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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Human Temptations, Except For Jesus - 03/01/2020

While at seminary, Larry worked on the custodial and maintenance staff of LSTC. Some of our space was rented out to a group of Christian worshipers who I suspected had some very different ideas of the hierarchy in this world, who had power and over what. In their view, from what I could tell, God was at the top, in doctrine anyway. Then in descending order of power and agency came men, women, children, and the rest of creation.

My suspicions were confirmed when one night after working in the space this group rented, Larry came home with a pamphlet they distributed to their assembly of believers. He wanted to know what I thought.

It was called, “Rebellious Wives and Slacker Husbands: What’s wrong with the Modern Home?” It was published in 1943 and “renewed” in 1971. It basically said the bible clearly says women and the rest of creation are inferior to men and the real problem of the world is that women have gotten too educated, too outspoken, and men aren’t doing enough to stop them. It’s a wrong and dangerous theology. It’s been used to rationalize abuse – physical, emotional and financial.

And so I lifted my head out whatever book I was reading or paper I was writing and looked at it and responded about as colorfully as you can probably imagine.

***

I recall when these texts we read this week came up three years ago. I had mixed feeling about turning my preaching eye away from the Genesis text … in large part because over the course of Christian time this has been one of those texts used to subjugate women … like too many other bible bullets, it has been pulled out of context to be used as a weapon against a part of God’ creation instead of a way into understanding God’s love for that creation, all of it.

So this time around, I’m going to try tackling it a little.

The truth is, this part of our stories of creation have been used to illustrate that women are at fault for all the sin of the world. If Eve hadn’t taken a bite of that fruit, we’d all still be happy and carefree in the Garden of Eden with God and without need of a Redeemer, without the pain and work of earthly life.

Or, it has been used to warn of the evil female temptress that apparently lurks in all of us, according to some, that not only brought down God’s perfect creation, but the male of our species as well.

I, and many others, find these interpretations of these creation texts insulting and in direct opposition to the predominant message of our scriptures are. Like “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3.28)

Or remember part of the first story of creation from Genesis: “So God created humankind in God’s image ... male and female God created them … God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Gen. 1;27, 31)

And think of Psalm 8: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Ps 8: 3-5)

Or how about the personification of Wisdom in the Bible? “Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home; it’s supported by seven hewn timbers,” we read in Proverbs. “The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. Having dismissed her serving maids, Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place, and invites everyone within sound of her voice: ‘Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on? Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, roast lamb, carefully selected wines. Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.’” (Prov 9:1-6, The Message)

I could go on, and perhaps someday in a long paper or dissertation I will. For today I’ll hope and pray that this is enough to begin countering what some have done with this text to wound large segments of God’s “very good” creation.

Also, I realized when I decided to wrestle with this text for our worship together this weekend, that I couldn’t just leave it at firing a few bible verses back. I realized that part of our faithful responsibility to struggle with our biblical texts is to take an additional step. It isn’t enough to simply say “I want to release this scripture from this very narrow and often harmful interpretation because the bible also says this, this and this.” I think we are supposed to keep going. I think it pleases God if we keep wrestling with the text and in that new freedom, try to discover what the scripture really might be trying to say about God and about us.

If a text is freed from a life-limiting perspective, then what life-abundant perspective is it freed to offer?

So that’s really where my thoughts began to go. If I truly believe this text is not about or does not even include a warning to the world about the evil that is the female form, then what the heck is it about?

So here, perhaps, is one way to look at it. (And I offer this up knowing that there are probably many life-abundant perspectives and lessons you could take from our creation stories.)

These are our creation stories, right?

They are the stories we use to try and understand the foundations of our human existence – the beginnings of who we are. In the stories we first meet a wonderful, immortal, omnipotent Being we call God. And God has a desire to make everything we know, including us – incredibly complex creatures, with free will; with a great capacity to love and an equal capacity to destroy. We are the most amazing vehicles for God’s will and simultaneously the most unreliable and reluctant. Saints and sinners, Martin Luther would say.

And so what if we were to study this piece of our creation stories as a glimpse into the foundational tendencies of that destructive, unreliable, reluctant sinner side? What if our brokenness at its very foundation is connected to our unquenchable desire to know everything and our tendency to be apathetic and silent in the face of what we know in our bones is wrong and goes against God?

Because I think that’s more likely what is going on here. This is a story about how our world was created and then how God’s most beloved creatures – humans – started putting distance between themselves and God.

With that in mind, we might read this a little differently.

Like us, our first examples of humanity were created in the image of God, by God, and for a world of choices. God’s grace, abundance and faith was poured out upon them, just like it is us. This part of the storiy is about the first time humanity was faced with temptation to turn away from God.

And a close reading shows two ways we free-will creatures can get in over our heads when it comes to temptation in a world of good and evil.

Listen again to Eve’s experience. “(The serpent) 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.’” (Gen. 3:1b-5)

The temptation to know, the rationalization to trust that desire to know good and evil as God knows good and evil proved too much for the human that day, and she ate.

And listen again to Adam’s experience. “And she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6b). This human was there, the whole time and knew everything the other human knew, but he chose silence and apathy and he ate too.

Both are complicit in the sin of this story. One human gave into a desire and the voice of temptation in order to know and have power like God. The other human was silent in the face of temptation to go against God and just went along without question or objection.

We may recognize that temptation to know in us or our world when we think about how we can worry and fret and make ourselves crazy over things we cannot control instead of entrusting it to God and trying to be the best worshippers and neighbors we can be – even if it might be quite sacrificial. 

And we may recognize the presence of the sin of apathy and silence when we think about how we can get so comfortable and cozy in the relative safety of our own lives when there are still so many others who are not permitted the very same comfort and safety we often take for granted.

Now, I cannot speak for you, but as a WIP Christian, I find that study of this text a heck of a lot more relevant than an overly literal and narrow study of it.

And so you may wonder – what about the so called “life-abundant perspective?” This seems much more like a whole love of conviction and a story of sinfulness humans cannot avoid. And that is correct.

So two things: First, remember it’s Lent. We are solemnly called to reflect deeply on our sinfulness. It is appropriate then to be serious about where we have placed distance between God and us, or others or creation.

And second, Jesus. Jesus and this gospel story that draws us in today.

It brings us to a scene of another temptation, and another iteration of the tempter. Jesus is tempted to first trust himself over God’s providence, and then to test God’s faithfulness, and finally, he is tempted with all the power, riches and knowledge of the world.

There isn’t one of us humans in this room right now who could withstand these temptations to put distance between ourselves and God. And, except for Jesus, there hasn’t been and will not be a human who could. Except for Jesus, who knows, like God, that we are lovely and destructive in our free will, but who came to overcome temptation and sin and death for us anyway.

Except for Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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