Amazing Grace!

Amazing Grace!

October I l , 2020

Genesis 3, Galatians 2:11-14, John 3:1 1-21 Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 4-5

Amazing Grace!

The human race is very good at taking what is good and turn them into something that causes harm. Let me give you a few examples: Nuclear fission is the process of splitting atoms. When in 191 8 Ernest Rutherford split the first atom, he noticed that it released a tremendous amount of energy. At the time it was of course a momentous achievement and cause for celebration. This achievement would solve the world’s energy problem. No wonder Rutherford received many awards including the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The potential in the medical field was almost unlimited. Nuclear science and technology provided us with X-rays, MRI scanners and CAT scans. Nuclear medicine helped to diagnose and treat disease.

But it took humans less than 30 years to use this technology to build an atomic bomb that was drop on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

It took about 13 years from the invention of the World Wide Web to the formation of what was then called TheFacebook. It took another 8 years for Facebook to have one billion monthly active users connecting socially and sharing pictures and personal stories. And then? Facebook became the platform that some people used to bully others, and to spread false, harmful information and conspiracy theories.

Artificial Intelligence will most likely go the same route: It will be used to benefit us and it will be used to cause harm.

This is the story of our species: we are unbelievably creative but then we use what we created for purposes that do harm.

Now this of course is nothing new. Human beings, have done this from the very beginning!

Genesis 3 attempts to explain where it all started: The fall in Eden. There are a few hurdles when we think about Genesis 3. We’ve all heard the story before, we know it fairly well but what we remember is not always true to the text: We think, for example that the forbidden fruit is an apple even though the kind of fruit is never mentioned. We think of the snake as the devil, even though the text never says it. So, the story that many of us have in our mind is not always the exact one from the story in Genesis. Furthermore, we often are distracted by information that really has little to do with the main purpose of the story. For example, we think that Eve is really the guilty one, nakedness is sin, and that pre-fall, people never had to work.

Maybe we should revisit the story of the fall and see what we can learn from it. Genesis 3 has three main characters: Adam, Eve and the serpent. It is the serpent that “offers the sly voice of temptation that triggers disobedience and consequently, exclusion of the human creatures from God’s garden. The serpent is a voice that seeks to contradict and counter the compelling commanding voice of the Creator God. Genesis 3 makes it clear that the serpent belongs to the creatures of the garden. The seductive voice of evil belongs to the creation. That means that we are all constantly tempted by seductive voices.

The most important point of this narrative is that the serpent’s “sly voice Q/ temptation” disrupts the harmonious relationship between God and God’s creatures. It also disrupts the relationship between Adam and Eve. Human beings, by their act of disobedience, destroy God’s intention with God’s creation.

Take for example, Adam and Eve’s actions after their disobedience: They hid themselves from God, they play the blame game — “[he woman, the one YOU gave me, she gave me./huit from the tree. The serpent, perhaps the serpent that YOU created, tricked me”.

They shift the blame – even blaming God! And their reason? “I was qfraid! ” When the harmony of God’s creation is disrupted, fear enters the world and it is fear that drives the actions of human beings! Fear and shame.

Old Testament scholar, Gerhard von Rad points out that Adam blaming Eve is the sign that the community of human beings is now destroyed. Adam betrays Eve, sin did not unite them before God, but sin isolated them. Sin made them selfish!

This of course is still part of our playbook, is it not? We shame and blame others for our failures and errors. We refuse to take responsibility. We find creative ways to hide from God. The bottom-line is and remains, that the relationship between God and human beings, the relationship between human beings, and our relationship with God’s creation have now been fundamentally altered. And to this day, fear often is the driving force of our actions.

There is no doubt that Adam and Eve’s disobedience had consequences, As someone once said: “The door once was opened to evil and now it remains open and we are exposed to the attack of evil.” The serpent becomes a symbol of evil. Wherever man and serpent meet, the meeting always involves life and death„ No wonder that the early church interpreted the serpent as the devil

The penalties of their disobedience are now all of humankind’s penalty. Their acts of disobedience explains the transition from a friendly and beautiful paradise to a world where nothing comes easily. A world that is now “groaning in pain, cramped in travail, humiliated, over-burdened, care-worn and tearstained. ” It is not that Adam and Eve did not work before the fall; after all they had to subdue the earth and take care of it but their work was not a burden!

The world has become a place where giving birth is painful, work, activity and provision for sustenance become a burden — until we breath the last breath and we return to dust.

Humankind learns now about his end, the knowledge of our death is forced into our consciousness and this knowledge overshadows our entire life! What humankind once had, is now lost. So, Genesis 3 is about loss!

The story of Adam and Eve is a Their disobedience destroyed what they had. They perhaps did not realize what they had until they lost it. That is often the case, is it not? Furthermore, the wisdom of humankind to make the right decisions, to seek the benefit of community and work towards what is good, has now been questioned. What was good, has become distorted.

The fall of humankind resulted in all of us wrestling with the harshness of this world, the reality of death, the inability to be a community and a deep sense of disorientation.

There is something universal about Genesis 3. Everyone can relate. The story of disobedience, the questions about the purpose of work and life, the fear of the future, the destruction of community, and the deep sense of loss resonate with us. The story speaks to us to this day!

But thanks be to God, the Genesis story provides us with glimpses of God’s mercy: When Adam and Eve sinned and they hid from God – God calls them: “Where are you? ” In spite of the somber story of the Fall, God’s mercy is still at work. We, in our efforts to make sense of everything, in our struggle as we live in the shadow of death, individuals standing up against others, and nations against nations, we are reminded that God is and remains a merciful God! God does not give up on us! We can rely on God for God is trustworthy! And because God does not give up on sinful human beings, we can dream again, we can hope for a better future, we can find joy in life and purpose in work and rejoice in the birth of every child-in spite of the agony.

Which brings us to our other readings:

The Gospel of John reaffirms that God does not give up on God’s creation. The God who created, the God of life is about to restore God’s creation and this includes humankincL Light is about to shine into a dark world. The darkness will not overcome the light. There is life in the One that God is sending! And the One is of course Jesus.

In a fascinating conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus uses metaphors and images to convey to Nicodemus that God is about to do marvelous things. The reason why God is about to do marvelous things is summarized in John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world [o condemn the world, but in order that [he vvorld might be saved through him.

Nicodemus is confused. He really does not fully understand the implication of Jesus’ words. And in all honesty, Jesus’ words are somewhat confusing. But let me try to interpret them against the background of the story of Adam and Eve. God’s intention was a creation where all of creation, including human beings, exist in harmony with God and with each other. This harmony was destroyed because of humankind’s disobedience and arrogance. We lost what we had — and now our lives are one of disharmony, driven by fear and suspicion of the other, our existence has become a struggle between life and death. We are burdened by our knowledge of our approaching death. We struggle to find purpose and, as someone once said, we live on the precipice of despair. We can accept responsibility for our actions or we can blame Adam and Eve, but it is easier to blame my neighbor, or my circumstances, or the world. We are living on the edge of hopelessness, without joy, rudderless, prisoners of fear, regret and always with a sense of longing to fill a void that we cannot even define!

The Gospel message of Jesus, who is the light of the world, is for those whose lives are as I just described. Here is good news for people who are dreaming of a world that is gentler, where life is kinder, and for a humanity where people care and support each other. Here is a message for people who want a community but feel that they are prisoners: prisoners of fear, disappointment, and death in all its forms. Here is a message for those who feel a deep sense of loss and despair:

God’s love of God’s creation is compelling God to intervene and to start new with you and with God’s creation. Jesus is God’s assurance that God’s love liberates us from death and despair. Jesus is the new Adam who reverses the damage that the first Adam caused. Jesus is the One who gives abundant life – here and now, but also when we breath our last breath!

The somber story of Genesis does not have the last word. Sin does not have the final say. The Bible starts with the fall but it ends with the victory in Christ! In Christ, God opens up God’s creation to God’s mercy and grace, giving all of us another chance to live with joy, purpose, community, and finding ways to serve God and God’s world! This is amazing grace. Amen.