Words from Our Pastor

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Eve In A Different Light: A Sermon on Genesis 2

So today is the 1st Sunday of Lent as well as Camp Sunday.
But were you also aware that March is Women’s History Month? And being that today is--hard to believe- March 1st- today is also the 1st day of Women’s History month.
And as most of you know, I’m the father of 5 kids (yes I know what causes it and yes, I have a TV) and of those 5 kids, 4 of them are girls.
That’s a lot of X chromosomes.
And with that comes the unique blessing of 5 strong female perspectives which have, I admit, been an important, and needed, education for me.  Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know.

For example,  when our first child was born, there was this implicit understanding that my wife Kristan sort of knew what to do.
That somehow being a mother was so innate that the moment Ben was born, she instantly knew everything there is to know about parenting.
She knew how and when to feed him, what was safe and what wasn’t, what was appropriate in terms of naptime and schedules, and was on top of all developmentally appropriate activities.
But me as the father?  The expectations were, well, quite different.
Now much has changed over the last 16 years but back then when I took care of the child, I was “babysitting”
When Kristan took care of him,  it was just her job.
She definitely didn’t garner the praise I did for simply, well, being a parent.
And on top of forming and shaping this little human, she was also able to cook and prepare meals, keep the house in top top shape, and somehow, someway steal a moment here and there for herself.
But she handled it.  Because, well, that was what was expected of women.
And these unfair expectations of women don’t just stop at motherhood, do they.  They seem to be carried on throughout their entire lives.
Not fair. 
But BREAKING NEWS: women have ALWAYS had  to work twice as hard as men for half the recognition.
Am I right?

In the Genesis passage this morning, it seems like Eve- the very first woman-- experiences the same unfair expectations.
Eve arrives on the scene in Eden and is almost immediately thrust into this complicated power dynamic with differing expectations.
And we as modern readers, apparently expect her to be God-like in her behavior
We expect her to anticipate and accommodate every possible outcome, to act in perfect alignment with divine expectations, and basically to deny her humanity.
So she’s in this situation and is confronted with this serpent who questions her understanding of God’s rules.
The serpent doesn’t simply take advantage of Eve, tricking her like she’s some ditsy gal without agency.
A careful reading of the text reveals that the serpent, described here as “crafty”, simply presents the case.
It doesn’t lie.
It speaks the truth, actually, when it says the consequence of eating from the forbidden tree is gaining the capacity to distinguish good from evil, which in this setting is a god-like power.
Who wouldn’t want that?
So Eve makes her choice, using the information provided, like anyone would.
...But they both do.
They BOTH eat the fruit.
And that’s often what’s overlooked in this passage.
And sure enough, they don’t die-- at least not immediately-- and their eyes indeed are opened.  They become acutely aware of their nakedness and are ashamed. They also are granted the knowledge of good and evil.
Just like the serpent said.
Overall it wasn’t in line with God’s instructions, but where on earth is the trickery, and seduction that Eve has been saddled with for 2,000 years?
I certainly don’t see that in the text.
Did Eve eat the fruit?
Sure she did.
She makes the choice consistent with her humanity.
“Because to be the curious one, the seeker of knowledge, the tester of limits, is to be quintessentially human.”
Adam eats the fruit as well.  He certainly doesn’t object.
But doesn’t seem to be the recipient of ages of scorn.
In fact, over the centuries, Christendom seems to have interpreted this passage as a scene where Eve somehow seduces and tricks poor Adam into eating the fruit.
Which is one reason why it has been used for so long as some kind of  biblical source for the subjugation of women.
“If it weren’t for Eve, humanity wouldn’t have fallen into the depths of sin, cast out from the garden!”
Although it’s not explicitly stated in the passage, later theologians have interpreted this interaction as the “original sin”
But what, exactly was the “sin”?  That Eve believed the serpent?
And is she really the only one culpable here?

Just a few verses earlier, Adam was “Master of the Universe”, having every created being paraded before him for him to name and claim and hold dominion over.
But having found these creatures inadequate, Eve is created and somehow, in an instant, Adam is transformed into this passive dolt 
..and the world was ok with that!
Adam ate the fruit as well!  How is she more culpable than he is?
For centuries, Eve has somehow taken the blame for the fall of humanity.  But how? And why?
Maybe this interpretation of the passage reflects a specific worldview
If so, what does this interpretation say about us as readers?

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to make Scripture say what we want it to say.

The Gospel today speaks about temptation--
Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and experiences temptation.  Being the traditional text for the 1st Sunday in Lent, many people relate to the message of temptation.  
We’ve given something up for Lent, so there is “temptation” to give in.
We live in a world full of temptation- temptation is at every corner--But thankfully we have the brave, courageous model of Jesus, who resisted temptation.
Jesus gives us the strength to withstand temptation.
This is very much true.
But there is also more going on in this passage as well.
Notice how Scripture is used in the temptation of Jesus.
Not only does Jesus know the Scriptures, but the Devil does as well.
And he uses the Scripture to try to throw off Jesus, and make the case for Jesus to serve him.

Scripture has often been misused to advance certain agendas.  And it hasn’t always been positive. In fact, there are times when it's been downright dangerous.
It was used to defend slavery in the United States.
It was used to defend the treatment of the Jews during Nazi Germany.
The temptation to advance our aims, however malicious, by using Scripture is nothing new, as this Gospel passage shows.

So with an eye to this temptation, what do we make of this Genesis text?
And how do we provide a sort of “corrective” to liberate it, so to speak, from the interpretive lens that has sort of clouded its meaning for ages.
Of course, there are several steps. 

I believe we first start by reading this Scripture, and all Scripture for that matter, through the lens of a generous orthodoxy.  We root all of Scripture in the boundless love and grace of God. We invite the Holy Spirit to lead us through the text, revealing to us what God wishes for us to get from the Word.  When we approach the text with an open heart and an open mind, it allows God to speak as clearly as possible.  
Admittedly, we are human beings.  We have our own perspectives and insights.  And this is what makes reading Scripture such an active, powerful act- it has a way of harnessing our unique insights.  
But when you sense potential biases creeping in that aren’t necessarily consistent with the open, compassionate love of God, or if you find yourself layering on perspectives that aren’t necessarily found in the text, stop yourself and do a gut check.
Ask yourself, 
“Is that what is really going on here or am I reading into it?”
“Is this passage conveying the love of God as we know and understand in the life and witness of Jesus Christ?”
If not, go back and try it again, being intentional about reading with a generous posture.
This is why reading Scripture in community is all the more important, because there is an accountability in place when you have multiple perspectives to wrestle with the text; to ask questions, to check for bias.

Our misunderstanding of this passage in particular is a perfect example of what happens when bias is allowed to skew the meaning of a biblical text.

Eve was no more culpable than Adam but our bias was allowed to seep in and skew the meaning.
Our instinct was to blame Eve, but it was humanity at fault here, no more no less.
But this misinterpretation, in a way, serves as an indictment of our sexism.
How often do we, knowingly or unknowingly, hold women to unrealistic or unfair standards?
How often do we measure women differently than men?
The stark reality of pay inequality- that women make just 79 cents for every $1 a man makes for the same job- is just scratching the surface.
Think about the more subtle injustices- how an aggressive woman is often portrayed as a “you-know-what” with a chip on her shoulder, while a man displaying the same behavior is lauded for being take-charge and competent leader.
And this gender inequality starts so young!
Notice how we treat little boys and little girls differently.  What does that set them up for?
And our culture seems to send these signals, whether we notice it or not.

As the father of 4 strong girls, this inequality became most glaringly obvious to me when I took them to see the movie, “Captain Marvel.”
Now our family has watched and enjoyed all of the amazing superhero action movies- Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America (notice a trend?)
But when we watched Captain Marvel, when for the 1st time a leading Marvel hero was female-- and was kicking butt- I could not only sense but FEEL their excitement.
They were truly empowered.
Because before that, they simply hadn’t seen women in this capacity.
Captain Marvel was just as strong, and tough, and powerful as all the male heroes in the other movies.  They had always known about girl-power, but it was another thing altogether to watch it on the big screen.
Our girls need this.
The human race needs this.

The Bible is a powerful tool for helping bring to light where we fall short of God’s ultimate hope for the world. 
Whether it’s through gender stereotypes, greed, or any other injustice, the Bible has a way of  convicting us of these shortcomings; to serve as a mirror to lift up and reveal to us where we might be falling short.  There is a saying that when we prayerfully read Scripture, it also reads us.
This is most certainly the case here with the story of Adam and Eve, when we notice that we haven’t necessarily treated God’s children as fairly as we should.
The Bible is a powerful tool for helping us navigate our lives and its stories will ask us difficult questions and invite us--challenge us-- to reflect upon the lessons of Scripture and how they might apply to our lives.
So I invite you to discern how you view your choices, and the world, carefully, using God’s word, but also, use the strength and wisdom of community, so we can journey together, walking as closely with God as possible.  
Radiating and reflecting God’s love and vision for the world.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Consider the Evidence: An Advent Sermon

Matthew 11:2-11

I've recently gotten obsessed with True Crime podcasts.  
It’s gotten so bad that when I participate in our Roadside Cleanup, I’m convinced that every piece of trash is evidence that’s been discarded while leaving the scene of a crime.
They are so fascinating and so interesting!
There is one in particular called Crime Junkies, which has quickly become my favorite.
Each episode takes a high-profile case- some of which are solved and some of which are still unsolved-and investigates.
They have all the intrigue of a good old-fashioned mystery, except these are true.
They provide an overview of the case to set the stage.
Then, they introduce the suspects, exploring motives and alibis.
Then, and this is oftentimes my favorite, they review trial records and examine how certain things were presented.  They review how certain witnesses performed- what they said and what they didn't say. They dramatically highlight key turning points in the case and how they impacted the outcomes.
But what is almost always the most intriguing and what, almost always, is the "clincher" is evidence.
More often than not, it's the evidence which seems to make or break the trial.
But evidence isn't always a slam dunk. 
There are many, many cases where the interpretation of the evidence can unexpectedly shift the outcome.
Remember the OJ Trial?  The gloves?
The prosecution was convinced that this evidence was going to seal the deal.
In fact, in the trial they dramatically requested OJ try on the gloves, hoping for a theatrical denouement that would reveal him to be the killer.
But it backfired.
The gloves didn't fit.
And as Johnnie Cochrane famously repeated,   "If they don't fit, you must acquit!"  
It didn't matter that the leather of the gloves likely shrunk from heat over the course of the trial.
Evidence- all evidence- has to be interpreted.

Evidence seems to play a key role in today's Gospel reading.

In the passage, John the Baptist, whose mission from the beginning was to pave the way for the Messiah, now finds himself  in prison.
While in prison, John's heard stories about all these things suggesting Jesus is indeed the Messiah.  But for some reason, John isn't quite convinced.
We don't know exactly why, but he seems to need confirmation.  So he sends his folks out to ask Jesus, point-blank-
"are you the one? or should we keep looking?"
And Jesus, of course, doesn't answer the question directly.
and let's talk about that- I love the Lord.  Love the Lord.  
But throughout the Bible this man never, ever, ever seems to answer a question directly!
In some ways I feel like it would have made things way easier if he had.  But of course, that's not the point. 
I know this is Jesus' style.
Jesus- ever the teacher- wants his followers to answer the questions for themselves.
So Jesus responds to John by asking him to, basically, to discern the evidence.
The blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are healed
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised
and the poor have the good news brought to them.
All of these are actual prophecies pointing to life after the arrival of the Messiah.

So instead of answering John's question directly, Jesus cites this evidence and leaves it for him to decide. 

He leaves it for John and his followers to discern.
There's wisdom in this approach.
Because especially in matters of faith,  discernment is critical.
If you base your faith decisions- or really any decision--solely on the experience or advice of someone else, its most likely won't take root.
Because the conclusions aren't authentically yours at all.
You're just parroting someone else's views.
Any meaningful decision requires some level of discernment. 
When you discern, the outcomes become authentically your own.

We see this process most fully lived out in Confirmation.
In Confirmation we stress the importance of the youth discerning what THEY believe to be true.
At their baptism, if they were baptized as babies, the promises and faith statements were made on their behalf by adults, usually their parents.
But at Confirmation, we provide the instruction and create a space for question and debate, but they ultimately decide the trajectory of their faith on their own.
We present the evidence, and they render the verdict. 
And in doing so, it becomes theirs. 
Faith requires discernment.

Thankfully, there is a lot of material to help.  
Hundreds of years of traditions.
Lots of "evidence"--
Key witnesses-
We have an entire library of documented experiences of God ranging over thousands of years and in various forms- history, poetry, myths-
all of them speaking to the truth about God and the incredible power that comes from embracing a life of faith.
Collectively, they make a compelling case. 

But you still have to examine it for yourself 

Now to be fair, the evidence in Scripture isn't always so clear.
In the case of identifying the Messiah, for example,  much of the evidence seems counter-intuitive, at least to those in the ancient world.
Jesus, for example, would certainly not have fit the criteria at all.  The Messiah was understood to be this powerful warrior whose arrival would result in the vanquishing of all of Israel's foes.
And yet, here he is- this builder turned itinerant rabbi, born on the wrong side of the tracks, who goes around challenging the religious establishment.
It's understandable how many would not have believed him to be "the guy."
So to assist with the case, Matthew employs the ancient prophecies as evidence to "connect the dots" for the original audience.
Throughout his Gospel, Matthew frequently references the messianic prophecies so we will hopefully conclude that he is indeed "the one"

-he will be descended from David  
-from the line of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob-- from the tribe of Judah
-he will be born in Bethlehem to a virgin
-he would be called a Nazarene
-he would speak in parables
-he would be crucified with criminals 
-but resurrected from the dead and ascend into heaven

That's a lot of evidence, right?
Persuasive evidence.
In the book "Science Speaks" Peter Stoner and Robert Newman discuss the statistical improbability of one man, whether accidentally or deliberately, fulfilling just eight of the prophecies Jesus fulfilled. The chance of this happening, they say, is 1 in 10 to the 17th power
Stoner gives an illustration that helps visualize the magnitude of such odds:
Suppose that we take 10x17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Then blindfold a man and tell him to pick up one silver dollar. What chance would he have of getting the right one? The same chance that eight prophecies would all come true in any one man.

Compelling evidence, for sure. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus uses the prophecies to prove to John and his followers that, against all odds, he is indeed who they suspect him to be: the Messiah.
But that's really not his ultimate point.
By referencing all the prophecies from Isaiah- the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and so on, Jesus yes, is confirming he's the Messiah.
But more importantly, he's announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
That a radical new way of living and being has arrived.
All that they're witnessing- the healing and restoration- are the evidence to this truth.
All the promises they've read about and heard from the prophets are now taking place!
So when you bring it all together, it's a giant WAKE UP CALL that the Kingdom of God is at hand!
Here, now, among us!
In his very being, Jesus is
Inviting us, beckoning us
to live into this reality of God's Kingdom on earth.

A new reality where:
we are liberated and reconciled
we are fully restored and made whole-
all those things which oppressed us and held us back no longer have any power over us.
Restoration is available to us
true restoration!

We live in a culture that too often tells us that it's all up to us.  We've sort of shoved God to the corner, leaving us to shoulder it all.
That our joy ....is up to us
That our worth .... is up to us
That our futures ....are up to us.

But friends, that's not the Kingdom of God!

In God's Kingdom, we are liberated from all of that.  
In God's Kingdom
Our joy... is in CHRIST
Our worth... is in CHRIST
and most definitely our futures-- our eternal futures--
are in CHRIST.

This was the truth John the Baptist had been preparing us for.
John knew that all of these things would occur upon the arrival of the Messiah.
He had spent his entire life spreading this message-
- preparing the way.
And with Jesus confirming that he was indeed the one, 
John could, in a sense, rest his case.
He could now safely pass on this mission to others.
As a result, we are now transitioning from prophecy to fulfillment.
The world would be forever changed.
The Kingdom of God had indeed arrived.

So what does this mean for us today?
How do we honor this?
In this season of Advent, how do we faithfully observe it?
Well, I suppose that's up to you.
But if you ask me, I think the evidence is clear:
It's really, really good news.
So let's celebrate.
Come Lord Jesus, Come.