A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 5 – Year B – 10 June 2012
Eleanor Lee Wellford
The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they 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.” The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel
It was a Saturday morning and I was busy doing chores around the house. I thought that my then 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son were in the family room watching t.v., but I was wrong. They had decided to take advantage of my inattentiveness and sneak off into the kitchen.
I surprised them both when I came in unexpectedly. I caught my daughter trying hard to swallow a mouthful of whipped cream and my son holding a can of Reddi-wip inverted over his mouth with his finger cocked on the nozzle.
Unfortunately, I was too tired and busy to see any humor in the scene and grabbed the can out of my son’s hand and held it up to my daughter’s face. “What were you thinking?” I asked her. She immediately pointed to her little brother and said: “But it was his idea!” To which I responded: “But you’re older and should know better” and I banished them both to their rooms.
Getting caught “red-handed” is never a pleasant experience. It’s so unpleasant, in fact, that our very first reaction, however old we are, is to try to pass the buck – to blame someone else for our misbehavior instead of taking responsibility for it ourselves.
It’s called “the blame game” and we recently heard it played out at that venerable financial institution known as J.P. Morgan. The company had incurred a $2 Billion trading loss which was an unwelcome shock to the financial world, and the list of who was to blame for that loss included the company’s CEO, the company’s Chief financial officer, the head of the investment area, various bond traders, the Federal Reserve and a host of government regulators – just to name a few.
Another financial shock that happened at just about the same time involved the company Facebook which was selling stock to the public for the first time. The hype that surrounded the sale was stunning and the NASDAQ was thrilled to be asked to list such a high profile name on its exchange. But soon after the stock started trading, its price began to drop, disappointing all those investors who were expecting profits instead of losses.
Morgan Stanley, the investment company that marketed the stock, is being blamed for setting the price too high; the NASDAQ exchange is being blamed for its inefficient handling of buy and sell orders, and of course, Facebook executives are being blamed for hyping the value of their company to unrealistic expectations. And that’s just for starters.
And certainly, no one has to look beyondWashingtonD.C.on both sides of the aisle to see which politicians are particularly skilled at the blame game. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that happens to protect ourselves from the fall out of being caught doing something wrong. It’s a way of deflecting what we have coming to us and redirecting it to someone else. We heard it in this morning’s all-too familiar story from Genesis.
Adam and Eve began the blame game when God sensed something different about their behavior. As was God’s custom, God was coming to be with Adam and Eve in the Garden– to enjoy their company in the cool of the evening. But something was spoiled about it all because Adam and Eve were hiding from God.
They had covered themselves physically and emotionally because of the shame they were feeling for their disobedience. God asked the man: “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” And Adam answered: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then God looked to the woman and said: “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said: “The serpent tricked me and I ate” (Genesis 3: 9-13).
So the man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent; and the serpent that had just recently been so eloquent and persuasive was suddenly speechless. As punishment for his part in the scheme, the serpent would became despised and cursed by all creatures, and for their part, Adam and Eve would be banished from the garden and would learn about physical pain.
So why is it that when it comes to human nature, some things just don’t change? Why don’t we humans learn from our mistakes or other people’s mistakes? Literally since the beginning of time we have been behaving the same way. As painful as “being caught” is, the temptation to be disobedient – to be sinful – is even stronger.
We know that about ourselves, though, which is why in the confession of sin “we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy divine Majesty.” (BCP pg 331); and we acknowledge it in the Prayer of Humble Access in Rite I when we say “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table” (pg. 337) And finally the words of the confession in early editions of the Book of Common Prayer perhaps say it best: “And there is no health in us”.
And what is it that we ask for after acknowledging our sins? We ask for mercy – God’s mercy. “Have mercy upon us” we plead. “Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father” (BCP pg 331). And we ask for this because we know it’s the only way to heal our brokenness. It’s the only way that we may once again as Adam and Eve longed to do after their disobedience, “delight in (God’s) will and walk in (God’s) ways, to the glory of (His) Name” (BCP pg 331).
So how does God’s mercy come to us? I believe it’s there for us at all times but that it is we who may not always be open to it. Or maybe we are open to it but too impatient to receive it and must, as Psalm 130 says: “…wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy. With him there is plenteous redemption” (verses 6-7). It’s one thing to ask for God’s mercy but another to be ready, really ready to receive it. And it’s probably the same hubris that prevents us from being ready, as causes us to be disobedient in the first place.
It’s interesting to think about whether Adam and Eve were sorry for what they had done. We can imagine that they were in the wake of God’s punishment since sorrow and regret usually follow that. Which begs the question: Is punishment part of God’s mercy? My belief is that it is – but that’s based purely on the experiences I had with my own children.
As hard as it was to do, I punished my children when they did something wrong, but I didn’t love them any less for being disobedient. I didn’t punish them to increase their shame or to make them feel like they were bad children but rather because I wanted them to learn the difference between right and wrong; to protect them from situations that they weren’t mature enough to handle; and to respect limits and the consequences that followed when they didn’t.
And all of those reasons were steeped in my abiding love for them which I probably didn’t explain carefully or often enough – and which they may not fully realize until they have children of their own.
If God hadn’t loved Adam and Eve as much as He did, then God probably wouldn’t have cared enough to set the limits that He did for them. Maybe God thought that the first Man and first Woman weren’t mature enough to handle the knowledge of good and evil that the apple tree imparted. Maybe he wanted to spare them the mental pain and anguish that came from that knowledge.
We don’t know what God was thinking then or now; but we have to remember that God came looking for Adam and Eve. The story would have us believe that God didn’t know what had transpired between them and the serpent, but I have to think that he did and he sought them out anyway. He didn’t come to shame them. They had already shamed themselves.
He punished them, but his mercy was that he didn’t abandon them. As we hear later on in chapter 3 of Genesis: “…the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). God made clothes for them! That simple act insured God’s presence among them and removed both the shame of their disobedience as well as their vulnerability in their new surroundings (New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1, Nashville: Abingdon Press p. 364).
Perhaps God comes to us in the same way – knowing full well our ability to blame everyone but ourselves for our disobedience yet willing to clothe us with His abiding presence and somehow removing our shame. God comes to us offering His mercy as the healing salve to our brokenness. And maybe the greater shame would be in not accepting it.