Beginning the Journey Home

The Sunday Sermon:  First Sunday in Lent – February 18, 2018

Scripture:  Genesis 3:8-13, 21, 24

Beginning the Journey Home

On this first Sunday in Lent, let me begin by sharing a wisdom tale found in both the African and the Chinese traditions:

Once upon time, the eldest and richest woman in a village decided that it would be a good idea to give a feast for all of the townspeople at the start of the new year. She called her council of ten elders together to plan the event.

“I will provide the feast,” she said, “if you will each bring a jug of wine.”

“Of course, of course,” they all agreed.

But as soon as they had parted, the youngest of the group was already cursing himself for having agreed to part with one whole jug of wine. He did not have much wine in his stores, and he did not want to spend money either.

“There must be another way,” he told his wife. And he sat down to think.

After a while a smile crossed his face. “The other nine elders will pour their wine into the common pot. Could one jug of water spoil so much wine?”

And so it was that on the day of the feast this man put on his finest robes, filled his jug with fresh water from the well, and went to the party. On his way he met up with the other elders. They were greeted at the party by the sounds of music playing, and the delicious smells of food cooking. The host motioned for the elders to pour their jugs of wine into a great clay pot in the courtyard. And they did, each one of the ten, the youngest elder last.

First there was dancing and entertainment. Then the bell was rung and the guests were seated.

The elders sat together at the head table. The host ordered her servants to fill everyone’s cups with the wine. Each of the elders waited patiently for the last guest to be served. There were all anxious to taste the fine, refreshing wine.

The host gave the signal and the guests put their cups to their lips. They sipped … and they sipped again …

But what they tasted was not wine. It was water.

The ten elders looked at each other sheepishly, avoiding the eyes of their host as they continued to drink as if it were the finest wine their lips had ever tasted…

But of course, it was not. For each of them had thought, “One jug of water cannot spoil a great pot of wine.” And each of them had filled their jug from the well, not from their cellar.

“They continued to drink as if it were the finest wine their lips had ever tasted. Let us pray …

On Wednesday last week, Ash Wednesday, we headed out into the wilderness once again for the forty days of Lent. Our task this year is like that of every other year: we need to get back home. This sermon message is a reminder. We so easily forget, and more easily deny, how far we have strayed throughout the year from the Way. Do we even realize that we’re out in the wilderness, far from home?

Keep that ancient wisdom tale in the back of your mind as we listen for some wisdom, and discern our conundrum, from our own faith story. As Lent begins, we begin at the beginning (as Matt affirmed this week, “A very good place to start)

Read Genesis 3:8-13, 21, 24. The Word of the Lord … Thanks be to God.

We are beginning again the Season of Lent, a season of discernment and prayer, of letting go and taking on, and we should at least be aware that something different is happening in your lives of faith, something more than special bulletins and fish frys. We began a study earlier this morning that will continue through Lent on Sunday mornings up to and including Palm Sunday morning. Ashia is leading us in an exploration of our spiritual life and how to access the holy through are many different “intelligences” – through words, people, the self, music, and more. I’m deeply grateful to Ashia for taking this on in addition to all that she is doing with her studies, because it will complement the worship hour during this season and give us tools to more fully understand (again) who it is we’ve become and how far we’ve come from who we were created to be. We’ll learn here what it is we need to be forgiven for. And we’ll seek forgiveness for ourselves and find the grace to forgive others through deepened spiritual practices. First, let’s learn what’s happened to us, why we are the way we are:

Our reading just now from Genesis, chapter three, is one of my favorites. Not because it makes me feel good, but because it identifies humanity and names our “problem” so profoundly and simply. This part of the creation story is not, and never was, about how evil came into the world or about the origins of death. The writers are not concerned with such abstract issues. They are concerned with relationships, divine and human, and with restoring them.

God is seeking his creation, humanity, in the garden, crying out “Where are you? In verse ten, the man answers, “We’re hiding, we’re afraid, we’re naked.” An eternity passes before God responds with the question in verse eleven: “Who told you that?” In the fraction of a second it takes to move from verse ten to verse eleven in our reading, we move from union and communion, joy and happiness, wholeness and oneness with God and all creation, to disconnection and discord with them, and with ourselves.

We know this story better than almost any other in the Old Testament. We know why the human beings were hiding in the garden. They did something they weren’t supposed to do. They ate “forbidden fruit.” God realizes that in our story immediately after hearing that the man and the woman were now ashamed … They now had a nakedness, an ignorance, an awareness that they lacked something they deeply coveted and thought they deserved – knowledge, our story tells us – and they were, for the first time in their lives, ashamed. So, we know why the human beings were hiding in the garden. And having read and heard this story so many times in our lives, however brief those lives may be, we think we know why God banished them.

I’m certain that most, if not all of you picture Adam and Eve holding half-eaten apple in their hands as they leave the garden of Eden, pass the flaming sword, separated forever now from the tree of life. These two, the first of us all, are driven out of paradise because of something they did – they ate of the tree of which God had commanded them not to eat. They disobeyed God and so they had to go. We think we know why God has banished these first two, banished us, to the wilderness. But … we don’t know. At least we don’t if we think it was because of an apple and their disobedience.

So why, then? What other reason could there be? There’s nothing else in the story, is there? Of course there is. Let’s look again …

Our eternity passes away as God realizes what has happened. And then God asks a second question in verse eleven, relatively quickly. Immediately after the grand separation, God offers a way back by asking first the man in our story, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Now think about that question for just a moment. There are many faithful ways that we, as Christians, experience the reality we most commonly name “God.” We express, or share, that experience with one another and with the world in many different ways: God out there, God in here, God everywhere; as powerful as a hurricane, as quiet as a mouse, as vulnerable as a baby. But in no expression, or understanding, of “God,” should we imagine that the answer to this question, ““Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” is not already known!

Whether we experience God as a supernatural, omniscient being, or a hyper-natural inclusive force, God as “God” already knows the answer to this question. So do we. It’s like me asking you, “Have you missed coming to Sunday morning worship a few times in the past year?” I already know, right? There’s only one answer. “Yes …”

But that’s not the answer the man gives. God asks, “Have you …?” And Adam says, “Well, the woman whom you gave me, she talked me into this.”

Another eternity passes, I suppose. God’s heart breaks in two. The first one is lost.

So God turns to the second and asks, “What is this that you have done?” And Eve says, “Well,” she says, “I didn’t really do anything. The snake was in the grass and it talked me into this.” Two strikes and they’re out. Because, it is at this point, according to our story, that God pushes them out of the Garden of Eden. There’s punishment in verses 14-20, and banishment from the garden. But it wasn’t because of what these first two did. They were, we are, banished for what we refuse to do: accept responsibility and change our ways.

In our opening wisdom tale, the reason the elders cannot look their host in the eyes was not because of what they did, but because they refused to acknowledge their own deceit. They continued to drink as if (that water was) the finest wine their lips had ever tasted. Hey, we have a problem here …

Where in our lives, where in our community and country, where in the world, are we refusing to accept responsibility for what is happening? I would be a poor spiritual leader, indeed, if I didn’t point out one place this morning still heavy on our hearts, just the latest “place,” unfortunately: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“Have you done what you shouldn’t have?” we’re asked.

“Well …” we begin, and (buzzer sound) … Wrong answer.

Whatever follows that “well …” sends us further into the wilderness. The shooter was mentally disturbed. Of course he was. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Of course they do. The FBI, social media, or friends and family should have flagged something. Of course they should have. But, Have we done something we shouldn’t have done?

Yes, we have. This is the only answer that sets on the path back home.

Yes: We have allowed easy access to military assault weapons like the AR-15.

Yes: We were negligent. Aware of a lethal threat, we failed to stop an attack that killed seventeen people, young and old.

Yes: Our mental, social, and emotional health care systems, at all levels, have significant gaps, are understaffed, and are underfunded.

What else?! Yes … Yes! We’re wrong … Now: What can we do to make it right?

God (whoever and however “God is”) can deal with our disobedience, indeed, must deal with our disobedience. And God can deal with “sin,” with our separation, our perceived “nakedness and embarrassment.” But God cannot, and will not, abide our irresponsibility. The moment that Adam and Eve, the human beings, you and I, reject the notion that we are accountable for our own actions, that we have dominion over our own lives, the moment we disregard our responsibility to all that is around us and that we are created human to become human, the image of God on earth, the moment we reject these things and refuse to live in harmony with God, God says, “Hey … we have a problem.” We will never get home again with that attitude.[1]

It doesn’t matter one bit who told us we were “naked;” who told us that there wasn’t enough; or that violence can solve our global problems and money our personal ones; or that all we have to worry about is ourselves; or that we can remove all pain from our lives, physical, emotional, spiritual, if we just try hard enough; or that life is supposed to be easy, trouble free, and comfortable all the time. It doesn’t matter where that temptation came from – Well, he said … Well, she said – Whoever offered us that fruit, we choose to “eat it,” to consume the lies of our culture’s therapeutic, technological, capitalist militarism.

We live the way we’re living because we’ve chosen this way over God’s way for the world and for our lives. Until we admit that, and begin to live again in harmony with the will of God for all creation … we’re going to have a problem. And so Lent begins again for one particular world religion and we embark on another journey hoping this year we will get back home.

In order to even begin to receive forgiveness and find reconciliation, we must first acknowledge how much we need it. Try it this week – confession. Answer, “Yes, I did … Yes, I have. I’m sorry. What can I do to make this better?” Say it to your children, children – to your parents), say it to your spouse, your co-workers, your friends, the store clerk, the home repairman, to anyone you need to. Acknowledge that you are not who you were created to be so that you may become a new creation, in Christ.

Our journey home begins again. May we find it together.

Amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 18, 2018

[1] Culver Nelson on Living the Questions, “Stories of Creation” (Session 4)