It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment. We will all have our day of judgment before Christ the judge, both Christian and non christian. Love is going to make way for judgment. This is the pattern of God’s behaviour in book after book of the bible, old and new testament. Just be prepared and don’t be under any illusion that some wish washy understanding of the love of God is going to get you into his kingdom while you live as you please on planet earth.

  • pduggie

    This is an excellent point. I was disappointed to see such a straw-man (straw woman?) perspective on what is going on. God doesn’t come and judge the situation until AFTER Adam also eats. Traditional orthodox theology has also always stated “In Adams fall we sinned all.” though I’ll grant there have been mistaken views of the blameworthiness of Eve, the big outline is Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, is communicated to the race. She was deceived where Adam was not(!) and sinning when someone deceives you is typically a lesser offense in Hebrew thought.

    My guess is Adam lets her eat because he wrongly expects if she dies right away like God warned, he’s off the hook and God will make him a new woman. “Honey, you go first”.


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